"The UAE's [United Arab Emirates] relatively open borders and economy have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East while producing financial excesses, social ills such as prostitution and human trafficking, and relatively lax controls on sensitive technologies acquired from the West. The social and economic freedoms do not necessarily translate into rapid political opening; the UAE government remain authoritarian, even as it allows informal citizen participation and traditional consensus-building. Members of the elite (the ruling families of the seven emirates and clans allied with them) routinely make national decisions unilaterally, obtain favored treatment in court cases, and are favored for lucrative business opportunities. However, economic wealth has allowed the UAE to largely, although not entirely, avoid the popular unrest and demands for political change that have erupted elsewhere in the Middle East in 2011. Political reform has been limited and halting. Lacking popular pressure for elections, the UAE long refrained from following other Gulf states' institution of electoral processes. It altered that stance in December 2006 when it instituted a selection process for half the membership of its consultative body, the Federal National Council (FNC). Possibly to try to ward off the unrest confronting other Middle East states, in March 2011 the government significantly expanded the electorate for the September 24, 2011, FNC election process. However, turnout was only about 25%, suggesting that the clamor for democracy in UAE remains limited or that the citizenry perceived the election as unlikely to produce change in UAE. The government has not announced an expansion of the FNC's powers, which some intellectuals seek."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21852