x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dr Shaheen: guardian of the constitution

Abdul Raheem Abdul Lateef Shaheen has invoked articles of the UAE constitution on countless occasions.

Abdul Raheem Abdul Lateef Shaheen wants more effective policies to bring more Emiratis into the job market.
Abdul Raheem Abdul Lateef Shaheen wants more effective policies to bring more Emiratis into the job market.

If the title of Guardian of the Constitution were to be given to a member of the Federal National Council, it could safely be bestowed on a former political science professor, Abdul Raheem Abdul Lateef Shaheen. Since taking his seat on the council in 2007, Dr Shaheen has invoked articles of the UAE constitution on countless occasions, not only to support his arguments, but also to defend the constitution itself.

One of his most repeated phrases when reprimanding an official or organisation is, "This constitutes a breach of the constitution." Last October he forcefully stated that phrase when discussing a pilot state school programme in science and maths that was being taught in English instead of Arabic. Although he is one of the most outspoken members of the council, in recent sessions he has been less enthusiastic about taking the podium.

This is perhaps part of a trend that one member has described as the "silent party" - a reference to several members who were known for being outspoken in their first year or so on the council, but gradually became less vocal. The council has limited parliamentary powers. Its members discuss and pass laws, and even make changes to them, but none of their resolutions are binding. Dr Shaheen, who was elected in 2006 along with half the current members of the 40-seat council, is perhaps its bluntest advocate of political change.

He not only argues that more power should be vested in the advisory body, but also calls for holding direct national elections rather than following a gradual approach to change. "Democracy resembles swimming," he said in March. "You can't learn to swim if I don't throw you into the water, [because] only then will you learn how to swim. "You can't say people are not ready. The preamble of the constitution states the establishment of democratic governance."

It was Dr Shaheen who suggested at a May 2008 meeting between the Russian deputy foreign minister and an FNC delegation that the Russian government should lobby Tehran to acknowledge the presence of a conflict over three UAE islands that Iran has occupied since 1971. News of Russia's promise to do so irked Iranian officials. Some of the pressing issues Dr Shaheen believes the council should focus on are those related to the country's lopsided population, of which more than 80 per cent are expatriates. He has called on council members to press the government to adopt more effective policies to help bring more Emiratis into the job market and protect the country's Arabic and Islamic identity. mhabboush@thenational.ae

Born December 12, 1957 Education ? PhD in political science from Cairo University Family ? Three sons and three daughters, aged from eight to 25. Career ? 1981-1990: Professor of public administration at UAE University ? 1990-2007: Professor of political science at UAE University ? 2006: member of the UAE Human Rights Association ? 2007: Elected member of the FNC for Ras al Khaimah. Committees have included financial, economic and industrial affairs and legislative and legal affairs. Temporary committees include one in 2007 which reported on the policies of the Federal Electricity and Water Authority