FNC must come up with better ways to reach out to Emiratis

Many Emiratis still cannot find a suitable platform to voice their concerns to the Federal National Council.

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In 2006, UAE nationals from across the country witnessed the beginning of a new era with the country's first free elections. For the first time, campaign posters were put up of young Emirati men and women running for seats on the Federal National Council.

It was an exciting and promising time for the citizens of the country who had been given the choice of who would represent them and act as buffer between the citizens and the government. The voice of Emiratis was to be heard and our issues were to be addressed by a body that ranked fourth in the hierarchy of the Abu Dhabi Government. And yet while much has been achieved since then, many Emiratis still cannot find a suitable platform to voice their concerns to the FNC.

When Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE President, announced in 2005 that the FNC would have a stronger role and more powers in the years to come, he stated: "We will do our best so that our council will become more powerful and effective and closer to domestic issues and concerns of citizens, with the true values of participation and a deliberative approach being well established through a gradual process of development." A year later, the first public elections were underway.

The second elections took place in 2011. It was a riveting election campaign; candidates sought to win votes without resorting to "dirty politics" that we are so accustomed to seeing in other countries. During the campaign, citizens followed the progress of candidates with great interest and were glued to their TV to watch candidates deliver speeches filled with promises and assurances.

And in September 2011, we celebrated as a people and as a nation when we welcomed for the second time the new elected 20 - out of 40 - members of the FNC who were tasked to tackle issues that mattered most to the people of the country who voted for them.

But following the 2011 elections, the excitement died down. The posters were removed and the people waited to see if those chosen few would deliver on their promises.

Three years later, much progress has been achieved by the FNC with topics close to the hearts of many Emiratis raised and addressed during the FNC sessions. However, one promise, which was on the lips of most FNC candidates during the election campaign, has yet to be fully addressed - open dialogue between the FNC and UAE citizens.

In Abu Dhabi, we waited for the announcement of platforms where the public could openly approach their elected FNC representatives with concerns and complaints. Many found access through social media, others through attending majlises and lectures.

In an article published in The National in July, FNC member Sheikha Al Erri was quoted as saying: "We are not just on social networks, you can find us at meetings, majlises and other places."

But what of those who are not active on social media? Admittedly, the majlises were a good idea allowing people to converse with their representatives in a platform that is familiar to many Emiratis. But what of the citizens who are not comfortable or accustomed to the formalities of the majlis?

While at least half of the FNC members are relatively new to politics, more needs to be done to develop communications between the citizens and the council.

The issue was raised during an iftar banquet at Zabeel Palace in Dubai this Ramadan by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed wisely addressed the issue by saying: "It's true that our doors are always wide open to citizens to express their views and requirements. But we really depend on you, as FNC members and representatives of the people and part of the people, to communicate to us opinions of citizens and probe their concerns on your field visits to various parts of the country."

This statement has put members of the FNC into action, looking for better ways to connect with the public. However, as one long-serving member of the FNC has stated in the media, this problem isn't new. Creative solutions are needed to tackle the issue. Majlises, seminars and other traditional platforms will attract many UAE nationals but do not address the majority.

As this body is the first freely-elected group in the UAE government, citizens need to be engaged more and require more than just invitations. Rather than wait for people to come to them, the FNC should do more to go the people.

The FNC has the task of not only hosting these platforms but also educating the people about the importance of sharing their views and concerns. More needs to be done to approach them directly through, for example, town hall meetings in neighbourhoods mostly populated by UAE nationals, which are relatively small in number. Surveys can be delivered to the doorsteps of each Emirati home or through the local media. Since the family time for most people during iftar is TV, Ramadan would have been an excellent opportunity for the FNC to reach out to the public through live shows.

The possibilities are endless and require the FNC to realise how diverse the Emirati people are when it comes to platforms of communications. But as it is every citizen's right to have their voice heard, it is the duty of the FNC to find efficient methods to gather the public opinion because what has been done up to date is clearly not enough.

Taryam Al Subaihi is a political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi