Two Quirky Tales of Corruption and Nepotism

corruption and nepotism


[kuh-ruhp-shuh n] – dishonest practice; perversion of integrity

James Levi Barton, Secretary of the ABCFM, told this quirky (to me!) little tale of corruption in Daybreak in Turkey (1908):

An Englishman and an official in the Sultan’s palace were talking about a dicey diplomatic situation between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. Though Egypt was a de jure Ottoman province, it was more or less under British control due to the British part-ownership of the Suez Canal. The problem occurred because one of the palace cronies had flattered the Sultan into believing that he could resume possession of Egypt simply by going there—the English would never resist.

“But you know better than that,” the Englishman said. “Of course you give better advice when the sultan asks your opinion.”

“God forbid that I should say to the sultan anything except what he wishes me to say,” said the official. “No! When he asks me, I reply that, of course, the master of a million of soldiers has only to enter Egypt and it is his.”

The Englishman was astounded, but the official continued. “It is not for nothing that I do this. The sultan is pleased with me, and signs some paper that I have brought him, and it may be worth 10,000 piastres to me.”


[nep-uh-tiz-uh m] – favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics

Henry Otis Dwight described nepotism in Constantinople and Its Problems (1901) with this little tale, as told to him by Yusuf Bey:

A candlemaker, who worked in a greasy little shop near Yemish, found a woman who was a widow with a chance of remarriage. The only obstacle to matrimony was her daughter, a pretty little child of six or seven. He bought the girl for fifty pounds and the mother flew to her second husband’s house.

The candlemaker was a man of shrewd prudence and had a definite plan for making this investment pay good interest. He changed the girl’s name, raised her as his own, sent her to a school run by French nuns, and gave her every advantage.

One day he told her that she was educated above her station, but he said, “All that you have, you owe to me. I rescued you as an orphan, treated you like a daughter, and gave you an education. I am now going to take you to a very great house where you will have everything that you can want. But you must not forget your obligation to me for all that you enjoy.”

He took her to the palace of the Sultan’s mother, to whom he presented the girl as a token of the loyal devotion of a humble subject of his Majesty. The Sultan’s mother looked at the girl, heard her play the piano and deigned to accept the gift. A week later she sent the candlemaker a fine silver snuff box full of gold coins. The girl—now a beautiful young woman—was in demand evening after evening to sing, to play Chopin or Beethoven, and to amuse the ladies of the Court with her sprightly wit.

One day the Sultan saw this brilliant slave who had the graces of a European and the ability to speak high Turkish. He was very pleased when his mother presented this slave to him as a token of a mother’s affection. Soon the candlemaker visited his daughter and reminded her that she owed her wealth and power to him, and that he was poor. The next week he received a diploma as Doctor of Theology and a professorship to which a lifetime salary was attached.

“That is the connection between the harem system and the quality of our great men,” said Yusuf Bey bitterly. “The officials, from the highest to the lowest, will give any man any vacant office within [a financial] gift, at the demand of their women. If any one hesitates, a few tears will settle it.”

But worse was the effect on the education system. “So we have men among the professors who know nothing,” he concluded. “Debased teachers mean debasement of the taught, and moreover the rally of all these low fellows against the educated men who comment or speak of reform.”

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