Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice, along with its official Shoura Councils, seems to be moving in the direction of creating a codified personal status law for the first time in that country's history.
As of late July the new law was reportedly being prepared with the participation of various human rights groups and the national Family Security Program. The new law will cover issues such as proof of marriage, divorce, custody rights, alimony and inheritance, as well as other legal issues.
One member of a Shoura Council, Nasser bin Daoud, has projected a three-month timeframe for getting the new law submitted to the royal courts.
The official announcement on the law is extremely short on details — there's not even an indication of how closely this new legislation would be based on Shariah law. However, U.S. military veteran and author Mike Toney told the Gulf News Journal that such laws are likely to be based on the Koran, as well as the “Surrah” or traditions of Mohammed. The traditions, he said, involve a great deal of research and can be hard to figure out from a lay person's perspective.
Toney holds a master's degree in international business, and is the author of "Liberty of Nations: 10 Ways to Make America More Safe and Secure."
Currently, Toney said, these religious laws provide specific
rules governing divorce and other aspects of family law.
“The husband may divorce the wife three times.” Toney said, describing a four-month “cooling off” period that’s also based on Islamic teachings, and is partly done for the purposes of figuring out inheritance issues.
As for the origin of the personal status law, Toney said the government is working with Shoura Councils to create something that can govern the Kingdom’s growing population.
“It’s a public-private partnership.” Toney said.
While the timing of the bill and the motivation behind it remain somewhat mysterious based on public reports, there are signs that new laws will deal with modern trends in Saudi society. An Arab News piece from May 2015 shows increasing numbers of divorce cases within the Kingdom.
Resources on the website of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) cover personal status laws within the GCC, and point out that after the adoption of an international standard personal status law in 1996, Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf Coast state still without a personal status law, which is clearly a source of motivation to get one of these laws in place.
The AGSIW site provides videos of panel discussions where participants discuss how personal status laws affect women.
They also talk about the structural and social barriers that are challenges to women's rights, even with personal status legislation in place.
“(The laws) are not often used to create options.” AGSIW Visiting Scholar Hala Aldosari said from the panel. “They enforce certain social norms … they control the access to resources and rights, through the various claims of preserving tradition, and certain religious values.”
Look for more news on the Kingdom’s personal status law as work continues on its planning and implementation.