Last speeches of doomed dictators

The last speeches by Mubarrak and Gaddafi are very revealing, says CyberShrink.

Recently, we've had the chance to watch more historically revealing speeches by doomed dictators, neither of whom seemed to grasp the fact that they were well past their sell-by date.

The last Pharaoh? 

As we watched the last days of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarrak, at no time did he seem to actually grasp the seriousness of his situation. Indeed, he displayed an error common among individuals and couples with serious life problems, as well as autocrats. Rather than accept the discomfort of recognising the situation and changing failed tactics, they choose to do the same thing, only louder or harder, and seem puzzled to find that it still doesn't work. They haven't needed to develop a healthy repertoire of methods.

Like most dictators, they assume nothing is ever their fault, and try to blame sinister outside/foreign forces. He chose a "Presidential-business-as-usual"setting, with national flags and the tawdry finery popular among demagogues who lack good taste, surrounding himself with the trappings of office, and trying to sound and appear strong and in charge- though largely expressionless. Even in his last public utterance, he kept including assumptions that he would remain in office, while throughout his country crowds were howling for him to leave. Presumably, right afterwards the military who held the real power, must have told him it was the wrong speech, and his resignation was soon announced.

He kept referring to the youth of the demonstrators, whereas it was obvious to all who watched the excellent global TV coverage, that the crowds had a remarkable cross-section of ages and occupations. Ironically, his last significant achievement was to unite a very large section of the country against him. What must also have surprised the usual political pundits, was that the demonstrators, though having no real leaders, were impressively united, and not party-political, just asking for Mubarrak to go, and for peace, democracy and jobs.

Above all, watching his final speech, what was weird was that it was obvious to everyone but him, the more clumsily he revealed how utterly he misunderstood the situation, that he was the only one who thought he would remain in office.

Gaddafi: Lady Gaga with guns

Now, of course, we don't know which will be Gaddafi's actual final speech, but it shouldn't be far ahead, especially now his country is under attack from UN forces. He has never seemed too obviously in touch with reality, but his recent performances have been especially adrift.  

Most unforgettable was his presentation when the rebellion became too obvious to ignore. He was obviously really rattled. He had a page of notes which he fiddled with now and then, but they didn't seem to help. Sometimes he wears one of his comic opera military uniforms, usually with a chestful of self-awarded medals and ribbons, though once he seemed to have a photograph fixed to the other side of his chest.

But this time he chose a recently popular ethnic outfit in muddy browns, which didn't seem to fit properly, as he kept plucking at it and re-adjusting it, till one feared a Wardrobe Malfunction (such as in the case of Janet Jackson) might be imminent. He looked as though he had wrapped himself in some rather unpleasant lounge curtains. And clearly he's been busy, as in all his recent appearances, he's been wearing the same frock and the same hat.

It was the Hollywood Central Casting performance of crazed dictator haranguing a crowd. He could have been hilarious except that one knew he was and is utterly ruthless and content to destroy his own people without blinking. Notice how often he brags that all of "his people... are prepared to die for him". He never seems interested in dying for them.


Lately, I have been wondering about Gaddafi's face which has been looking especially odd - as though swollen with collagen injections and immobilised by Botox, it was mask-like, a sort of political Freddy Kreuger. It needed his body language, such as the thumping of the podium, to suggest his anger, as the face was weirdly inexpressive. He managed to be both over-acting and under-acting at the same time.

His body suggests he is rattled and upset, and angry. The face reveals little, due to the stiff upper lip. And the stiff lower lip. And all the other stiff portions in view. He moved uneasily, did some pumping of his hands, and fumbled, sounding ill-prepared, and uncertain - belligerent but incapable, incoherent.

He does ramble on and on and on, prodigiously repetitive and wholly unorganised. And I wonder how many listeners actually stay alert until the end. To the point at which he just sort of stops, rather than actually finishes anything. Maybe if he'd brought his famed blonde Ukrainian nurse or female body-guards, he might have held one's attention a bit longer.

He was, as The Guardian put it, "at his barking best"; diffuse and foggy, with a chance of isolated showers. General isolated showers, of course. "Muamar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution", he told us. Talking of oneself in the third person is a sign of a peculiar attitude towards oneself, believing in one's own propaganda, even if nobody else does.

The dirty rats

He told us, several times, that the entire world looks up to Libya, something much of the world seems to have overlooked. He boasted about how much glory he had brought to the land, and raved against the protestors, insisting, several times, that they were made drunk and drugged by some sinister forces, calling them: "greasy rats and cats … traitors and cowards" that should be hunted down in their dens.

