x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

RAK: convoys arrive from villages and hills

Men bumped noses and women kissed cheeks, the greetings of close friends rather than competitors.

Voters queue to cast their ballots at the Ras Al Khaimah exhibition centre for the Federal National Council elections.
Voters queue to cast their ballots at the Ras Al Khaimah exhibition centre for the Federal National Council elections.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // As the sun rose over the mountains and creek, tribesmen sat waiting at the gates of the RAK exhibition hall.

Khalfan Ali Abdulla Al Naqbi was first to arrive, along with election organisers, police and royal tea servers.

Picture gallery: FNC elections, voters cast ballots across UAE

“I’ve come here very happy,” said Mr Al Naqbi, 56. “I will choose my candidate from the house of the Shehhuh [tribe].

“I came here to vote, not to get involved in politics, but because it is the least I can do. It is my Arab duty to be loyal.”

Candidates filled chairs in a corner of the hall overlooking a row of electronic voting machines. Men bumped noses while women, draped in gold jewellery and gem-studded abayas, kissed cheeks.

Hanan Al Tenaiji drove with her mother, grandmother and great aunt from her home in Al Rams to vote.

The women rose early to dress and perfume themselves for what many believe will be one of RAK’s biggest social occasions of the year.

“It’s the first time for us,” Ms Al Tenaiji said. “I want to develop RAK like Dubai, like Abu Dhabi. RAK has everything.”

Her mother, Aisha Salem, 40, said: “It’s a blessed day.”

Candidates across the country had dedicated themselves to social networking to reach voters. But majlis campaigns were the most effective way of winning support, voters said.

The women in Ms Al Tenaiji’s family voted for male candidates, despite not being allowed to sit in the majlis with the men to meet them personally.

Discussion continued on election day at a makeshift majlis outside the hall.

“The most important things are health and education,” said Fuaad Jumal, 46, a police trainer. “There is a shortage of many things. We need more clinics, more doctors, more nurses, more medicine. We don’t have any of this.”

Ali Yousef Ali Al Bazzi, 40, his friend and a candidate, said: “Having a building is not the problem, the problem is having the staff, good doctors and medicine inside it.”

The elections were a family affair with generations arriving together, many travelling in convoy from mountain and seaside villages. Adel Al Mazrooei, 33, and his wife, Umm Fahd, 30, came to vote together for a candidate they both agreed on.

“Before it was difficult or shameful – but now only the old man is ashamed to bring his wife or daughter,” said Mr Al Mazrooei. “Now people are educated.”

The couple picked their candidate early in the election campaign based on personal relationships rather than slogans and pledges. Housing and employment were their priorities.

Ahmed Mohammed, 28, escorted his father, Mohammed Salah, 82, in a wheelchair through the exhibition grounds to greet old and young tribesmen.

Asked what he thought of the elections, he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “In the old days we chose based on a man’s achievements.”

His son selected his candidate using Facebook and Twitter for research.

By contrast, Mr Salah paid no attention to the campaign and voted for “his oldest friends”.

The election hall was the place to be seen, even for those too young to vote.

Teenagers came with their teachers and principals to learn about the elections. They coordinated their outfits for the big day, sporting matching baseball caps, checkered ghutras, pink sashes and UAE scarves.

A pupil from Saeed bin Jaber School spoke on behalf of his friends about the most pressing concern for young men.

“Marriage,” he said, his friends nodding in agreement. “It’s too expensive. But I’m a man. I’m not afraid of costs.”

Pressure to pay for a wedding meant many of these students, aged 17 and 18, planned to join the military instead of seeking higher education or joining the private sector.

Housing and employment, two of the biggest issues in RAK election campaigns, could ease the pressures felt by these men in their late teens.

azacharias@thenational.ae