What are the crimes in Dubai

The Emirates are loosening their Sharia law

After normalization with Israel, the United Arab Emirates surprised with secular reforms: Unmarried couples are now allowed to live together and Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol. Honor killings and sexual offenses are punished more severely.

In August, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made international headlines when it announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel. For the first time in 26 years, an Arab state dared to normalize its relationship with the Jewish state. Now Abu Dhabi also seems to want to defuse the internal conflict between medieval Sharia laws and the constraints of a cosmopolitan trading center: On Saturday, the Gulf Monarchy announced a whole series of seemingly secular legal reforms.

Cases like that of the Norwegian Marte Dalelv repeatedly scratched the glittering image of the Emirates. Dalelv reported a rape by a work colleague to the Dubai police in 2013. Because she had doubts that someone would believe her, she withdrew her statement. Eventually, however, Dalelv was sentenced to 16 months in prison for having sex outside of marriage. With the reforms that have now been adopted, unmarried couples should also be allowed to live together in a shared apartment. In addition, the penalties for sexual harassment have been tightened. They face at least a year in jail and fines of around $ 30,000.

The rights of women should also be better protected by harsher punishment for so-called honor killings. Relatives who killed a female member of their family because of what they saw as immoral behavior could expect less punishment. This questionable legal practice is also widespread in other Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan. However, the UAE now wants to punish such crimes like ordinary murders. The perpetrators face "life imprisonment" or the death penalty.

No license for alcohol

The harsher punishment for sexual offenses and honor killings is at the same time counterbalanced by the decriminalization of alcohol consumption. Up until now, only hotel guests or non-Muslim residents with an alcohol license have theoretically had access to intoxicating drinks. Now people over the age of 21 should no longer need such a license to consume or possess alcohol. "The new rule would allow Muslims to drink alcohol freely," writes the AP news agency.

Many observers assume, however, that the Emirates have relaxed their Islamic law, especially with a view to foreign investors, guest workers and tourists. Even if many of the now changed legal norms were not consistently enforced, they still hung like a sword of Damocles over the many foreign residents and visitors to the Emirates. Around 90 percent of the almost 10 million inhabitants are immigrants.

Low oil prices and the corona pandemic are causing the economy of the Gulf Monarchy to shrink by around 7 percent this year. The world exhibition planned for this fall had to be postponed to 2021. In order to recoup the investments of around 7 billion dollars for this, the Emirates are hoping for even more visitors next year.

No more penalties for attempting suicide

The welcome changes in the law are primarily intended for foreigners, the Emirati artist Hind Mezaina told the Financial Times. "It remains to be seen how far they will be welcomed by conservative Emirati and foreign Muslim families." Kenneth Roth, director of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, was also skeptical. He described the reforms on Twitter as “positive steps for women's rights” in the Emirates. "But will the ruler of Dubai now forego detaining his grown daughters because they want to lead an independent life?" Asked Roth. He criticized Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktum, who violently ended attempts by his daughters Latifa and Shamsa to flee and robbed them of their freedom.

Indeed, many of the current reforms are aimed at making the lives of foreigners in the Emirates more comfortable and safer. It should now also be possible for foreign citizens to carry out divorces or inheritances in accordance with the laws of their home countries. In addition, suicide attempts should no longer result in criminal prosecution. Foreigners, among whom the suicide rate is seven times higher than that of the local population, benefit above all.

Nevertheless, the cautious openings are likely to have an impact on the local population in the long term. The new harshness towards honor killings or the tolerance towards unmarried couples seem quite remarkable. They should not leave the Emirati unaffected either.