United Arab Emirates banks on social reform to assist pull itself out of financial hunch

Recent reforms within the United Arab Emirates affecting the whole lot from ladies’s rights to alcohol gross sales are an indication the majority-expat nation sees liberalization as key to its financial prosperity. 

The transfer to reform a collection of legal guidelines governing particular person freedoms and social mores comes because the nation of practically 10 million people and a $524-billion financial system struggles with a plunge in oil costs and the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I think they are very pragmatic reforms that have to do with economics and … the need to socially liberalize in order to economically thrive,” stated Bernard Haykel, a professor of close to japanese research at Princeton University. 

U.A.E., a federation of seven emirates, is reporting greater than 165,250 cases of COVID-19 and about 567 deaths. 

Nearly 90 per cent of the population of the younger Gulf state, which is simply shy of fifty years previous, are foreigners, lots of them migrant staff in development, home or service jobs. 

The expatriate inhabitants consists of roughly 40,000 Canadians, who’re primarily concentrated within the worldwide enterprise and vacationer hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, has been introducing a spread of social adjustments this yr. (Christopher Pike/Reuters)

Relaxation of Islamic legal guidelines

The adjustments, which got here into impact on Nov. 7, embody introducing harder legal guidelines towards the harassment of ladies, an overhaul of how divorce and separation proceedings are determined, adjustments to the division of belongings and the decriminalization of alcohol consumption. 

In the eyes of the state, the goal of the reforms is to spice up the nation’s financial and social standing and “consolidate the U.A.E’s principles of tolerance,” the state-run Emirates News Agency, or WAM, reported. 

It’s a place that may additionally put the nation, which has branded itself as a global vacation spot for work and journey, in good stead because it prepares to draw not less than 25 million guests to the World Expo, to be held for the primary time within the Middle East in October 2021. 

A bicycle owner rides alongside a street in Dubai because the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, is seen within the skyline behind. The U.A.E.’s oil-dependent financial system was forecast to shrink by as a lot as six per cent, or $31 billion, this yr because the nation suffered from slumping oil costs and the impression of the pandemic on business, transport and journey. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

The sweeping adjustments imply that people now not have to purchase a particular licence to buy or devour alcohol so long as they’re 21. In the previous, Muslims had been banned from acquiring such licences, which is now not the case.

Under up to date inheritance legal guidelines, belongings and estates of non-Emirati residents will now not be divided beneath Islamic legislation, often called Sharia, however in accordance with the legal guidelines of their nation of citizenship — no matter faith. 

The strikes are in line with new divorce proceedings, which permit non-Emirati {couples} who divorce within the U.A.E. to have the legislation of the nation where the wedding befell enforced. Previously, non-Muslim expats needed to petition for the applying of their dwelling nation legal guidelines. 

A shift in attitudes on psychological health

Under the new guidelines, there are stronger penalties for many who topic ladies to harassment, and lenient sentences have been abolished for so-called honour crimes dedicated by males towards feminine family members beneath the guise of defending the honour of the household. 

The nation has been making numerous social adjustments in recent times. Last December, the cost of sexual harassment was added to the penal code and allowed males to be acknowledged as victims of harassment.

Like the remainder of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has branded itself as a global vacation spot for vacationers and enterprise. The roughly 40,000 Canadians who dwell and work in U.A.E. are primarily concentrated in that metropolis and the capital, Abu Dhabi.  (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

The reforms additionally usher in some adjustments aimed toward addressing psychological health points that have been exacerbated through the pandemic. Under the new guidelines, those that try suicide will now not face potential prosecution by the courts. In addition, in May, the U.A.E. National Programme for Happiness and Well-being arrange a psychological health helpline for these dealing with stress and nervousness. 

Monica Salloum, 22, who moved from U.A.E. to Toronto to review in 2017, hopes the reforms will result in extra entry to psychological health assist. Such assist was not simply accessible when she was attending highschool in U.A.E.  

“It was definitely a stressful time for me, and I struggled to make long-term decisions,” she stated. “I could tell a lot of my friends were dealing with emotional distress, too, so I hope the changes help people overcome those barriers and get access to mental health wellness.” 

