On the 7th of November, 2020, the United Arab Emirates has announced a massive overhaul of its restrictive Islamic laws, including allowing unmarried couples to cohabit, decriminalising drinking without a licence, and toughening previously lenient penalties for perpetrators of so-called “honour killings”.

The move comes over a month after signing of a US-brokered deal for the normalisation of Israel-UAE ties on 15 September.

With the changes to the laws, the UAE government is aiming to continue to be a destination for foreign direct investment and to people from around the world living in the UAE.

According to the UAE-based newspaper “The National”, changes to existing laws and the introduction of new laws seek to regulate crucial personal and civil laws, with provisions allowing non-Emiratis to have their personal affairs dealt with according to the law of their home country.

The amendments gives room for the laws of a person’s country of origin to be used for divorces and inheritance in the UAE. This means that Islamic law, or sharia, would be rarely used when it comes to family law cases involving expatriates in the United Arab Emirates, UAE

The reforms include decriminalisation of alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those 21 and over in authorised areas. Earlier, individuals needed a liquor license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The law will also apply to all Emirati citizens.

Another amendment allows for the legal cohabitation of unmarried couples. Until now, it was illegal for an unmarried couple, or even unrelated flatmates, to share a home in the UAE.

Nevertheles, the UAE government has also decided to get rid of laws protecting ‘honour crimes’, where a male relative can get a lighter sentence for assaulting a female relative under the guise of ‘protecting honour’, and such incidents will be treated as as crimes, similar to any other assault.

There will be stringent punishments for men who subject women to harassment of any kind, which is thought to cover street harassment or stalking, The National reported.

According to the new laws, the punishment for the rape of a minor or someone with limited mental capacity will be execution.

Also, the UAE government has also tweaked the divorce and inheritance laws for the expatriates. As per the amendment, if a couple were married in their home country, but were divorced in the UAE, they could expect the process to be similar in a UAE court. The laws of the country where the marriage took place would apply instead.

The changes also cover wills and inheritance. Until now, family members of a deceased person, particularly in acrimonious cases, could have found assets were divided under sharia, which expats may be unused to. However, now, a person’s citizenship will dictate how their assets are divided among their next of kin, unless they have written a will.

The only exception will be for property purchased in the UAE, which will be managed according to UAE law.

Besides, the laws have also been amended in the gulf kingdom for the decriminalisation of Suicide and attempted suicide.

Some of the major changes include the decriminalisation of suicide and attempted suicide, which is forbidden in Islamic law. In the past, those who survived a suicide attempt could be prosecuted and at one point would have faced up to six months in jail and a fine of more than the equivalent of £1,000 – although that was downgraded last year and instances of it happening were rare.

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