Sheikh Mohammed hails 'blissful occasion' as he opens new session of Federal National Council

Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai inaugurates new term for consultative body, which now equally consists of men and women

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid celebrated a "blissful occasion" for the nation on Thursday as he opened the 17th term of the Federal National Council after last month's historic elections.

The Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai welcomed his "brothers and sisters" to the council which, for the first time, has an equal number of male and female members.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa issued a decree last December ordering that women make up 50 per cent of the 40-member council.

Sheikh Mohammed arrived at the FNC headquarters in Abu Dhabi shortly before noon and strode into the building on a red carpet as drums and trumpets were played by a military band.

Rulers from across the emirates were in attendance and the ceremony began with the recitation of a verse from the Quran on the unity and brotherhood that bound people together.

The recitation was followed by Sheikh Mohammed’s speech.

“My brothers and sisters, members of the FNC, by God’s blessing and guidance we inaugurate your council,” he said. “And we ask God for it to be a blissful occasion for the people and the country.”

Sheikh Mohammed's words were followed by a reading of the federal decree, issued by Sheikh Khalifa, that ushered in the new session.

Veteran FNC member Ali Jassim then stepped up to the podium to present the council’s speech.

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Nov 14 – 2019 :-  FNC members during the first meeting of the Federal National Council session held at FNC office in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Haneen

“Allow me, Your Highness, to hail your efforts to reach a modern government that is considered a model for government,” said Mr Jassim, who represents Umm Al Quwain.

“And allow me to congratulate the members of the council for serving as representatives of the people, and for their hopes to grow and develop.

“I would also like to congratulate the women members of the council for the trust they were given by our wise leaders to make the UAE a leader in empowering women in parliament.”

Saqr bin Ghobash, the former Minister of Labour, was announced as the new Speaker of the FNC.

“I hope to meet your expectations,” he told the council. “And for the first time, half of the council is filled by women.

"The daughters of the Emirates will prove themselves as they always have, and their performance will add value to the council.”

Dherar Al Falasi, a new member representing Dubai, said the move to ensure women had an equal say on the council was a significant one.

“No other parliament has done it before, so we are pioneering and we will show the world how this will add value to the council,” said Mr Al Falasi, 55.

He said council members new and old were enthusiastic as they started a new chapter in the FNC's history.

“I could the passion in their eyes," Mr Al Falasi said. "Everybody wants to do something, and this time the combination is unique because each member is specialised in a certain field.

“As a political analyst I think we will have an excellent four years to come, starting from day one. Everybody is ready to make it a unique term.”

The FNC advises the government on matters of national importance. It can pass, amend and reject federal laws and discuss international treaties, and is also a forum for members to raise the concerns of Emiratis.

It was established in 1971 and voting was introduced in 2006. Members hold office for four years.

A record number of Emiratis cast their votes on election day last month.

Calls for greater equality, better health care in remote parts of the country and an acceleration of the Emiratisation drive were just a few of the issues.

While numbers of people who voted were up compared to the 2015 election, from 79,157 to 117,592, the turnout was slightly down, from 35.29 per cent to 34.81 per cent.

This was due to a substantial increase in the number of registered voters for the 2019 elections, up from 224,279 to 337,738 this year.

FNC's new speaker has strong political pedigree

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Nov 14 – 2019 :-  Saqr Bin Ghubash Saeed Ghubash , new speaker of the Federal National Council during the first meeting of the Federal National Council session held at FNC office in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Haneen

The FNC's new Speaker is no stranger to making his voice heard in the political arena.

Saqr bin Ghobash served as the country's Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation from 2008 to 2017, with his elevation to a Cabinet role a reward for years of unstinting service as a maker and an upholder of the law.

Mr bin Ghobash graduated from a police academy in Sudan before going on to become director general of Abu Dhabi's police college from its formation in 1984 through to 1991.

He has taken positions of power in a variety of fields over the decades.

Mr bin Ghobash acted as deputy head of the Emirates Football Federation from 1986-1990 and 1996-1998, and was general manager of administrative affairs at the Ministry of Finance between 1976 and 1983.

Before being appointed a minister, he was the UAE ambassador to the US and the country's non-resident envoy to Mexico.

He was also the chairman of the National Media Council from 2008 to 2010, after serving as undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Media from 1998 to 2005.