UAE politics can be understood only through education

Opinion - “It is part of our efforts to create a generation of politically savvy young Emiratis”.
Politically savvy: More could be done to engage Emirati youth in the FNC.
By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Thu 15 Jun 2017 08:32 AM

The best way to understand geopolitics is to get your head around local politics.

Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, often repeated the expression: All politics is local. His point being that local issues have the greatest effect on a population.

The Federal National Council (FNC) is the UAE’s consultative body that debates laws before they are enacted, and can question - sometimes quite aggressively - ministers.

In the past few months, the FNC has been to Egypt, Bangladesh, Morocco, England, Ireland and Germany. Within the UAE, the FNC has also been active. From brainstorming sessions in March with the heads of polling stations from the most recent elections (which were held in 2015); to field visits conducted by members in Umm Al Qaiwain; to public discussions in Dubai in April at a gathering titled “Political Development in the UAE”. The FNC is doing what it can to educate young Emiratis.

Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of State for FNC Affairs, was quoted recently as saying that “spreading political awareness and establishing a culture of political participation among Emirati youth is one of the Ministry’s top strategic priorities. It is part of our efforts to create a generation of politically savvy young Emiratis.”

She absolutely has it right. I would argue, however, that the FNC must do more locally.

Instead of travelling around the world, the members should tour the UAE. I understand how important it is to spread the UAE brand overseas, but all the goodwill outside the country pales in comparison to an educated and knowledgeable local population.

I have been to FNC sessions (any member of the public is allowed to attend), and the hall where the debates take place can accommodate hundreds of people. Unfortunately, on the occasions when I went, there were more journalists than spectators.

An Emirati, of course, should be learning about his country, but the burden of responsibility must be shared with the education system to start the student down the proper path.

In elementary and high schools in the UAE, the closest that educators come to teaching the FNC is when placing it in historical context as it pertains to the formation of the country. I suggest there needs to be more about how it can work for Emiratis.

To the best of my research, there is no university or college in the UAE that offers a course on the FNC. As part of the 2030 plan, the UAE is determined to build a knowledge-based economy, which means educated Emirati Millennials are essential for a country to understand the politics at play in the GCC.

In February, Al Kaabi delivered a lecture at Ajman University about the importance of political participation. This is exactly what needs to be done on a more regular basis.

At the 2015 World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, said the goal is “to celebrate the last oil of barrel we export because we will be prepared for that day when it comes”.

When addressing his majlis for future generations in March 2017, Sheikh Mohammed was even more explicit. “Progress in this country cannot be made without the youth. It is you, not the three million barrels of oil per day, who are the source of hope of this country, its future and real weapon.”

The work of the FNC needs to be done in its own backyard. The members must travel throughout the UAE, visit every emirate and engage in town hall meetings so Emirates can ask questions, learn what is being done and discover how they can get involved.

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