It seems that for some Arab leaders, past and present, no one can advise them in their dealings with public opinion, especially their speeches and public addresses. It seems like they adopt the approach of “just give me the microphone”, and none of their advisors dare to say anything.
The latest such case was the audio address recorded by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which was broadcast on “Al-Arabiya” satellite television. This recording was a big mistake by Mubarak, by any standards. The first mistake was that the former president appeared resentful against those who oppose him, indeed the recording made him appear like Saddam Hussein, who broadcast addresses such as this during his final days. With regards to Egypt, and this is most important, the magnitude of the negative impact caused by the recording was extensive, and it may have further implications!
Mubarak could have acted in a civilized manner, issuing an official statement through his lawyer or a spokesperson, sending this to the media and explaining his position without speaking in the language of a president addressing his people. In terms of Mubarak and Egypt now, there is no place for emotion, there are no feelings in politics. It is strange that Mubarak, during his presidential term, used to comment on what the opposition press had written about him by simply saying “it’s nothing to worry about.” So why has he been provoked today, for this is only two months of criticism in comparison to 30 years of praise? If the former president is truly hurt by what is being said about him and his family, as he says, then he should write his memoirs in order to respond to the allegations being made against him, so that history can record his side of the story. He has an opportunity that was not available to Nasser or Sadat, and he should avail himself of this instead of issuing audio recordings and so on.
The truth is that the problems with Arab speeches are not exclusive to Mubarak alone, we only have to look at the bulk of Arab leaders who are currently facing crises in their countries, to see improvisation, repetition, contradiction, blunders, provocation and more [in their speeches]. This was evident in the speeches given by Ben Ali during the Tunisia crisis, the Mubarak speeches during the Egyptian revolution, President al-Assad’s latest speech, the Yemeni President’s rhetoric, and of course the public addresses given by Colonel Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam, which are a story in themselves.
Therefore the advice to Arab leaders, and presidents in particular because they are responsible for these poor speeches, along with their advisors of course, is to watch a famous American television series, and there is a version translated into Arabic, called “The West Wing”. In summary, this program details the relationship between members of the President’s team in the White House and the American media, the State Department, Congress and so on. In the West Wing, we see that the President’s speeches, or statements, often take several episodes [to construct]. We see how the president’s advisors note down the points that he wishes to talk about, which are then presented to the president for his approval. This is then transferred to the speechwriter, who composes the address and sends it back to the presidential team, which if approved is then sent to a team of lawyers, then back to the president for revisions. Finally, if approved, the president begins to read and learn the speech, and his team asks him the most difficult questions on the subject. He formulates his answers, ensuring they are legally acceptable, and thus the process is underway, and there is no room for the element of surprise. All this takes place because the president’s word is the word of the state, and its policies.
In our region there are speeches that the people listen to, and there are speeches that people only need to watch, and this is a big difference.