In a step ahead of any other state the United Arab Emirates federal government has committed the ministerial level to enhancing the achievement of happiness and tolerance.
These values do not always complement each other.
“Happiness,” as in the “pursuit of happiness” that U.S. founders stated as a goal in the Declaration of Independence, is an ultimate indicator of a country’s success in governance. When H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum tells his administrators that their job is serve the people of the UAE by insuring that they are happy, he acknowledges that effective delivery of services by all institutions of society is a government mandate. He knows that public acceptance of the legitimacy of these institutions – financial, social, religious, and so on – is vital to public positive assessment of government.
This logical train, from public approval of institutions to government legitimacy (the right to rule), is something that UAE citizens have understood for centuries. The UAE does not need any lectures from outside about democracy to keep this train fueled and running successfully.
The “happiness” end game for rulers is to provide the ruled enough of what the ruled think they want. This challenges the government to manage resources efficiently.
Tolerance differs from happiness. It is a public test imposed along the route to happiness, not an end in itself. While happiness is a value and a human sentiment, tolerance, which also is a value, requires active human choice and as well as effective public policy.
Discussion of “tolerance” in UAE media since the ministerial announcement has used words such as acceptance, integration, belonging, and compassion. Yet such language does not confront the deep philosophical, ethical, and moral tension beneath it. One would expect the general public to dismiss the deeper discussion as academic or unnecessary. However, those who govern, those in positions of decision making in all the society’s institutions, will face and have to cope with the results of this tension.
Issues arising from this 'tension' these issues, either out of lack of knowledge or curiosity, may test the nature and limits of tolerance because they all bear on identity and social order which are themselves critical values. The tension arising from these questions will lead to more philosophical questions:
- Where is the borderline between tolerance and unacceptable permissiveness?
- Is tolerance a value in every sector of life?
- What should happen when tolerance causes unhappiness?
These questions always have differing, sometimes strongly differing, answers. These are questions rulers face and that governments need the help of all institutions in order to manage.
But the government has the “final” word on the answers each day, every day – because the answers change. Politics is the process by which the governed decide which of their competing ideas of what is right shall be the operating “right” for now.
Thus, successful tolerance in the UAE will exist so long as the public understands that tolerance has limits and that all members of society have to cooperate in tightening or loosening those limits. The public have to learn to be happy though they disagree with each other, to enjoy the efficiency and effectiveness with which their institutions and government lead them in balancing and ordering the pursuit of shared but competing values.
On these scores to date the UAE and those its government serves have been doing rather well.