Meet the deaf FNC candidate determined to be known for his policies, not his disability

Ambitious election hopeful Salem Mazrouei says he has 'dreams that reach the sky'

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 17, 2019.  Salem Al Mazroui is the first hearing impaired candidate to stand for elections to the FNC. He says while he highlight the concerns of the  disabled community, he aims to be the voice of all UAE’s citizens.  
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Ramola Talwar

Salem Mazrouei stands on the cusp of history as he bids to become the first deaf candidate to win a seat on the Federal National Council.

But the Emirati IT expert is determined to be defined by his policies, not his disability.

While he is in a unique position to highlight the concerns of disabled people across Abu Dhabi - the emirate where he is vying for votes - he has vowed to represent all of its citizens.

"I don't want people to vote for me because I'm deaf but because I'm competent," said Mr Mazrouei, 42, who signed his responses in an interview with The National.

“I will serve like any candidate. I am ambitious, I believe in myself and I have dreams that reach the sky.”

Support from family and friends has been an integral part of the campaign of the senior information technology specialist with Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

Gathered around a long table in a business centre in Abu Dhabi, his sister Noura Al Mazrouei, friend and colleague Faisal Al Hosani and interpreter Mouza Al Ali jot down notes as an animated Mr Mazrouei communicates in fast-paced sign language or via comments he writes in both English and Arabic.

In line with his stand against wasteful expenditure, he decided against spending on tents and majlis gatherings.

Instead he meets potential voters in a rented office in the capital and sends out campaign videos on Twitter and Instagram.

His campaign has become a talking point for people across the country due to the powerful statement it sends out.

“As the first deaf individual to ever run for the FNC, he has shaken barriers,” said Bedour Al Raqbani, founder and director of the Kalimati Speech and Communication Centre, who serves on a government advisory committee for people of determination.

“To have his voice out there as a deaf individual communicating via sign language has had a huge positive impact on the entire deaf community and activists of people of determination.

“There will always be challenges but it’s up to us to create positive change. In the UAE, where this Thursday we will celebrate our first astronaut in space, I’m sure everything is possible.”

If elected, Mr Mazrouei will be assisted by a sign language interpreter at FNC sessions.

His target audience is the youth, the elderly and people with disabilities, widely referred to as 'people of determination' in the Emirates, and a message he focuses on is that university education is a must.

I don't want people to vote for me because I'm deaf but because I'm competent

“People with determination are on my agenda,” he said.

“But I also want to secure the present generation and help plan for their future, include seniors and older people in different programmes so we can learn from their experience.”

He also has plans related to using technology to help people with disabilities gain independence.

Mr Mazrouei is in the process of filing four patents, including a barcode in airports that can directly transmit changes or delays to phones instead of people with special needs relying on travel companions to relay audio announcements.

The father-of-three also aims to bring concerns of parents before the FNC, with a call for more nurseries with Arabic-speakers as helpers and teachers so young children learn their native language.

Faisal Al Hosani, a long-time friend and colleague, is among supporters confident Mr Mazrouei will deliver.

“He listens carefully when people write in with suggestions,” he said.

“Salem wants his campaign to be professional and not fancy. He is a very hard worker who never gives up.”

It is this determination that took the young Mazrouei to the United States for higher studies. He completed a BSc in information technology at the University of Connecticut in 2002 when support systems in this country were not fully geared to accommodate the aspirations of people with disabilities.

“I refused to listen to people who thought I would be happy with any sort of job and that I did not need to go to university,” he said.

“I realised IT would be the future of business and that I could have success in this field.”

Mr Mazrouei’s current aim is to spread his message that the national agenda goals can be reached by paying attention to youth, education, work opportunities and supporting disabled people to live independent lives.

To a group of visiting voters, he enthusiastically signs: Change does not know time. There can be change at any time. The most important is positive change.

The FNC elections will be held on October 5, with results to be announced on October 13.