Comparative law and justice/United Arab Emirates

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Basic Information

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The UAE is located in the Middle East bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The UAE has a total of 83,600 sq km of land and it around the same size of Maine. The UAE has a desert climate; cooler in the eastern mountains. The UAE also has a flat, barren coastal plain that merges into sand dunes of desert wasteland. Its natural resources are petroleum and natural gas. The UAE has 0.77% of arable land and 2.27% of permanent crops. Frequent sand and dust storms are the natural hazards of the UAE.

The UAE has a total estimated population of 4,798,491 people. The age structure for the population in the UAE is as follows: 0-14 years: 20.4% (male 500,928/female 478,388) 15-64 years: 78.7% (male 2,768,030/female 1,008,404) 65 years and over: 0.9% (male 27,601/female 15,140) note: 73.9% of the population in the 15-64 age group is non-national (2009 est.)

The estimated median age range for males is 32 years old and for females it is 24.7 years old. The population birth rate is 16. 02 births out of 1,000 population and the death rate is 2.11 deaths out every 1,000 population. The infant mortality rate is a total of 12.7 deaths out of every 1,000 live births. The female infant mortality rate is 10.44 deaths out of every 1,000 live births and for male infants it is 14.86 out of every 1,000 live births. The life expectancy at birth for Emirati infants are, 73.56 years for males and the life expectancy for females is 78.78 years. The nationality of people that are born in the UAE is Emirati(s) and the ethnic groups that live in the country are as follows: Emirati 19%, other Arab and Iranian 23%, South Asian 50%, other expatriates (includes Westerners and East Asians) 8% (1982) note: less than 20% are UAE citizens (1982)

The main religion is Muslims with a staggering total of 96 % out of the population, which leaves Shia with 16% and other religions such as Christian and Hindu with just 4% percent of the population belonging to these religions. The official language of the UAE is Arabic but other languages such as Persian, English, Hindi and Urdu are spoken. The literacy rates for people age fifteen and over that can read and write for the total population of the UAE is 77.9%. the total literacy rates for males 76.1% and 81.75 for females due to an estimation from 2003. The total school life expectancy for primary and territory education is eleven years for the male population and twelve years for the female population which is due to an estimate done in 2003 [1]

Brief History

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The United Arab Emirates history goes back to the greater history of Oman and the Arabian Gulf. Several attempts had been made by the Romans to take control over the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula but all of their efforts failed. After the Arab commander Amr bin Al Aas conquered the Gulf and cleared it from all of the invaders a new era had begun to emerge. The conqueror also brought with him a new religion which he introduced to the Gulf. Later on the Gulf became the center for navigation and maritime trade during the Umayyah Dynasty. During the 11th century AD, for nearly two centuries the Portuguese dominated the Gulf, where they set up fortresses on the Gulf coast. Peace and security reigned in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula after Oman had been liberated from the Portuguese power, which led to a new move of tribes to migrate to the coast.

In 1749 two new strong independent political powers came into the coast of Oman. The first political power was a naval force which was led by Al Qawassim and the second political power was a land force that was led under the leadership of Al Bu Falah. Before their independence, the UAE was trucial Oman which was also known as the trucial states that were under the British protection. For a period around 1892 the United kingdom was assuming the responsibility for the sheikdoms defence and external relations. Otherwise they followed the Arab monarchy with the rulers having absolute power over everyone and everything.

In 1952 a local council compromised and tried to encourage the seven rulers of the sheikdoms to adopt a common policy which could ultimately result in a federation of the states. Petroleum eventually became the areas modern prosperity when it was discovered in 1958.

Before their independence, the UAE was trucial Oman which was also known as the trucial states that were under the British protection. For a period around 1892 the United kingdom was assuming the responsibility for the sheikdoms defence and external relations. Otherwise they followed the Arab monarchy with the rulers having absolute power over everyone and everything. In 1952 a local council compromised and tried to encourage the seven rulers of the sheikdoms to adopt a common policy which could ultimately result in a federation of the states. Petroleum eventually became the areas modern prosperity when it was discovered in 1958.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Nahyan ruled Abu Dhabi since 1966 until his death in November 2004. Under the sultans rule Abu Dhabi transformed because of the incoming income from the petroleum industry. During that same year petroleum was also found in Dubai. In January 1968 the United Kingdom announced that it was planning on withdrawing the British military from the area of the UAE y 1971. In July 1971 only six of the the seven trucial states, which are Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ajman and Fujairah. They agreed on a federal constitution which led to the independence of the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates gained their independence on December 2nd, 1971. The last sheikhdom to join, Ras Al Khaimah entered in February 1972. Once they had declared their independence Sheikh Zayed took office as the president of the UAE. [2]

