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United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Politics

The law does not provide citizens the right to peacefully change their government. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the countrys president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally represented consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose new emirate rulers. Thanks to their state-sponsored cradle-to-grave welfare systems, the UAE and other Gulf Arab monarchies have largely avoided the Arab Spring unrest which unseated long-serving rulers elsewhere.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 8.5 million of whom an estimated 11.5 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the countrys highest legislative and executive body. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, to leaders of the individual emirates, and to leaders of the federation. There are limited democratically elected institutions and no political parties.

A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the Federal National Council (FNC). Citizens can express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional, consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum). The FNC, a nonlegislative, consultative body, consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population.

On 24 September 2011, a 130,000-member appointed electorate elected 20 members of the FNC, a 40-member consultative body with no legislative authority. Seats in the FNC were apportioned to each emirate based on population size. Each emirate appoints a portion of the other 20 FNC members. Authorities expanded the electorate from the 2006 election, in which they appointed only 6,689 Emiratis. The electorate appointment process lacked transparency. Approximately 28 percent of eligible voters participated, electing one woman among the 20 FNC members. There were more than 460 candidates, some of whom publicly lobbied for greater legislative authority without retaliation from the government.

After the onset of the Arab Spring, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and ministers. The government made several arrests reportedly related to a petition for democratic reforms. The government owned several of the countrys newspapers and heavily influenced the privately owned media, particularly through government subsidies. Except for media located in Dubai and Abu Dhabis special free trade zones and foreign language media targeted to foreign residents, most television and radio stations were government-owned and conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to international broadcasts without local censorship.

The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments; statements that threaten social stability; and material considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions. In April authorities removed an unflattering feature on Dubai from newsstand copies of the international magazine Vanity Fair. According to the NMC and Dubai police officials, journalists were not given specific publishing instructions; however, government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published material deemed politically or culturally sensitive.

The government used libel laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. No journalists have received prison sentences for defamation since 2007. Other punishments for violations of libel laws remained in force, including suspension of publishing for a specified period of time and penalties of five million dirhams (approximately $1.4 million) for disparaging senior officials or royal family members and 500,000 dirhams (approximately $140,000) for misleading the public and harming the countrys reputation, foreign relations, or economy.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs were required to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and many received government subsidies. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be Emirati citizens; this excludes about 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations.

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