DUBAI – The United Arab Emirates on Saturday announced a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personality laws that will allow unmarried couples to live together, relax alcohol restrictions and criminalize so-called “honor killings”.
The expansion of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to distinguish itself as a skyscraper-strewn destination for Western tourists and businesses, despite its legal system based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The reforms aim to strengthen the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” reported the state news agency WAM.
The changes also reflect the efforts of the rulers of the Emirates to keep up with a rapidly changing society. In a country where the number of expatriates exceeds almost nine to one, the changes also allow foreigners to avoid Islamic Sharia courts on issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
The announcement also follows a historic US-brokered agreement to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment.
“I couldn’t be happier with these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” said Emirati filmmaker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art deals with taboo subjects like homosexual love and gender identity.
“2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE,” he added.
Changes include the elimination of penalties for consuming alcohol, selling and owning alcohol to anyone aged 21 and over.
Although alcohol and beer are widespread in bars and clubs in the UAE’s lush coastal cities, individuals previously required a government-issued license to buy, transport, or have alcohol in their homes. The new regulation would appear to allow Muslims who have not been granted licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.
The legal reforms were announced by the state news agency WAM and detailed in the state newspaper The National.
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Another change allows unmarried couples to “coexist”, which has long been a crime in the UAE.
The authorities, especially in the free-running financial center of Dubai, tend to look the other way at foreigners, but the risk of punishment remained for such behavior.
To better protect women’s rights, the government said it had also decided to abolish laws defending so-called “honor crimes,” a widely criticized practice whereby a male relative could evade prosecution for assaulting a woman, who is viewed as dishonoring her family.
The penalty for a crime committed to eradicate the “shame” of a woman, for promiscuity or disregard for religious and cultural restrictions will now be the same as for any other type of attack.
However, traditional Islamic values remain strong in the federation of seven desert sheikh empires.
The reforms did not say anything about other behaviors that were viewed as insulting local customs that have put foreigners in jail in the past, such as: B. Homosexuality, cross-dressing, and public affection.
The reforms will come as the UAE prepares to host the World’s Fair. The high-stakes event is set to bring a lot of commercial activity and around 25 million visitors to the tiny country on the Arabian Gulf after it was pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.