Civil Society UAE. (A) The status of the civil society institutions and the extent of their impact

Civil Society UAE (A) The status of the civil society institutions and the extent of their impact. 1- What are the most important civil society instit...
Author: Phyllis Tate
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Civil Society UAE (A) The status of the civil society institutions and the extent of their impact. 1- What are the most important civil society institutions in the country with an information synopsis on each of them including some of its properties, scope of its work, number of its members, level and sources of funding and its most important activities? The number of NGOs in the United Arab Emirates is estimated at around 132 associations whose activities vary between cultural, educational to professional activities. They are divided into: - Religious associations (6 associations) - Women societies/ associations (5 societies) - Professional associations (10 associations). - Arts and theatre associations (38 associations). - Charity associations (13 associations). - Cooperative associations (26 associations). - Cultural associations (8 associations). - Foreign communities associations (17 associations) - Sports associations (15 associations. There are also several organizations and NGOs concerned with environment and economic, social, humanitarian and cultural affairs. The environment organizations aim at the protection of environment, individual safety against environmental hazards and promoting environmental awareness, in addition to urging the agencies in charge of environment affairs to lay down legislations necessary for the protection and safeguarding the environment. Among the most important NGOs in the UAE are: the Environment Friends association, the Emirates Group for Environment, the Emirates Group for Maritime Environment. In 1975 the UAE Women's Federation (UAEWF) was founded to be the cornerstone in promoting the activities concerned with women. Among the UAEWU various activities are: - Encouraging female education. - Carrying out programs for the eradication of illiteracy among women. - Providing training opportunities for women. UAEWU has participated in many international conferences on women. It has prepared a draft strategy on "women development in UAE" in cooperation with UNDP and the UN Fund for the Development of Women. The strategy focused on raising the health, educational, cultural, economic and environmental standard of women.


There are five cultural, social and scientific associations working in promoting and encouraging social and cultural activities and research in addition to the Consumer protection association. There are also 12 humanitarian NGOs working in providing financial support to and taking care of the social affairs of orphans, the aged people and the disabled and other persons having special needs (the handicapped). The groups benefiting from the charity and humanitarian activity are orphans, the handicapped , the aged people and patients as well as the poor families especially those which have lost their sustainers by death, divorce, desertion, imprisonment or deportation. It has been evident that the dominating nature of the charity associations is the social care and not the social development effort which requires interaction with the beneficiaries of the humanitarian services and sharing in defining the form of these services. NGOs are also active in charity and relief action which does not require permanent occupation. Most of these associations are lacking educated and trained cadres. Most of their members' activity is limited to financial and charity donations to mosques and their reconstruction inside and outside the country, assisting the needy and the orphans as well as family assistance. Due to the huge funds directed to these purposes it has become necessary to introduce criteria to impose financial and administrative controls over the methods of spending these funds. Some associations have been dissolved due to their weak performance. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has put a plan to inspect the work of these associations focusing on defining the type and group of every association and supervise its performance through forming a board of directors and By-laws specifying the methods of raising donations according to specific criteria before identifying the size of the financial support offered by the Ministry. (NB Please see supplement on the names of associations and their activities.)

2- What are the most important legal provisions and articles that take care of the activities of the civil society institutions (the constitution, the laws, regulatory procedures) and to what extent these provisions guarantee the freedom of the activities of these organizations in the public affairs field and the reform of the State and the public institutions? The freedom of public assembly and founding of NGOs in the UAE is subject to the approval of the government. All private organizations should have a license from the local authorities. However, there is leniency in applying this condition in some Emirates. Although the professional unions (trade unions) are prohibited, the State recognizes the UAE Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the UAE Women's Federation as major organizations. The Women's Societies Federation has an effective role in training women on organizing themselves, organizing


campaigns to learn reading and writing (literacy campaigns) and in establishing crafts and professions centers, consequently preparing the women to play an active role in social development. The first nongovernmental association was founded in the Emirate of Ras AlKhema in 1967. It was a women society (association). Since the issuance of the Federal Act 6/1974 on the public utility associations the notarized associations by the Ministry of Social Affairs have started to come into being. These associations aim at conducting various activities such as social, religious, cultural educational and artistic activities, providing humanitarian services or charity through offering financial or moral assistance or artistic experience. There are many charity associations and foundations that have not been notarized by the State, but notarized by the local governments. Of them is Zayed Charity and Humanitarian Foundation established in 1992. 3- What are the most important methods and means practically used by the country in its relationship with the civil society associations: (license and its terms, forms of control, funding sources and forms of encouragement...?) The social, political and economic changes in the Emirates have been behind the establishment and emergence of many civil and charity associations to complete the official effort in the charity and humanitarian aspects. These associations have received generous support from the government, the society's prominent personalities and businessmen. The role of these charity associations and foundations has been defined through which they aim to assist the needy inside and outside the country in addition to promoting the awareness of the people of the importance of charity work. Of these foundations is Zayed Charity Foundation, Beit Al Khayr Association in Dubai, Dar Al-Ber Association, Dubai Charity Association, the Charity Action Association in Sharja, the Charity Association in Fujera and the Charity Action in Ajman. A complete system for social affairs in the State has been laid down by the Ministry of Social Affairs. In 1999 legislation was issued to regulate social affairs through which financial support is provided to the widows, orphans, handicapped, aged people, the divorced women and others who are in need of social assistance. The total financial support provided by the Ministry reached 650 dirham in 2001. 4- What are the ministries and other official agencies concerned with the activity of the civil society associations that are active in the public affairs? The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.


