ABU DHABI: The UAE issued its first civil marriage licence for a non-Muslim couple, state media reported on Monday, as the Gulf country seeks to keep its edge over regional competitors.

The United Arab Emirates — where foreigners make up 90 per cent of the approximately 10 million population — has been amending its laws to present itself as a modernising force in a largely conservative region.

The official WAM news agency said a Canadian couple were the first to marry under a new law on the personal status of non-Muslims in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The move “contributes to the consolidation of Abu Dhabi’s position as a world leading destination for skills and expertise from around the world,” WAM said.

Civil marriage in the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, is uncommon and usually conducted under a religious authority of one of the three monotheistic beliefs.

Civil marriages are allowed in Tunisia and Algeria.

While some countries in the region allow civil unions based on certain conditions, some only recognise civil marriages conducted abroad and others not at all. Late last year, the UAE revamped an array of laws in a social liberalisation drive designed to burnish its progressive brand.

These included lifting a ban on unmarried couples living together, loosening restrictions on alcohol and offering long-term residencies.

Earlier this month, the UAE announced it will move to a Western-style Saturday-Sunday weekend.

Starting on January 1, 2022, the Emirates will become the only Gulf country not to observe weekends from Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, to Saturday.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2021

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