x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Scholars complain about cancelled forum in RAK

Meeting was meant to be third in series to promote dialogue between council members and citizens.

ABU DHABI // Nearly three dozen Emirati academics and activists have delivered a letter of protest to the Federal National Council (FNC) after a meeting for citizens to raise their concerns was cancelled without explanation last month. The National Dialogue Forum scheduled for December 11 in Ras al Khaimah, the third gathering of its kind, was intended to continue a dialogue between council members and citizens. Its agenda was to include topics such as national identity, the role of non-governmental organisations and legislation.

"The FNC is the representative of the citizens in front of the Government, so it's extremely essential that the we transfer our views and concerns to them," said Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati blogger and activist who organised the petition. "We've not been meeting with them on a regular basis, and isolating citizens from the FNC goes against the instructions of the highest authority in the country, Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE."

The letter, which was delivered on Tuesday, called on the FNC to explain the cancellation. "What happened was not justified; it does not help bolster the relationship between the people and the FNC members, nor does it enrich dialogue on national issues - the right to dialogue must rather be established as a fundamental citizen's right," it read. "We are hereby expressing our explicit objection to this measure and are looking forward to your support in calling for a stop to restrictions on popular initiatives that aim to start a public dialogue on matters of national interest."

The forum was also scheduled to discuss proposals that would make the FNC a fully elected body. The group began as a 40-member council appointed by leaders of the seven emirates. Half its members became elected representatives in 2006, chosen by 6,600 Emiratis appointed by the rulers. Some members are pushing for further reforms. Though citizens can contact council members directly to raise concerns, a public gathering is "very important", said Mr Mansoor, because it is the only instance in which people can gather to discuss issues before leaders.

The meeting may have been called off because of the death of Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qassimi, said Ahmad al Dhahiri, an FNC member scheduled to be at the event. Organisers said they were told the forum was cancelled on the night of December 10, several hours before Sheikh Sultan died. Dr Aisha al Nuaimi, a communications professor at UAE University and one of the letter's signatories, said she could not understand why the event was halted as issues to be discussed were not controversial.

"Fifteen years ago it was much easier for society to raise these issues," she said. "I think we have to stand and defend our right to give our opinion about an issue in society. That's why we signed the letter." Email:lmorris@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush