Emirati scholar Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi believes the most important thing is to recognise the constitution as the supreme law and respect federal institutions.
It is time the UAE introduced universal suffrage and had a full-fledged parliament and a constitution that is respected as the supreme law of the country, an Emirati thinker says.
"Democracy can be achieved through elections. But we, Emiratis, do not need political parties," said Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, adviser to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.
In an exclusive interview with Weekend Review, Dr Al Suwaidi touched on how the dilemma of popular control of a government headed by or composed of a Shaikh or a Ruler will be solved, how strong the UAE Federation is, the relationship between GCC countries and other Arab nations, the Gulf's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, the situation in Iraq and American intentions to reshape the Middle East, among other issues.
What kind of parliamentary life does the political elite in the UAE seek?
If asked should the Federal National Council (FNC) elections be the first step towards a full democracy, I would say absolutely excellent … But if it were the first and last step, that would be a mistake, because it [this step] is not democracy. Democracy means no confidence motions in parliament, press freedom and free civil society organisations. We all demand universal suffrage, that is extending the right to vote to all adults, so that all people have a say in the running of the government. This, of course, occurs after two or three experiences, which lead to direct elections.
This is exactly what is stated in the first UAE Constitution. So why has this step been delayed?
It is no surprise. The constitution is continuously violated to the point that one can basically say it doesn't exist. A country either has a respected constitution or it can just throw it into the sea and say it does not have one. The Constitution must be the supreme law of the country and it should govern everyone - the Supreme Council Members, the government and the people. For instance, if a minister violates the constitution, they must be held accountable - get and fired. There should be zero tolerance for violation of the constitution and everybody should be held accountable
How will the dilemma of popular control of a government headed by or composed of a Shaikh or a Ruler be solved?
Democracy is not limited to control of the government. We must first of all recognise the constitution as the supreme law and that it is an indivisible part of our beloved homeland. Also, federal institutions must be respected. Now neither the constitution nor the federal institutions are duly respected, which is a grave mistake.
What role can the FNC play in the political reforms that are aspired to?
With no powers, the FNC has no role and will never have one in any political reform.
What powers does the political elite demand from the FNC?
We seek accountability and right of [introducing] a no confidence motion. Every minister must draw up a plan and his performance must be assessed against that plan and whoever fails to fulfil his obligations must go. Also, whoever violates the constitution must be sacked. Violating the constitution means encroaching on the country's sovereignty.
There is an impression that the UAE's youth are not interested in politics.
I believe the economic situation has a major role in this. The 'cake' is big and everybody is interested in his share of it and nothing else. I have spoken to many Electoral College members in Abu Dhabi. Most of them told me they are not going to vote in the FNC elections. Polls are not their concern at all. Since the economic situation is good, the people do not want the 'noise' of politics. For instance, in Norway, one of the foremost western democracies, the people do not care who runs the government as long as they do a good job.
There should be a way out of this problem, but I do not know how. It is the economic situation which covers these problems and defects because a strong economy is like make-up, which hides the creases on a woman's face.
In the northern emirates, some people still complain of the lack of sufficient economic resources…
The constitution should be the empire and the supreme law here, too. The northern emirates are part of the UAE Federation and the Federation is responsible for them all. The state is responsible for all the people across the emirates. But I can see now that federal institutions are getting weaker and the local institutions are getting stronger. This is wrong, and will have a negative impact on future generations
The problem is that local authorities are much stronger than the federal ones, which negatively affects the federation. The Federation has deteriorated a lot. Federal institutions should not offer concessions to the local ones because this violates the constitution and will push the federation to the point of no return.
You have been quoted as saying the UAE will not have political parties in the short or long term. Is that true?
Yes, it is true. I believe the UAE will not have political parties. We are a tribal community and not a partisan one. Parties are too sophisticated a regime for a tribal community like ours.
You can see [many of] the Electoral Committee members are not interested in casting their votes.
Democracy can be achieved through elections. But we, Emiratis, do not need political parties.
You are a member of the recently established National Media Council. What is the role of the media in this critical stage of the UAE's history?
The media has a fundamental role. People do not know much about democracy and elections. The media should educate the people. But unfortunately the media is not doing enough in this regard.
Will this council be able to assume a role in boosting the freedom of expression, even though the Journalists Association is not represented in it?
It [the National Media Council] has no role in boosting the freedom of expression. But it will not have a role in the future.
If it has any role it will be limited. I really don't know what the criteria were for selecting the members of the National Media Council. Even the vision and the objectives of the council were set by a foreign institution.