Though a number of the legal guidelines, such because the prosecution of suicide makes an attempt, had been hardly ever invoked, the reforms provide authorized assurances that they will not ever be.

Unmarried {couples} now free to share a house

The reforms embody lifting the ban on single {couples} dwelling collectively, which was a supply of stress for people reminiscent of Jean Paul Khlat, a 46-year-old Canadian citizen who’s been working as a administration guide for the U.A.E. for the previous 15 years. 

“The landlord gave us a lot of problems,” Khlat stated of dwelling with an ex-partner. “He didn’t have a problem with us specifically, but he was afraid of getting in trouble with the law. It was too much pressure on us, both on the legal side and socially.”

The reforms replicate a collection of secular-leaning concessions for the oil-dependent Gulf state and a shift in cultural attitudes, which some observers say may assist the nation’s monetary state of affairs. 

A pair watches the sundown in Dubai this August. The current reforms embody the lifting of a ban on single {couples} dwelling collectively. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

The financial system was forecast to shrink by as a lot as six per cent, or $31 billion, this yr, in accordance with the latest World Bank replace in October. 

An estimated 900,000 jobs, affecting about 10 per cent of the inhabitants, had been misplaced within the U.A.E. in accordance with an Oxford Economics report in May. The report pointed to an expat exodus throughout the Gulf area as a result of layoffs through the pandemic and staff with out citizenship or everlasting residency having to return dwelling. 

Pandemic impression 

The unfold of the coronavirus compelled the U.A.E. in April and May to subject lockdown orders and impose journey restrictions and curfews. Restrictions on motion, which have since eased, drastically impacted industrial, transport and transportation exercise.

Dubai, essentially the most populous metropolis, has spent $2.42 billion up to now this yr to assist prop up the native financial system. 

A man at Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi wears a masks to guard himself towards the coronavirus as he stands earlier than a mirrored image of the airplane carrying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo final week. The pandemic has impacted U.A.E.’s financial system and claimed nearly 600 lives. (Patrick Semansky/AFP/Getty Images)

“The core challenge of a country like the U.A.E. is their almost exclusive dependence on oil revenue for their economy and their livelihood,” Princeton’s Haykel stated.

“For them to become less dependent on oil, they have to manufacture and produce things or provide services that generate wealth. To do that, they have to become places that are attractive to their own people and to outsiders.” 

While the social reforms are being praised amongst some residents, a UN evaluation printed in September stated the pandemic put the standing of residence and work permits for migrant staff in flux, leaving them weak to exploitation. 

Unlike in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which earlier this yr loosened restrictions on 10 million staff, permitting them to alter jobs and depart the nation with out their employer’s permission, the U.A.E. nonetheless leaves staff’ authorized standing within the arms of employers, who act as their sponsors.

A health employee checks the physique temperature of a migrant employee who has recovered from COVID-19 within the Warsan neighbourhood of Dubai, where people contaminated or suspected of being contaminated by the coronavirus are quarantined. The pandemic brought on layoffs throughout the Gulf area as migrant staff with out citizenship or everlasting residency needed to return to their dwelling nations. (Karim/Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

Trade unions are unlawful within the nation, and staff who unionize or strike may be deported. Advocacy teams reminiscent of the London-based International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates have in recent times highlighted the plight of migrant development staff, lots of whom work in exploitative and dangerous situations.

While U.A.E. desires to border the current reforms as in line with its picture as a “liberal beacon in the Middle East,” it stays to be seen whether or not they will handle the issues of the extra weak members of the expat inhabitants, stated Bessma Momani, senior fellow on the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

“They want to be seen as this model place of pluralism and openness and tolerance, but there’s a dark side to the Emirates when you look at how they treat foreign workers,” Momani stated.

“The Western expats, in many ways, are part of the elite. Yes, it sounds great to them, but they’re not the most vulnerable of foreign workers.”

WATCH  | Changes in U.A.E. this yr included normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel:  

A historic Middle East settlement has been signed on the White House, after U.S. President Donald Trump helped dealer a deal for Israel to normalize relations with each Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. 1:58

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