The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honor killings.”
The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a Westernized destination for tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its Islamic legal code that has previously triggered court cases against foreigners and outrage in their home countries, reports AP.
The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” state-run WAM news agency reported.
The announcement follows a historic U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment.
The changes also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.
“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. The government decrees behind the changes were announced on WAM and detailed in state-linked newspaper The National, which said they would take immediate effect.
Although liquor and beer is widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals previously needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The new rule would apparently 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. Attempted suicide, forbidden in Islamic law, would also be decriminalized, The National reported.
In a move to better “protect women’s rights,” the government said it also decided to get rid of laws defending “honor crimes,” a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as dishonoring a family. The punishment for a crime committed to eradicate a woman’s “shame,” for promiscuity or disobeying religious and cultural strictures, will now be the same for any other kind of assault.
In a country where expatriates outnumber citizens nearly nine to one, the amendments will permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Traditional Islamic values remain strong in the federation of seven desert sheikhdoms. The announcement said nothing of other behavior deemed insulting to local customs that has landed foreigners in jail in the past, such as acts of homosexuality, cross-dressing and public displays of affection.
The reforms come as skyscraper-studded Dubai gets ready to host the World Expo. The high-stakes event is planned to bring a flurry of commercial activity and some 25 million visitors to the country, after it was pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A decade-long U.N. arms embargo on Iran that barred it from purchasing foreign weapons like tanks and fighter jets expired Sunday as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the United States, which insists the ban remains in place, reports AP.
While Iran says it plans no “buying spree,” it can now in theory purchase weapons to upgrade military armaments dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced gear abroad.
In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching U.S. sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation. The Trump administration has warned that any sales of weapons to Iran or exports from Iran will be penalized.
The Islamic Republic heralded the end of the arms embargo as “a momentous day for the international community ... in defiance of the U.S. regime’s effort.” The Trump administration, meanwhile, says the expiration is moot since it reimposed all U.N. sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, via a clause in the nuclear deal Trump withdrew from in 2018, a claim ignored by the rest of the world.
“Today’s normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flatly rejected the expiration.
“The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those wto ho provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms,” he said in a statement.
“For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various U.N. measures,” Pompeo said. “Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security.”
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, responded to Pompeo with a tweet urging the U.S. to help Middle East peace by not provoking Iran. “And please change words ‘sanctions’ and ‘punishment’ in your vocabulary to ‘dialogue’ and ‘engagement’. That would help a lot! Make US respected again!”, he added.
Sunday’s expiration of the arms embargo was, in fact, the proximate cause for the U.S. decision last month to move forward with the so-called “snapback” of international sanctions in Iran. The Americans tried unsuccessfully to get the U.N. Security Council to extend the embargo but suffered a humiliating defeat when only one country on the 15-member panel supported it.
In response, the administration announced that it had invoked “snapback” — a mechanism provided for in the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal that allows any participant in the accord to restore U.N. sanctions if they determine Iran is not complying with its terms. The rest of the council, however, rejected U.S. standing to trigger snapback, saying it had lost its right to do so when Trump pulled our of the deal.
The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that if the embargo ended, Iran likely would try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft and T-90 tanks. Tehran also may try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defense missile system, the DIA said. China also could sell Iran arms.
Iran long has been outmatched by U.S.-backed Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned toward developing locally made ballistic missiles.
Iran has blasted Gulf Arab purchases of U.S.-made defense equipment as “regrettably lucrative weapon deals” with some of those arms used in the ongoing war in Yemen. That conflict pits a Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s internationally recognized government against rebel forces backed by Iran.
The U.N. arms embargoes, however, did not stop Iran from sending weapons ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, Western governments and weapons experts repeatedly have linked Iranian arms to the rebels.
After seven months of shutdown, pilgrims have started to return to Mecca as Saudi Arabia eased coronavirus restrictions.
A very small, limited number of people donning the white terrycloth garment symbolic of the Muslim pilgrimage circled Islam's holiest site in Mecca on Sunday, reports AP.
The Saudi Arabia kingdom had taken the rare step of suspending the smaller “umrah” pilgrimage that draws millions year-round from across the world in early March as the coronavirus morphed into pandemic and prompted countries to impose lockdowns and curfews to slow down transmission.
