THOSE who study the reality of Arabs and all this devastation would realize that there are sins committed against people. The most eminent sin in this regard is the closing of the doors and windows of government institutions, and listening only to the reports written by clerks, who interpret their dreams of getting closer to rulers through them instead of conveying people’s pain and suffering. This reality prompted human desertification to creep into the Arab world.
The reason for this is that those who are supposed to be fair rulers did not learn lessons from Hormuzan, the governor of Khuzestan, when he was brought as a captive before Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).
The guards and the prisoner found the Caliph sleeping soundly in the shadow of a palm tree. This prompted Hormuzan to comment by saying, “Poised leader, you did justice and peacefully slept … I served four of our kings, and I did not revere any of them the way I revere this leader (Omar)”.
This is not the only story narrated about the caliphs and kings who humbled themselves and lived among the people, and whose main principle was justice.
There is a story about King Farouk, who one day decided to inspect one of the markets. Despite being a periodic inspection, he decided to go undercover this time and personally conduct the inspection. He drove to that market in a private car, and sat next to his driver. On his way, an upcountry woman stopped the car, assuming it was a taxi, and asked how much a ride to the market would cost.
Regardless of what the woman offered to pay, the king signalled his driver to allow her to sit on the back seat of the car. During the trip, the woman narrated why she was going to the market, as she had heard of the inspection, and she wanted to plead to the market inspectors to give her more time to pay the land arrears she owed to the state, or else her bull, which was confiscated by the authority, would be sold to cover the arrears.
The undercover king sympathized with the woman, and gave her a letter to take to the authorities. After she hesitated to take it, the king gave her some money on top of it and urged her to take the letter to the authorities.
The woman was stunned by his generosity and asked, “My son, if you are this rich, why do you work as a taxi driver?” The king answered her, “That is where my provision is”.
The woman submitted the letter to one of the officials, and it led her to narrate the story of how she got the letter. After that, the official introduced the woman to King Farouk, and tears of joy and reverence instantly fell from her eyes, followed by supplications for the wellbeing of the king.
In this Gulf region, there are many lessons about the humility of rulers and their closeness to their people. This was manifested in the open-door policy of the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the late King Abdulaziz. Undoubtedly, this powerful and sprawling country would not have existed and continued to exist if not for the open-door policy that the kings continue to implement after the founder.
On this occasion, I remember my conversation with the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz in the 1960s. Among the audience were Prince Abdullah (later the King) and Prince Khaled. On that day, I asked him, “How do you respond to Jamal Abdul Nasser’s accusation that you are a backward state?”
He said, “My son, if we did what you do in your country, i.e. elect a House of Representatives, the kingdom would have been ruled by a wealthy person or a person of prestige in a clan”.
He added, “Do you not have, as the news says, someone who buys the votes of the electorates, and therefore does not work according to the mandate in his hand, but instead, seeks to profit from the position? Our parliament is an open-door policy, and people from all parts of the kingdom flock to it. We listen to their complaints and work on solving their problems. Each one of them is aware of his role.”
Similar is the case in the UAE where the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum did not close their doors to their countrymen. Rather, all the rulers of the Emirates implemented the same policy, which is the policy of open doors. On this path, you will find Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, and other rulers of the state among the people most of the time. They listen to them, and they know about their people’s conditions directly from them.
The same applies also to Bahrain. During one of my visits to it, I went to meet the late Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and there was a Bahraini driver with me. I was surprised when we arrived to see that the sheikh was at the gate of his house to receive me. After greeting him, the driver asked who he was, and he said to him he is so-and-so, the son of so-and-so.
So the sheikh asked him about his condition, and the driver said that he would marry in a few days. Then Sheikh Issa said to him, “I will wait for you tomorrow morning here in my house”. Later I came to know that the Sheikh had given the driver ten thousand dinars as support to finance his marriage.
In this regard, Kuwait, at the beginning of the era of the late Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad, followed a similar policy. The Amir of the country at that time would go out to the people with his face covered and visit the markets alone without any guards or escorts.
One day as he was driving with his wife, a traffic policeman stopped him and asked him for his license. His Highness inquired about the reason. The policeman said, “You have exceeded the permissible speed on this street”. Sheikh Jaber said to him, “I was not speeding” but the policeman got out of line and the scope of his responsibility when he asked him about the woman next to him. Sheikh Jaber then revealed his identity. The next day, the traffic police was disciplined for disregarding the professionalism of his work.
These rulers are the ones who established stable, strong, and resilient nations, unlike others that were more powerful but lacked direct relations with the people, such as Iran during the reign of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi.
A few days ago, I watched a video of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad getting out of his car, taking off his headband, and playing football in the street with children. Undoubtedly, those children will always remember that their Amir played with them one day, and was close to them, in contrast to the sullen and frowning faces of those who were ruling Qatar before him.
All of these facts have been established by the traditions and customs that have been in force in the region since the advent of the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and the great and strong faith that was established among people, thanks to his direct contact with them. He never closed his door to anyone who sought an audience of him. The same was the policy of the rightly-guided Caliphs after him.
There is no doubt that the many lessons that can constitute a culture of good governance in the Arab world must follow the well-established political approach in history, which is – the best rulers are the enlightened and just dictators who remain in constant contact with the people, because this helps in stabilizing the kingdoms, and also proceeds on the path of development without any obstacles or exploitation of a distorted democracy that hinders its development and impoverishes its people.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times