How Sharjah is using methods of the past to solve today's problems

Sharjah District and Village Affairs Department is bridging the gap between the Ruler and his people

Sheikh Majid bin Sultan Al Qasimi answering a question from a member of the audience at Sharjah IGCF. Photo: Eiman Alblooshi
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Before the formation of the UAE, it was not uncommon for people to resolve disputes by pleading their case with the head of their tribe.

The tribes would often gather in a majlis to discuss issues of the day and socialise with each other.

While the UAE is now a very much a modern and forward-thinking country, renowned for the speed of its growth and development, the old ways still have a valuable role to play.

In 1999 Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, ordered the creation of a department for District and Village Affairs.

We are the bridge between the people and the government
Ahmed Al Naqbi

Each area has its own majlis under the department, serving as a local council where people can have their voices heard.

It's the first port of call for many when they need their issues resolved.

There are 15 majlis throughout Sharjah, with each covering several communities.

Another key facet of the set-up is that it allows a certain discretion for peoples' problems to be heard.

"Our work in the majlis is very sensitive, we must assure people that their problems won't be discussed as examples of our achievements in radio or TV," said Sheikh Majid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of the District and Villages Affairs Department.

He made his comments at the Sharjah International Government Communication Forum, which took place last month.

"We want people to come to us knowing that their problems will be solved secretly [discreetly]," he added.

Addressing local issues

The purpose of the Sharjah Majlis project is to ensure everyone still has a voice.

"We raise the voices of the people to the Ruler and government departments," said Amir Mohamed Al Zarooni, a member of the Al Mughaider majlis.

Members are encouraged to fully focus on the peoples' problems and not be distracted from the main purpose of the majlis.

"We had an order that came from Sheikh Dr Sultan to reduce the number of events and focus on people's problems," said Mr Al Zarooni.

"Today we doubled our efforts to reach to those in need."

The head of events at the department, Ahmed Al Naqbi, explained how each majlis often works as a mediator to solve family disputes, and even disagreements between neighbours.

"We as members can solve these smaller issues. However, if we received a complaint regarding a road that needs to be fixed, or a park that needs to improve their services, then we take the complaint to the government department," he said.

"We are the bridge between the people and the government."

Each majlis is given the freedom to serve the community as it sees fit, some giving away food and water for families with low income.

"Majlis Al Khalidiya gives to elderly people and those that are retired," said Shaikha Alsuwaidi, a resident in Al Khan.

Residents are also allowed to use a majlis to host weddings and memorials free of charge.

"When I spoke to the people in charge to book Majlis Al Mughaider for my wedding, they were extremely co-operative," said Mohamed Alshamsi, a resident in Al Khazamiya.

"They handed me the majlis early in the morning, which gave me all the time I needed to get it the way I wanted.

"They even brought people that would serve my guests tea and coffee for a reasonable price.

"The booking was for free, I only gave them Dh2,000 [$544] in advance for insurance and then they returned it back to me.

"If I haven't held my wedding in the majlis, I might have spent around Dh50,000 dirhams in another place."

Bringing communities together

During Ramadan some of the majaalis host iftars, with people going to break their fasts free of charge.

Each majlis is also used to hear new ideas and suggestions from the people of Sharjah to help improve quality of life in the emirate.

"We received more than 100 suggestions in one year that were taken into consideration, but we only approved the ones that we were capable of implementing," said Ali Altaneji, vice president of Majlis Al Bustan.

The majlis often have members who also work for government departments, which can be invaluable when it comes to connecting the community with the right people, he added.

"Our mission is to take the complaint or suggestion to the government department in charge, whether by visiting the department or directly speaking to the head of the department," said Mr Altaneji.

While the concept of a majlis is steeped in ancient tradition, that is not to say modern technology is not being embraced.

"The majlis has used social media platforms to reach out to people," said Hassan Al Balghouni, a member of the Al Rahmania majlis.

Despite the prevalence of social media, the majlis have a strong ethos of ensuring people are met in person in their homes, not least because not everyone has access to newer forms of technology, especially older generations.

"Although we use social media platforms to reach out to people, we still use the traditional methods of visiting people in their homes to hear their problems," said Mr Al Zarooni.

Updated: October 21, 2023, 3:00 AM