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Posted at 5:48 PM ET, 02/10/2011

Mubarak's speech: The tone deafness of a dictator

By Stephen Stromberg

L'etat c'est Mubarak?

The Egyptian president just delivered a rambling speech announcing that he won't step down immediately -- and maybe not, it seems, until September.

Throughout, I couldn't help but think: This man is a leader?

It's not just that he seems to be misreading the message from the millions protesting around his country, who aren't exactly satisfied with the "dialogue" he claims he has inaugurated. It's also that his speech was an overstuffed, incoherent monstrosity -- an arrogant profession of his own patriotism mixed with insincere reverence for the protest movement that his regime has attempted to suppress. Constantly referring to his deep love of his people and his desire to protect them, he recounted his experiences flying the Egyptian flag over the Sinai Peninsula, among other episodes, in an apparent attempt to vindicate his decades of dictatorial rule before those who had to live through it.

"If only Comrade Stalin knew!" ran through my head as Mubarak attempted to claim that he really thought the protesters, whom his security forces had earlier attacked, had legitimate demands. As though he didn't know what the security services were doing with those camels.

Indeed, this kind of oratory is chillingly familiar -- it's the uninspiring, self-righteous rambling of a man who has had tens of millions of Egyptians as a captive audience for 30 years, a personality that has terminally confused the will of his people for his own, what they would like to hear with what he would prefer to say. He hasn't had to authentically lead people for decades -- state television would carry anything he wanted it to. That has resulted in the boorishness that comes with the long-term exercise of unchecked power: A Kim Jong Il lecturing crowds for hours about socialist industrial organization; a Nikita Khrushchev assuming that those around him wanted to hear his views on corn. Always, it's about the leader, not the audience. When such men are secure in their power, their subjects usually feign interest. After Mubarak spoke, thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square shouted back angrily.

Mubarak did say that he is transferring some powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, who has patronizingly insisted that Egyptian protesters should "go back to work." After Mubarak spoke, Suleiman also instructed Egyptians not to listen to "the satellite stations" that have no interest but to spread "sedition." Increasingly, perhaps, l'etat c'est Suleiman.

By Stephen Stromberg  | February 10, 2011; 5:48 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Why are US tax dollars being sent to Egypt NOW?

We know that Mubarak and his family have stolen between 20 and 30 BILLION US dollars in US taxes sent to Egypt.



Posted by: WillSeattle | February 10, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Already Republicans are calling on Obama to ignore the people of Egypt and stick with our (corrupt, authoritarian and brutal) ally. Just like we did with The Shah of Iran and so many other ruthless dictators. Profits for US Corporations before Freedom and Democracy. They're already saying that Egypt isn't ready for democracy. I remember GW Bush getting very angry when any suggested that Iraqis weren't ready. Even though Saddam was our dear friend who we sold WMDs to.

They don't have a lot of experience with democracy and we have a lot of experience in screwing it up for others. Stay back and let the Egyptians sort this out.

Posted by: thebobbob | February 10, 2011 7:20 PM | Report abuse

What arrogance. Does Mr. Stromberg know Arabic? His criticism of the speech is no doubt based on translations that are free of nuance and rich Arabic references. Mubarak's speech may not have met his or Obama's expectations, but what does they know about the 80 million Eygptians outside of Tahrir square and beyond the English-speaking elite interviewed. US intelligence didn't do much better in understanding the Egyptian street and village. The pundits may just be right, but a little humility is also in order.

Posted by: neighbour9515 | February 11, 2011 3:47 AM | Report abuse

Naughty, naughty Murbarak. He is not doing what Obama tells him to do. We know that Mubarfak is, therefore, a racist and this whole mess is George W. Bush's fault. And when the dust settles, and there is blame for what happened, our governnments public directives fo Mubarak and to Egyptians generally will be cited as orime examples if our interfering in Egypt's affairs.

Posted by: sailhardy | February 11, 2011 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of tone-deafness:

Yesterday, DNI Clapper, DCI Panetta, and President Obama all demonstrated in public forums that their grasp of what is happening in Egypt is minimal.

It is time for long-term U.S. interests in the region to be the top concern of our intelligence community and the Obama administration. It may be that U.S. interests coincide with the original protestors in Egypt, but looking confused ineffective, and uninformed is no way for President Obama and the intelligence community to advance those interests.

Posted by: pilsener | February 11, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Does anybody really think that Richard Nixon found departure any easier than Mubarak?

Posted by: dnjake | February 11, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Mullen must of told them take control now or lose it and our aid forever. I link the Mullen talk with the Surpreme Council with Suleiman saying Mubarak has stepped down and the Council will take over.

Posted by: jameschirico | February 11, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

This isn't about "tone", Stephen. It's about the volume control requisite for dictators both foreign and domestic. It puts one in mind of the CIA's musical tactic to dislodge Noriega from sanctuary. I'm not laying any wagers on whether they'd be willing to repeat the performance in aid of interrupting Hosni's seaside idyll, but it's fun to think about.

Posted by: jbksss | February 11, 2011 7:31 PM | Report abuse

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