x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

First FNC session for new members today

High-profile choices prove popular ahead of today's first session for all 40 new members.

Political observers have welcomed the appointment of a number of respected public figures to the Federal National Council ahead of the first session today of all 40 new members.

The list of appointed members, revealed exclusively by The National yesterday, gives a first view of how the seven Rulers now view the council's role.

Analysts praised the high-profile appointments, given that some of the elected members were not as well known on the national stage.

The appointments include Dr Mona Al Baher, the first Emirati social worker in the UAE; Noura Al Kaabi, the head of twofour54 Tawasol and human development at the media company; Afra Al Basti, the executive director of the Dubai Foundation for Woman and Children; and Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, who works on preserving heritage sites and relics.

"The government has to, of course, employ public figures," said Dr Ebtisam Al Kitbi, a professor of political science at UAE University. "Maybe the elected members were known in their emirate, but appointees are known in the whole of the UAE."

She was unsurprised, though, that there were only six women on the list of appointments, two fewer than in 2006, bringing the total number on the FNC to seven.

"Some ladies appointed before did not prove themselves," she said. Still, Dr Al Kitbi said the Government was clearly keen to compensate for the election of just one women, Sheikha Eissa from Umm Al Qaiwain.

"And they come from different fields, some academic, some social services, and some media," she said. "And the women are very well known."

Dr Al Kitbi also noticed that none of the appointments this time were of candidates who had failed to win election - as a handful were in 2006.

Four of the appointed members were on the previous FNC - Dr Al Qubaisi from Abu Dhabi; Ali Al Jassem from Umm Al Qaiwain; and Abdul-Rahim Shaheen and Rashed Mohammed Al Shariqi, both from Ras Al Khaimah - meaning the council would have "more new faces".

"Ninety per cent of them are new," she said. "And the reappointment of some of them is just a sign that their emirate thought they did well in the council."

Rashid Al Marar, a former Abu Dhabi member, had a feeling before the campaigns started that Dr Al Qubaisi would eventually be appointed. He was one of the few former members given a vote, and the only one to run for re-election, which he lost.

By contrast, several of those appointed were not eligible to vote or stand in the September 24 poll.

Dr Mona Al Baher, appointed from Dubai, was on the electoral roll in 2006, but not this time.

"I was just discussing with a friend that it was OK that my name was not on the list, and it could mean that I would be appointed - and later that night I got a call from the Ruler's court informing me of my appointment," she said. "It was still very unexpected."

Yesterday, the 40 members met in the capital to prepare for tomorrow's first session of the fifteenth legislative chapter, with the appointed members having had just a couple of days to "adjust" to their new role.

Noua Al Kaabi, appointed from Abu Dhabi, received a phone call from the FNC on Sunday, after missing a call from the Ruler's court the night before.

"I was driving, on my way to the F1," she said, adding she was looking forward to meeting the other members.

That chance came yesterday, as the members were briefed about today's opening itinerary at the headquarters near the capital's Corniche.

The FNC building was being decorated with UAE flags ahead of the scheduled arrival today of Sheikh Khalifa, the President.

Hassan Talib Al Muri, who failed to win election in Dubai, said those appointed were "some of the best people". He was looking forward to reading about the first session, he said, and hoped the council would be "much better this time round".

Abdulnaser Al Rashedi, a 29-year-old from Abu Dhabi who was a voter at the previous elections, said many of those appointed were already prominent in their fields.

"These are people who are very well respected and have a wealth of knowledge," he said. "They can surely give back to the community as well as maybe becoming a learning tool for the elected people."

He noted that Ms Al Kaabi would be a great addition to the council and, as an active Twitter user, would be a voice for young people.

"She is a great individual, amazing women, and I know that having her in the FNC will not do anything but improve and strengthen it," he said.

osalem@thenational.ae