Sharjah has carved out an important place behind Abu Dhabi and Dubai as the country’s third most populous emirate and capital of culture. Dubai’s impressive growth over the past decade has made Sharjah an ever more attractive alternative for people who find it too expensive (or exhausting) to both work and live in Dubai. Recent growth in Sharjah has brought with it new challenges and there is lots to discuss about the direction to be taken and the pace of change. That is why the decision to open up the Sharjah Advisory Council to elected Emiratis is a welcome move.
As The National reported yesterday, Sharjah’s Ruler, Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, has ordered amendments to the laws governing the 42-member council. These will allow citizens to vote and stand in elections to become members of the body. Half of the Council will be elected by Emiratis and the other half appointed by Sheikh Sultan.
As we have seen in the development of the Federal National Council, these advisory councils act as a critical bridge between the executive and society at large. Sharjah’s Advisory Council, established in 1999, assists Sheikh Sultan in his deliberations on all aspects of governance and has the power to accept or reject laws submitted to it by the executive council.
As Sharjah continues to develop and grow, bolstered by the wave of new residents from Dubai and across the world, there are many issues that the Council will need to ponder. The body’s chairman, Ahmad Alhajiri, best captured the excitement and responsibility of the decision to have elected members as follows: “The new law calls on residents of the emirate to take part in building the future of the emirate. It needs the initiative of residents and their support.”
Every community needs its citizens to participate actively to properly advance. Strengthening bodies such as the advisory councils lays the foundation for active participation and gives people the chance to make their voice heard. Perhaps the full weight of Sheikh Sultan’s decision will only be realised when future generations take a greater role in engaging with issues of the day for the betterment of society.