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Skip Navigation LinksPOGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Civil Society: United Arab Emirates
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Laws of Associations

Public assembly and association are subject to government approval. Local authorities must license all private associations. However, this requirement is enforced only loosely in some emirates. The first civil human rights society in the country was officially proclaimed on February 21, 2006. The thirty-two founding members include university professors, lawyers and other educated persons. The society's headquarters is in Abu Dhabi, although it operates in all Emirates. Full membership is restricted to citizens; however, resident expatriates may join as affiliate members.

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Political Parties

Traditional and modern forms of government coexist in the United Arab Emirates. Over the years a higher rate of institutionalization, both at the federal and emirate level, could be observed. Despite some erosion of traditional politics as a tool of problem solving, traditional institutions have proven to be resilient and adaptive to new forms.

The political system in the United Arab Emirates is often described as direct democracy without suffrage. Political parties are not allowed in the UAE; instead, the rulers derive their power and legitimacy from their dynasties and their positions in their respective tribes. But, in accordance with tradition, in order to maintain their authority, they need to retain the loyalty and support of their people. This was done by a strong adherence to the principle that the people should have free access to their ruler and that he should hold a frequent and open majlis, or informal assembly, in which his fellow tribesmen could voice their opinions.

This tradition continues today. Many citizens and tribesmen prefer to wait for their ruler to hold an open majlis to discuss their grievances rather than going through the institutions of modern government, especially in the smaller emirates. Debates in the majlis, especially in cases where a consensus is formed, have the potential of affecting government policy. On the other hand, the institutions of modern government, with its ministries, departments and municipalities, are better equipped to deal with a broad range of more complicated issues. These institutions have taken over responsibility for a number of tasks with which, traditionally, a ruler would have dealt on a personal basis.

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Associations and Unions

Although trade unions are banned, the Federation of UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the UAE Women’s Federation are officially recognized umbrella organizations. The latter federation of women’s associations has been effective in teaching local women to organize themselves, set up literacy campaigns, establish craft and vocational centers, and thus, prepare women to play an active role in social development. The UAE does not possess any independent human rights groups.

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Media and Government Regulations

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, the press continues to avoid direct criticism of the government and exercises self-censorship. All published material is subject to Federal Law 15 of 1988, which stipulates that all publications should be licensed by the Ministry of Information. The law also governs content and contains a list of restricted subjects. Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum (Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai) issued on September 24, 2007 a directive to concerned state agencies stipulating that no journalist could be imprisoned for reasons related to his journalistic work. The directive stated that other measures could be taken against a journalist who commits a certain offence that does not entail imprisonment.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum (Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai) issued on September 24, 2007 a directive to concerned state agencies stipulating that no journalist could be imprisoned for reasons related to his journalistic work. The directive stated that other measures could be taken against a journalist who commits a certain offence that does not entail imprisonment.

Many of the local English and Arabic language newspapers are privately owned but receive government subsidies. The Ministry of Information and Culture reviews imported publications routinely before their distribution.

All television and radio stations are government owned and conform to government reporting guidelines. Satellite receiving dishes are widespread and provide access to international broadcasts without apparent censorship.

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