Economic Development, Health, and Education

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the average total life expectancy of live births for Emiratis are 76.9 years. the total life expectancy of males is 75.6 years and for females the life expectancy at birth is 78.6 years. The infant mortality rate peer 1000 live births in the United Arab Emirates was 7.8 back in 2007. the rate of mortality for children under five were 9.6 in 2007. world Health Organization for the Eastern Mediterranean. Health Status Indicators.2009. Feb 22, 2010. [3] The UAE's main economic imports come mainly from their oil production and their crude oil exports. They also make money from agriculture, manufacturing, construction, hotels, restaurants and commerce, financing and insurance and from real estate. The currency used in the UAE is the UAE Dirham or AED = 100 fils. they also have denominations of AED1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of AED1, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 fils but 10 and 5 fils arent commonly used and the Dirham is tied to the US dollar.[4]


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In 1971 seven emirates came together and established the United Arab Emirates federation in an area named the Trucial coast in the Arabian Gulf. The seven emirates were, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaima, Sharma and umm Al Quwain in the gulf coast. Abu Dhabi is the country’s capital and seond largest city. It is also the center for the United Arab Emirates industrial and political activity. Until world war one the United Arab Emirates was under the Ottoman rule and later on became a british protectorate.

The Ottoman Empire began in the 1300’s in what is now Turkey. The ottomans conquered the Arab provinces between 1516 and 1517 when Islam used to be one of the major forces that held the diverse empire together. The ottoman law comes from the Islamic world and the edicts of the sultan. Later on in the 1700’s and the 1800’s the ottoman empire starts to lose power and while on the hunt for new territories to conquer Britain, France, and Russia began to interfere with all of the territories and affairs of the ottomans empire. The ottoman empire continued to retain power and control over the Balkans and over most of the Arab world until the early 1900’s. after world war 1 the ottoman empire’s land and territories were distributed to allied powers such as Great Britain and France [5]. Today the UAE is currently a federation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates.

since the establishment of the UAE on December 2nd,1971, the UAE set up its temporary constitution. Over the years the constitution that was set on December 2nd, 1971 has turned into a permanent one. This happened after the UAE came up with a moderate policy and made a lot of cultural changes which resulted in accomplishments on the local, regional and international levels. The establishment of the UAE constitution could be considered to be one of the most successful unification experiences in the world.

The UAE’s constitution main purpose was to explain the rules of the political and constitutional organization of the state. It was also set up to show the main purpose of the establishment of the federation of the UAE. The constitution also goes on to talk about the important freedoms that its citizens have. “it has also elaborated on the major social and economic pillars of federation and stressed public rights, responsibilities and freedoms”. It even goes on to mention how it has dealt with financial affairs and armed and security forces provisions between the other member emirates. Currently the UAE has a legal system based on a dual system of Sharia and civil courts. They have yet to accept a compulsory ICJ jurisdiction [6].


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The first elections in the UAE were conducted on December 16th, 18th, and the 20th of 2006 in the different emirates of the UAE. The voters were getting ready to go to the polls for the first time to choose the half country’s federal National Council. Even though only a small percentage of the UAE’s population is eligible to vote, the government has pointed out that this is a good starting point for them. There are only about 7,000 voters, both men and women that have been selected by the rulers of the seven emirates of the UAE to participate in their first election. However this only represents less than one percent of Emirati citizens living in the UAE.

Although they haven’t made clear what type of criteria they used for selecting their voters they have decided to include women. “The criteria for selection have not been made clear, but they seem to be based on traditional forms of patronage”. For many people the inclusion of women in an election in the Middle East is an important and exciting factor in the UAE’s election. Then again it was not a surprise that they decided to include women in their first elections because this is a country where women have begun to take serious high profile jobs and roles in society, “It was never in question in a country where women are increasingly taking high profile roles in business, public service and education” (wheeler 2006). The government is also making it very clear that they are taking cautious steps as they are opening the doors to political participation to the prospective voters.

