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AFP
November 21, 2020

UAE ‘modernises’ laws

AFP
November 21, 2020

A Gulf powerhouse home to millions of foreign residents, has revamped an array of laws in a social liberalisation drive designed to burnish its progressive brand.

The oil-rich Emirates has pushed hard in recent years to boost its soft power, hosting global sports events, launching a successful homegrown space programme and opening a nuclear power plant.

It even took the historic leap of normalising ties with long-time Arab foe Israel, after years of signalling the importance of religious co-existence. Now it has turned its attention to conservative local laws, rarely enforced but much discussed among expatriates wary of falling foul of authorities and jeopardising their jobs and residency.

As it takes on a more prominent role in global diplomacy, the UAE is seeking to bolster its image as a safe hub in a region often plagued by extremism. Earlier this month it announced the scrapping of reduced sentences for so-called "honour" killings, most victims of which are women seen as having brought shame on their families.

Other sweeping changes flagged in the media include the lifting of a ban on unmarried couples living together, eased restrictions on alcohol consumption, and the decriminalisation of suicide. "It’s a very smart PR step," said James Dorsey from the Middle East Institute.

The reforms appear designed to attract more talent and reinforce the country’s position amid slumping oil prices and the coronavirus downturn. The overhaul is part of efforts to highlight "tolerance... and strengthen the country’s position" as a desirable place to live and work, according to the official WAM news agency.

"This is the best news this year since the deal with Israel," said one Emirati political expert close to government circles. "It plays well into our image, but the main idea is to make people’s lives easier. This is the main goal," he told AFP, on condition of anonymity as the laws have yet to be published in detail.