But as nations begin to ease those restrictions, the Saudi government on Sunday started allowing a maximum of 6,000 pilgrims a day to enter the sprawling Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Only Saudi citizens and residents will be permitted to enter the mosque during this first phase of reopening, and each person has up to three hours to complete the pilgrimage.
The Grand Mosque, which is being sterilised and cleaned multiple times a day, houses the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.
Loosening restrictions in phases
Before visitors can enter the mosque to pray or perform the umrah, they have to apply and reserve a specific time and date through an online application to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing.
Visitors can also select via the app their means of transportation and meeting points.
State TV showed on Sunday what appeared to be fewer than 50 people circling the Kaaba at the same time and walking several meters (feet) apart.
Typically, the mosque would be packed with worshippers from around the world crowded shoulder-to-shoulder at all times of the day and night.
The second phase for loosening restrictions at the Grand Mosque comes into effect on October 18, allowing a maximum of 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 for prayer from among residents and citizens based on allocated times via the app.
Muslim travelers from outside Saudi Arabia could be allowed to perform the umrah pilgrimage as early as November 1, the Interior Ministry has said.
Saudi Arabia recently began easing some restrictions on international flights for the first time since March.
The kingdom held a dramatically downsized, symbolic hajj pilgrimage in July due to concerns that it could easily have become a global super-spreader event for the virus.
Pilgrims were selected after applying through an online portal and all were residents or citizens of Saudi Arabia. Rather than the more than 2 million pilgrims the kingdom hosts for the annual event, as little as 1,000 took part after being tested for the virus and quarantined.
Despite taking early and sweeping measures to contain the virus, Saudi Arabia has recorded nearly 336,000 cases, including 4,850 deaths.
Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah was sworn in Wednesday as the ruling emir of the tiny oil-rich country, propelled to power by the death of his half-brother after a long career in the security services, reports AP.
At age 83, Sheikh Nawaf is not expected to deviate from the diplomatic path charted by his predecessor, the late Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah.
But his accession touched off speculation about who will become the next crown prince in the country known for its lively elected parliament and relative independence in the neighborhood of Gulf Arab monarchies.
The late Sheikh Sabah was set to make his final journey to Kuwait later on Wednesday, his coffin flying back from Rochester, Minnesota, home of the flagship campus of the Mayo Clinic where he had been receiving medical treatment after surgery.
Although his funeral would typically draw tens of thousands of mourning Kuwaitis and scores of foreign leaders and dignitaries, because of the coronavirus pandemic the burial will be a private service restricted to relatives, said Kuwait’s state-run news agency, KUNA. The breadth and depth of emotion over the loss of Sheikh Sabah, known for his deft diplomacy and peacemaking, was reflected in condolence messages that streamed in from countries on opposite ends of regional bitter disputes, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Sheikh Nawaf took office as the new ruler of Kuwait in the Parliament building before rows of applauding lawmakers, clad in their traditional white robes and surgical masks because of the pandemic.
Kuwait's Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has died on Tuesday. He was 91.
He was expected to be succeeded by his 83-year-old half-brother and crown prince, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed, reports BBC quoting the state media.
In July, Sheikh Sabah was flown to the United States for medical treatment following surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait.
He had ruled the oil-rich Gulf Arab state since 2006 after Emir Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah stepped down just nine days into his rule as parliament moved to depose him on health grounds.
The emir often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, including the ongoing diplomatic stand-off between Saudi Arabia, its allies and Qatar.
Kuwait also refrained from intervening in Syria's civil war, instead hosting several donor conferences for humanitarian aid.
He had been prime minister under the previous Emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, and for several years had been seen as the de facto ruler.
Before then, he served as foreign minister from 1963 to 1991 and from 1992 to 2003.
Kuwait - which has a population of 4.8 million, including 3.4 million foreigners - has the world's sixth-largest known oil reserves and is a major US ally.
It has been ruled by the Sabah family for the past 260 years.
Sheikh Sabah had pushed for diplomacy to solve regional issues, such as the continuing boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations, and he hosted major donor conferences for war-torn nations such as Iraq and Syria, reported Al Jazeera.
Kuwait television earlier interrupted regular programming to cut to Quaranic verses on Tuesday, a move that often signifies the death of a senior member of the Gulf Arab state’s ruling family.
His death comes as the nation continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 103,981 people and caused 605 related deaths in the country of 4.1 million. Its health ministry said more than 95,500 people have recovered from COVID-19.