An Egyptian minister has claimed that Egypt is to establish a “Ministry of Happiness” in light of the country’s soaring prices of basic commodities and the continued repression and imprisonment of thousands of opposition figures.
The head of the unified government complaint system in the Egyptian cabinet, Tarek Rifai, told local TV channel Sada Elbalad that “Egypt is greatly cooperating with the UAE [United Arab Emirates] to recreate the experience of the UAE Ministry of Happiness in Egypt”.
He added that this cooperation “marks the beginning of the formation of the Ministry of Happiness in Egypt in the near future,” stressing that “the government is interested in enhancing the citizens’ trust in various service facilities and raising the quality of services”.
The Egyptian government has, however, denied Rifai’s claims, stressing that his remarks were “misinterpreted”. The government said yesterday that Rifai’s comments pertained to the launch of a “system” to raise satisfaction and happiness rates among Egyptians, rather than founding a ministry, Egypt Today reported.
This comes amid the worst levels of oppression under the rule of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.
Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s data confirms that there are 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt as a result of this ongoing oppression, which began with the July 2013 coup against the late President Mohamed Morsi.
Rifai did not address the Egyptian authorities’ crack down on opposition figures, or their suppression of any political, social or cultural space, according to HRW.
Egypt has also executed a number of detainees who were convicted on charges they confessed to under torture, as confirmed by the United Nations. In February, Egyptian authorities executed nine suspects in the assassination of former Prosecutor General of Egypt, Hisham Barakat.
Since Al-Sisi took power, his government has implemented a strict austerity program that has targeted basic consumer goods by increasing their prices, without increasing the salaries of judges, soldiers or police officers.
The Egyptian government has raised fuel prices this month from 16 per cent to 30 per cent under the plan to lift fuel subsidies, in accordance with instructions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has lent Cairo $12 billion over the past three years.
The minimum monthly salary in Egypt is around 2000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $120), while the average annual income of an Egyptian family is about 44,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,660), according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).
As a result of high prices and low wages, many children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, leaving 30 per cent of children with dwarfism, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Egyptians have ridiculed the government’s alleged new approach.
One Twitter user asked: “Will the tax of the ministry of happiness in Egypt be included in the electricity or the water bill?”
Another Twitter user said: “The Ministry of Happiness will implant tracks on the Ring Road that will stop vehicles and an inspector with large shoulders and bushy moustache will show up from the window and inspect your features to check whether you are happy or not.”
“In Egypt, when they see someone happy, they will make him sad,” another Twitter user said sarcastically.
Meanwhile one Egyptian activist argued that the biggest evidence of the success of the Ministry of Happiness, even before its formation, is that we “died of laughter at the news”.
In February 2016, the UAE announced the formation of a new Ministry of Happiness and Tolerance, the first of its kind in the world. Ohood Bint Khalfan Al-Roumi was appointed as its first female minister.
In April, the UAE announced the creation of a new ministry under the name “Not Impossible”, which aimed to be “the first ministry ever that has no minister and its members are from the cabinet, working on important national files and developing new government regimes for the future.”
However, arbitrary measures against prisoners in the country have transformed the UAE into a “repressive and a low-reputation state,” according to human rights activists, who have pointed out the contradiction between these policies and the stated aims of the Ministry of Happiness.