Academic journal article Iowa Law Review

The Times: Are They A-Changin'? Saudi Law Finally Addresses Domestic Violence with Its Regulation on Protection from Abuse

Academic journal article Iowa Law Review

The Times: Are They A-Changin'? Saudi Law Finally Addresses Domestic Violence with Its Regulation on Protection from Abuse

Article excerpt


August 26, 2013, marked the passage of a law, the likes of which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had never before seen-one that criminalized domestic violence.1 Before that time, domestic abuse had gone wholly unaddressed in Saudi law, and on the rare occasion that a case of abuse was reported and brought to court, Saudi judges were left to rely on their own interpretations of Sharia law in determining whether the allegations constituted criminal action.2 While "[t]here are no reliable statistics regarding domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia," the King Khalid Foundation (an organization discussed in greater detail below) identified "that the phenomenon of battered women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is much greater than is apparent on the surface" and launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the problem in April 2013.3 That campaign, along with the public's response, led directly to the passage of a truly groundbreaking law: The Regulation on Protection from Abuse (the "Regulation").

The questions that have yet to be answered, however, are whether the Regulation is likely to have an observable impact on rates of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, and what can be done to ensure that it helps to lower those rates as much as possible. The following pages seek to provide answers to those questions. To that end, Part II will provide a backdrop against which the contours and intricacies of the Regulation may be examined. Part III will discuss the text of the Regulation, accenting important articles and noting some of its textual strengths and weaknesses. Finally, Part IV will address the likelihood that the Regulation, as it is presently written, will have an impact on Saudi society, and will suggest that its impact might be positively augmented by (1) textual modification including specification of who will have the power to enforce its provisions; description of what behavior rises to the level of abuse; mandated counseling for those convicted of abuse; and discussion of how the Regulation will interact with the Guardianship System, as well as (2) further education for the public concerning both the Regulation and domestic violence more generally.


This Part briefly addresses the current state of Saudi Arabia in relevant social, legal, and governmental respects. To begin with, it is essential to introduce several fundamental concepts concerning Sharia Law and the Muslim faith, as well as the system of government that operates in Saudi Arabia, so that the legal context in which the Regulation on Protection from Abuse arose may be sufficiently understood. To further understand why the Regulation came to be, this Part will then narrow its focus to address the problem of domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia, including one well-publicized case of domestic violence. Concerning the question of how the Regulation was passed, this Part will discuss social change under King Abdullah and the 2013 media campaign that addressed domestic violence. Finally, to consider societal obstacles to the Regulation's enforcement, this Part will conclude with a look at the controversial system of guardianship that Saudi Arabia employs.


Sharia law-that is, the religious law of Islam, derived in great part from the Quran-has existed for more than 1000 years, and has had so fundamental an impact on Middle Eastern culture and life that an exhaustive discussion of what it is and its exact importance in Saudi Arabia could not possibly be provided here. Instead, what follows is a brief introduction to some basic concepts that will be helpful in more fully understanding the importance of the Regulation on Protection from Abuse and in determining its likely impact.

The modern Muslim faith is possessed of two main branches: Sunni and Shi'ite.4 These branches differ in a number of ways, but tend to agree on many of the basic tenets of Sharia law5-the foundational set of teachings that governs the Muslim way of life, and which consists of the writings of the Quran and sunna (the recorded conversations, or hadith, of the Prophet Muhammad, along with a record of the "deeds of the Prophet collected after his death"). …

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