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UAE youth question the cost of political silence

UAE youth question the cost of political silence

Youth activists question older generation's silence; Students urging democratic reform in parliament; UAE oil wealth has prevented wider discontent

May 11, 2011 4:56 by

“They need to educate the population with the truth, with how the oil wealth is spent, how the budget is divided between the different emirates, and most importantly what chunk of the annual oil surplus goes directly to the royal family members.”

Observers often complain of a lack of clarity in how countries across the Gulf spend their hydrocarbon revenues — the UAE last year earned around $32.3 billion.

Student activists say the fear barrier is their biggest obstacle. Supporters of the status quo are also using the Internet to reinforce their views.
One Facebook post has pictures of some activists’ faces and names above a noose, with the message: “Hang the traitors.”

Police arrested five activists who signed a petition in April urging democratic reform. They were accused of insulting UAE leaders and threatening national security. In past years, some activists have had their passports taken and jobs revoked.

“We are trying, but I’m not optimistic,” Fatima said. “People are too scared, even if inside they are motivated.”

But Davidson said that if activists continued their efforts they could succeed later on.

“The arrests have intensified opposition sentiment because people who were making very straightforward demands have been silenced… There is an opposition organising itself and planning. We haven’t heard the last of this.”

A more public figure, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim, recently added his voice to youth concerns in an article in Al Khaleej calling for legislative powers for the parliament.

“It’s as if the parliament represents the government, not the people,” he wrote. “National resources belong to citizens and they should decide the standards for spending them.” Fatima and Alia, who say the arrests only inspire them, are now meeting with friends to plan videos on parliament reform to post on YouTube and Facebook or circulate by mobile phone.

Another student, planning a talk on women’s rights on campus, said she thought the government would eventually respond although concessions would probably be small.

“It’s like wave. If the whole world is changing and this wave is coming and taking everyone with it, well, it’s somehow going to cross this place as well.”

By Erika Solomon
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Taylor)

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