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The Year in Review

International Legal Developments Year in Review: 2022

Middle East - International Legal Developments Year in Review: 2022

Fatemah Albader, Daniel R Cooper, Kelly Blount, Rana Moustafa Esswy, Rasha Sabkar, Emilia Trukluck, Mohamed Zain, Thamer Bourasli, Narin Nosrati, Habiba Bhouri, Natali Gbele, and Leen Budustour


  • This article surveys significant legal developments in the Middle East in 2022.
  • It includes updates on Afghanistan, Alergia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Libya.
  • It also includes updates on Morocco and Western Sahara, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.
Middle East  - International Legal Developments Year in Review: 2022
Simon Gelfand / 500px via Getty Images

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This article surveys significant legal developments in the Middle East in 2022.

I. Afghanistan

On May 7, 2022, de facto authorities issued an order forbidding women from leaving their homes without covering their faces, except for their eyes. The directive, issued by the Taliban, stated that staying at home except for emergencies was the best form of Islamic hijab. Female employees in government will be relieved of their positions immediately if they do not wear the veil. The decree further expresses the penalties faced by the heads of families who do not impose the obligation to wear the veil on their subordinate members. For the first two offenses, a warning is issued; the third offense carries a three-day punishment, and the fourth offense results in a referral to the judiciary. Additionally, women are not permitted to travel domestically and internationally without a male chaperone. Access to necessary travel assistance is frequently refused to unchaperoned women. The Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice also enacted regulations banning women from traveling long distances without a mahram and designating specific days for men and women to visit parks. The Taliban’s top focus appears to be strengthening social restrictions, notwithstanding the current economic crisis in Afghanistan. The mandatory veil laws violate the human rights of women in Afghanistan, including the right to equality, privacy, self-determination, and freedom of expression. Ultimately, these laws degrade women and girls, effectively stripping them of their dignity and their sense of value.

II. Algeria

On July 24, 2022, Algeria promulgated new corporate business regulations in an effort to attract foreign investment. Previously, Algerian law required a fifty-one percent majority to be held by Algerian national shareholders, leaving forty-nine percent for foreign nationals. The new law repealed this requirement but it is still retained for certain strategic sectors and circumstances. Key legal reforms include tax incentives and other benefits, new transparency requirements, and guarantee of transfer of the investment and its revenues.

III. Bahrain

A. Corporate Governance

On September 20, 2022, amendments to Bahrain’s Corporate Governance Code (the Code) came into effect. Some of the amendments introduced new document retention requirements. Additional changes to the Code related to board and committee appointment standards, including efforts to improve diversity on boards of public companies. There are also new standards for managing director conflicts of interest.

Other noteworthy amendments to the Code related to shareholder rights, external auditors, and compensation transparency. The Code now allows shareholders to vote electronically. Certain sections of the Bahrain Commercial Companies Law related to the rights of shareholders have been incorporated into the Code. There are now stricter parameters for the appointment of external auditors and engagement partners, and a new obligation for auditors to report on compliance with their internal controls. In addition, the Code has new guidelines for a company’s annual corporate governance report that are designed to increase transparency with respect to compensation received by board members and senior management.

The final noteworthy amendment to the Code was the addition of penalties for violations by reference to the Bahrain Commercial Companies Law. These penalties include: (a) ordering the company to cease the activity that is in violation of the Code; (b) suspending the commercial registration of the company for a period of time; (c) imposing an administrative fine; and (d) striking the company off the commercial registry of the Ministry of Industry & Commerce. In keeping with the principle of “comply or explain,” there is an argument to be made that penalties should not be imposed for sections of the Code which appear as guidance for best practices.

B. Data Protection

The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Waqf issued a number of decisions in 2022, which supplemented and gave effect to several provisions of Bahrain’s Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL). These decisions became effective on March 18, 2022, and covered a range of related matters including, inter alia, (1) the transfer of personal data outside the Kingdom of Bahrain; (2) specifics related to the technical and organizational measures that guarantee protection of personal data; (3) procedures for processing sensitive personal data; (4) specifics surrounding the Data Protection Guardians; (5) rights of data subjects; (6) procedures for lodging complaints; (7) processing of personal data in the context of criminal proceedings; and (8) public registers of personal data. The PDPL now includes the principles of “privacy by design,” data protection impact assessments (DPIAs), a mechanism for data breach notifications, and binding corporate rules for transferring data across borders.

IV. Egypt

The human rights situation in Egypt continued to deteriorate throughout 2022, with charges of “spreading false news” deployed against a former Presidential candidate, creators of satirical TikTok videos, whistleblowers, and independent journalists. Early 2022 also saw President al-Sisi issue a decree to expropriate private properties across 36 Nile islands, leading to clashes between houseboat residents and security forces.

