If you're unhappy in Dubai, the police may call you

So desperate is Dubai to become one of the happiest cities in the world by 2021 that citizens who admit to being gloomy will get a call from the authorities

Jon Gambrell
Monday 26 October 2015 20:54 GMT
Happiness drive: Emiratis celebrate Dubai’s selection as host city for Expo 2020
Happiness drive: Emiratis celebrate Dubai’s selection as host city for Expo 2020

If you say you’re unhappy in Dubai, the police may call to ask you why. It’s because of an online survey, launched earlier this month, which aims to help Dubai break into the top 10 rankings of world’s happiest cities by 2021.

The simple survey asks users to choose between a frown, a smile and an unimpressed straight line. The police say that they will call those who say they are unhappy, which puzzles some observers, including William Davies, a senior lecturer at the University of London who recently published the book The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing.

“This looks to me like an attempt to try to slightly frighten people into a) replying to the questions and b) replying to say they’re happy because people really don’t want to be rung by the local police with the question: “Well, what’s your problem?” Davies says. “But I don’t know. Maybe there’s something sincere about it.”

The effort to measure happiness can be seen in government offices across Dubai, one of seven of the United Arab Emirates. Small tablet computers placed next to civil servants allow citizens to provide instant feedback on their experience.

Last year, authorities also began ranking municipal offices with a two-to-seven star system based on their customer service, part of Dubai’s “smart government” push. That effort has included the Dubai police, well-known abroad for some of the luxury cars employed in its fleet. Twitter messages from the police often include the hashtag “Your Security Our Happiness” in both Arabic and English.

At a recent electronics show, the Dubai police unveiled its happiness survey. It sent text messages to a number of Dubai residents, including a link to a webpage showing a picture of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with the Burj Khalifa tower behind him. It asked one question in English and Arabic: “Are you happy in Dubai?” Police reported that the survey received more than 200,000 responses in its first day, with 84 per cent saying they were happy, 6 per cent neutral and 10 per cent unhappy. Police did not disclose how many text messages they sent.

But that wasn’t all. Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Dubai’s police chief, told local media that his officers would randomly call a selection of those unhappy to ask what was upsetting them.

“If the matter is under our jurisdiction, we will help them with it, but if it has to do with another government entity we will forward the issue to the concerned department,” he said. He stressed that the police could not help with personal issues.

Police and Dubai officials did not respond to a request for comment on concerns about police calling citizens.

The United Arab Emirates is ranked no 20 out of 158 countries surveyed in the United Nations’ 2015 World Happiness Report. Though coming first in the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates hopes to break into the top 10 by 2021, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding.

Davies warns, however, that focusing solely on happiness, either in Dubai or elsewhere in the world, could mask other issues.

“I think it diverts attention away from broader political or economic factors that might actually be... problematic or unjust,” Davies says. “It’s possible to imagine a society which had great concern for happiness but very little concern for, say, human rights or the rights of minorities.”

© Associated Press

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