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'Next goal is a more active UAE citizen'

posted on 21/11/2006: 959 views

President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that the key objective of the country is to lay the groundwork for the emergence of a more active UAE citizen.

"The first stage of political empowerment will see citizens electing half of the Federal National Council [FNC] members via electoral colleges. The other half will be selected using the current mechanism, which will be phased out gradually to reach a fully elected council," the President said in an interview.

"The experiment is neither dictated by others nor imitated. It is purely a national step, necessitated by national interests and priorities," he added.

In the wide-ranging interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Shaikh Khalifa spoke on many issues, including the country's upcoming elections, demographic imbalance, foreign workers and Iran's nuclear programme and its occupation of the UAE's three islands.

A gradual approach to democracy is necessary, Shaikh Khalifa said. "We in the UAE fully believe that change does not tolerate haste when it is fundamental, systematic and tied to the nation's destiny. It has to be well-calculated, gradual and in tune with the society's nature, orientations, aspirations and demography," he said

"We have been reliant on gradual progress since the inception of the UAE, and gradual steps in elections are an extension to that philosophy, to provide the right environment and to finalise the legal basis for a full electoral process."


"Public reaction has been great," the President said. However, this is not a process governed by the passing of time, he added.

"Although we pro-actively launched the initiative, the timeframe for moving from one stage to another will mirror the recommendations and ideas and public opinion," he said.

Shaikh Khalifa said he expects full public participation in the coming phases, adding that top priorities include promoting democracy, reform, empowerment of women and youth and pushing the comprehensive development process forward.

Women's participation in the electoral process is complimentary to their existing role in public affairs, which has seen them achieve real participation and to rise to various levels of responsibility, including membership of the Cabinet.

Regarding Iran's nuclear programme, Shaikh Khalifa said that GCC countries have received assurances that the programme is designed for peaceful purposes.

The UAE's efforts to retrieve its three occupied islands from Iran are based on international legitimacy and laws and brotherly dialogue.

Concerning the issue of foreign workers and human rights reports, Shaikh Khalifa said that the UAE has always been keen to have human rights incorporated into its Constitution. "A host of mechanisms has been introduced to help ensure that the workers' basic rights are honoured and that a package of strict laws, designed to protect their rights and improve their conditions, are applied. "We have further issued a law on combating human trafficking crimes," he said.

"We find the nature of human rights reports greatly exaggerated and based on factual misunderstanding and misperceptions.

No compromise

He also said that workers in the UAE are not regarded as migrant labourers since they work on a temporary basis and under specific employment contracts.

Regarding the free trade agreement negotiations with the US, Shaikh Khalifa said: "The negotiating body's function is to endeavour to reach optimal results that will ensure UAE products access to the largest economy in the world and to bring the latest industrial technology to the country while safeguarding national economic interests.

There are clear instructions to our negotiators that under no circumstance should they compromise our country's sovereignty or its resolve."

The UAE economy is strong, said Shaikh Khalifa. It is an example for all developing economies.

"The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East. It is the top Arab country in terms of infrastructure growth rates and human resource indicators. Now, could all these accomplished have been achieved without adequate financial allocations?"

Abu Dhabi President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Speaking has said the UAE is following a multi-faceted approach to bring the demographic imbalance under control.

"We are aware of this imbalance, yet confident that addressing it is not impossible. We are following a multi-faceted approach that should bring this imbalance under control by adopting well integrated, far-sighted plans.

"These plans are based on many pillars, which include enhancing the role of nationals and replacement of foreign workforces with nationals

"This will result in the forthcoming years in a substantial decrease in the number of unskilled labour, which is one of the major segments contributing to the demographic imbalance, and will help create more job opportunities for nationals."

'We will stand firm against terrorism'

Shaikh Khalifa reiterated the UAE's firm stand against terrorism.

"Our contribution in the war against terror is continuing because we believe that terrorism is a global plague that strikes indiscriminately, based on a backward and narrow vision.

"We call for drying up the sources that feed terrorism, namely international turmoil, poverty and hunger, all of which provide an environment of despair that could be exploited by extremists and terrorists.

"We cannot deny the impact of security efforts made by many countries to combat terrorism but we need a parallel political approach to prevent terrorists from employing instability arising out of regional conflicts to provide cover for their criminal acts."

"We in the UAE fully believe that change does not tolerate haste when it is fundamental, systematic and tied to the nation's destiny." Gulf News


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