Tolerance, happiness ministers for UAE

RIYADH • The rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are introducing two new ministerial posts - for happiness and tolerance.

The sheikhs who rule the UAE have announced this most sweeping government reorganisation in its 44-year history through a royal decree by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the country's Prime Minister, on Twitter.

"It is the beginning of a new journey of achievement and giving to the people, and we ask God to help us serve and take care of them," Sheikh Mohammed said in one post in Arabic.

The bureaucratic shake-up also put another government body, the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, in charge of "The Future".

"A new post, Minister of State for Happiness, will align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction," Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday in another post, in English.

He added in another English-language post: "The post of Minister of State for Tolerance has been created to promote tolerance as a fundamental value in UAE society."

It is unclear how the new ministers or the Cabinet will pursue their mandates.

Along with the world's tallest man-made structure and the fastest roller coaster, the country has recently claimed accolades for the most nationalities washing their hands at the same time, the largest number of people eating cereal in one place and the world's biggest breakfast table.

"The government feels that we have provided basic services so far, education and health, so now we should strive for higher goals," said Emirati political scientist Abdul- khaliq Abdulla.

Not everyone is convinced.

"The Ministry of Happiness sounds sort of Orwellian and sinister given that this is a surveillance state, but it is in line with their quite high self-regard," said Mr Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The government remains dominated by unelected royals, and those who criticise them or engage in political activity risk arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

The country's active economy and open immigration rules have made it a magnet for international talent, and large numbers of skilled professionals from Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon have sought to pursue their fortunes, and their happiness, in the emirates as conditions in their own countries have deteriorated.

However, the majority of the foreigners in the UAE are low-paid Asian labourers, and it remained unclear how interested the state was in increasing their happiness.

The country is already pretty happy. The 2015 World Happiness Report ranked it No. 20, above Britain and below Belgium. Switzerland was No. 1, and the United States was No. 15. Israel, at No. 11, was the happiest country in the Middle East, but the UAE still beat all other Arab countries.

Egypt was ranked No. 135; Syria, torn apart by civil war, was No. 156, third from the bottom.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Tolerance, happiness ministers for UAE'. Print Edition | Subscribe