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UAE appoints a woman to be first 'minister of happiness'

Stringer, WAM, AFP | Undated handout image by United Arab Emirates News Agency (WAM) on February 10, 2016 shows Ohoud al-Roumi, the new state minister for happiness.

Forget the negative headlines pouring from the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates thinks it's time to focus on something brighter instead.


The prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce a new Cabinet that includes the country's first-ever "minister of state for happiness."

Lest anyone think this was another wacky idea like Dubai's man-made archipelagos shaped like palm trees and a map of the world, Sheikh Mohammed insisted that happiness was more than a wish and would be guided by "plans, projects, programs (and) indices."

The job went to Ohood Al Roumi, who will continue her existing role as director-general of the prime minister's office. She was one of seven women named to posts in the new 29-member Cabinet.

"The new cabinet focuses on the future, youth, happiness, developing education and combating climate change," tweeted the 66-year-old prime minister, who is also the Emirati vice president and ruler of Dubai.

Many powerful officials kept their jobs under the Cabinet shake-up. They include the ministers of interior and foreign affairs, who hail from the ruling Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi, the federal capital that also controls the presidency.

The seven-state UAE federation has managed to avoid the turmoil that has roiled much of the region in recent years, attracting millions of tourists and foreign workers while focusing on industries such as trade, energy and financial services. It is home to fast-growing airlines Emirates and Etihad Airways, port operator DP World, and the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.

A portion of adult Emiratis can vote for members of a largely advisory federal council, but not for president, prime minister or other top posts. Foreign residents who make up nearly 90 percent of the county's population, many of them low-paid migrant laborers, have no vote.

Among the prime minister's other new hires was 22-year-old Oxford University master's program graduate Shamma al-Mazrui. She was named minister of state for youth affairs.

Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi, previously minister for foreign trade, was named to the new post of minister of state for tolerance. The prime minister, who as Dubai ruler oversees a business-friendly city that is home to many faiths and nationalities and will host the World Expo in 2020, made clear he hoped her role would extend to the wider region.

The Cabinet announcements came two days after Sheikh Mohammed outlined plans to privatize some public services and merge a number of government ministries.


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