x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Candidate who's keeping it in the family

A RAK FNC candidate whose grandfather sat on the council says he wants to follow in his ancestor's footsteps. However, a female candidate says it is difficult for women to compete with "so many men" on the council.

Faisal bin Jumah Al Tunaji at his RAK villa with a newspaper clipping featuring his grandfather. Pawan Singh / The National
Faisal bin Jumah Al Tunaji at his RAK villa with a newspaper clipping featuring his grandfather. Pawan Singh / The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // When Faisal bin Jumah Al Tunaji saw his name among the list of people who were eligible to become candidates in this week's Federal National Council election, he rushed to register, seeking to continue a family legacy that began with the formation of the UAE.

His grandfather, Ahmad Abdullah Al Tunaji, was one of the FNC members representing RAK when the council held its first session on February 12, 1972.

"Grandfather was a chief among the fishermen tribes of RAK," Mr Al Tunaji said. "He was appointed for his wisdom and his ability to mediate between all the major coastal tribes."

Mr Al Tunaji, a 36-year-old businessman, is one of 60 candidates in RAK, including nine women, for the emirate's three seats on the FNC.

"My campaign is about building on what we already have, preserving it, and improving on it with whatever needs come up," he said.

Holding a clipping from a newspaper that featured an interview with his grandfather during the first elections in 2006, Mr Al Tunaji read out one of the quotes.

"Don't wait for people to come to you, you go to them. Sit with the elders and the young," he said, quoting his grandfather, who died a year after the interview. "Depend on yourself, and take initiative."

The younger Mr Al Tunaji said: "I wish my grandfather was here to see this election. To see how things are progressing and how now, I, one of his first grandsons, am part of the process. By next elections, I am sure there will be many changes and I hope to be among the members that helped in that change."

Change may not be coming quickly enough for the emirate's female candidates. One of them said it was hard for the women to compete against "so many prominent" male candidates.

"We are trying our best to convince voters to give a woman a chance, at least once, and if they don't like what she does, then they can go back to voting for men," said Aisha Al Shehhi, 32.

In 2006, RAK voters elected three men.

As a single woman, Ms Al Shehhi said she can devote all her energy to fulfilling her role as "a voice of the people" inside the council.

"There are many issues raised by the people I want to raise inside the council, like much-needed reforms regarding land and farms," she said. "I want the chance to do that."

Ms Al Shehhi feels confident that being a member of the largest mountain tribe in RAK will help her in the long run.

"We are a proud and stubborn tribe, and as time has proven, any Shehhi FNC member has always had a presence and a great say in the council," she said.

Through the years, there have been representatives from the major RAK tribes at the FNC, including a Khateri, a major desert tribe, as well as a Shehhi and a Tunaji.

Yet while campaign fever is quite strong in the city of RAK, with more than 20 candidates still awaiting spots for their posters, Emiratis in the villages near the mountains say they have been overlooked.

"What elections?" asked Sulaiman Al Shehhi, who is in his 70s, as he sat with two other tribe members outside their traditional home in Kebdah mountain village.

The three friends said they did notice advertisements when they drove into the city, but dismissed them as "some sort of marketing for a product".

"We haven't seen any of the candidates making rounds in the villages. If they have, we would have heard about it through word of mouth," he said. "News travels fast among the villages, faster than your mobile phone."

When the list of candidates running was read out to them, the name of the female candidate from the same tribe surprised them most. "A woman? A Shehhi woman is running in this election? Times have changed too much," said Salem Mohammed Al Shehhi, who is in his 80s.

Sultan bin Saif, the third tribesman in the group, who is in his 60s, had dropped by his friend's house on his way back from the mosque. He said he had heard something about the election on the radio. However, he expressed some scepticism.

"I don't understand why we need an election," he said. "We have everything we need and more. I don't see what more can be achieved by this or other elections."

The tribesmen said they did not need anything, other than perhaps some renovations to their homes.

"We have the mountains and we have rights and care. We don't need anything from candidates," Mr bin Saif said.

"They are just enjoying putting up their photos and holding majlis with friends and family and calling it work," he said, as his friends joined him in laughter.

"But if it makes them happy, then why not? We are happy as we are. Voting and not voting is not something we worry about."



Diana Hamade on women in the FNC: comment, page a14