The government believes that the people they have selected to vote represent a variety of groups in society. They have selected old and young men and women, people that are highly educated as well as others with poor education. The people that were handpicked were also educationalists, writers, academics, public servants, journalists and even architects have been included [7].

Judicial Review

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In order to maintain the peace and order in the united arab emirates , they were given the choice to either keep their federal judicial system the way it was or to join them together. Only Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaima have their own independent judicial systems. The federal UAE courts are made up of two main divisions which are broken down into three stages of litigations. The two main divisions are, civil and criminal. When broken down they are divided into three stages. There are courts of first instance, appeal and the federal supreme court also known as court of cassation. The Shariah court was set up to review the matters of personal status and criminal cases. Any other important cases that contain a security aspect are referred to other special courts. Dubai and Ras Al Khaima originally organized their courts to have two stages which later on expanded in Dubai by the establishment of the courts of cassation. [8].

Only recently in the judiciary branch of the UAE has there been a significant rise in the number of newly appointed judges. They must be UAE nationals, and belong to the different divisions of the Federal courts by the Ministry of Justice from among the many new graduates of the Shariah law colleges. There are still a few expatriate Arab judges that are serving in some of the higher courts in the UAE. The judges that serve in the other neighboring Emirates are appointed by Emiri Decrees, which consists of a National Consultative Council that was promulgated on the 3rd of October of 1971. It is made up of fifty rational members of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Their main purpose is to aim at getting national elites and the ruler engaged and involved in the country’s affairs and to determine the country’s policies [9].

Courts and Criminal Law

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The United Arab Emirates is a civil law jurisdiction and they are influenced by French, Egyptian, Roman and Islamic law. even though there is a federal court structure in the UAE with a final court of appeal in Abu Dhabi also known as Abu Dhabi’s supreme court, Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai are not part of the federal judicial system of the country. Therefore they aren’t subject to the supreme court. Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah have their own court systems. There are three main structures in the UAE court systems and they are, civil, criminal and sharia also known as Islamic law. Dubai’s court system is as follows, the court of first instance which also includes civil court, the court of appeal and the court of cassation. the civil court of Dubai hears any type pf crime ranging from commercial matters such as debt recovery cases. For serious criminal actions the Prosecutor makes the decision whether to refer the case to the court. Sharia courts work with civil courts as well as criminal courts.The Sharia court also know as the Islamic court is responsible for civil matters between muslims. Non-Muslims dont have to appear befor ethe Sharia court.The Sharia court hears cases about divorce,inhyeritances and child custody.

The court of cassation is the highest court in the UAE and it can only hear matters involving law. The court of cassation acts as an apellate court to the lower courts. it also supervisors the courts under it. The lower courts have to follow the rules set by the court of cassation.[10]


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The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and this has a lot to do with the way they set up their laws. Muslim culture, practices and beliefs are applied to their local laws. Their legal system process and the way that they run the country might be different in some aspects compared to other countries. Some of the typical punishments for offenses such as murder, rape, assault and theft is anywhere from imprisonment for a period of time to the death sentence. For more serious crimes such as murder, rape, assault, theft and treason, offenders may end up with the death penalty. Other crimes such as drunkenness and defamation may lead to corporal punishment only if the offenders are Muslim. Homosexual acts, prostitution and adultery are also crimes in the United Arab Emirates. It is also illegal to leave the scene of a traffic accident and to drive without a license. Another illegal crime in the UAE is fraudulent practices such as bouncing checks and people who fail to pay their debts can end up being arrested. The United Arab Emirate has a serious policy about drinking and possession of alcohol without a UAE ministry of interior liquor permit. It is illegal to drink and be intoxicated in public and could result in being arrested. It is also illegal to drink and drive in the United Arab Emirates. Cursing and making gestures like road rage is also illegal and may have serious penalties. The United Arab Emirates also has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs. They have strict penalties for drug trafficking which include a significant time in jail or even the death penalty. Some of the penalties of illegal drugs and possession include imprisonment and heavy fines. The UAE government has even issued for everyone who is planning to visit the country to learn about their strict law possession laws before visiting. Trace amounts of 0.05 grams found on clothes or luggage can still be considered to be possession of drugs. Even over the counter medication that has been prescribed in another country might be considered illegal drug possession. Proper documentation for medication is required when entering the UAE or else you will not be allowed in and may end up being prosecuted.[11]

