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UAE Hopes Rights Legislation Will Bring in Workers, Investment
Foreign citizens, who make up at least 85% of the population of the UAE, wait to be checked for the coronavirus at a testing center in Dubai last April. (Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

UAE Hopes Rights Legislation Will Bring in Workers, Investment

Religious directives affecting family, personal life top agenda in Emirati reform program

The United Arab Emirates plans to ensure harsher punishments for so-called honor killings, allow unmarried couples to live together and decriminalize the use of alcohol in the coming months to attract more international employees and foreign investment.

Until now, honor killings, in which males slay female relatives deemed to have brought dishonor to the family for such offenses as relations with men outside marriage, have brought light punishments or none at all. Under proposed laws, these crimes will be treated harshly.

However, many of the new regulations will be aimed solely at foreign workers, notes Ibrahim Al Hosani, an Emirati lawyer and chief executive officer of iLAW legal services. Foreigners from about 200 different nations make up at least 85% of the UAE’s population of more than 9.9 million.

“The broadening of personal freedoms,” Hosani told The Media Line, “reflects the UAE’s continuous efforts to keep pace with a rapidly changing society and establish itself as a global capital for tolerance and a land of opportunity to attract new talent and contribute to the growth and development of the… national economy.”

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the UAE’s continuous efforts to keep pace with a rapidly changing society and establish itself as a global capital for tolerance and a land of opportunity to attract new talent and contribute to the growth and development of the… national economy

He adds that the reforms have been percolating since 2010.

The UAE is also introducing tougher penalties for harassing and assaulting women,   and is letting married couples divorce in accordance with the laws of their home country rather than with Islamic law.

The new laws will also decriminalize suicide. In addition, anyone tried in an Emirati court who does not speak Arabic will have access to translators, and evidence in cases of indecent acts will not be made public.

While Islamic law is the rule in the Emirates, in practice there has been some flexibility. The legal change would bring laws in line with this.

“Within the previous regulatory environment, there was a slight gap between policies and legislation, but now, the laws [will] allow the UAE to focus on the diversity of its population and create an attractive and convenient regulatory framework for the appropriate segments of the society,” Dr. Majid Al Sarrah, a public policy adviser, told The Media Line.

Within the previous regulatory environment, there was a slight gap between policies and legislation, but now, the laws will allow the UAE to focus on the diversity of its population

The changes, which will take effect in the coming months, will help attract more direct foreign investment, Hosani says. Bringing in investments and quality talent, especially amid a pandemic, remains key for the UAE.

The reforms might also benefit the wider region, he said, suggesting that “other countries across the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] are likely to follow suit, especially those with the highest expatriate populations.”

The GCC has six member countries, including the UAE.

The changes will not be welcomed by everyone, says Michael Kortbawi, a corporate lawyer who is a partner at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP.

“We believe the reaction across the Gulf/Middle East will be mixed,” he told The Media Line.

“Some will see the move as [an] impetus to incorporate similar [measures locally], whereas some may look upon these changes as negative and harmful to their cultural values. Others might take a‘wait-and-see approach and, depending on how the UAE fares with these changes, choose to do the same or refrain,” Kortbawi said.

“These changes are likely to be frowned upon by those with staunch conservative beliefs,” he added.

These changes are likely to be frowned upon by those with staunch conservative beliefs

Hosani feels that tolerance is a core value in Islam. Therefore, he is confident that religious leaders will welcome the reforms.

“The values of coexistence and openness to different cultures will reflect positively on the whole world by promoting tolerance as a universal concept,” he said. “This is a testament to the UAE’s commitment to advancing international efforts that ensure all people live in peace, security and welfare.”

The values of coexistence and openness to different cultures will reflect positively on the whole world by promoting tolerance as a universal concept

Kortbawi agrees, singling out the new treatment earmarked for honor killings and related crimes.

“Now these crimes will be treated harshly under the law, giving women equal protection,” he stated. “Further, to protect the rights of minors and people with limited capacity, the rape of such victims will be punishable by death – a serious deterrent to such crimes.”

Did you know we’re celebrating our 20th Anniversary as the 1st American News Agency exclusively covering the Middle East?

  • The Middle East landscape is changing rapidly.
  • The roads in the region open to new possibilities.
  • The Media Line continues to pave the way to a far greater understanding of the region’s land, people, policies and governments through our trusted, fact-based news.

We’re an independent, ad-free, non-profit news agency and rely on friends like you!

Please make your gift today as we have a most generous matching 2:1 grant.
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We’re an independent, ad-free, non-profit news agency and rely on friends like you!

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