A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The UAE's FNC Elections

The closest thing the United Arab Emirates has to elections is the elections to the 40 member Federal National Council (FNC), a purely advisory body, only half (20) of whose members are elected. Even Saudi Arabia at least votes for municipality councils with some actual local say. The UAE has long flourished through sharing its wealth with its citizens (a minority of its residents) rather than sharing power.

This year's FNC elections were a bit embarrassing due to their low turnout. see Jenifer Fenton's guest post at The Arabist.She analyzes the problems with trying to give the FNC more credibility when it has no legislative powers. It can't build trust if it can't really do anything. It's useful background for those of us who rarely look at politics in the Emirates, mostly because it's so hard to find the politics in the Emirates.

Also of interest is an article in The National in which outgoing FNC members offer advice for the new incoming ones. The first point of advice? "They need to read the Constitution." I guess the assumption is they haven't read it already.


David Mack said...

UAE electors' lack of enthusiasm for FNC elections does not surprise me much. While it is counter to our ideology of electoral democracy, the fact is that there are only two cases where a country with high per capita GDP has seen serious political agitation. Bahrain (nasty sectarian divide with minority in power) and Libya (dis-functional government and very eccentric leader) are both special cases. Many Emiratis doubtless want a political voice as well as a comfortable life with considerable personal freedom, but when they look around their neighborhood at countries that have elections, what do they see? Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan. Kuwait is a possible model, but the Kuwaiti parliament, which is fairly powerful and is controlled by opponents of the government, does not inspire a lot of confidence. Let's face reality: smothering sparks of opposition with money and carefully targeted arrests while engaging in very gradual political reforms is a strategy that seems to be working rather well. It will never meet the standards of the Washington Post and Human Rights Watch, but it seems true.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


The old argument in Singapore used to be "Look at Malaysia." Of course Malaysia later got prosperous, but that's another part of the world.