Abu Dhabi-based government-run WAM news agency announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has moved to revise its Islamic personal laws, easing constraints on alcohol and cohabitation of unmarried couples as well as ending token penalties for “honor killings”. The agency, however, did not specify when the new relaxed rules will go into force.
The changes, according to the state media, are intended to “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance” and improve the Gulf nation’s economic and social profile.
Penalties for alcohol consumption, possession and sales for those 21 and over will be eliminated in the Muslim country, which positions itself as a more Westernized tourist hotspot than other areas in the region. UAE citizens previously required a special license to drink beer and other liquors at bars or at home.
The reform will also allow “cohabitation of unmarried couples.” Such behavior has been considered criminal in UAE for a long time, though the law was rarely enforced against expats living in the financial hub of Dubai and other emirates.
The legal clause which allowed the judges to issue merciful sentences to men who commit a so-called “honor killing” has also been removed. Those crimes will from now be treated as a regular murder.
According to human rights groups, every year thousands of females in the Middle East and South Asia become victims of “honor killings,” which are carried out by relatives against women and girls who somehow violate Islamic laws and bring ‘shame’ on the family.
The reform comes amid the US-brokered normalization of ties between longtime regional foes UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring investment and numerous Israeli tourists to the Gulf country.
Dubai is also hosting the World Expo in 2021-22. It’s planned that some 25 million people will visit the country for the major international event, greatly boosting economic activity in the UAE. The expo was initially scheduled to take place this year, but was moved due to the Covid-19 pandemic.