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Only 6889 voters - less than 1 percent of the national population who were hand-picked by their rulers - were permitted to vote for half of the seats, with the remainder filled by appointed members.

Lacking legislative power, the council resembled a talking shop until the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt empowered people across the Arab world with notions of political freedoms and public accountability.

The arrest and detention of 54 political and human rights activists in the United Arab Emirates has thrown the spotlight on one of the most autocratic and least institutionalised Persian Gulf monarchies.

Championed by their western security partners as an oasis of relative stability in a sea of regional upheaval, Gulf rulers have in reality been profoundly shaken by rising participatory demands and calls for political reform.

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Moreover, it raises fundamental questions about the future of authoritarian ruling families whose instinctive response to the appearance of domestic opposition is to suppress it and wish it out of existence.

Failure to acknowledge the zeitgeist sweeping so powerfully across the region means rulers run the risk of losing control and ensuring that change, when it comes, will be sudden and violent, rather than incremental and consensual.

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