Tribes in show of unity with Government

The nation's tribes unite behind the government following the arrest of five men last month.

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ABU DHABI // Emirati tribes across the nation are holding a series of meetings to create a united show of support for the Government at a time when the region is experiencing unprecedented unrest.

"We are loyal and determined to show our support of the Government that has never failed any of its citizens," said Nasser al Qahtani, an elder of the al Qahtani tribe.

As one of the tribe's leaders, Mr al Qahtani will be hosting a meeting of its members at his house in the capital on Friday. There was another meeting yesterday in Abu Dhabi in Bani Yas that included members of the al Mahram and al Khowar tribes.

They are just two of many meetings being advertised in local newspapers calling for members, often both male and female, to attend and bring their identification cards with them. The meetings are not open to the general public.

"The tribes meet like this only for very special occasions and when there is something concerning national interest," he said. "It is a show of solidarity and unity among the tribes."

The meetings, which bring together tens of tribes from the mountain, the desert and the coast, come in reaction to the arrests last month of five men - four Emiratis and one without identification papers - for threatening national security.

They were identified as Ahmed Mansour Ali Abdullah al Abd al Shehhi - who is from Ras al Khaimah and has since been released - as well as Nasser Ahmed Khalfan bin Gaith, Fahad Salim Mohammed Salim Dalk and Hassan Ali al Khamis. The fifth, identified as Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, had no identification papers. "We will meet and then issue a statement on behalf of the tribe," said Mr al Qahtani. "We will stress that we are not supportive of anyone, even if he happens to be a member of a major tribe, who says anything against the Government."

The Attorney General confirmed last week that the five men were detained for posing a threat to the state and for insulting members of the ruling families. Some of the men were bloggers commenting on political issues.

It was the arrest of an al Shehhi member that caused the biggest concern, with members of al Shehhi tribe reaching out to officials and making a special private visit to figures in the ruling family within days of the arrest. The 300-member group was led by the chief of one of the biggest desert tribes, the al Khawater.

The northern tribes also recognise that the federal support for Northern Emirates citizens offered since the February visit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is a continuation of his father's legacy.

After ordering a full evaluation of the region's services and infrastructure in February, Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, said quality of life in the Northern Emirates was of the "utmost importance", according to WAM, the state news agency.

In March, Sheikh Khalifa ordered a Dh5.7 billion investment in electricity and water infrastructure to the area.

Malek Ali, the vice-president of Al Haboos Arts and Folks Society in Ras al Khaimah, said the Government support was "nothing new".

"Nationals want for nothing, we have everything," he said. "From the days of Sheikh Zayed the Government gives us houses, jobs, good roads and hospitals. Sheikh Zayed gave us a lot and, al humdullilah, so does Sheikh Khalifa."

The Habus tribe, a mountain tribe related to the Shehhuh, did not attend the meeting in Abu Dhabi. "There have been problems with some people from the tribes in this area but for our people there have not been any problems so we did not need to go," said Mr Ali.

Mr al Shehhi is a retired military officer in his 60s who is being treated for cancer. He was released on April 17, two days after his arrest. In addition to running a website, he is also the head of the Al Shahouh Folklore Society, one of four civil society associations that signed a petition calling for universal suffrage in upcoming Federal National Council elections.

In March 133 people signed a petition for constitutional and parliamentary reforms.

azacharias@thenational.ae