Economically, Egypt struggled with rising inflation and food supply issues. Attempting to address these financial and monetary crises, the government increased tolls on the Suez Canal and announced a three-month ban on the export of wheat. In addition, the government also began issuing bonds in yuan, while the Central Bank initiated a flexible exchange rate regime. In addition, the Prime Minister granted several golden licenses to foreign investors for the first time since the license was established in 2017.

Finally, within the legal structure, there was progress on issues of gender and religious representation. In February, the Egyptian State Council opened applications for assistant delegate positions to women and the first Christian was appointed to head the Constitutional Court. In May, the Ministry of Awqaf created the first fatwa councils comprised solely of women. In October, Dar al-Ifta drafted the first fatwa charter addressing climate change, and President al-Sisi announced the beginning of a national dialogue with opposition groups, the outcome of which has yet to be seen.

V. Iran

On November 1, 2022, the two-year trial before the People’s Tribunal on the investigation and assessment of the events in Iran in November 2019 (Aban Tribunal) ended with a final judgment.

On November 15, 2019, peaceful protests against the government erupted, sparked by announced increases in the price of petrol. Iranian security forces intervened, resulting in the deaths of about 1,500 people and the arrest of about 7,000. The Islamic Republic of Iran and 160 officials are accused of having committed the unlawful acts of murder, enforced disappearances, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sexual assault, and rape.

Given the absence of legal reconditioning, human rights organizations and advocates initiated the People’s Tribunal. Its main objective is to “uncover the truth and determine who is responsible according to the principles of law, human conscience and justice.”

The judgment has no binding effect and Iran did not participate in the proceedings. Still, the verdict and the more than 600 witness statements provide important documentation and legal assessment of the atrocities.

The Panel found that Iran violated a wide range of international obligations, in particular human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified, and crimes against humanity, according to the standards of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Iran was found to have violated the right to peaceful protest and expression under Article 21 of the ICCPR and the right to life under Article 6 of the same covenant. Through arbitrary arrests, the inhumane conditions of detention, and the use of torture, Iran violated the right to liberty and security of the person under Article 9 and the freedom from torture and other inhuman treatment under Article 7 of the ICCPR. In addition, Iran committed enforced disappearances in violation of Articles 2(3), 7, and 9 of the ICCPR and violated the right of access to justice under Article 2 of the same covenant.

The Tribunal ultimately found that Iran committed crimes against humanity, as the acts were widespread and systematic to eliminate peaceful protests. The judgment ends with recommendations to Iran and the international community. These include intervention by the United Nations Security Council and a reference to the ICC through a resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which is possible under Article 13 (b) of the Rome Statute for crimes against humanity, allowing for investigation and assessment by the ICC.

VI. Jordan

Parliament approved thirty changes to the Constitution in January, including one creating a National Security Council and another adding the noun “women” to the definition of Jordanian citizens. The most controversial amendments were those that gave the king exclusive power to appoint and dismiss the Chief Justice, head of the Sharia Judicial Council, Grand Mufti, Chief of the Royal Court, Minister of the Court, and the king’s advisors. Supporters of the amendments stated they would increase the political neutrality of these positions, while detractors saw the amendments as either unimportant or a way of consolidating the king’s power. Later in January, a parliamentarian was sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for insulting the king. In February, ten more Jordanians were arrested for criticizing the government, the king, and the new amendments.

In March, Parliament passed a draft law regulating political parties in Jordan, giving courts the right to dissolve parties that affiliated with foreign entities and to charge party members who incited armed protests against the government. Later that month, the Lower House endorsed a new elections law that re-drew electoral districts, created rules for the inclusion of women and youth in party lists, and reduced the minimum age for running for office.

Other laws passed in the spring included one criminalizing suicide attempts and another increasing the punishment for journalists violating gag orders by covering secret trials. In June, a law came into effect to lower and cap the imprisonment penalties for debt crimes, while the government unveiled a ten-year strategy for rejuvenating the economy. In September, the Lower House endorsed a new children’s rights law, affirming the right of children to decent living conditions free of poverty.

VII. Kuwait

On April 17, 2022, the Kuwait Court of Cassation issued a new standardized principle regarding all nationality-related matters. This new principle stipulates that all nationality-related matters, whether concerning original or acquired nationality-related cases, are completely outside of the Court’s judicial jurisdiction because they are acts of sovereignty and are thus excluded from its purview. Abiding by Article 2 of Law No. 23 of 1990, which emphasizes the Court’s lack of jurisdiction over acts of sovereignty, the Cassation Court based its decision on the fact that the nationality issue is related to the state’s supreme sovereignty, the safety of its population, and the establishment of security.