Law Enforcement

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The UAE has a multiple coordinated and decentralized police structure. They are also UAE is one of the many countries that believe in corporal punishment. They have used flogging and caning on criminals. [12] The United Arab Emirates requests that officers from all of the GCC countries such as, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman take an advanced drug control training course. The training is conducted by the Lebanese International security forces and the experts from West Yorkshire Police. [13]

Crime Rates and Public Opinion

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Despite a law passed in July 2005, The United Arab Emirates has become a destination country for men, women and children to be trafficked to. These victims may come from countries such as South and East Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. They are being involuntarily sexually exploited. Many women migrate from Africa and Southeast Asia to work as domestic servants. Some of these domestic servants have reported having their passports confiscated once they arrive at the UAE by their employers. These workers are being denied permission to leave their work place and face sexual and physical abuse by their employers. Another main crime in the UAE is the transshipment of drugs because of its proximity to Southwest Asian drug-producing countries which makes the UAE vulnerable to money laundering. The UAE is currently working on improving its anti-money-laundering controls. terrorism is another serious form of crime that takes places in the UAE. [14]

The most common crimes that occur in the United Arab Emirates are crimes involving fraud. Other crimes such as murder, counterfeiting, crimes agaisnt life and health and drug related crimes also occur in the United Arab Emirates. Men commit the most crimes and they range in ages anywhere from twenty to sixty five years old. International crime police organization. [15]

Some problems that may make this crime data and statistics less reliable are due to the fact that the UAE’s government has a policy about reporting crimes that occur in the UAE. Overall there aren’t much violent crimes being committed in the UAE but lately there has been a rise in the overall crimes taking place there. It is hard to tell if this is due to the actual increase in crime, since there was a lack of crime reporting before or if it’s because of the increase in reporting lately [16]


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Family Law

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Expats as well as Emirati couples can get married in the UAE once they meet therequirementss and the conditions set by the government. The rules and procedures for marriages vary depending on nationality and the couple’s religion. Usually it is easier for a couple with the same religion and background to get married than it is for couples with different religions. Couples with different religions may face more difficulty when trying to get married. The first step the couple that is getting a divorced should take is to register the case at the moral and family guidance section of the court. If the couple has mixed nationalities, then the laws of the husband’s home country applies. If the couple is non muslim, they can choose to seek divorce according to the laws at the embassy of their country. Whatever the case might be it is advised to seek legal advice especially for women because if a husband sponsors his wife has the right to have her visa or residence cancelled in the event of a divorce. Expats as well as Emiratis can get married and divorced in the United Arab Emirates but it is advised that it is better if you simply go home and get either married or divorced there. However if you insist on getting a divorce in the UAE, Sharia courts in Abu Dhabi apply Islamic laws when they accept divorce from Muslim men of different nationalities and from jewish or Christian women that are married to Muslim men. If the couple is Muslim but from different countries and are both residents of Abu Dhabi, then they will be divorced based on the administrative laws of their own countries. They can also decide to get divorced by UAE law if they wish. [17]

A very common situation is when a Muslim man and a Christian woman want to get married. It is permitted that a Muslim man and a Christian woman can get married if they want to but a Christian man would have to convert to the Muslim religion in order to be able to marry a Muslim woman. Emirati men often marry women that aren’t Emirati but the opposite is usually rare. The courts in Dubai handle procedures and regulations that deal with marriages. [18]

According to Islamic law the Sharia Court in Abu Dhabi performs marriages regardless of the applicant’s nationalities and backgrounds. However Christians can get married in a church in Abu Dhabi and have their marriage registered in the emirate. One of the main requirements is that the bride and groom to be are both residents of the UAE. The bride and groom must also show their birth certificate and certificate of marital status, which they both have to get properly attested. They can have their birth certificate and their certificate of marital status either in their home country or in the applicant’s consulate. Regardless of the woman’s age she is required by the Sharia Court to have her guardian’s approval for the marriage. In the absence of her father then the guardian can be the next closest male father figure in her life like her uncle or brother. If the father or guardian cannot e present the court will also accept his attested consent. In some rare cases if there is no one that can act as a guardian to the bride then the cleric sheikh himself will assume the role of the bride’s guardian. Once the couple has all of their required documents ready they can submit them along with their application for marriage at the Sharia Court. In order for the marriage to take place it also requires two witnesses and the whole procedure usually takes a few days to be completed and then they receive their wedding certificate. [19]

The adoption of children from certain countries in which Islamic Shari’a law is used can be very difficult if not impossible. Many countries such as the United Arab Emirates forbid adoption. While you cannot adopt an Emirati baby, you can still adopt children from other places such as Africa, Asia and other far eastern countries. It still may not be possible for an American citizen to adopt an orphan overseas, however there are some countries in which the Shari’a law is observed where they do allow the custody of the child to be transferred through the guardians to the adopting couple.

