President Mubarak’s speech on the evening of 10 February 2011 was not only a disappointment to Egyptians and the world, but it will be remembered as one of the worst political speeches ever. Poorly written and delivered, filled with platitudes, it leads me – together with the conflicting announcements from different parts of the Egyptian government and military – to believe that Mr Mubarak did not know until late tonight what he was going to say.
Egyptians had come to expect nothing less than Mr Mubarak stepping down immediately, preferably even leaving the country for good. That this did not happen, was reason for anger and disappointment enough, but it was made worse by some parts of the speech:
- Very early in the speech, Mr Mubarak said “I am telling you before anything, that the blood of the martyrs and the injured will not go in vain. And I would like to affirm, I will not hesitate to punish those who are responsible fiercely. I will hold those in charge who have violated the rights of our youth with the harshest punishment stipulated in the law.” – After it was the police and government thugs who had killed and injured hundreds of peaceful protesters, this statement must have come as a blow in the face to everyone listening. I certainly went “What the f***?” when I heard the speech start like this. And then Mr Mubarak immediately went on to explain what HE will do, thus making clear that he will remain in power and control, even trying to use the necessity to investigate the bloodshed of the past weeks as a reason why he must remain in power. Cheeky would be the most positive word to describe this reasoning.
- But it became worse: “I am telling families of the innocent victims that I have been so much in pain for their pain, and my heart ached for your heartache.” – The worst soap opera wouldn’t use empty rhetoric like this. Don’t lie so blatantly to the face of people whose children you have murdered, Mr Mubarak!
- Then some bathos: “Any regime could make mistakes in any country, but what is more important is to acknowledge these mistakes and reform and correct them in a timely manner, and to hold those responsible for it accountable.” – No, not in any country can the head of state make mistakes for 30 years without being voted out of office. And who else than the President would be responsible?
- “I do not find it a mistake to listen to you and to respond to your requests and demands.” – OK, our main demand is that you LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. TODAY.
- He then went on to say that he will step down in September (which he had said before) and that the Vice President will perform some of his duties (which has already been happening for two weeks now). No new major concessions.
- “We also have agreed on a road map – a road map with a timetable. Day after day, we will continue the transition of power from now until September.” – Who has agreed with whom? Just today, we heard from the Army that the protesters’ demands will be fully met. We heard from several sources within the government that President Mubarak would step down or at least step aside. I bet that until the last minute before the speech, there was no agreement even within the government about what the speech should contain. And most importantly, the people of Egypt do not agree with this.
- The President suggested that he might “open the door to ending the martial law, as soon as we regain stability and security and as soon as the circumstances assure the stability.” – Is this the attempt to justify the martial law which has been in place since 1981 with the protests of the past two weeks? Clearly, it is saying that martial law will only be lifted when all protesters have gone home.
- Mr Mubarak is 82. Yet, he did not find it too silly to identify himself with the “youth movement” as he kept calling it (although it is a far broader movement across generations): “I was a young man, a youth just like all these youth, when I have learned the honor of the military system and to sacrifice for the country.“
- Of course, Mr Mubarak went on to talk about his military career, as if he needed to recite his CV, culminating in this claim: “During the victory in 1973, my happiest days were when I lifted the Egyptian flag over Sinai“, referring to the Yom Kippur War which was started by Egypt attacking Israel during Ramadan and Yom Kippur – apparently something that Mr Mubarak is extremely proud of. Also, I find it a bit curious for Egypt to claim victory in that war. After initial Egyptian gains in Sinai (because of the surprise nature of the attack), Israel managed to fight back. Egyptians were indeed able to capture parts of the east bank of the Suez Canal, but Israel had gained control of the west bank of Suez and Israeli forces were 100 km from Cairo when a ceasefire was agreed.
- Bla bla bla, et cetera. There was much more empty rhetoric and platitudes of pathos.
Listening to the speech, I was struck by how evidently Mr Mubarak did not get the point of the protests. They have been demanding nothing less than the end of his rule and his regime. Did he not want to get the point or is this what 30 years in power do to you? I could not make any sense of this speech, except that Mr Mubarak was maybe trying to pave the way to being declared unfit for office on grounds of mental incapability.
Let’s hope that Egyptians learn a lesson from Tunisia and don’t give up until they have achieved their goals.