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2005-05-16 05:06:00
Embassy Abu Dhabi
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 ABU DHABI 002173 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2015

REF: STATE 80607

Classified By: (U) Classified by Ambassador Michele J. Sison, reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d).




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2015

REF: STATE 80607

Classified By: (U) Classified by Ambassador Michele J. Sison, reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Although the United Arab Emirates is a
wealthy and economically advanced country, an open political
system and political competition do not exist. The UAE has
no elections, no political parties, and no trade unions. The
existing appointed consultative bodies that debate and adopt
policies are non-transparent. Nevertheless, the UAEG and its
principal rulers enjoy a high degree of political legitimacy
among much of the population as a result of successful
long-term policies to distribute oil wealth and educational
and employment opportunities to citizens. The World Bank
ranks the UAE higher than all other Mideast countries in
terms of good governance, with a score of 86.1.

2. (C) Summary continued: While rapid economic development
and redistribution of wealth have established legitimacy,
these generous allowances are not a substitute for reform.
They do not in and of themselves supplant the need for public
participation, stability or social development. The U.S.
should encourage the ruling families to introduce
representative government/elections, but this is not the only
reform needed to open the political space in the UAE. An
open and independent operating environment for civil society,
a free and independent media, and greater transparency and
access to the legislative and regulatory process are possible
within the next eighteen months. Advancing reform in the UAE
requires a two-fold approach: quiet -- but frank --
diplomacy with the senior leadership and a bottom-up strategy
of programming and dialogue (to include targeting of both
youth and female groups) to increase support for reforms
among the population at large. End summary.


3. (C) The UAE's decentralized federal political system
generates consensus-based decision-making through the
co-existence of traditional and modern forms of government.
The UAE's seven emirates must agree on the passage and
implementation of new laws. Informal mechanisms such as the
UAE leaders' open majlises that allow nationals to voice
opinions and seek redress have historically provided a degree
of government responsiveness to its citizens. UAE citizens
constitute a mere 15 percent of the population, with guest
workers from South Asia and the Arab world greatly
outnumbering Emirati nationals.

4. (C) The UAEG's commitment and continued ability to use its
sizeable wealth to satisfy the needs of its small citizenry
constitute the "ruling bargain" and explain the absence to
date of significant popular pressure for change. However, as
the UAE becomes an increasingly developed and modern society
and its population continues to grow rapidly, these
traditional mechanisms are becoming less effective. The
post-Zayed Abu Dhabi leadership has recognized the need for a
broad range of reforms. For example, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) and his brother Sheikh Mansoor bin
Zayed have told us that Abu Dhabi Emirate is developing a
plan for elected local councils. There has been similar
discussion in some of the other emirates.

5. (C) We expect that the senior leadership would assess the
results of any local body elections very cautiously before
moving toward broader emirate level or national elections.
This reflects the leadership,s oft-stated concern that
Islamic fundamentalists could "take advantage" of elections
for which the population is "unprepared" ) a concern that we
have heard voiced recently by MbZ and his younger brother,
State Security Director Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed. Nonetheless,
we need to encourage the UAEG to move at a less glacial pace
on developing its plans for representative government and
local body/municipal elections. (Note: We are aware that Abu
Dhabi has already worked with private U.S. consultants on
developing local body districting options.)

6. (C) Other reforms emanating from Abu Dhabi's ruling
family are Minister of Information Sheikh Abdullah bin
Zayed,s publicly-stated commitment to legislate press
freedom in a new media law and Minister of Education Sheikh
Nahyan,s push for reforms at the primary, secondary and
university levels. In addition, in the context of our
bilateral FTA negotiations, the UAEG is moving toward
adoption of international labor standards. From the
bottom-up, at least two human rights organizations are
pushing for legal recognition.

Strategy for Reform

7. (C) The U.S. should encourage the leadership (Abu Dhabi's
Al Nahyan and Dubai's Al Maktoum ruling families) to
introduce representative government/elections and engage with
and support the nascent civil society groups working toward
this goal -- but these are not the only reforms needed to
open the political space in the UAE. We can and should back
a range of reforms for which there is already a degree of
support within UAE society -- and a likelihood of progress in
2005 and 2006. These include increased movement toward
individual freedom, freedom of association, participation,
equality of opportunity, rule of law, open political
competition, institutional checks and balances, government
accountability, responsiveness to citizens, and competent and
effective governance. We believe that progress on an open
and independent operating environment for NGOs, a free and
independent media, and greater transparency and access to
laws and regulations is possible by the end of 2006.