A will is a legal document that is written during the lifetime of people that own property or assets. Many times problems can arise after a person dies and does not leave a will behind. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the distribution of the property of the deceased person when they don’t leave behind a valid will.

In regards to the UAE being a muslim country, sharia laws are applied to everything including inheritance matters for UAE expatriates and UAE nationals. In the UAE it is very important that a will made by an expatriate be attested by their country’s consulates and that they are also legally compliant with the structure of wills that are specified by the laws of their home countries. [20]

As far as matters of inheritance go in the UAE, they are governed by the federal law no. 5 of 1985 which has to do with the law of civil transactions in the UAE, which is also known as the civil code. It is also governed by the federal law no. 28 of 2005 regarding personal affairs in the UAE.

Generally inheritance matters in the UAE are dealt with according to Sharia laws but for foreigners or expatriates, the deceased home country’s laws apply. Even though the UAE has the Sharia law and inheritance laws, it is still not clear whether they apply it to real estate in the United Arab Emirates. Since the inheritance of property was not clarified in the personal affairs law in 2005 it has caused a lot of confusion. In one part the civil code states, that the law of the home country applies when it comes to matters of inheritance but in another part the civil code also states, that where a will made by a foreigner involves the disposal of real estate in the UAE, then the UAE laws applies to the inheritance. While the Personal Affairs Law (2005) confirms that the laws of the home country apply to foreigners when it comes to matters of inheritance, it fails to mention whether or not it applies to real estate located in the UAE.

Many lawyers in the UAE believe that if a non UAE citizen mentions in their will the disposal of their property in the UAE, the court will follow the orders and wishes left in the will of the deceased. While many others also believe that the Personal Affairs Law only applies to general matters of inheritance and that the inheritance of property in the UAE is governed by the civil code. Ultimately the UAE courts will decide how the inherited property will be distributed. The courts decide whether to apply the local laws, the laws of the deceased home country or the Sharia laws. [21]

Human Rights and Social Iequality

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In the United Arab Emirates, if you’re a member of the ruling family they will take longer to prosecute the criminal for his actions. In the case of Sheikh Issa where he caused the assault and rape of a businessman and managed to get away with it for a few years is still be questioned. It is believed that one of the main factors of the judges verdict is because he is part of the ruling family in the UAE, even though he doesn’t hold any official position in that country but he is still a half brother of the UAE’s president."This has prompted concern that the Sheikh was not held to account because of his position and influence as a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family". These reasons had a big influence on the way the court and the judges handled this case because if it would’ve been someone else they wouldn’t have delayed the prosecution so much. In the defense of sheikh Issa, he said he had been drugged and videotaped by the other members of the crime. He walked away with virtually no punishment and everyone else that was involved in the case received a sentence of five years in jail and a fine of $10,000 dirham. According to the court Sheikh Issa had been acting under the influence of drugs, given to him by the other members of the crime who wanted to film him and later on blackmail him. Therefore the court ruled that he had “diminished liability” for the violent act against the Afghan victim.

Amnesty international wrote a letter Sheikh Khalifa Zayed Al Nahyan saying that they should conduct a more thorough investigation on this case. They have also called to the UAE government to state what they plan to do in order to investigate this situation in the criminal assault committed by Sheikh 'Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan andn to also openly clarify who were the people involved in the crime and if there were any police members and other officials involved.

Amnesty international also added that even though the victim if this crime wanted to settle the case privately, the UAE authority should have still gone out of their way to investigate this serious criminal assault and to hold the members of this crime accountable for their actions under the law of the UAE.[22]

Works Cited

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  15. Interpol - Recent Adds and Updates. Web. Mar. 2010. <>.
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  18. "Welcome to Abu Dhabi - Getting Married in Abu Dhabi." Abu Dhabi Tourism. Web. Apr. 2010. <>.
  19. "Welcome to Abu Dhabi - Getting Married in Abu Dhabi." Abu Dhabi Tourism. Web. Apr. 2010. <>.
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