Two unusual new government posts, a Minister of Happiness, and a Minister of Tolerance have been created in the UAE – both going to women. Prime minister and vice president of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashin Al Maktoum made the announcements on Monday 8 January via his Twitter account.
The post of Minister of State for Happiness will go to Ohood Al Roumi, with the responsibility to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.” The new Minister of State for Tolerance, Shaikha Lubna Al-Qassami is expected to “promote tolerance as a fundamental value in UAE society.”
These appointments come during a cabinet reshuffle which Sheikh Mohammed has declared “the largest structural change in the history of our federal government,” approved by UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The appointment of two women to these new posts signals a change in direction for the Gulf nation. Sheikh Mohammed Maktoum’s reshuffle sees a total of five new posts for women, bringing the female contingent in the Dubai Sheikh’s cabinet up to eight out of twenty nine positions.
However, the number of ministries in the country has actually shrunk, as the government seeks to leave corporations to increasingly fill service needs. The Ministries of Education and Higher Education were amalgamated, and the Ministry of Labour is subject to reform.
The cabinet reshuffle claimed a victory for the young too, as the average age of appointees iss 38, a dramatic departure from the a traditional bias towards elder males in the region. Shamma Al Mazrui, at age 22, was the youngest appointee, gaining the fitting post of Minister of Youth Affairs, in addition to becoming President of the Youth Council.
These changes come against the backdrop of an increasingly uncertain economic time for the country. The UAE drastically cut spending towards the end of 2015, reducing its budget deficit to 15% from 21%. However, falls in oil prices, shipping and other non-oil sectors of the economy have resulted in an economic slowdown. Struggling to achieve 2.8% growth at the close of 2015, that was the lowest figure since Dubai’s property crisis in 2009.
Amid an oil price crisis, some may suspect that the merging of government departments, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Portfolio of International Cooperation, is a cost-saving measure. Cynics may suggest the trumpeting of the unusual ministries, and female appointments may be a shrewd diversion tactic.