8. (C) Advancing reform in the UAE requires a two-fold
approach: quiet, but frank, diplomacy with the senior
leadership and a targeted bottom-up strategy of programming
and dialogue to increase support for reforms among the
population at large. For reform to succeed in this country,
it must be seen as a home-grown phenomenon. In some cases,
close identification with the United States may undermine
rather than advance reforms. Programming targeted at youth
and female populations may prove particularly effective.
(Although women constitute 60-70 percent of college students
in the UAE, they cannot participate openly in public
discussions, since they cannot use the traditional majlis
system of open consultations with government leaders that is
open to the men.)

Desired Outcome: Representative Government

9. (C) Status: There has been recent significant discussion
in the media, primarily among academics, about the need to
open the political space. Abu Dhabi Emirate is considering
municipal elections, we have been told privately, and has
quietly begun developing a plan for local councils. Sharjah
Emirate has appointed municipal councils, noting that they
may one day be elected. The Federal National Council (FNC)
is an appointed body, but the Constitution leaves it up to
each Emirate's ruler whether to appoint or elect members.
There has been discussion in some emirates of electing some
members. It is generally agreed that oil-rich Abu Dhabi
emirate will set the scene for the other six emirates with
regard to any announcements on representative government.

10. (C) Goal: Municipal elections in Abu Dhabi Emirate by
the end of 2006 that enfranchise all citizens, including
women. Dubai and the five northern emirates also develop
plans for local elections.

11. (C) Milestones:

--Abu Dhabi announces local election plans/voter registration
by March 2006;

--Dubai and the northern emirates announce local
elections/voter registration simultaneously or soon
thereafter in March 2006;

--Abu Dhabi Emirate holds municipal elections, including
voting privileges for all UAE citizens, by December 2006.

12. (C) Tactics: With a carefully targeted approach, the
U.S. can and should encourage the UAE leadership to move
forward on elections. The ideal format would be a series of
one-on-one meetings with senior leaders (President Khalifa,
MbZ, Dubai Crown Prince Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum) and
senior USG officials. Resource considerations: Once the UAE
announces its intention to hold local elections, there may
possibly be a role for U.S. NGOs (IFES, IRI, NDI) -- although
the UAEG is also likely to want any voter
registration/election planning to appear "homegrown" -- even
if the districting plans are mapped out by private

Desired Outcome: Civil Society Development

13. (C) Status: The basic elements of a democratic political
culture -- including political space for independent groups
and freedom of the press -- are not yet in place in the UAE.
There are no authorized human rights groups or other truly
independent NGOs promoting change. The nascent civil society
sector does not have the capacity to engage in meaningful
public policy review or to monitor effectively the activities
of government institutions. Public assembly and association
are subject to government approval and oversight.

14. (C) Goal: Operating under new labor and NGO laws, civil
society organizations act independently of the UAEG.

15. (C) Milestones:

--Enactment of a labor union law that grants the
international labor rights of freedom of association and
collective bargaining by December 2005;

--Enactment of revised labor regulations allowing workers to
change their sponsors or employment by December 2006;

--Enactment of an NGO law that allows civil society
organizations to form independently of government sponsorship
by December 2006;

--Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs approves establishment
of the first NGO by December 2005.

16. (C) Tactics: Encouraging civil society development will
require both diplomatic dialogue to encourage the revision of
the labor laws and a new NGO law. Programming could support
the necessary legal reforms, as well as the strengthening of
new civil society groups. Resources include U.S. expertise
and support on NGO and labor laws, training civil society
groups, and IV programs. Programs must also target
independent women's groups. The Free Trade Agreement is the
key instrument for enacting a labor union law granting
international labor standards. Additional diplomatic
engagement to ensure continued attention to these targets and
milestones remains vital for ensuring the enactment of an NGO
law and a revised labor law that allows foreign workers to
change employers without penalty. Resource considerations:
MEPI, ECA programming.

