The president of the United Arab Emirates formally greenlighted the most dramatic legal reforms since the UAE was established 50 years ago in December 1971. 

This week, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved the reforms, the result of the work of 540 experts from 50 different authorities who spent five months preparing the groundwork for these extensive changes, the Emirati news agency WAM reported.

Some of the laws will take effect as early as January 2022. 

Overall, the Emirati legal revolution reportedly includes more than 40 laws that affect many aspects of life such as better protection rights for women and foreign workers, personal data protection, combating fake news, electronic transactions, copyrights and neighboring rights. 

The overall purpose of the legal revolution is to facilitate a harmonization between the UAE’s Islamic tribal traditions and its aspirations of eventually becoming a full-fledged member of the world’s advanced societies where human rights is a top priority. 

Freedom House, which surveys freedom worldwide, currently ranks UAE society as “not free,” with a score of merely 17 out of 100 points. This places the UAE far behind Western democracies and also behind Jordan, which scores 47 points, and Morocco, with 53 points. 

Freedom House currently ranks Israel as the only free society in the Middle East, receiving a score of 76 points. 

Despite a population of barely 10 million people, mostly consisting of Asian immigrant workers from India and Pakistan, the UAE punches above its weight in terms of its regional and even its global influence. With an annual gross domestic product exceeding $400 billion and a GDP per capita of over $40,000, the UAE has emerged as one of the wealthiest and most dynamic economies in the Middle East and beyond. 

In October, Israel and the UAE signed a historic agreement on space cooperation and a joint moon-landing project that is expected to see the Emirati and Israeli flags next to each other on the moon in 2024. 

In a sign of reconciliation with Turkey, the UAE recently announced the establishment of a $10 billion fund, earmarked for facilitating strategic Emirati investments in Turkey. 

The UAE has also emerged as an important global player. In October, a U.S.-Israel-UAE trilateral summit was held with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The Asian power, India, later joined the diverse forum with the participation of Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. 

In October, the extravagant Dubai Expo opened with the participation of more than 190 countries from around the world. It was the first time that a global expo was hosted in the Middle East. 

Unlike more conservative Gulf States such as Kuwait and Qatar, the UAE has become a popular hub for Western business expats and tourists. While Western expats only constitute 5% of UAE’s population, they have played a prominent part in UAE’s success story and form a natural bridge between the Emiratis and the Western world. 

While Dubai may superficially resemble Las Vegas, it remains deeply rooted in Middle Eastern Islamic traditions. For instance, Islamic Sharia courts have a monopoly on family affairs, creating an asymmetric legal relationship between men and women. The new legal reforms seek to partially address this imbalance by easing restrictions on extramarital relationships, for example. This is likely aimed at making Dubai a more attractive location for unmarried Western expats and tourists alike. 

In the meanwhile, the Emirati legal revolution will strengthen UAE’s ascending position as an important global hub for trade, science, banking, technology and tourism. 

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