UAE president says empowerment is ‘soul’ of the Federal National Council
The president of the United Arab Emirates promised greater
political rights to citizens at the opening session of the country's partly
elected assembly on Tuesday.
Home to business hub Dubai and major oil producer Abu Dhabi,
the UAE has said it is committed to gradual political reforms, but has given no
"Empowerment is the soul of the federation,"
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan told members of the new Federal National
Council (FNC), an advisory assembly with few legislative powers.
"Your session today is a successful crowning of the
second stage in our progress towards deepening the culture of [political]
participation and enhancing its practice."
Earlier this year, the UAE increased the number of eligible
voters for half of the seats of the 40-member FNC assembly to 129,000 - nearly
20 times more than the UAE's first election.
That is still only around 12 percent of UAE nationals.
Ministers have signalled they will continue to expand the
electoral pool until all Emiratis can vote but critics say that this is
meaningless as long as the FNC has no real power.
"Your people, your highness, are looking forward to you
through their representatives ... to have a more potent role for the national
council so it can fulfill its commitments to the Emirati people," the
assembly's new speaker, Mohammed Ahmed al-Mur, said in his inaugural address.
The UAE's constitution gives the assembly the right to
debate laws drafted by government ministries and suggest changes to them, but
their changes can be overruled by the country's president.
New assembly members said they wanted more legislative
powers to allow them to hold government officials accountable and make binding
"Its decisions should be more powerful, especially
because people tell us 'you are useless'," Rashad Bukhash, an elected
member from Dubai, said. "This is why there was low turnout in the
election; people don't see that the council has a strong supervisory
Just over a quarter of eligible voters cast their ballots in
Among the world's top five oil exporters, the UAE is a
federation of seven emirates, each governed by a ruling family that transfers
power from father to son, or brother to brother.
It has remained immune from the public protests that have
swept other Arab countries and toppled heads of state in Tunisia, Egypt and
The UAE has moved swiftly to quash any dissent. Five
political activists and bloggers are currently on trial on charges of insulting
the country's rulers and urging protests.
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