UAE’s Progress, One Step at a Time

The unusual interaction of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, with the media and public this weekend is perhaps the most effective initiative by the country’s leadership to reach out to its people as well as the world at large.

Even though the UAE leaders have always maintained a close rapport with their people, Shaikh Mohammed’s online question-and-answer session is significant for its timing, coming as it does at a time when serious questions are being raised about the future of Dubai and the UAE.

The Vice-President and Prime Minister’s honest answers to equally candid queries about the viability of the so-called Dubai model clear the air about one of the most successful economic stories in the world.

Remarkably, Mohammed also dealt with the rarely talked about issue of representative democracy in the UAE and people’s involvement in the decision-making process with a rare aplomb. These are areas that have often attracted pointed pontification from the Western media.

Responding to concerns on this front, Shaikh Mohammed asserts how the UAE is making progress in empowering its people, one step at a time. It is building political institutions and infrastructure that channelise its people’s democratic aspirations and concerns, involving them more and more in the decision-making process.

But all said and done, let’s not forget this is still a young federation. It only recently celebrated its 37th National Day. So what the nation has managed to accomplish and achieve so far is nothing short of a miracle. That doesn’t mean the UAE can or will rest on its laurels. Far from it. This is a work in progress.

However, those who expect and demand overnight changes on every front, especially in the decision-making process and making the Federal National Council a truly representative body, do not understand the delicate nature of the whole process. It was only recently that steps were taken to form electoral associations in the UAE, directly electing half the members of the 40-member Council. Right now, twenty-two per cent of the FNC members are women, one of the highest such rates in the world.

The outside world needs to understand that these things take time. Change dictates its own pace in this part of the world.

In a region that has for centuries been governed according to tribal traditions and customs, you cannot expect and impose the Westminster style changes overnight.

As Shaikh Mohammed points out in one of his queries, we in the UAE do not work with a ‘burning-stages’ style. We chose the approach of gradualism, slowly adapting ourselves to change. Besides, as the Vice-President reasons, you cannot always import ready-made models that may be valid for other societies but unsuitable for us. But the ultimate goal of the UAE leadership is empowering their people in every respect. And we’ll get there.

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