Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Modernizing the United Arab Emirates

By now, the story has been widely reported, The United Arab Emirates has instituted a new set of cultural reforms. They are designed to modernize and to secularize the nation. 

After its groundbreaking shift in policy toward Israel and its support for French president Emmanuel Macron’s war against Islamist terrorism, such moves are welcome indeed.

Simon Kerr reports in the Financial Times.

The United Arab Emirates has unveiled secular-leaning legal reforms, decriminalising alcohol and suicide, allowing the cohabitation of unmarried couples and criminalising honour crimes against women.

The overhaul of Islamic personal status laws comes as the oil-rich Gulf state seeks to scrap rules that, while rarely invoked, added a level of uncertainty for millions of residents and tourists in the UAE.

The moves, which particularly benefit the majority expatriate population, came after a two-year review of the legal system, one official said.

“The UAE is again demonstrating its ability to attract millions of people from around the world to live and work here,” Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper said in an editorial. “Some of the issues that have been addressed by these laws . . . are important to families who are settling in the UAE and making it their home.”

Like Saudi Arabia the UAE is modernizing its economy, by preparing for the time it can no longer count on oil revenues.

As the country looks to diversify its economy from oil, it has been introducing changes to develop a more conducive atmosphere for expatriates to put down deeper roots and invest in the country. Dubai, for example, has offered foreigners the chance to retire in the emirate if they are over the age of 55 and meet various financial-security thresholds. The city had hoped to attract 25m visitors to its hosting of the World Expo this October but the event has been delayed by a year.

The UAE, a moderately conservative Muslim society where expatriates outnumber nationals by nine to one, has confronted the rise of political Islam around the region since the Arab uprisings of 2011. At home, the focus has been on modernising society through education and broadening women’s rights while limiting free speech and banning political activism.

Some UAE nationals expressed their backing for an apparent shift towards secularism. “I so longed to see the day we took steps to become secular,” tweeted one. “I’m so happy to see it happen sooner than expected.”

And there are other reforms:

The new regime also explicitly allows non-married couples to share accommodation. While this restriction has been widely ignored, the threat of legal action has nonetheless hung over people in shared households.

The amendments also included divorce and separation of assets, allowing couples who married outside the UAE to follow the laws of their home country during divorce proceedings, rather than the country’s sharia-based code. Similarly, expat jurisdictions can be used for inheritance purposes. The overhaul has also decriminalised suicide, which is prohibited in Islamic law.

‘I so longed to see the day we took steps to become secular. I’m so happy to see it happen’

Congratulations to the UAE.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I surely do hope it takes root.