A national speech can be a powerful tool for a political leader.
When written and delivered correctly, a speech plays a critical role in national development and politics. Leaders have come to rely on the spoken word to influence and mobilise followers and convince people of the benefits of their leadership.
Charlie Chaplin’s speech, in the finale of The Great Dictator, is an enduring example of a powerful speech: “Soldiers, don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder! Soldiers, don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty!”
But a good speech doesn’t always made good policy.
So when we are confronted with the ramblings of Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi, which was at best defiant, at worst “meandering“, “boring” and too lengthy (his speech lasted nearly 3 hours), we can only surmise that the president seems to be missing both a good speech writer and a good policy.
Although he extended an olive branch to the opposition, and admitted he had made mistakes (without detailing his errors because what politician would do that?), Mr Morsi largely came across as defensive and shrill by attacking “enemies” he accused of undermining the democracy.
The biggest failure of the speech, however, was how little time the president dedicated to the country’s economic problems. A line or two were dedicated to reassurances of cutting unemployment and raising the minimum wage but this was quickly followed up with his tell-tale defensive tactic, by blaming opponents for the instability that has driven the economy into crisis.
Worse still, the country is in the middle of an acute energy crisis. As Mr Morsi spoke, miles-long queues were building up for gasoline. As Ben Hubbard of the New York Times put it:
“Ideology and politics had little place on the gasoline line, where tempers flared in the stagnant heat of the night.”
Again, Mr Morsi acknowledged the seriousness of the situation by saying he would empower ministers and governors to crack down on illegal sales and to remove those benefiting from the crisis. He said he would remove the license of any gas station found to be hoarding fuel.
But are these solutions or just another defense mechanism? Because as far as the government and the presidency is concerned, the energy crisis has been exacerbated by rumours, corruption, hoarding and smuggling (partly by Gazans), not the fact energy subsidies are completely mismanaged and have cost the country billions of dollars (Rebel Economy has written a lot on this including here and here and here).
How could corruption levels spike so suddenly to cause these queues? Are fewer than 2 million Gazans really capable of impacting the fuel supply to 85 million Egyptians? Is the petroleum minister, Sherif Haddara, correct when he says the shortage is partly down to”technical errors” or that the government’s introduction of a new “smart card” system to prevent illegal gas sales had slowed distribution?
Some even say that the Muslim Brotherhood are using the gas shortages to their advantage ahead of the June 30 protests, by drying up the fuel supply to limit people’s movements and prevent large gatherings.
What is clear is that very few now believe anything that is said to explain the shortages, causing more panic and longer queues as more Egyptians seek out fuel.
Mr Morsi misused a powerful tool, and instead of regaining credibility in his speech, he talked too much yet said very little of any significance. He is likely bracing himself for a backlash on June 30 when thousands will gather against him.