The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday relaxed its Islamic laws that dealt with personal freedoms, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalising “honour killing”.
The development comes a few weeks after US President Donald Trump brokered a historic peace deal normalising relations between the UAE, Israel, Sudan and Bahrain.
In its legal reforms, the UAE has also scrapped punishment for allowing unmarried couples to live together. Though authorities used to look the other way in the case of foreigners, especially in Dubai, there was always the threat of punishment lingered on in tourists’ minds.
The Gulf country has also criminalised the “honour killings” custom, according to which a male relative could escape prosecution for assaulting a woman who was seen as bringing disgrace or dishonour to the family.
Human rights groups have lashed out at the UAE and other Gulf countries in the past, accusing them of killing hundreds of women over activities such as eloping, fraternising with men or anything of a similar nature which could be seen as bringing “dishonour” upon the family.
The Gulf country has also warned men of harassing women or stalking them, adding that those found guilty of the offenses will be punished. “There will be tougher punishments for men who subject women to harassment of any kind, which is thought to cover street harassment or stalking,” The Nationalreported.
The government defended the overhauling of Islamic laws, saying that it was an attempt to consolidate “tolerance principles” into the country’s laws and ensure a better investment environment.
“I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” said Emirati film-maker Abdallah Al Kaabi. “2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE.”
Alcohol consumption allowed
The legal reforms have also done away with penalties for consuming, selling and possessing alcohol for those 21 and over, according to the government.
In the past, individuals needed to have a liquor license to keep alcohol in their homes or to buy it or transport the product. The new law will make room for Muslims, who couldn’t previously consume alcoholic beverages as they were not permitted to have licenses, to drink it freely.
The developments are also significant as they occur right before the UAE is expected to host the World Expo where an expected 25 million visitors are expected to arrive in the Gulf country and ensure a flurry of economic activities.