The UAE’s Pilgrimage to International Arbitration Stardom

A Critical Appraisal of Dubai as a Centre of Dispute Resolution Aspiring to be a Middle East Business Hub

In: The Journal of World Investment & Trade
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The last two decades have witnessed a growing interest and participation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in international arbitration as they have also joined the New York Convention and the Washington Convention. Still, scepticisms abound as to the efficacy of international arbitration in the GCC states. However, Dubai is considered to have the potential of being a Middle East business hub as it is modernising its arbitration law and practice in light of international developments. Forward thinking and innovative pro-arbitration institutions like the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) - the leading arbitration centre in the UAE; the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) - a common law free zone within Dubai with its own sets of laws, including the DIFC Arbitration Law, and its own court system (DIFC Courts) both of which are separate from Dubai and UAE laws and judicial systems; and the DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre, have turned Dubai into a growing propitious arbitration hub (i.e. a pro-arbitration and pro-enforcement jurisdiction) in the Middle East. While doubts continue to be raised with regard to the role and influence of the Shari’a on the arbitration process and on the enforceability of arbitral awards in Dubai, an examination of recent developments and trends in the arbitration rules and case law in Dubai reveals a promising environment for international arbitration, except for a few cases that followed formalistic grounds for denying enforcement. Recent cases from the UAE, and especially from Dubai, reveal a new attitude pervading the UAE judiciary that is more welcoming of the New York Convention and that is less likely to interfere with the merits of an arbitral award. However, the new UAE Draft Federal Arbitration Law is yet to be enacted. The article provides a critical appraisal of the recent legislative and institutional developments and international arbitral practice in the UAE and assesses Dubai’s prospect to be a Middle East business hub.

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