x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

FNC winners open doors to return favour

During campaigning for the FNC, tribal and community leaders hosted candidates in their majlises. Now the successful candidates are returning the hospitality: hosting the leaders to hear their concerns.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // For three weeks, tribal and community leaders hosted FNC candidates in their majlises to hear their campaigns.

Now the winners are returning the hospitality.

In the past week, thousands of people have travelled across the country to discuss the issues closest to their hearts with their newly elected representatives.

Mohammed Al Shehhi, 51, a government employee, made the rounds of the three winning candidates' majlises in RAK last week, including that of Saeed Al Khatri.

"We come to say congratulations and to show that support is from all Ras Al Khaimah, not only from Al Khatri [tribe], and to talk about the important things like health and education, and our problems in village areas," said Mr Al Shehhi.

"The first time we come it is for a greeting, the second time it is business."

While only a fraction of the Emirati population was eligible to vote - 129,274 - entire villages were involved in majlis meetings. These visits allowed politics to move beyond tribal loyalties.

Votes were often made on behalf of all family members, rather than merely to represent the voter's own choice.

At the majlis of Mr Al Khatri, one man stepped forward and broke into the political discussion to recite poetry to honour the host. This is customary.

But the discussion was much more than fine words. Within an hour, Mr Al Khatri met delegations from four villages, discussed the retirement age of teachers, the shortage of late-night hospital staff and employment options for graduates.

"All of us are human and all must serve the UAE," he said.

"When meeting the people before the election, I went to the other majlises and before we met they thought, 'I won't give him my vote, he's not my tribe'.

"But I am not Khatri or Hebsi or Shehhi - I am from the tribe of the UAE."

Mr Al Khatri's guests have included 200 students from four schools and dozens of teachers, who paraded on buses through his village, Hamraniya.

"I must meet with the people to know what the issues of the problems are, not stay at home and search on the internet," he told a group of men from RAK and Abu Dhabi, before the conversation turned to the disparity in salaries between the two emirates.

With perfect poise, Mr Al Khatri, 59, a retired army officer with a master's degree in military science, spoke little and listened well.

In an adjacent majlis, women met his wife, Sheikha, 48, a poet who was married as a teenager and has 10 children aged between 12 and 35.

"The woman who cannot talk to my husband can come and talk and I can speak to him on her behalf," she said.

"Some women have problems with their husbands, they want to get a divorce but they do not have money; some women are homeless and living with their in-laws; some women work but the husband does not, so they have problems with the bank. As a woman I can understand these things."

Once elected, members often turn to family to find solutions.

Faisal Abdullah Al Teniji, 36, learnt this from his grandfather, who was appointed to the FNC in 1972.

When Mr Al Teniji was elected for RAK he rushed home to open his grandfather's majlis.

"Many people have put their trust in me and it's a big responsibility," he said. "It is our time to develop our achievements and to renew."

In the week before the elections Mr Teniji saw between 80 and 100 visitors a night. After elections, this shot up to between 200 and 300 daily visits.

Many of the faces he saw on Saturday night were the same men who would visit his grandfather. "It's not something new to us," said the family elder, Abdulla Abdulrahman Jumaa, 73. "Even in the old times the sheikhs were always getting advice. This [voting] is just the modern way of doing that.

"We would sit together first and when we reached one decision, we would go to the sheikh."

Mr Al Teniji was one of two candidates from the small north-coast town of Al Rams to win a seat.

The north coast had some of the strongest voter participation in the emirate and the three winning candidates, who beat 56 other competitors, made a point of visiting remote southern areas largely forgotten by others.

Mr Al Teniji hopes political participation will spread through the majlis.

"It was an occasion, but overall the numbers were very low because it was Saturday and the next day was a working day and the rest of them were on their way to work in Abu Dhabi," he said. "We need at least three centres."

azacharias@thenational.ae