When considering Arab and Muslim countries, I always search for a positive sign that could indicate a move towards a better future for societies. However, my many moments of optimism are often eradicated by feelings of disappointment.
Dubai ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum’s recent announcement that a government reshuffle will include the creation of a “Minister for Happiness” post was a source of hope for the wider region.
To put it simply, and perhaps with an element of naïveté, I think this move could prove infectious, encouraging greater happiness among wider Arab societies. More importantly, this position initiates a raison d'être for the government to ensure that the pursuit of happiness is possible.
Sheikh Mohammed's call for this new position is not surprising; it came from a visionary who helped to catapult Dubai from obscurity to becoming a prime global destination. What's more, his decisions have made sure that the Emirati government is one of the most advanced in the region and beyond.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
As a political science student, I was fascinated by the Magna Carta, the very first document that establish human rights as a basic right for all mankind. From as early as the 1200s, the charter has guided British governments towards this.
Arab constitutions, or at least those from countries that have bothered to write one, skirt around the subjects of liberty, freedom, the supremacy of laws and the equality of citizensMohamed Chebarro
I was also struck by the way that the American constitution, written later in 1776, clearly sets the agenda for the government, ensuring that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are a corner stone that enables society to live within the rule of law. They are described as “unalienable rights given to all humans by their creator and governments are created to protect those rights.'
Many countries, including Canada and France and later Japan and Vietnam, went on to include similar clauses in their constitutions and borrow from one of America's founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. He may well have been inspired by philosopher John Locke.
The issue here is not to look at the American constitution, but to stress that every country must find tenants that characterize its government and set the basis for a covenant between the rulers and the ruled. This could be achieved if governments work to assure life, liberty and happiness.
Returning to the Arab world, many reactions seen on social media relating to the appointment of the Minister for Happiness are alarming. These comments show a failure to grasp the intended wider reach of the step taken by the UAE.
Furthermore, the concept of state and society, the mention of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not only non-existent in Arab countries, they are barely referred to as a source that guides the work of governments. They also do not influence key objectives for many Arab rulers.
Arab constitutions, or at least those from countries that have bothered to write one, skirt around the subjects of liberty, freedom, the supremacy of laws and the equality of citizens, while trying to define Arabism, socialism, religious pluralism and rights for minorities.
In the pre- and post-Arab Spring era, we hardly hear any mention of life, liberty, equality or happiness in debates on what the Arab youth need to see from their governments. Until the day comes when we see such terms being discussed, I doubt that we will march towards progressive and developing societies.
For many countries in the region, steps taken by the UAE to create a Ministry for Happiness should set a prime example which should be emulated.
Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.