A Minister for Happiness: UAE's bid to keep its people smiling more in a turbulent region
Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30
The oil-rich home of glitz, the United Arab Emirates, has appointed new ministers of "tolerance" and "happiness" as part of a cabinet reshuffle, as it attempts to cement its position as the Arab world's most eye-catching nation.
The announcement followed weeks of speculation over the nature of the well-signalled government shake-up.
The prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, has appointed Ohood Al Roumi Minister for Happiness - believed to be the first ministry of its kind in the world.
Lubna bint Khalid al Qasimi will oversee tolerance. The latter ministry is symbolically important - most UAE residents are expats, many of them Christian, Shia Muslim and from other religions; Sunni Islam is the official creed.
Two of the 9/11 suicide attackers were from the UAE, and its acceptance of a wide variety of "lifestyles", including alcohol-fuelled all-night partying, is not universally popular.
Tolerance is not likely to be extended to political opposition - scores of activists and Islamists have been jailed in the UAE since the start of the Arab Spring to prevent "contagion" spreading to the Gulf state.
Virtually all of the UAE's natural wealth - mainly oil - is held by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, whose hereditary ruler, or emir, is the federation's president.
Dubai, the second largest emirate, which has little oil by comparison, has had to compete by becoming an outward-looking trading, transport and tourism hub, giving it a very different outlook to other parts of the region.
As the city's ruler as well as the country's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed has ensured Dubai has been kept in the headlines by overseeing the building of the world's tallest building, offshore artificial islands, an indoor ski slope in the desert and a range of luxury hotels.
Like other Gulf countries, the UAE has also attracted expat workers and investors by offering a consistent policy of zero income tax - something now under threat as the oil price falls and even Saudi Arabia is showing a massive budget deficit.
Sheikh Mohammed said he had been motivated by the need to keep government close to the people.
He has modelled his style of government partly on Singapore, another autocratic state that has kept its people happy by economic growth and more open relations with the outside world than its neighbours.
In a book, 'Flashes of Thought', published 18 months ago, Sheikh Mohammed described how he had warned fellow Arab leaders for years that they had to provide better services and education to their overwhelmingly young populations, or risk being overthrown by the same revolutionary forces that had brought many of them to power in the first place.