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Reward Him Rather Than Punish Him - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The German news agency reported a story that the Customs department at Cairo International Airport stopped a businessman who was trying to bring a painting into Egypt; the businessman attempted to trick Customs with a [false] bill of sale for the amount of $263. However after some research [into the painting] it was revealed that this was a rare painting that had been sold by Christies Auction house for a sum of $288,000. The man was issued with a fine of up to 500,000 Egyptian Pounds, or approximately half the value of the painting, should he still wish to bring the painting into the country.

The news story ended here, but one question remains; why are fees and customs placed upon works of art in the first place, especially if this is a rare work of art, and it is being brought into Egypt rather than taken out?

In this case nobody is to blame, for the Customs officials implemented the rules and regulations that they must follow, and they worked hard to discover the true worth of the painting. As for the businessman, he may have tried to trick the Customs officials in order to deceive them [as to the true value of the painting], but he is also excused from this, for when rules and regulations do not make any sense, this means that there is an open invitation to ignore or circumvent them. It has been recorded that the businessman in question is an art lover, and he was attempting to import a valuable painting into his country, and so he deserves to be rewarded for this, rather than punished. For the general and widespread impression in the Arab world is that the current generation of businessmen are not concerned with culture or the arts, in contrast to the generations of the forties and fifties who would collect rare paintings and were interested in the arts, poetry, and culture.

This situation typifies the rules and regulations and culture that has been prevalent for some time in a number of Arab countries that follow the economic model which was pursued in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, although this [economic] model was later changed after it became apparent that its policies were not capable of keeping up with the times. However this change was more difficult than first envisioned, and a culture of restriction still exists, and it is this restriction that causes the implementation of policies and culture that aim to liberalize the economy and society with regards to the world of information and the digital revolution to stumble upon old and outdated rules and regulations that in many cases seem illogical.

The satellite television revolution broke the monopolization of the airwaves, despite all attempts to restrict this, and the digital and information revolutions resulted in rules and regulations becoming outdated and meaningless, or incapable of being implemented. This was also the case when some countries previously ruled that a special permit needed to be obtained for the ownership of a fax machine, before this technology became extinct within just a few years of its arrival on the scene due to rapid technological development. Such regulations will gradually fade because they do nothing more than delay development and prevent societies from reaching their potential.

Unfortunately, these rules and regulations are exacting a heavy price today, for the race surrounding global technological developments has increased in pace, and procedures have been facilitated and simplified resulting in rivalry over attracting funds and investment to be even fiercer. A successful model of a country that has realized the requirements of winning this race, and whose path should be followed is… China.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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