x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

An EU report that doesn't bother with actual facts

The EU resolution that places the UAE among a group of human rights abusers underscores that members of the European Parliament know nothing about the UAE.

We have known each other for decades. Since the days of the UAE's founding, the country has had deep relationships with western countries, especially in Europe. It is not just business relationships, either - Emiratis travel to Europe for pleasure and European expatriates have long made their homes in the UAE.

That is partly why a recent resolution by the European Parliament - placing the UAE among a group of "human rights abusers" - has been such a shock to Emiratis. The resolution, which focused on labour issues and other human-rights conditions, also singled out the UAE based on the treatment of expatriate women.

The resolution, and the debates and discussions that preceded it, seemed to underscore the fact that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) know nothing about the UAE.

In practice, the European Parliament has little political significance even on the continent. Its resolutions are relegated to the realm of the talk shop, and decisions by the MEPs rarely have any actual influence. Nor do they represent the official policy of national governments.

But labelling the UAE as a human-rights abuser - based on clear misunderstandings about the country - is still a very irresponsible act. In its resolution, the Parliament places UAE policy issues on the same level as grave human-rights abuses - such as the attack on Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan and the Taliban's harassment of girls in that country. By confusing the two situations, the MEPs diminish the very real threats against girls like Malala.

The Government of the UAE has further reiterated its duty of protecting women's rights in response to the Parliament's allegations. In the Middle East, the UAE is well know for its championing of women's rights and empowerment.

The allegations based on unsubstantiated claims lead to questions about the political motivations. Was the goal to effect change, or to simply attack the UAE?

Interestingly, there have been no widespread complaints by Emiratis themselves on these issues. The overwhelming majority of Emiratis are satisfied with the Government and what takes place here, even if they may have criticisms on some issues.

The Government is known for its policy of tolerance, including towards expatriates, and the endeavour to create a better quality of life for citizens. Unlike in most other Arab countries, citizens generally believe that tomorrow will be better than today thanks to good governance - and it is no surprise that young Arabs across the region want to come to the UAE.

Of course, there are some sections of the population that are unsatisfied. These are such a small number that they hardly count as a movement. Some activists want more democratic rights or a multi-party system, and the Government has committed to increasing representation and reforming the political system.

But Emiratis are aware that the pace of change matters. Furthermore, in the UAE there is a clear structure for individuals to express themselves or to address their concerns to the Government.

The European Parliament debate came to the fore as the UAE has moved to deal aggressively with Islamist movements within its borders. The Parliament's reaction has been to paint the UAE as intolerant. However, such movements including Al Islah and other Muslim Brotherhood-related groups, have a history of spreading radical and intolerant ideologies in the country.

More than 60 suspected members are being held by authorities pending trial, on charges including that they have received support from foreign groups and sought to overthrow the Government.

The UAE is known for welcoming expatriates from all over the world - on the condition, of course, that they do not threaten national security.

To address the European Parliament's resolution regarding labour rights, there needs to be some historical context. The Government has worked hard in recent years to ensure that contracts are honoured, that salaries are paid on time, and that living conditions and safety standards are monitored by authorities.

To enhance worker protections, the UAE has collaborated with South and South-east Asian countries to improve conditions in particular for lower paid workers. There are problems that remain, but the UAE is working to fix them.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already rejected the European Parliament's claims as unsubstantiated and based on hearsay. Indeed, we have to wonder whether the MEPs bothered to do any research on the particular circumstances of the UAE before reaching these conclusions.

 

Dr Salem Humaid is an Emirati writer on social and political affairs

On Twitter: @bgsalem