By Mukwuzi Joseph
The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate and loosening alcohol restrictions.
The Gulf country also sought to criminalise so-called “honour killings”, a widely criticised tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as dishonouring a family.
The government said the legal reforms were part of efforts to improve legislation and the investment climate in the country, as well as to consolidate “tolerance principles”.
“I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” said Emirati film-maker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art has tackled taboo topics such as homosexual love and gender identity. 2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE.”
The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its legal system based on a hardline interpretation of Islamic law.
The changes also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.
The announcement also follows an historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment.
Bahrain and Sudan followed suit in formally establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in US-brokered deals reached over the past couple of months.