UAE issues first civil marriage license for non-Muslim couple

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

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

The official WAM news agency said a Canadian couple was 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 the 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 recognize civil marriages conducted abroad and others not at all.

Late last year, the UAE revamped an array of laws in a social liberalization 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.