On March 3, 2011, 133 Emirati citizens of various ideologies submitted a petition to the President of the State, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, calling for “democratic and constitutional reforms that give the citizen the right to elect all members of the UAE Federal National Council (FNC)”
The signatories of the petition, who were the elite of the society, such as academics, lawyers, judges, journalists, teachers and human rights activists, demanded the strengthening of the powers of the FNC and the amendment of the relevant constitutional articles to guarantee it full legislative and oversight powers, since the FNC is currently a purely advisory body that does not have any legislative or regulatory authority.
The petition was written in "very polite language”, as its signatories affirmed their adherence to the ruling system, and noted that there is "complete harmony between the leadership and the people" and that "participation in decision-making is part of the traditions and customs of this country."
At first, the petition was well received by the authorities, which boosted the hope of its signatories that this was a prelude to constitutional reforms that would place the UAE among the democratic countries, but a sudden change occurred, and instead of the petition being a prelude to reforms, it was a prelude to unprecedented violations in the country’s history, which brought it into a group repressive states.
Less than a month after the petition was written, the authorities arrested 5 human rights activists, whom they believed to be “the masterminds”, and charged them with "insulting state symbols and inciting acts that endanger state security."
But the detention of the five was only a simple prelude to a major repressive campaign to suppress opponents and human rights activists, as it expanded to include the arrest and abuse of dozens of signatories to the petition.
The campaign focused on the abuse of members of Al-Islah Association, as the authorities arrested 94 of them, charged them with “establishing an illegal secret organization and plotting to overthrow the regime,” and they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Many media outlets linked the petition to the events of the Arab Spring and described what happened as the “UAE protests 2011,” a description that the researcher finds in Wikipedia as the authorities also tried to promote this idea, suggesting that the goal is to ignite a revolution against the regime, although the signatories confirmed their adherence to the regime.
The truth is that the petition had nothing to do with the Arab Spring and what was happening in neighboring countries, and this is confirmed by human rights activist Ahmed Mansour, one of the initiators of its idea. The petition was just a reaction to the decree issued in February 2011, which announced the holding of new elections for the FNC, and the names of the chosen by the authorities as its members, without additional powers.
The idea of the petition came to ask the authorities to amend the method for selecting the FNC, where half of its members are appointed by the authorities, while the others come through elections in which a group of people are chosen by the authorities also to elect them.
The petition demanded that Emiratis be granted the right to vote like others, and that the FNC be given powers that allow it to exercise real work as a representative of the people.
The method of petitions is also a well-established Emirati tradition, and may be the only democratic method that citizens have used since the establishment of the state to express their demands, desires and ideas, and the authorities often responded to them, as happened in 2009 when they organized a petition calling on the president to reject the media law because of its threat for freedom of expression, he responded and suspended the law.
Despite this, the authorities, for an incomprehensible reason, considered the petition an unforgivable crime, and launched a campaign to abuse and imprison the signatories, harassing their families, confiscating their nationalities and preventing them from their most basic rights, although the petition was only a “peaceful and polite” way to demand that they be granted the right to vote, and did not include any indications of their rejection of the ruling system, but affirmed their adherence to it.
It can be said that the sacrifice made by the signatories so far is the largest sacrifice in the history of the UAE since its founding, as dozens of them enter their 10th year in prison, which is the largest prison term for a political prisoner in the country.
Some detainees lost their jobs, others lost their families or their money, and some lost all of that, just because they wanted the Emirati people to get their right to vote by choosing their representatives.