In its utter desperation to get Dubai’s name on the list of top 10 happiest cities in the world, the United Arab Emirates is set to appoint a "minister for happiness" whose job would be to ensure — you guessed it — the happiness of citizens.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE who is also the ruler of Dubai, made the official announcement on Twitter after appearing at the World Government Summit being hosted by the oil-rich Gulf nation.
A new post, Minister of State for Happiness, will align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.#WorldGovSummit— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) February 8, 2016
In addition, a minister of tolerance will make sure to "inculcate tolerance as a fundamental value in the UAE."
It’s good to see how the emirate is trying to concern itself with the well-being of its people, but the irony here is unmistakable.
The UAE — known for its sky-impaling and record-breaking structures — is one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to treatment of migrant laborers and domestic helpers.
Immigrants account for more than 88.5 percent of the entire population of the Gulf state, many of them low-paid South Asian workers, according to 2011 government statistics.
The desert country is home to luxurious artificial islands, winter ski resorts and Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest man-made structure in the world. However, the UAE routinely subjects its workforce to a range of human rights abuses.
In 2014, a damning investigative report by The New York Times exposed terrible working conditions at the construction site of NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus.
The situation of domestic workers is equally appalling. Emirati families hire maids, usually from impoverished Asian and African countries, under the Kafala system, according to which the livelihood and freedom of the worker solely depends on the word of the rich employer. Even their passports are confiscated by their bosses upon arrival.
These men and women have been beaten, trapped, used and abused for decades now. International human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the inhumane exploitation of labor force but the government has done next to nothing to even acknowledge the abuse.
The probability of a minister of tolerance also sounds like a joke, considering how the UAE frequently jails people for online comments it considers offensive. Just last year, Abu Dhabi police arrested a Florida man who posted a rant about his UAE-based employer on Facebook.
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It’s odd, then, how the UAE is constantly coming up with quirky measures to make sure its citizens are happy while completely ignoring the plight of its abused workforce.