I understand the media is a local entity, which must reflect the country's culture and must adopt its goals.
Absolutely right. This evolves from the local people, according to their needs, wants and hardships. It is not a blueprint for a company. It is the future of the nation.
If you want democracy, there must be freedom of expression and press freedom is vital for this. Chronic problems in society must be addressed or the situation will get worse.
This can only be done through a free press and powerful parliament with real authority. A powerful parliament and free press keep governments clean.
Will this council play a role in bringing in more UAE nationals to the media?
I hope so. The country has excellent media professionals in all fields. But unfortunately we Arabs suffer 'an inferiority complex' towards foreigners. Anyone who is clad in a kandoura and headdress is considered a fool and foreigners intelligent.
What is the formula for press freedom?
The UAE should have a free but responsible press. Journalists should be given the right to publish and other parties have the right to take them to court. If somebody is defamed, he or she should have the right to sue the journalist for libel. But authoritarian orders and influence to throw the journalist into jail should not be used. All institutions should also be held accountable for hiding facts or not allowing journalists access to these facts. The rule of law and transparency should prevail.
How can a balance between the risks of foreign workers and the requirements of development be struck?
We should deal with foreign workers and the problem of imbalance in population structure as a reality. [One way is] granting citizenship to a huge number of Arab and Muslim intellectuals, professionals, because, after all, we are an Arab country.
Do you think that a military strike on Iran is feasible?
Yes, It is very feasible.
By whom? US or Israel?
Both will not hesitate to use full force against Iran to halt its nuclear programme once other options do not work. Iran is pushing the world into a dark tunnel. If it becomes a nuclear power, other countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even the UAE will seek nuclear weapons.
And the Arab position?
The Arab League died a long time ago. It should be closed for renovations. It should look after the economy and not politics and military affairs. Politically speaking, the Arab League is spreading differences in the Arab world rather than being a uniting force.
What would you see if you look at the map of the Arab world other than the Arab League?
The map of the Arab world will change for the worse. There will be more fragmentation, like what happened following the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the First World War.
The 1916 agreement created post-Second World War boundaries in the Middle East. It was a scandal, opening a Pandora's box of eventual controversies. Europe, led by Britain and France, reshaped an entire region based on their political ambitions.
The negotiations were held confidentially and those that were to be most directly affected - the members of the Middle Eastern communities being partitioned - were kept in the dark about the proceedings and their intentions. History repeats itself and the Americans are doing now what the old colonials did then.
The future is for new emerging economic powers such as China and Malaysia. So where are the Arabs and why are they not heading to the East rather than the West, which failed?
We wish that we turn towards the East. But unfortunately the US does not allow us to. I also feel Gulf states should spend more on development than weapons, like Germany and Japan after the Second World War, which became financial superpowers because they have done away with expensive weaponry. If Iran goes nuclear, these weapons will be of no use.
And what about relations between the GCC and other Arab countries?
Arab countries are the backbone of the GCC countries and it is for the good of the GCC states to assist other Arab countries whenever it is possible. The GCC countries have several problems such as religious sectarianism between the Sunnis and the Shiites, whereas in other Arab countries such problems hardly exist. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have such problems and the fallout will affect us. As such other Arab countries will come to our assistance if we are threatened by such fallouts.
What do you think of Saddam Hussain's death sentence and its repercussions?
Saddam is a criminal who deserves this fate.
But what do you think will be the repercussions of
If Saddam is executed 100 people will be killed instead of 90. Iraq is no more. Iran and others have entered the arena.
I think it is an American scheme to let the Iranians expand. And they will expand in Bahrain and the eastern region in Saudi Arabia. The UAE may also be affected by this expansion. I do not see a solution for this except for the Shiites to owe allegiance to their own countries and governments rather than being loyal to the Imam and the ruling ayatollahs in Iran.
Did US President George W. Bush lose his global war against terror?
Yes, he lost it long ago, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush is foolish.
But Bush claims that he ended the rule of tyranny and brought the rule of law instead.
Where did he bring the rule of law? Is it there in Iraq, where 100 Iraqis are killed everyday? Is that the rule of law?
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is adviser to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and director of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research. Married with four children, Dr Al Suwaidi is a professor of comparative politics at the UAE University. Born in 1959, Dr Al Suwaidi is a member of a number of prominent associations including the American Political Science Association, the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. He received the Medal of National Merit of the First Order from the President of the French Republic in 2002 and the Young CEO Award by the Middle East Excellence Awards Institutes in Dubai this year. Dr Al Suwaidi was appointed a member of the National Media Council this year.