The appeal was forwarded by a circuit in the court to the Public Body for standardization of principles in order to avoid divergent principles on the same issue. One of the previous contradicting principles was that in matters of original and acquired nationality, only the latter was considered to be an act of sovereignty. Now, all nationality-related matters are under the purview of acts of sovereignty and the judiciary is therefore unable to adjudicate on such matters.

VIII. Lebanon

On October 27, 2022, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement to demarcate their maritime borders after months of negotiations. The signing ceremony formally settles a years-long maritime boundary dispute involving major oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean. Before a settlement was reached, Hezbollah pledged to obstruct any Israeli attempts to drill in the Karish underwater gas field close to the long-disputed border. The deal confirms Israeli sovereignty over the Karish field and grants drilling rights to Lebanon at one disputed gas field, Qanaa, which lies between the two economic zones. Israel has accepted the Lebanese stance on a more profound nine-nautical-mile stretch into the sea while maintaining control over its current security line that extends three nautical miles off the coast.

IX. Libya

On October 3, 2022, the Government of National Unity of Libya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Turkey that envisages the development of bilateral scientific, technical, technological, legal, administrative, and commercial cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons, both on land and at sea. Egypt and Greece rejected this MoU as illegal and invalid for two reasons. First, the MoU complements an agreement signed in 2019 between the Government of National Unity and Turkey regarding the maritime borders between both countries which encroaches upon Greece’s maritime sovereign rights in the area. Second, the Government of National Unity does not have any legal authority to sign the MoU. Those concerns were also raised by the European Union spokesperson who stated that the European Union takes note of the MoU but recalls its position regarding the 2019 agreement as “infring[ing] upon the sovereign rights of third States.” It has been also reported that the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives rejected the MoU for not being signed by an authority vested with the power to do so. Turkey, on the other hand, rejected those allegations as it did in 2019. It alleged that statements made regarding the MoU violated the sovereignty of Turkey and Libya and disrespected the principle of the equality of States; a cardinal principle of international law. In defense of the MoU, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed that an MoU is not an agreement and thus does not require the acceptance of Libya’s House of Representative.

X. Morocco and Western Sahara

On February 3, 2022, Morocco was elected for a three-year term to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union at the 40th ordinary session of the African Union Executive Council.

On September 22, 2022, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a judgment in the complaint against Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, and Tunisia for voting in favor of the unconditional re-admission of Morocco to the African Union in 2017. While this complaint was not directly lodged against Morocco, it certainly has several implications for the Morocco/Western Sahara dispute.

The Court has highlighted that the United Nations and African Union recognize that Western Sahara is a territory whose “decolonisation process is not yet fully complete,” and recalled that the ICJ in its 1975 Advisory Opinion has denied the existence of evidence for “any historical tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and Morocco.” Therefore, the Court stressed that the continued occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco is incompatible with the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people as enshrined in Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Court has also stated that the African Charter mandates an “international obligation on all State Parties to take positive measures to ensure the realization of the right [to self-determination], including by giving assistance to oppressed peoples in their struggle for freedom and refraining from engaging in actions that are incompatible with the nature or full enjoyment of the right.” Nevertheless, the Court did not find that voting in favor of the unconditional admission of Morocco to the African Union constitutes a violation of this obligation. Accordingly, it dismissed the Applicant request for reparations in the form of an order compelling the concerned States to individually and/or collectively call for an emergency session of the Assembly of the African Union.

On October 11, Morocco was elected – with an overwhelming majority of 178 votes—a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council for a period of three years (2023-2025).

On October 27, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2654 that extends the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until the October 31, 2023. This resolution was adopted by 13 States in favor and Russia and Kenya abstaining for concerns with its wording. Morocco welcomed the resolution and considered it “a confirmation resolution that reaffirms the framework of the political process, its actors and its purpose.” Algeria, on the other hand, saluted the position of Russia and Kenya and regarded the resolution as “devoid of the will to direct and stimulate efforts intended to preserve the nature of the question of Western Sahara and to scrupulously apply to it the doctrine and the good practices of the United Nations in matters of decolonization.”

XI. Oman

On February 9, 2022, the Sultanate of Oman issued Royal Decree 6/2022, promulgating the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL). Upon coming into force, the Omani PDPL repealed and replaced Chapter Seven of the Omani Electronic Transactions Law that previously imposed certain duties in connection with the protection of private data in the field of electronic transactions. The executive regulation is expected to be issued soon by the Minister of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology to put in place necessary mechanisms, tools, and procedures in the context of effective execution of the law.

