When Legal Worlds Collide: Law and Liberation in the United Arab Emirates

By Mary Ann Fay
Submitted to Session P4819 (Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity, and Advocacy, 2017 Annual Meeting
Hist
Gulf;
Gender/Women's Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
My paper analyzes a legal case in the United Arab Emirates involving a woman who took her husband to court for physically abusing her and her adult daughter. According to the National newspaper, the husband inflicted injuries on his 23-year-old daughter and wife that required medical treatment. The woman in this case chose to adjudicate the complaint against her husband in the civil courts.
The case went from the lower courts to the Federal Supreme Court. Citing a verse from the Quran, Chief Justice Falah al-Hajeri of the Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the husband in the lower court while also acknowledging the right of a husband to discipline his wife – but not his adult daughter – “provided he does not leave physical marks.” The ruling ignited a nationwide debate with conflicting opinions aired in the press in letters to the editor and in essays by legal and religious scholars and clerics. The ruling was criticized by Human Rights Watch on the grounds that violence against a wife by her husband is a crime and should not be condoned in any circumstances.
My paper argues that the woman in this case chose to act as a citizen with rights rather than as a subject of her husband’s arbitrary authority within the family. Her action, perhaps more than the ruling itself, can be regarded as liberating because it challenged her husband’s unchecked authority over her and her daughter and identified her as a citizen with rights according to the UAE constitution. This case allows us to examine the various ways that contrasting legal frameworks define gender and women’s rights and the role that shari`a plays in the country’s legal system.