Yesterday two of the female Emirati hosts told me they were the most excited to see a session of the Federal National Council. I asked why and the response was, “Don’t you think it is exciting? ”  It was hard to recover from that, but luckily for me they went on before I had to answer.Because, you see, here we have a person in the Council who represents us and our interests and it is exciting to see them at work.” I let them know I was familiar with that model.

And today we all saw the FNC in action. We got up early to catch a session and were introduced to the Speaker of the Council before taking our seats. The FNC is the equivalent of the legislature, however they are only an advisory body and, as they described it, “not the heart of the government like in the West.” They have the power to demand a law, but they do not write it. The cabinet writes the law and they can make notes and pass it directly along to a higher council who chooses whether or not the President sees the law. (This is what I understand, please let me know if I am mistaken.)

The session itself was completely in Arabic, but I was fortunately sitting next to three young Emirati women as well as Asma who translated for me. The discussion was a disagreement between the Speaker and the MPs* on whether or not they should discuss the global financial crisis. The speaker wanted to delay the discussion until more information was available, but the representatives were ready to get moving on the topic. It was a pretty mild discussion from what I could tell.

The exciting part was what happened after the session.

We had the opportunity to sit with three different MPs including the First Deputy Speaker Ahmed Shabeeb Al Dhaheri. The real star of this show was Her Highness Najla Al Awadhi, a former journalist and current rockstar. She is one of 9 women serving on the 40 member body and she was wonderfully articulate when responding to our questions. One thing I found particularly interesting was a comment she made on the Freedom of the Press. She said the government feels the country is too young (it was founded in 1971) to allow freedom of speech; they want to “grow (their) freedoms gradually.” She said that the government wants to preserve the vast progress the UAE has made in a small number of years. It is unclear to me why freedom of the press is a threat to that progress, but I didn’t get a chance to ask. This comment was made in the context of a broad conversation about the need to preserve tradition while also trying to modernize.

Many of the Trumans were taken with Najla Al Awadhi and I suspect more reflection on her comments will be available in the next couple of days.

*Member of Parliament