5- What are the most important initiatives, campaigns and activities undertaken by the civil society associations during the last five years in the field of reforming the State, the public administration and the public institutions? The UAE associations focus their activities on the relief field at the world level. Their activities have extended to the most remote regions in the world needing relief especially emergency relief. At the end of 2001 the UAE prepared a draft federal law on the child's rights based on the International Convention on the Child's Rights to which UAE signed in 1996. Taking care of the child's affairs is among the important programs of the Women's Federation. The Federation organized the 3rd Child Festival in Abu Dhabi on November 2002. The most important results of that Festival was the declaration of the establishment of the Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood in UAE, which will undertake the State's efforts in the field of child rights in conjunction with the regional and international organizations, especially the UNICEF. 6- To what extent do the people in their dealing with the State turn to the various civil society associations to solve their problems, secure their demands and offer their proposals for reform? (B) Consultation between the State's institutions and the civil society: 1- What are the most important patterns and forms the State uses to consult with and listen to the civil society forces, NGOs and the private sector? The UAE hasn't seen any public election of any kind since its independence in the beginning of the 1970s. The distributions of the major positions in the government remained limited to the ruling families in the seven Emirates. The members of the Federal National Council which is the legislative authority in the country are appointed. No changes occurred in this situation in 2003. The Federal Council was formed in 1972. Its term is two years and is made up of appointed 40 members representing the seven Emirates. Political participation is still limited due to the limited powers of the Council. These powers are restricted to mere interpellation of ministers and giving its opinions on the matters referred to it. The Council has some conventional legislative powers. But it is not entitled to vote confidence of the government. The legislation it ratifies become in effect as laws only subject to the approval of the Head of the State. However, the Council has contributed to the debate of important issues receiving the interest of the public, the media and the press, especially with regard to population demography, enhancing the national identity and fighting the trade in working visas for foreigners. The government has responded to the Council's requests related to the Labor Act, control over


the private sector and the extent of its adherence to the laws on bringing in foreign labor, and regulating marriage from foreign women. 2- What are the most important consultative initiatives the State or the government have taken in the last five years (national conferences, round table meetings, national committees or others), and how it is possible to evaluate the contribution and effect of the private sector and the civil society in these initiatives? Initiatives are focused, especially in recent years, on the women sector. Sheikha Fatma Bent Mubarak, wife of the Head of the State, Sheikh Zayed Ben Sultan Al Nehyan announced in 1998 that women would be appointed as observers in the Federal National Council to train them before being appointed at the end as permanent members. However, the UAE women have to wait at least another two years to enter the Council after the Head of the State issued on January 22, 2003 a decree on appointing the Council's forty members without a having a woman among them. The Emirate of Sharja has appointed five women who have university degrees in its consultative council (the local parliament) which is composed of 40 members. Sheikha Fatma has stressed the need to speed up the issuance of the personal status act to ensure family stability. She also has affirmed that the Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood would be formed in the near future after the UAE Council of Ministers had approved it as an independent body composed of experts and specialists in the family, the woman and child affairs in order to prepare a future strategy for the progress of women. 3- Are there any initiatives to get the reactions and evaluations of the concerned public, the beneficiaries or the public sector on the projects and services provided by the public sector (such as evaluating the public projects by those concerned, conducting public opinion polls for the beneficiaries of the public services or surveying the opinions of the private institutions on the business environment and services provided by the State? 4- Are there institutions or administrative units to assist the people and project owners in their relationship with the State? To what extent they are effective? The Emirates' rulers derive their power and legitimacy from their lineage and their prestige in their tribes. However, according to traditions and in order to preserve their powers they have to ensure the loyalty and support of their followers. They have been able to do that through the strong adherence of the freedom of the people to meet their ruler and through holding open and repeated Majalis (meetings) in which the tribes' men express their views. This tradition is still pursued till now. The citizens and tribes' men in the small Emirates, in particular, prefer to wait the holding of the open Majlis (meeting) to present their complaints


instead of approaching the modern governmental bodies. The discussions conducted in the Majlis, especially if they gain consensus carry the possibility of influencing the government's policy. On the other hand the modern governmental institutions with their ministries, administrations and municipalities are better equipped to deal with a broad range of more complicated issues. These institutions have undertaken the responsibility of a number of tasks that the ruler had been traditionally dealing with on a personal basis. References: 1- HYPWELINK 8/14.htm 2- Fatma Al-Shamsy, Aisha Othman, Hani Nor Eddin, (Al Bayan newspaper, January 27, 2000). 3- Acomprehensive study calling for reviewing the provisions of the Federal Act on Charitable Associations, UAE Study Center, 5 September 2004. HYPERLINK “ 4- The reports of the UN Amnesty Organization and Human Rights Watch.


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