‘Progressive’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind when speaking about the middle east. But the recent changes made in the UAE family laws, shows that the country is adapting to norms of the 21st century. The recent changes to the UAE family law addresses divorce, inheritance, cohabitation, alcohol and harassment.
The UAE has been a champion of globalisation, attracting foreign direct investments and hosting people from over 200 nationalities. Almost 90% of the Emirates’ population are foreigners. This mixed population includes low-paid laborers from South Asia, and professionals from the United States, Europe and other countries. This diversity of culture and religion has been in conflict with the country’s laws that are heavily based on Shariah law.
The changes in family law will be significant in ensuring that UAE continues to be a destination for foreign direct investment and people from around the world.
UAE divorce law now states that couples who were married in their home country but want to get a divorce in the UAE would be allowed to deal with the divorce in accordance to the laws of the country where the marriage took place. Additionally instead of having assets divided by Sharia law, the law of a person’s citizenship will determine how assets would be divided, unless there is a written will.
Cohabitation of unmarried couples has been legalised for the first time in the UAE. It was initially illegal for an unmarried couple, or even unrelated individuals to share a home in the UAE.
Drinking alcoholic beverages for those older than 21 years has been decriminalised. The penalties for the sale and possession of alcohol without a license in authorised areas has been removed. Muslims who initially were not allowed to procure alcohol licences are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.
The new laws decriminalise suicide and attempted suicide. Police are now supposed to provide vulnerable individuals mental health support. Assisting a person in attempting suicide, remains a crime and can carry an unspecified jail sentence.
Men could initially get away with assault and abuse of women that brought “dishonour” to the family by disobeying religious scriptures or promiscuity. Such acts of assault and abuse will now be treated like any other crime, with no special privilege.
Additionally the law calls for stricter punishments for men who subject women to harassment, including stalking and cat calling. The punishment for the rape of a minor or a mentally challenged individual will be execution.
The UAE has become a hub for foreign investments and has also grown to house individuals from various nations that contribute heavily to their economy. The country has been trying to make its mark on the international community as an economic centre, and the easing of family laws to accommodate people of various nationalities is a move that is bound to help the country achieve its economic goals.
The new laws can also be looked at as a step to improve the country’s image ahead of Expo 2020, which was scheduled to be held in Dubai during the month of October but has now been postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The UAE also normalised its relationationship with Israel, and is hoping to host Israeli investors at the Expo.
The world has been dealing with internalisation and a globalisation backlash, this change in family law brings new hope to those that champion globalisation. While countries like the USA and Britain who initially preached globalisation are strengthening immigration policies and are taking measures to internalise the economy – the UAE is taking measures to give non-Emiratis better representation. The UAE has now developed the most diverse economy in the Gulf, and measures such as this can ensure that it holds its status.
Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Programme. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time.
We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).