x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

... as the UAE has its own path to travel

The new year brings promising new opportunities for the Federal National Council, which has started its term well.

Amid the remarkable regional events of the past year, the UAE celebrated milestones all its own. The country saw its 40th anniversary last month in an outpouring of patriotism and unity. In September, we witnessed the second parliamentary elections, and the largest in the nation's history. In the coming year, with regional and global challenges on the horizon, these strengths will be necessary to navigate the road ahead.

The electoral college for last year's Federal National Council elections expanded to almost 130,00 voters from about 6,600 in 2006. But the work of the FNC this year will continue to test its role. In the two sessions that took place towards the end of the year, members appeared to be keen to make the changes expected from them. And authorities seem to be responsive. As The National reported last week, for example, members persuaded officials to drop a plan limiting the age of parents who want to adopt. This was a good example of the relevance of the FNC to people's everyday lives.

But the Council's work should not be limited to this. It is important to engage the public in this process, first to exercise political rights and, second, to be aware of the role the Council is playing. To that end, the FNC is planning a telephone hotline and social media channels for Emiratis to resolve grievances. While political empowerment is an incremental process, the FNC must continued to move forward this year.

The government has also announced a surge in budgets for health and education. We have seen in the past year serious shortfalls in quality education and health care. The funds are welcome, but more than budgets are needed. We hope that authorities will consider the failed - or successful - policies followed in the past years.

In the exciting events in the region over the past year, there is also uncertainty. In recent days, we have seen Iran growing increasingly belligerent, risking direct confrontation with the GCC states. This is a challenge that the UAE must meet strongly, with due caution and in cooperation with GCC allies and others.

Amid the economic circumstances and political transformation in the region, the UAE has a leadership role, as demonstrated in the skies above Libya and economic assistance to Egypt. By laying a strong foundation at home, the UAE will also help its neighbours build in the coming year.