Mubarak's speech: The tone deafness of a dictator
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.
| February 10, 2011; 5:48 PM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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