In the beginning of my tenure as Minister of Education in Kuwait, I visited two secondary schools separated by a few meters. The first school was clean and had a beautiful garden; students stood in line and were orderly. I entered the second school nearby and felt I was in an overpopulated neighborhood where chaos ruled. Upon checking the student records of each establishment, I discovered the students of the beautiful school obtained higher grades and had a better education than those of the second school.
My search for answers led me to the headmaster. The first was committed to his work and disciplined in his approach. He loved his school and took care of it, as a lover would, whilst the other was disorderly and negligent.
Both schools are located in the same country, follow the same government regulations, and have an equal budget. The students are closely related and the teachers similar. The only variable is the principal: one is loyal and creative, the other lazy and careless.
I recalled this visit when I attended the Asilah festival in Morocco. Once a small village, like so many others along the Atlantic coast, Asilah has transformed itself into a clean and beautiful city crowded with tourists. If you search for the secret of its success, you hear the name “Mohammed Benissa”, Morocco’s Foreign Minister who, after deciding he wanted to give something back to his hometown, started a summer festival, 27 years ago. As time progressed, Asilah became a focal point intellectuals, politicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers.
The leading role of Benissa reminds me, in turn, of the Governor of Alexandria, Mohammed al Mahjoub who also invested in his city. He ordered all illegal building which long obstructed the view of the beautiful Mediterranean be destroyed. He oversaw the design of several artificial lakes, set up a drive to clean the city, and plant trees. His nickname amongst the people of Alexandria soon became al Mahboub (the beloved) instead of al Mahjoub. I’ve even heard rumors that the citizens were planning on demonstrating if the Governor were appointed Minister!
I recount all this to make clear the difference between a dependent and fatalistic mentality, which lays the blame on backwardness, the government, Zionism, and the United States, and a creative mind that prefers to light up the dark than stand idle. Civilized nations are populated with creative, cultured men and women. Imagine if, in our countries, everyone tried to act usefully, whatever his or her limitations were?
We are faced with a stark choice: lamenting and cursing our fate or dirtying our hands by working and creating beautiful things, no matter how small these may be.