The Omani PDPL gives a one-year grace period for the persons targeted by the provisions of this law to comply.

Different from most national personal data protection laws, the Sultanate of Oman does not have a specified body for the sake of regulation and implementation of its PDPL; instead, Oman entrusted such powers and missions to the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology under Royal Decree 6/2022 in its capacity as the Data Privacy Supervisory Authority pursuant to Article 7 thereof.

The Omani PDPL adopts a new and uncommon approach in widening the events where controllers are obliged to obtain the explicit and documented consent of data subjects before any processing of their data. Such an approach differs from the European Countries’ approach under the General Data Protection Regulation, which determines, exhaustively, six events where the consent of data subjects is bedrock.

XII. Palestine

On May 11, 2022, Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin, West Bank. The death of the world-renowned Al-Jazeera journalist sparked international uproar.

After multiple independent investigations indicated that she was shot by Israeli forces, the Israeli military publicly stated that Abu Akleh was most likely killed by an Israeli soldier, but said the killing was accidental in that the soldier misidentified her. Thus, the Israeli military forces decided not to press any charges against the soldier. The US State Department’s investigation came to a similar conclusion.

Weeks after the military’s statement, Abu Akleh’s family, together with the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, submitted an official complaint to the International Criminal Court. The family submitted reports indicating that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the death of Abu Akleh as well. The previously unknown investigation was announced by Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz in a tweet, stating that Israel will not cooperate with the American probe and will not enable interventions to internal investigations.

Considering the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance signed between Israel and the United States in 1998, Israel’s refusal to cooperate could be in violation of the bilateral agreement. Article 1 of the treaty defines the scope of the assistance between the two states to include investigations, persecution, and proceedings in criminal matters. Article 2 vests the authorized authority to implement provisions of the treaty with the Attorney General. Israel may still deny the assistance according to Article 3 of the treaty if the requests pursuant to the treaty may harm its sovereignty, security, or other essential interests. Israel may also deny its assistance if the request relates to a political offense or an offense under military law.

XIII. Qatar

The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) recently issued its amended Data Protection Regulations and Data Privacy Rules (New DPR) on December 21, 2021, which entered into force on June 19, 2022.

QFC regulators were careful to create a regulation that has striking similarities with the standards of the General Data Protection Regulations 2016/679 (GDPR), the “gold standard” in the data privacy world, which will ultimately ensure more diligence by the QFC’s companies in their data compliance practices.

The New DPR focuses on ensuring that companies, as data controllers, manage personal data ethically, lawfully, and transparently, while also empowering the data subjects with sufficient enforceable rights over their data.

Some of the most important amendments introduced by the New DPR include the establishment of eight main principles on the processing of personal data, which are strikingly similar to those of the GDPR, and the establishment of a Data Protection Office as the QFC’s supervisory authority along with appointing a Data Protection Commissioner at the QFC. Additionally, the amendments adopted wider definitions and conditions on data processing and data subjects’ consent, like the right to access, the right to object, and the right to restrict. Moreover, should there be a high risk due to processing data, the new amendments require controllers to apply a data processing impact assessment before such processing. On a different note, the new DPR penalties contain financial penalties of up to $1.5 million. There is also a risk of reputational damage to businesses that fail to comply, so companies are encouraged to review their privacy policies in light of the new DPR.

XIV. Saudi Arabia

A. Human Rights

Saudi Arabia continues to punish citizens who dissent on social media. In August, a Saudi doctoral student was sentenced to thirty-four years in prison because of tweets she shared while in her Ph.D. program in the UK. In September, another woman was charged with “spreading lies through tweets” and was sentenced to forty-five years in prison. In October, an elderly U.S.-Saudi citizen was sentenced to sixteen years for tweets that he had posted while living in Florida.

Saudi Arabia also continues to apply the death penalty. In March, eighty-one men were executed on a variety of charges. In the spring, despite a February statement by the Saudi Human Rights Commission that the country had halted executions of individuals who committed crimes when they were minors, criminal courts sentenced three men to death for crimes they committed as children. Similarly, despite the 2021 announcement of a moratorium on the death penalty for drug offenses, two Pakistani nationals were executed in November for smuggling heroin.

Economically, Saudi Arabia has expanded its global reach, entering deals with Chinese oil companies and becoming the largest investor in Jordan. Saudi Arabia has also published new laws opening up the financial technology and banking sectors. In June, Saudi authorities announced the launch of the FinTech Strategy Implementation Plan, and in August, the Saudi Central Bank updated the legal framework for its Regulatory Sandbox. In November, the Saudi Central Bank announced a new open banking framework and open banking lab.