When he went on again about "greasy rats" he sounded like an old-time Chicago gangster played by Jimmy Cagney. Littered with non-sequiturs and mis-connections, and vague conspiracy theories. He seems to crave the attention of the world media, and may have felt up-staged by the people on the streets.

Hatters are much less mad

He was not Mad as a Hatter- hatters are far more restrained and coherent. The fact that such a man has the power to cause so much suffering to so many people, and yet is so unstable and illogical, is frightening. One could not diagnose any specific psychiatric illness from this sample, but a personality disorder seems both overwhelmingly likely and an underwhelmingly inadequate description. But I can't help wondering.

The world seems (at least at present) resolute that he and his henchmen can and should stand trial for crimes against humanity. If he is eventually captured, and stands trial (supposing that he doesn't stage his own Gotterdämmerung finale, and self-destruct) - will he attempt an insanity defence? There'd be loads of evidence his lawyer could use.

Gadaffi chose a symbolic setting - one of his palaces which was bombed by the Americans, back in 1986,  the ruins kept as a monument. He lurked in a doorway. It may have symbolised the treachery of the untrustworthy foreigners; but also as it's in the middle of a military base, it was a safe place for him to perform.

Despite his many self-awarded titles, he insisted that as he wasn't technically the President, he could not resign.

He made another error common among dictators, confusing himself and the country, talking repeatedly about how "we" had defeated the Italians, and the US.  

If the situation were not so tragic, especially the disgraceful massacre of innocent civilians by his forces, it would have been hilarious. Sadly, like Mubarrak, he mainly proved, completely convincingly, that he absolutely misunderstood the situation, and was totally unable to react usefully to it. He promised to die as a martyr, neither realising how welcome his death would be to so many, nor that the status of martyr can only be awarded to you by others. It's like a sense of humour - by bragging that you have one, you prove that you haven't.


Later there was an appearance of Gaddafi addressing a rentacrowd who gathered enthusiastically in a large space, while he stood safely behind the ramparts of what looked like a fortress wall, and repeated his usual stuff. In this speech, though, he seemed intent to encourage us all to sing and dance.

Like Mubarrak, he insisted that all demonstrators were "children". “No sound person has taken part in these actions, they are all children.… Take your children back. They are drugging your children. They are making your children drunk and they’re sending them to hell. Your children will die.” Perhaps realising that the young are not at all impressed by him, he chose to appeal to the parents, instructing them to bring the kids under control.

Not a Twitter Tweeter

Now, Gaddafi is definitely not of the Twitter generation, and couldn't tweet is his life depended on it. He so loves the sound of his own voice, that like many other autocrats, he talks at enormous length. Last time he addressed the UN General Assembly, invited to speak for 15 minutes, he burbled on for 94 minutes, and his personal translator collapsed, and had to be rescued by another. According to a reporter, the poor man shouted  "I just can't take it any more."

Mind you, Fidel Castro back in 1960, spoke to the U.N. for 4 1/2 hours, and an Indian speaker back in 1957 took 8 hours. But you get my point - brevity is not one of the General's skills.

Singing in the Rain?

There was one other bizarrely brief utterance, when he was shown on state TV sitting in something like a jeep, carrying an umbrella and saying that unfortunately as it was raining he could not join the protestors on the street. "I want to show I'm in Tripoli, not in Venezuela" he announced, though from the obscure setting, he may as well have been in Brakpan. He continued: "I wanted to say something to the youths on Green Square; stay up late with them," affably (and this guy does not easily do affable; he must have been practising) : "But it started raining." Then he added: "Thank God, I think it's a good thing."

Echoes of Comical Ali

One somehow remembered that sadly deluded spokesman for Saddam Hussein and his Information Minister, who became known as "Comical Ali", who made such ridiculous and bombastic claims when the defeat of that regime was utterly obvious. He claimed there were booby-trapped pencils, and memorably insisted there were no Americans in Baghdad at all, while they could be heard firing from only blocks away. He did not even change his tune when an American tank shell hit the hotel where he was speaking.

The deluge

In an earlier time or revolution, Louis XVI of France famously said: "L'Etat c'est moi". (I AM the State ), a delusion both Mubarrak and Gaddafi seem to have shared. And both echoed the earlier Louis XV, who said:  "Après Moi les deluge: - after me - the flood"; insisting that the only choice open to the nation and indeed the world, was between them and chaos. That they personally were the cause of the chaos, and that their departure could help enormously to prevent chaos, didn't seem to enter their minds.

Apparently in Israel, the speech has already been remixed within a hip-hop song , and on Youtube it is proving popular throughout the Middle East.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink, March 2011)

Ask CyberShrink a question.

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