The UAE has few civil-society organizations. Neither citizens nor expatriates are allowed to form advocacy groups or political parties. UAE citizens are supposed to be able to express their concerns directly to the leadership through traditional consultative mechanisms, such as the traditional open majlis held by many UAE leaders, but freedom of assembly is forbidden by law. In some cases small, peaceful demonstrations of foreign workers on working conditions and other labour issues have been tolerated, but in other cases they were dispersed by force. Foreign labourers working on the large, ambitious construction projects in Dubai have struck to protest poor working conditions and non-payment of wages. Some of these concerns have been or are being addressed by the Labour Ministry’s recent penalizing of employers.
NGOs are usually known in the UAE as associations or societies for public welfare. Although the sector is small, it includes several wealthy philanthropic organizations, some of which operate internationally. There are an estimated 120 public welfare societies in the country. The work of these groups is regulated by the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities. One exception is the International Humanitarian City (IHC), in Dubai, which has several international NGOs among its membership. These organizations are exempted from registering with the authorities, unless they plan to fundraise or work in the UAE. The IHC was set up as a free zone by royal decree in 2007.