Wednesday, March 09, 2011

133 UAE activists call for direct elections

UPDATED

It has been 39 years since the adoption of the UAE constitution. The preamble of the constitution state the desire,
to lay the foundation for federal rule in the coming years on a sound basis, corresponding to the realities and the capacities of the Emirates at the present time, enabling the Union, so far as possible, freely to achieve its goals, sustaining the identity of its members providing that this is not inconsistent with those goals and preparing the people of the Union at the same time for a dignified and free constitutional life, and progressing by steps towards a comprehensive, representative, democratic regime in an Islamic and Arab society free from fear and anxiety.
133 UAE activists say its time to complete the transition to a constitutional democracy.

AFP:
A group of Emirati intellectuals and activists on Wednesday petitioned the president of the Gulf state to introduce direct elections and vest the parliament with legislative powers. The petition, posted online, cites "rapid regional and international developments that necessitate improving national participation," in calling for the direct election of all members of the Federal National Council (FNC), which serves only as an advisory body.
...
Petitioners lamented that the process of efforts to widen political participation over 39 years, since the United Arab Emirates federation was formed, "have not followed the constitution." They wrote that the constitution stipulates a "process towards a comprehensive democratic parliamentary system."

The UAE, which groups seven emirates including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, had indirect elections in 2006 for the first time, where members of electoral colleges appointed by the emirates' rulers were entitled to vote half the members of 40-strong council.
The remainder were named by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan.

Najla Al Awadhi, a former member of the Federal National Council, one of the first women to join the FNC and its youngest member has a related op-ed in The National:
Through the UAE Constitution, the founding fathers set out a political structure that would ensure a gradual evolution of the FNC into a fully empowered parliamentary body. The key words here are gradual and evolution. These principles were meant to nurture stability as the political process matured. A society requires the proper institutions and mindsets to implement and safeguard a democracy.

... We have seen this progress in the UAE as a result of this centralised, benevolent rule.

The challenge we face today is that the FNC's role is fundamentally the same as the day it was created. Building a legislative body is a process and yes, this process is continuing. Recent news that the size of the electoral pool of eligible voters will be increased for the next session is a major milestone in the FNC's development, and will ensure more Emiratis are able to participate in the building of a civil society.

But more needs to be done. For one, I believe in the need for a joint committee to work between the council and the cabinet, in order to begin the process of joint legislation. This would be an early phase building towards the time when the council fully legislates.
Thanks to @emile_hokayem for leads used in this post.

Updates.

Gulf News:
Over 100 UAE nationals have signed a call for comprehensive reform of the UAE's Federal National Council, including universal suffrage and more legislative power. A petition to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan was circulated Wednesday online calling for more signatures.

The group called for "a comprehensive reform of the parliamentary system of the Federal National Council (FNC), and included demands for free elections by all citizens in the method of universal suffrage. It also demanded reform of the work of the parliament to include legislative and monitoring authorities".

The group includes intellectuals, university professors, former FNC members, former government officials and civil society activists. The petitioners say they are responding to international and regional changes and seek a democratic parliament as stipulated in the UAE constitution of 1971.

WSJ:
More than 100 citizens of the United Arab Emirates have submitted a petition to their rulers demanding an elected parliament with legislative powers, the first sign of a political response in the country to the political changes sweeping across the Middle East.

"This is probably the first political petition in the history of the U.A.E.," said Ibtissam Ketbi, a political scientist who is the first of the petition's 133 signatories.

CNN:
"The group called for a comprehensive reform of the parliamentary system of the Federal National Council (the Parliament), and included demands for free elections by all citizens," Mansoor said in an email. "It also demanded reform of legislation governing the work of the Parliament to include legislative and monitoring authorities and calling for necessary constitutional amendments to ensure that."

Despite widespread political unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, there have been no protests in the U.A.E. Demonstrations aren't technically illegal, but police never grant permits for them.

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