Abusive Leaders

While most novels are about heroics that leaders perform for their followers, some portray the same leaders in bad light. Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz and Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy are clear instances in which the leaders abuse their followers. The main characters in the two books are portrayed to be selfish leaders whose interests are corruption, cruelty and destruction. To the leaders, misuse of power is not a vice as long as they are the ones orchestrating it. The lack of leadership qualities in the said leaders is extended to their personal life where numerous shortcomings are laid down bare. Essentially, the leaders end up destructing the lives of the same people they are supposed to protect. The dangers of abusive leadership are extensively covered in the two books and thereby exploring the benefits of good leadership.

One of the main pointers to abusive leadership is the incidence of corruption in a leader or the people. In the novel Arabian Nights and Days, the writer uses the characters of the sultan and the governor to show how men can degenerate into corruptible creatures. Although the book shows the influence of the evil jinn in manipulating people to be corrupt, it is a pointer that abusive leaders are very corrupt. At the center of this widespread corruption is governor Abbas al-Khaligi who is a manifestation that absolute power can corrupt absolutely. In one instance, he accepts the corruption he has by telling Ma’rouf that “other people have come into possession of the Solomon’s ring and it was a curse upon them” (Mahfouz, 2006). This is in reference to the levels of corruption witnessed before his rule and is seen as a justification for him being corrupt. Accordingly, the governor seems to be accepting that he is corrupt but justifies it by attributing the vice to Solomon’s ring which is a curse. The ring is used in this novel to simplify power and to show that men can do everything to attain and sustain power including being corrupt. Eventually, the governor is killed by al-Bulti for his corrupt ways.

Still, corruption is also exemplified in the character of the sultan, Shahriyar who goes to great lengths to achieve corruption. In fact, the novel starts with a scene in which he threatens to kill Shahrzad for failing to satisfy and please him sufficiently. In making these threats, the sultan is giving Shahrzad the option of only pleasing him to sustain his health. In another instance, the sultan appoints Ma’rouf as a governor because he had discovered the legendary ring of Solomon. In making him the governor, the sultan was only interested in the fact that Ma’rouf had accumulated enough wealth and was only interested in the same. In fact, when questioned about this appointment, the sultan rubbishes off opposition and posits thus “let us venture upon a new experience” (Marzolph & Leeuwen, 2004).

In Hadji Murad, the writer depicts Tsar Nicholas as the epitome of abusive leadership. Accordingly, he is labeled a weak, petty and ignorant tyrant who is not concerned about his country but is driven by lust and flattery. Worse still, he reaps a system that is already corrupted and that accepts no report other than success. This is to mean that people on the ground present data that is most appealing to the leader and that is often inconsistent with the reality on the ground. Likewise, Shamil is equally corrupt in the manner he treats people. He is portrayed as on e that strikes corrupt deals with traders and uses the proceeds to purchase ammunition (Tolstoy et al., 2008). In addition, he is labeled as a person who leads his army in taking other people’s wealth and demanding tax from the people living in his strongholds. While he is trying to fight off the Russian government which he considers to be very corrupt, he is in no way better that the Russians.

Still, abusive leaders also portray signs of cruelty towards their citizens and this is evidenced in characters drawn from the two novels. In Arabian Nights and Days, the sultan is portrayed as having a high affinity for cruelty towards his people. The sultan has a reputation of routinely killing virgins that fail to amuse him. For instance, Shahrzad is threatened with death for not pleasing the sultan enough. Eventually, her life is spared when she agrees to become the sultan’s wife and bears him a child. Even when the sultan spares her life, it is only because she is able to entertain him with a series of stories. When his advisor suggests that the sultan’s emotional condition is temporary he stops him saying that “it is one of the conditions of humans”. Likewise, the governors are also corrupt as is evidenced in different instances. In one instance, Sanaan, the governor of the quarter summons the devils within him and rapes a girl out of desperation.

