Pan-Arab parliament 'in 50 years'

The FNC speaker, Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, has described his dream of an elected assembly modelled on the European Union and said the seeds can be planted now.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - July 8, 2009: His Excellency Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Speaker of the Federal National Council ( FNC ) speaks about issues of priority to the Federal National Council. Seen at his office in the Federal National Council in Abu Dhabi. 
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC003-AlGhurair.JPG
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ALGIERS // It is a grand vision - an elected Arab parliament that could make laws for the Arab world, stand up for Arab causes, and speak for its people to other nations.

The dream, modelled on the European Union, is one that Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, Speaker of the FNC, said might take 50 years to realise. But, he said, he wants to plant the seeds now, as Emirati representatives grow more assertive on a regional and global scale.

"Is it applicable in one year or five years? Would we accept joint Arab laws? An investment law from Morocco to the UAE and Oman?" Mr al Ghurair asked. He was addressing reporters on the flight home after heading a delegation to the Algerian capital.

Arab foreign ministers, under the auspices of the Arab League, are expected to devise a framework for an Arab parliament within a year. It would include elected representatives from each country, he said.

The plan would need to address whether each country has equal seats in the organisation, or would be proportionally represented according to population.

"The model over the long term is the European Union. We can reach that maybe in 50 years," he said.

"Even if it is a small thing, there has to be a start. Let it be 50 years. There has to be some movement forward."

The body could begin by enacting legislation that would be easy to apply, such as laws on aviation, which could have widespread support.

Mr al Ghurair's suggestions came as he reiterated calls for reforming existing bodies that represent Arab and Islamic parliaments on the world stage.

"I think the Arab and Islamic parliamentary unions are operating with a very outdated methodology," he said. "They are working with an old mindset."

Heads of parliament have to join in reforming these bodies, along with their own councils, he said.

"We are not satisfied with meeting and issuing statements at the end of the conferences, with no mechanism to follow up on these statements," he continued. "We have to change the mechanism to present one or two ideas that are important to Arabs and Muslims and can be implemented, and are not just slogans."

Arabs are starting to view parliaments as representatives that can defend their causes and affect international decision-making, he said, adding that closer political cooperation is needed to fully accomplish this.

"We have to defend our point of view, with strength, and try to convince the other side, and in the end it's a majority decision," Mr al Ghurair said.

The success of Arab lobbying could be seen weeks ago at an International Parliamentary Union in Geneva. There, a UAE emergency proposal to introduce an emergency session on Pakistan and relief aid was the only one that was approved.

But also evident was the failure of another proposal to discuss the Gaza blockade at a March meeting in Bangkok.

Nevertheless, increased parliamentary assertiveness emerged in the UAE delegation's visit to Algiers, which secured a promise from Algeria's prime minister, Ahmed Oyehia, to remove obstacles facing Emirati investors there. Also prominent was a two-hour meeting with the Algerian president, Abdul Aziz Bouteflika.

He said Algeria would not forget the financial, political and military support the UAE provided to his country during its civil war in the 1990s, according to Mr al Ghurair. Mr Oyehia "personally pledged his readiness to meet Emirati investors and remove present complications to Emirati investments", Mr al Ghurair said.

This might offer some hope to Emirati projects that have been stalled as a result of excessive bureaucracy, but which offer other benefits in the form of food security.

The UAE is looking to Algeria as a source of food that can buffer it against high prices.

The Abu Dhabi-based Al Qudra Holding has already bought 1,500 hectares of land in Algeria and Morocco. Investment in Algerian agriculture "has important food security implications for the country", he said.