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WHEN an ordinary citizen teaches officials about the reverence of the state, it is necessary to reconsider the administrative system that governs any state. Here, we say administrative because it is the basis for imposing order, preserving the state’s reputation and prestige, and making it an advanced example among nations.
However, when there are those who kowtow to the official and seek to make him greater than his responsibilities, they are the ones who shake and weaken the foundations of the institutions.
In this regard, there is a true story that was published in Arab newspapers in the late nineteenth century. When the German Emperor Guillaume II visited Damascus, as part of a tour of the Ottoman Empire in 1898, he was warmly received by people who were filled with joy.
During the reception, the Empress (Guillaume’s wife) noticed a beautiful white donkey at the entrance of the castle. She asked the then governor of Damascus Mustafa Assem Pasha to bring the donkey to her so that she could take it with her to Berlin.
The governor went looking for the owner of the donkey who was called Abu al-Khair Tello. He asked him to give the donkey as a gift to the wife of the emperor but the man apologized. This angered the governor, and he offered to buy the donkey, but Tello was adamant about his strict position. He then said to the governor, “O my friend, I have six purebred horses.”
The governor was surprised by the man’s answer, and asked him the reason for his insistence on refusing to give the donkey.
Tello replied with a smile, “Sir, if they take the donkey back to their country, the newspapers of the world will write about it, and people will ask where they got the donkey from. They will respond, “From the Levant”. Then the “Donkey of Damascus” will become the talk of all people. It will perhaps be subject to ridicule. People may even ask if it made sense that the German empress did not find anything she liked in Damascus other than donkeys”
He then added, “By Allah, sir, I will not present this donkey as a gift to the Empress of Germany or sell it to her, even if they give me Qarun’s money.”
The governor conveyed Abu al-Khair Tello’s message to the emperor and the empress, and he laughed a lot. They were impressed by the answer, and the emperor issued an order to grant Tello a symbolic medal for his courageous stance.
There is more than one lesson to learn from this story. The first is that the governor wanted to suck up to the guest emperor in order to strengthen his position with the Ottoman Sultan. He did not realize that the reputation of his country was more important than a donkey, which he saw as a gift that served his interests.
The second is that the acumen of Abu al-Khair was not appreciated by the governor. This is because he built his position on his own interest. However, Tello saw that the reputation of his country was more important than a symbolic gift. Thus, he offered to present the gift of horses, something that the Germans could be proud of receiving as a gift from the Syrian people because purebred Arabian horses were well reputed at that time.
The third lesson is that there are some who attach great importance to the reputation of their country, and work to preserve it at all costs. On the other hand, opportunists work to exploit everything in order to extend their influence and enrichment, either through the illegal services that they provide through their positions to the influential or to friends and associates, and to those who believe that they are a deep state, or by enacting laws and legislation that serve their interests, even if they are at the expense of the country.
These lessons apply to several Arab countries, in which some have sought to despair about the dependence on the outside and gain strength with it over their people and their state, either through parties, or by marketing the ideas of the outside, or via militias working to undermine the state and its system of government, or even officials who believe that salvation is in accumulating wealth from public money.
Because of that, they work on approving projects in which corruption stings their noses, and they try to defend them in various ways. They are the ones who sell their country, or as the narrator of the story said – “There are the donkeys who sell their country with everything in it.”
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times
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