Nicholas Tsar is also as cruel as he is corrupt and is described as a ruthless leader who has little room for reason. In one instance, he orders the flogging of a student to an extent of causing his death, even when the country had banned capital punishment. The Tsar, although not leading at the battleground, orders the killing of people at will and the bombing of the opposition’s strongholds. Still, he orders that Hadji Murad be held hostage in fear that he might be a spy even after he defects to his side. In another instance, Nicholas Tsar orders the killing of Murad when he runs away to go and rescue his family from Shamil (Tolstoy, 2012). It is recorded that the Russian soldiers shoot him together with his small group of army leading to their death. Even in death, the cruelty of Tsar is evidenced in the actions of his army as they decapitate Murad and take his head to him.

Likewise, Shamil, who is the leader of a successful separatist guerrilla is also cruel and rules with an iron fist out of necessity. When Hadji Murad runs from his camp, Shamil captures his family of a mother, two wives and five children. In fact, the capture of the family is what led Hadji to defect to Tsar’s camp. His army does not tire from killing people including soldiers that are opposed to his desire to drive the Russians away. Essentially, he views the Russians as foreigners who have invaded their land and must therefore be driven out.

Another key attribute of abusive leaders is the destruction that they impose on their people. This is quite evidence from characters in the two novels and spans from little misdeeds to large scale abuses. For instance, the sultan bestows destruction upon the women of his kingdom as a revenge for his wife having left him. The story records that he married a new wife every night before having her executed in the next morning. His actions are not only destruction on the women of the kingdom but all the people in general. By killing women, the sultan had rendered many kids motherless and many parents daughterless. Although he later regained his wisdom and stopped killing the women, the destruction he had initiated was too grave to be repaired.

The nature of the governor is also testament to the destructive aspect of abusive leadership and how it negatively affects people. The governor allows the jinn to manipulate his will leading him to doing evil things. As a sign of this manipulation, he is granted a cap that he wears throughout thus symbolizing that he is under the control of the jinn. The book fathoms that the manipulation of his will, as well as that of al-Gamali brings about the ultimate destruction. The result is that he falls into an abyss and is unable to control his own self. Instances of robbery and theft fill the town as well as looting of public coffers. Essentially, the abusive nature of the governor renders the town ungovernable thus leading to its destruction. Later, the sultan tries to initiate reforms in a bid to restoring sanity within the authority. It is this fact that leads to his eventual death because he has led to the death of many people.

In Hadji Murad, Nicholas Tsar is shown to be a destructive force of his own country whose dreams are only to conquer Russia at the expense of the population. In fact, Murad wonders is he “shall remain and conquer Caucasia for the Tsar and earn renown riches” in reference to the offer extended to him by Tsar. In so doing, Tsar comes out as a greedy leader who does not mind the destruction of his country as long as he gains the power he so much craves for (Tolstoy, 2012). The leader labels Hadji Murad as a terrorist and spreads hatred for him among all the Russians. It is perhaps for this reason that Hadji Murad is chased away by locals when he hides among them.

In similar fashion, Shamil leads a destructive campaign that targets Russians and is at the forefront in fighting their rule. He therefore spreads a hatred campaign against all Russians labeling them as foreigners who have invaded their land. Moreover, the leader uses force to fight off the government thereby bringing mass destruction to both his people and other people. It is from the battles that he initiated that thousands of Russians, mostly Christians, were killed and thousands more left homeless. Even when there are discords in his army and Hadji Murad leaves, Shamil does not recognize the destructive nature of his campaign and vows to continue. He destroys the life and family of Hadji Murad just because he had decided to leave his camp.



Naguib Mahfouz. (2006). Arabian nights (and days). London: Titan.

Tolstoy, L., Maude, A., & Maude, L. (2008). Great short works of Leo Tolstoy. Place of publication not identified: Bt Bound.

Tolstoy, L. (2012). Hadji Murad. Dover Publications.

Marzolph, U., & Leeuwen, R. . (2004). The Arabian nights encyclopedia: 1. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.: ABC CLIO.

Tolstoy, L., & Wiener, L. (1904). The complete works of Count Tolstoy. Boston: Dana Estes & Co.

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