Inside the Middle East
April 25, 2011
Posted: 744 GMT

The Emirates are promising reform while at the same time suppressing dissent

By Jenifer Fenton

Last week the United Arab Emirates dissolved the elected board of directors of the Jurist Association, a prominent civil rights organization, replacing the board with state appointees, according to Human Rights Watch.

The group was one of four nongovernmental organizations that signed a petition to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the members of the Supreme Council of the seven Emirates on March 9 asking for direct elections. The petition also asked that the Federal National Council (FNC) be granted legislative powers. The body is only an advisory one.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Jurist Association was said to have violated the UAE’s Law on Associations, which bans NGOs from interfering "in politics or in matters that impair State security and its ruling regime."

Four activists have also been arrested recently. Three are still in detention and one has been released, according to activist Mohammed al-Mansoori.

There are seven emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Each is ruled by an Emir – and together they choose a President for the UAE. Analysts say they appear to be adopting a twin-track approach to political activity – clamping down on dissent while promising reform and taking steps to stave off the potential for unrest. The UAE have not seen street protests, but are sensitive to the unrest sweeping the Arab world.

The UAE have said they plan to hold elections in September to select representatives for the FNC. The last elections were in 2006. Currently there are 40 members of the FNC: half are elected by the electoral college and the other half are nominated by their Emirate. The electoral college, which includes a small percentage of women, is chosen by the rulers of the UAE and its members are the only ones allowed to vote or run for office. The UAE have also said that they plan to increase the size of the electoral college, which has 6,689 members.

“We are confident that increasing the number of electoral colleges will promote political participation,” said Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said in a statement to WAM, the Emirates’ news agency. “It reflects the spirit of the political program of UAE and we expect that the electoral colleges will bring in more expertise, representing the significant evolution of the UAE society. The latest developments in the region validate the wise approach adopted by the UAE leadership to make sure that change is in perfect harmony with progress."

Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati blogger who signed the petition to the UAE president asking for direct elections was the first known activist to be detained. Mansoor is being held in Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, according to his wife Nadia. He has not been charged with a crime.

Fahad Salem al-Shehhi, a friend of Mansoor's who helped him with his website, and Nasser bin Ghaith, an Emirati writer who also maintains a website, have also been detained, according to al-Mansoori.

A fourth activist, Abdullah al-Shehhi was taken from the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Al-Shehhi previously served in the UAE armed forces and has been arrested three times before, al-Mansoori said. He was released due to ongoing health problem, al-Mansoori said.

None of the activists has been charged yet, according to al-Mansoori.

“The prosecution in the UAE has sent subpoenas to a number of people,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said last week at a press conference. “This is fully in procedure with the laws and rules of the UAE. We have full trust that our laws are clear and transparent,” he said. “I do not believe that any person is above the law.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Professor of Political Science at Emirates University, said he believed that it was time for the Emirates to change. An ideal situation would be one were “there will be complete elections for everybody. There would be an elected FNC,” Abdulla said. “The sooner the better for the UAE.”

When asked about the arrest of the activists Abdulla said, “It shows that the UAE probably is not in their political reform mind. They are falling behind. I think they are sending messages that they are not buying into this reform that is sweeping the Arab world. And they think that we are happy with the stability that we are in. That we are happy with the way things are.”

More than eight million people live in the Emirates, but Emiratis account for only 11.5 percent of that number. Most are migrant workers.

Recently the UAE has announced changes meant to improve the lives of Emiratis.

In March, the Emirates ordered a 70 percent increase in pensions for retired military personnel. The WAM statement said “The President's generous gesture is given as part of his keenness to ensure ways of decent living for the citizens.” The same month the UAE president ordered that $1.55 billion be invested in the expansion of water and electricity supply sector in the northern emirates, which are less developed and less affluent.

Other recent directives have included: approving the construction of hundreds of villas for citizens throughout the UAE and increasing job opportunities for Emirates.

But as events elsewhere in the Middle East have shown, such largesse has not always mollified those whose grievances are principally political.

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Filed under: Protests •UAE

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henoarmy   April 25th, 2011 9:57 am ET

Despite the luxury life many emiratis enjoy, as well as people like me, foreign nationals in good jobs with benefits, the human spirit can never be mollified while living in a guilded cage. The bottom line is that no single person/family has the right to impose their will on a country and control it's wealth, laws, and future.

jsr   April 25th, 2011 3:10 pm ET

No surprised here.

USA is a hypocrite. Support democratic reform, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Yemen...... but then OMG!!!, not Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE.

OIL, OIL, OIL, Control the world. Shame money is valued over human life. God is watching.

Ariely   May 1st, 2011 7:30 pm ET

Last week I saw a brain scientific lecture.
The lecture experiment showed people watching magician tricks ignoring a large gorilla moving in the background.
People's brain is trained to see what they are used to!
The west media and people are used to think according to western democracy and values.
They refer to the Arab world demonstrations and uprisings as a revolution for western style of democracy.
They fail to see that the masses are interested solving unemployment, cost of leaving, and social issues regardless of government style.
The media interview activists speaking English that describe desire for democracy while in the background- people speaking Arabic expressed their desire for Islamic governments- such as the Muslim brotherhood.
The people in the West and media see their own values trained brain vision.
In reality that is a big chance that within 10 years the Arab countries will be lead by radical Islamist governments with anti western agenda and values.
Muslim brotherhood agenda includes;
* Islam religious conceal will monitor that the elected government follows Islamic guidelines.
*Woman will be educated to perform Islamic home duties.
*Christians will not be permitted to be manager on top of Muslims.
* "A Muslim can come closer to Allah by waging jihad against all non-Muslims,Christians,Jews, atheists, in every possible manner.
Dr. Ahmad 'Abd about Al-Walaa Wa'l-Bara
*Muslim brotherhood leader speech in Cairo before 1 million people
"Hitler didn’t finish the job- The Muslims will finish the Job""
(BBC broadcasted this speech in Arabic one month ago)
The ME in 2020?
One option-Iran Islamism and Arab countries lead by Muslim brotherhood join forces.
How to prevent it?
People worldwide should request that parties with such ideologies should be out law!

pushy   May 3rd, 2011 12:50 am ET

What happening in this world?

UAE4EVER   May 4th, 2011 8:53 pm ET

We live under shiekh khalifa in the best conditions people would want. We get free education, housing, healthcare and also we have one of the highest salaries in the world. Our government never stopped developing the country to cope with modern standards. Those people that were arrested are defnitely iranians with passports and 1 of them is not even a UAE citizen. and ofcourse the western media wouldn't report about how well we live here and how much our caring leadership strives to serve their people. Ask all the Americans and europeans how well they live here.

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