There will be a new minister of tolerance, too, but not everyone is smiling. “You can be happy as long as you keep your mouth shut,” says one skeptic.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Maybe money can’t buy happiness, at least not at current oil prices.
So the rulers of the United Arab Emirates had a novel idea. They decided to name a minister of happiness.
It seems that being the Persian Gulf nation known for building the biggest indoor ski slope and an island that looks like a palm tree just was not cutting it anymore. At least not in the happiness department. Oh, and it seems that tolerance is also in short supply.
So the government will appoint a minister of tolerance, too.
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The sheikhs who rule the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have announced the most sweeping government reorganization in their country’s 44-year history, which included the creation of the two new ministers.
The announcement was made with all the trappings of 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.
It is not exactly clear how the new ministers or the Cabinet will pursue their mandates. The UAE rulers like to do things in their own way.
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 last two were achieved simultaneously at one landmark event).
“The government feels that we have provided basic services so far, education and health, so now we should strive for higher goals,” said Abdulkhaliq Abdulla, an Emirati political scientist.
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 Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The government remains dominated by unelected royals, and those who criticize them or engage in political activity risk arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
“You can be happy as long as you keep your mouth shut,” McGeehan said. “That is the sort of social contract that is in place there.”
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.
But the majority of the foreigners in the United Arab Emirates are low-paid Asian laborers, and it remained unclear how interested the state was in increasing their happiness.
Internationally, 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.