Think you’re unhappy in Dubai? Cops may call to ask why

  • AP, Dubai
  • Updated: Oct 26, 2015 23:11 IST
An image on the Dubai Police website shows Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, with the Burj Khalifa tower behind him, with one question in English and Arabic: ‘Are you happy in Dubai?’. (AP Photo)

If you say you’re unhappy in Dubai, the police may call to ask you why as part of a new survey.

The online poll, unveiled in recent days, comes as Dubai tries to break into the top 10 rankings of world’s happiest cities by 2021, an effort in league with other lofty aspirations in this emirate, home to the world’s tallest building.

The simple survey has users choose between a frown, a smile and an unimpressed straight line. The police say 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 Well-Being.”

“This looks like to me an attempt to try to slightly frighten people into A) replying to the survey question and B) replying to say they’re happy because people really don’t want to be rung up by the police with the question: ‘Well, what’s your problem?’” Davies said. “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 happiness effort has included the Dubai police, most 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, saying it began on Wednesday. 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?”

In a statement, police said the survey received more than 200,000 responses in its first day, with 84% saying they were happy, 6% neutral and 10% unhappy. Police did not disclose how many text messages they sent.

But that wasn’t all. Maj. Gen. 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 police could not help with personal issues.

Police and Dubai officials did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press to discuss concerns about having police calling those who say they are unhappy.

The United Arab Emirates is ranked No. 20 out of 158 countries surveyed in the United Nations’ 2015 World Happiness Report. Though coming in 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 solely focusing 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 said. “It’s possible to imagine a society which had great concern for happiness but very little for concern for say human rights or the rights of minorities.”

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