The president of the United Arab Emirates has announced plans for the country's first elections.
Sheikh Khalifa is said to be a pro-Western moderniser
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan said half of the consultative Federal National Council would be elected, but did not give a date for the vote.
The 40-member council serves only in an advisory capacity and has no legislative powers.
Sheikh Khalifa hopes the reforms will encourage political participation by citizens of the UAE.
However, the election will be limited to a number of citizens, appointed to local councils by the rulers of the seven emirates - who would then be able to choose half the membership of the national council.
The other half of the council will be appointed by the ruling families.
The UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated.
However, it is the only state in the region not to have elected bodies.
In a speech marking the UAE's national day, the president said the move was taking place in light of the changes and reforms being witnessed in the region.
"We have decided to start activating the role of the Federal National Council through electing half of its members through councils for each emirate and appointing the other half,'' he said.
''By doing this, we will embark on a march that culminates with more participation and interaction from all the citizens of the country."
The council is currently composed of representatives from each of the seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain.
They are appointed by the rulers of the emirates for two-year terms.
''We shall work to make the council more capable, more effective and more sensitive to the issues affecting the nation and the people," Sheikh Khalifa added.
Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, is said to be a pro-Western moderniser.
He succeeded his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, in November 2004 and was chosen to be president of the UAE by the ruling sheikhs of the emirates soon afterwards.