The Legal Landscape for Philanthropy in the Arab Gulf

Global Trends in NGO Law, Volume 8, Issue 1 (December 2017)

ICNL recently launched the Philanthropy Law Reports, which provide information on national laws and regulations affecting philanthropy in nine countries. Authored by local experts in partnership with ICNL, these in-depth reports fill a gap in existing knowledge about the legal landscapes pertaining to philanthropic activities.

The reports cover four countries in the Arab Gulf: Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Each of these states exhibits a vibrant culture of charitable giving and extraordinary levels of affluence due to significant petroleum or natural gas revenues. Guided by a number of Islamic principles that encourage, and in some cases obligate, charitable acts, these four nations share a deep and historic commitment to philanthropy.

In recent years, the Gulf States under review have implemented many legislative and regulatory reforms – in some cases, major reforms – impacting the philanthropic sector. Some of these changes improve upon the preexisting legal framework and facilitate the ability of philanthropists to operate. Other changes, however, permit preexisting constraints on philanthropy to remain in place, or introduce additional and even more burdensome restrictions. Regardless of certain improvements, significant legal barriers continue to constrain philanthropic giving from reaching its full potential in each of the four states. From formation to operation to dissolution, philanthropic organizations operating in the Gulf often face extensive government oversight and burdensome legal requirements. According to the Hudson Institute’s Index for Philanthropic Freedom, the region encompassing the Gulf is among “the least conducive environments for philanthropy” in the world.

In this issue of Global Trends, we examine the laws and regulations affecting philanthropy in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and highlight the key issues and legal obstacles that a potential philanthropist can expect to face when forming and operating a philanthropic organization, or engaging in philanthropic activities, in these states.