The United Arab Emirates has announced that drinking alcohol and cohabiting outside of marriage are to be allowed and so-called ‘honour killings’ criminalised in a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws.
The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a Westernised destination for tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its strict Islamic legal code that has previously triggered court cases against foreigners.
The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and ‘consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,’ said state-run WAM news agency, which offered only minimal details in the surprise weekend announcement.
The government decrees behind the changes were outlined extensively in state-linked newspaper The National.
The move follows a historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment. It also comes as skyscraper-studded Dubai gets ready to host the World Expo.
‘I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,’ said Emirati filmmaker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art has tackled taboo topics like homosexual love and gender identity.
‘2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE,’ he added.
Changes include scrapping penalties for alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those 21 and over.
Although liquor and beer is widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes.
The new rule would allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.
Another amendment allows for ‘cohabitation of unmarried couples,’ which has long been a crime in the UAE.
Authorities, especially in the more freewheeling financial hub of Dubai, often looked the other way when it came to foreigners, but the threat of punishment still lingered.
The new law has given people free will to consume alcohol without threat of punishment and also encourages man and woman cohabitation without marriage.