Desired Outcome: Media Reform

17. (C) Status: The UAE media avoids criticism of the
government and exercises a large degree of self-censorship.
There are widespread examples of control of the largely
expatriate journalist community through the veiled threat of
revoking their work permits. Government officials have broad
discretionary authority to take legal action against
journalists, including bringing criminal charges, if stories
cross their redlines. Nonetheless, Minister of Information
and ruling family member Sheikh Abdullah has been a vocal
proponent of a new media law, and has actively encouraged the
Journalists Association to provide suggested language for a
new law.

18. (C) Goal: A more vigorous and freer press, operating
under a new press law that guarantees press freedom by the
end of 2006. Members of the press (most of whom are
expatriates) operate without fear of government reprisal that
could affect their freedom or visa status. The UAE becomes a
model for the rest of the region on media reform and freedom.

19. (C) Milestones:

--Journalists Association provides language for a new press
law by September 2005;

--New media law is written and enacted by May 2006;

--UAE takes leadership role in promoting regional media
reform by December 2006.

20. (C) Tactics: Resources required for media reform include
MEPI-funded U.S. media and press law experts (particularly to
aid Journalist Association efforts to provide the UAEG legal
reform recommendations) and diplomatic engagement to
encourage the UAE to take a leadership role in regional media
reform efforts. The Embassy's Public Diplomacy section will
continue to target programs aimed at women journalists, such
as the workshop planned for May 2005. Resource
considerations: MEPI, ECA programming.

Desired Outcome: Transparency

21. (C) Status: Despite high marks from the World Bank for
good governance and rule of law, UAEG decision-making is
undeniably opaque. Although the UAE has a comprehensive set
of laws and regulations, many of these laws and regulations
appear to apply selectively. We have seen firsthand in the
FTA process that the UAEG is unwilling/unable to share draft
legislation and there is no period of public comment on
legislation or regulations. Oftentimes, the fact that a
decision has been made at senior levels is not apparent to
mid-level Emiratis. Even if the decision has been made and
is considered common practice, there is rarely any formal
enforceable regulation. This opacity makes it difficult to
assess accountability or to determine which decisions are
based on influence and which on merit. As the society and
economy become more complex, it is clear that today's
informal mechanisms will work less and less well in the

22. (C) Goal: A comprehensive and fully transparent set of
laws and regulations that is publicly accessible, in Arabic
and English, and a formal, transparent mechanism for people
to comment on draft legislation. This outcome will influence
the ability of the UAE to develop and promote enforceable
laws and regulations that are understood by the population,
and allow interested parties to formally participate in the
drafting of public legislation.

23. (C) Milestones:

-- The UAEG will publish all of its current laws and
regulations in a searchable forum by January 2006. (Note:
Currently laws are published in the official gazette, but the
gazette itself is inaccessible to the general public, which
makes it difficult to find laws after passage. Furthermore,
many local practices are governed by Ruler's Decrees that
never make it to the gazette. Publishing all currently
effective laws and regulations in a searchable -- perhaps
online forum would improve the ability of UAE citizens and
residents to understand and comment on existing laws and
regulations. End Note.)

-- The UAEG will begin officially translating all laws into
English to reach the 85 percent expatriate population, many
of whom do not speak Arabic, by July 2006;

-- The UAE establishes a formal, transparent mechanism for
citizens to comment on draft legislation (similar to the U.S.
Federal Register process) by December 2006.

24. (C) Tactics: The USG needs to use diplomatic engagement
to raise awareness in the UAEG, as well as to encourage a
mechanism for public comment on draft legislation. Ongoing
Free Trade Agreement negotiations offer one avenue through
the transparency chapter. The U.S. business community is an
ally in this goal, and we should encourage them to engage on
this issue as well. Training is needed to support
development of a searchable forum for UAEG laws and
regulations, as well training on options for a Federal
Register type of process. As with other targets, women
remain a key audience for such training programs. Resource
considerations: MEPI programming.

Long-Term Effort: Judicial Reform

25. (C) The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs oversees
the entire UAE justice system -- from prosecutors to judges
-- in civil, criminal, and sharia courts. There is no
separation of power; there is no independent judiciary. Many
judges (the majority of whom are Egyptian or Sudanese) are
only trained in sharia law. Full judicial reform will
require significant political will and will be a very long
term effort. The USG needs to ensure criminal and civil law
training programs remain on track; these efforts will need to
be sustained and ongoing far beyond the calendar year 2006
timeframe of this strategy paper. Resource considerations:
DOJ OPDAT and MEPI programming.