The United Arab Emirates announced a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions & criminalizing so-called “honour killings”, on Saturday
The aim of the reform is to boost the country’s social and economic standing and consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance.
Following a historic US-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE & Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists & investment. It also comes as skyscraper-studded Dubai gets ready to host the World Expo. Initially scheduled for Oct but was pushed back a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected to bring High-stake events and bring a flurry of commercial events and some 25 million visitors.
Emirati filmmaker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art has tackled taboo topics like homosexual love & gender identity said, “I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive & proactive.” “2020 has been a tough & transformative year for the UAE” he added.
Changes like scrapping of penalties for alcohol, consumption, sales and possession 21 years old and above. Individuals previously needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes, even though liquor and beer is widely available in bars and clubs in UAE’s luxurious coastal cities. The new rule apparently allows the Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.
Another amendment allows for “cohabitation of unmarried couples,” which has long been a crime in the UAE. Attempted suicide which is forbidden in Islamic law would also be decriminalized.
The Amendments in a country where expatriates out number citizens nearly nine to one, will permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce & inheritance.
In the federation of seven desert sheikhdoms, the traditional Islamic values remain strong. Annelle Sheline, a Middle East research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote on Twitter that “the drastic changes `can happen without too much popular resistance because the population of citizens, especially in the main cities of Dubai & Abu Dhabi, is so small.“
In the roughly 1 million Emiratis in the UAE, a hereditarily ruled country long criticized for its suppression of dissent, political parties & labour unions remain illegal.