2 February 2011

You don't need to speak Arabic to tell that Mubarak isn't much of an orator

I'm grateful to Martin Shovel for asking me via Twitter (@MartinShovel) earlier today: 'Where's your much anticipated rhetorical analysis of Mubarak's latest speech?'

The short answer is that there are some things for which I lack the time or inclination (or both).

But Martin's question did take me back to something I blogged about last July, when Fidel Castro had just given his first TV interview since his 'retirement' (HERE). That had reminded me of a rather obvious point I'd made in a heading above a picture of the young Castro in my book Our Masters' Voices (1984, p.4):

'Skillful public speaking can be readily recognized even in those whose politics we may disagree with, and whose languages we do not understand.'

What fascinated me then - and still does - is the fact that we don't have to be able to understand Spanish or German to be able to recognise that Castro and Hitler were highly effective orators.

The opposite is also the case: you don't have to be able to understand Arabic to be able to tell at a glance that Egyptian President Mubarak is a long way from the Premier League when it comes to public speaking - and non-Arabic speakers can check this out by watching him in action above.

The rise of the ineffective orator
Much the same can be said of other second and third generation revolutionary leaders. Compared with Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki was a bit short in the communication skills department. So too were Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev in comparison with Lenin (and I don't speak Russian, either).

The point is that, once a new order is established, behind the scenes committee work, plotting, befriending the right people, bumping off or otherwise disposing of rivals, winning support of the right factions and organisations , etc. become far more important than being able to appeal to a mass audience of people whose votes will determine your rise or fall.

Nor, if you can get to the top job - like so many leaders of Arab nations outside Egypt - by being the favoured relation of the previous head of a ruling family, do you have to worry about anything so tiresome as being able to move, persuade and inspire mass audiences.

Although I've no idea how effective an orator President Nasser, the first leader of the new Egypt, was, I'll bet he was a good deal better at it than his ousted predecessor (King Farouk).

Aprés Mubarak?
It now looks as though Hosni Mubarak's plan to take a leaf out of the Assad family book in Syria - by handing over to his son - is about to be thwarted. So, if Gamil Mubarak is still hoping to see his father's dream come true, he may well be in the market for some professional coaching.

Martin Shovel - and other likely UK suppliers of such services - may like to note that, according to The Sun, Gamil and his family have already decamped to his modest little £8.5 million pad in Knightsbridge. For his phone number and other contact details, I'm sure that the Murdoch family and/or News International will be able to oblige...


Roger said...

Not sure about the Lenin analogy - there is little audio-visual evidence and most biographies I've read describe him as a rather poor public speaker.

The great Bolshevik orators appear to have been Trotsky and Zinoviev both of whom could sway a mass meeting or conference but were easily outmaneuvered by the uncharismatic but wily Stalin in the party committees where the power really lay.

As for Krushchev he looked pretty effective banging his shoe at the UN - pity is that his greatest speech denouncing Stalin was only recorded in audio.

Conor Neill said...

It is an interesting analysis to evaluate a speaker when I don't understand the content of his words - highlights the importance of tone, pace, gesture in the transmission of trust, sense that this is a leader who can show a path to a better future ;-) Nice analysis.