Finally, in March, the king codified family law, creating a minimum age requirement for marriage, allowing women more choice over their husbands, formalizing women’s property rights in marriage, and expanding women’s child custody rights. In October, the government lifted the requirement that women making a pilgrimage to Mecca need a male guardian.

B. Data Protection

As of March 23, 2022, the Saudi Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL), which was issued earlier under Royal Decree (M/19) on September 16, 2021, entered into effect. For the first two years, the law will be enforced under the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority; afterwards, a transition to the National Data Management Office will be considered. With the PDPL, Saudi aimed at enacting a standalone law for the regulation and protection of data privacy, especially since the business environment in the country has been largely and rapidly growing.

In the course of the comprehensive inclusion of the persons targeted by the PDPL, Saudi promulgated a draft Executive Regulation for public consultation. Following discussions with firms and businesses operating in Saudi Arabia, the country granted a one-year grace period for firms and businesses to comply, meaning that the Saudi Executive Regulation will apply as of March 17, 2023. On November 20, 2022, Saudi Arabia promulgated an amended version of the draft Executive Regulation for public consultation.

The new law is similar to the General Data Protection Regulation in relation to defining personal data and regulating how personal data can be used, processed, and retained, but it differs in notable ways. The limitations on transferring data across borders are a key difference. The PDPL provides for restrictive limitations on cross-border data transfer outside of the country with only specific exceptions from this rule.

As to penalties for violations of the PDPL, breaches can be punished by imprisonment for up to two years along with fines that may reach 5 million riyals (approximately USD $1.3 million).

XV. Syria

On January 13, 2022, the world’s first torture trial for the Assad regime ended. A German court sentenced a Syrian national to life imprisonment for, inter alia, crimes against humanity, torture, and twenty-seven counts of first-degree murder. A Syrian doctor who allegedly tortured people for Military Intelligence was also charged. His trial began on January 19, 2022, at the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court.

The basis for the proceedings is the international law principle of universal jurisdiction. Certain crimes, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, can be prosecuted without domestic connection. The proceedings officially documented crimes in Syria and can have a precedential effect in other states.

XVI. Tunisia

The presidential decree relating to combating illegal speculation was published on March 20, 2022, in the Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic. The decree aims to regulate the conduct of inspection of shops and food depots against speculators and monopolists.

In the decree, speculation is defined as being “any operation of storage or concealment of goods and merchandise with the aim of creating a shortage or disruption of the market, any increase or reduction in prices carried out deliberately directly or indirectly or through an intermediary, by the use of fraudulent and/or electronic means.”

According to the provisions of this decree, an individual is guilty of speculation where he or she, by any means whatsoever, commits acts of speculation or disseminates false information with the intention of inducing the consumer to boycott products, disrupt the supply cycle, or to cause an unjustified price increase.

Under the terms of the decree, persons guilty of speculation may incur prison sentences of ten years and a fine of 100,000 Tunisian dinars (about USD $31,000). If the object of speculation is a subsidized or pharmaceutical product, the penalty increases to twenty years in prison with a fine of 200,000 Tunisian dinars (about USD $60,000). Moreover, speculation is punishable by thirty years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Tunisian dinars (about USD $155,000), if committed in times of disaster, pandemic, urgent health crisis, or state of exception. Life imprisonment may be pronounced if the crime is committed by a criminal association or a criminal group.

The new law criminalizes the deliberate dissemination of false or inaccurate news or information which causes consumers not to buy products or disrupts the supply of the market, thus causing a rise in prices. This decree enables unfair and abusive prosecutions against acts aimed at influencing the markets by fraudulent means.

XVII. Turkey

On October 13, 2022, Turkey adopted a new censorship law imposing criminal sentences for those who spread fake news or disinformation online. This new law tightens government control over news sites and gives the government broad authority to compel social media companies to remove online content and turn over private user data, or face having their bandwidth reduced if they refuse.

One month later, following a deadly bombing in Istanbul on November 13, this new law came into execution when the Turkish government exercised its newly expanded authority by shutting down all social media platforms until the next day.

Fatemah Albader and Daniel Cooper, editors. Section authors are: Kelly Blount (Algeria); Rana Moustafa Essawy (Libya, Morocco); Rasha Sabkar (Bahrain); Emilia Truluck (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, on human rights); Mohamed Zain (Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, on data protection); Thamer Bourasli (Kuwait); Narin Nosrati (Iran, Syria); Habiba Bhouri (Tunisia); Natali Gbele (Palestine); Leen Budustour (Afghanistan, Lebanon).