News / Middle East

UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

UAE Presses Ahead With Elections
UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

As calls for democracy continue to ring throughout the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has begun preparations to hold its biggest ever election, vowing it is committed to reform.  The government recently increased the number of eligible voters for the country’s legislature-the Federal National Council (FNC) to 80,000, up from under 7,000 during the last election.

Earlier this week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash confirmed plans to allow more citizens to vote over the coming years until all Emiratis above a certain age are eventually given the right.

"We've always said that the UAE's political program is a continuous program to modernize political participation," he said. "We have said all along that it will be in many, many incremental steps."

Gargash suggested that while plans for reform were in the pipeline before the start of the Arab Spring, regional unrest had prompted the dramatic boost in voter numbers.

Election process

On September 24, the eligible voters will elect half of the 40-member FNC. The rulers of the seven emirates will chose the remaining 20 representatives.

The UAE is the world’s third largest oil-producer and is made up of seven sheikhdoms with Abu Dhabi as its capital.

While the nation has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, the five northern emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah have a noticeably lower standard of living than Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011
Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011

Power and gas shortages have resulted in rolling blackouts in the north, which also has a history of slow economic development and suffers from relatively high youth unemployment.  

With the potential for unrest most likely to come from this area, the government decided in March to invest $1.6 billion in local infrastructure projects.

Increasing the FNC’s electorate is seen as another attempt to appease northern residents.

Critics have played down the significance of the increase, however, saying it is irrelevant unless the body is given more decision-making power. And, the revised electorate still only comprises less than a tenth of the total population.

Significant change?

Christopher Davidson, a Middle East analyst at Durham University, says the move is unlikely to bring about any significant change.

"This is just the latest layer of window dressing that the regime is trying to add to give itself more accountability with its people, but perhaps more importantly, greater accountability in the international community. This is more of the liberalized autocracy model than a genuine democracy that represents the people," he said.

The FNC does not have any real legislative power, but rather provides an advisory function, submitting recommendations that may or may not be implemented. Like all legislative bodies in the Gulf region, ultimate control rests with the ruling families.

Earlier this year, the United States and its NATO allies praised the Emirates for its work in enforcing the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya. But while the nation continues to play a “critical” role in helping pro-democracy rebels in the North African nation, closer to home it has been active in thwarting the democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain.

Davidson says any future public demand for political reform within the UAE’s borders will not be tolerated.

Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011
Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011

"I think that any opportunity that can be taken to clamp down on genuine presses for democracy [in the UAE] will be taken. We've already seen that with the rather extreme step of arresting a range of political prisoners including academics, bloggers and human rights activists," he said.

While the UAE has been spared the uprisings seen in other parts of the region, 130 prominent members of society signed a petition in March calling for constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth.

Five of the signees were later arrested and are currently on trial for posing a threat to national security.

'More controversial' approach

Samer Muscati, a Middle East researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, says the action comes at a time when widespread unrest in the region is making UAE authorities extra weary.

"It's a different tone than what we've seen in the past and I think the UAE is definitely acting in a decisive and a more controversial manner than it has in the past. We hope that the UAE authorities will realize that this approach is incorrect and that they will stop this campaign," he said.

At the first hearing of the five activists earlier this month, dozens of demonstrators gathered to show their support for the government, denouncing the accused as traitors.

It served as a reminder of just how popular the country’s rulers are among most of the population, and how UAE authorities are likely to press on with their distinctly Emirati-style of democracy without much objection.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs