UAE tribes continue to show allegiance

Hundreds join elders to reaffirm support for Government and sign petition against activist.

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ABU DHABI // Massive tents often set up for weddings are being erected across the country for a different kind of celebration - one that has a political statement.

As tribe members enter the marquees to attend meetings set up by their elders, they repeat a slogan of support: "We are all Khalifa, and we are all with Sheikh Khalifa."

They are handed pins, the national flag and medallions bearing pictures of Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

"It is our way of showing support to the Government, and to all the sheikhs that have taken care of us for decades and will continue to do so," said Saeed al Sayed al Maharami, an al Maharam tribe elder.

Mr Saeed, 64, and two other leaders of the desert tribe organised several meetings in Bani Yas that lasted through Sunday and Monday.

His eight daughters and eight sons took care of the guests and made sure the gathering included food, poetry and dancing.

"It is like a National Day celebration, where we all get to show our love to our country and our fathers who run it," said one of his daughters, Amena al Maharami, 21.

The leaders also arranged for representatives from the Abu Dhabi public notary to oversee the signing of a petition against Ahmed Mansour al Shehhi, a Dubai-based blogger and activist, and his "followers". He is one of five men - including four Emiratis - arrested last month for threatening national security. By the end of Sunday, 850 people had signed the document.

"We want anyone who says anything against our rulers and Government to be punished," said Mr Saeed. "The judge in a court of law will decide what is the best punishment."

Ahmed Mansour is a member of one of the biggest mountain tribes, the Shehhuh. He has been denounced by some leaders of the tribe.

"No member of a tribe is an individual, he or she belongs to a group and must remember never to speak on behalf of an entire tribe," said Ali Kaflout al Khowar, the 80-year-old chief of the al Khowar tribe, who was sitting in the centre of a tent in Mafraq, Abu Dhabi.

"We are a nation envied by everyone," said Mr al Khowar. "There isn't a citizen that isn't spoiled and taken care of. We are very lucky, even those with just a high-school degree end up with a Dh20,000 salary. So I can't understand what any Emirati has to complain about."

His 40-year-old son, Bakheet al Khowar, distributed copies of poems he composed for the rulers. A line in one of the poems said: "Go see the other Arabs and their plight before complaining."

"How dare they?" said Noura Suhail al Maharami, 35, a teacher. "How dare any Emirati say anything against our Government?"

Emirati women "get refused nothing", she added. "I can get funding for any project I want and at any point of my life."

"We are Bedu and the tribe means the family," said Shamma Shamis, 45, a school administrator. "The tribe is our small family. The big family is the UAE, and we always have access to our great fathers."

Many women said citizens should address concerns through the majlis system of meetings held between the sheikhs and the public instead of internet petitions.

"We live here in the UAE as tribes and our leader is a sheikh," said Sheikha Saeed, 30. "Having free elections and more elected Emiratis won't make a difference in our daily lives. We get everything we need with the way the system is now."

Ms Saeed signed the petition to show support for the Government but, like most of those interviewed, admitted she had not read or heard about anything that Ahmed Mansour had written.

She added: "We are members of tribes with certain expectations, and we cannot change it."