When the people speak, so must you

What is it about people in power that makes them so blinkered, so sure they can overcome a crisis by ignoring the clamour and staying silent?

It’s been obvious to most of us ordinary people for at least a couple of days that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had only one option – to resign and let others take over. With so many people taking to the streets – and then with the army turning coats and supporting, rather than policing, them – how on earth did he and his government think they could carry on? At what point did they think Egyptian citizens were going to retreat, in an ok then sort of way, as if they weren’t serious about their demands?

Of course it is hard if leaders of other countries – and especially the president of the USA – issue statements about the importance of an orderly transition, recommending that you stay on to manage the handover. You are bound to feel flattered, to boost your own self-belief and then, puffed up with self-importance, to cling to power – because it isn’t just your yes-men who are saying what you want to hear, it’s, wow, it’s Obama! And it could have worked – or at least the uprising could have been less dramatic and less prolonged, if only …

Mubarak should have communicated – then acted. Contrition, acknowledgement, a promise of reform – followed by reform – and he might just have clinched it (though he would have been dogged by doubts about whether he had genuinely changed his political instincts).

Instead, today was the second time he has spoken since the uprising began. That’s twice in seven days. It doesn’t exactly indicate that he’s a leader in control – but taking control of the situation is exactly what leaders must do in a crisis and they must do it from the start and stay in it.

The only way to demonstrate control is to speak – as long as you talk of decisive actions – and then to do as you say. Instead Mubarak stayed silent until forced – by the increasing force of the people – to say something. Except it was the wrong thing.

What Egyptian people want is a new way of governing and that means Mubarak has to go. Now, after days of silence, that is the only thing left for him to say.

Sadly, it’s a case of here we go again. Again.

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