The Arab Spring and the discourse of desperation
Despite their attempts to appease the population, there was still no sign that protests would subside. Both the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes reviewed their strategies. They shifted from a strategy of defiance and blame to a strategy of acknowledging reality. Both presidents recognized that the status quo was unsustainable and that change was inevitable (Extract 9). The blame this time falls on their ministers, who were accused of incompetence and corruption. To shift the focus from their own incompetence and corruption, both former presidents dismissed their cabinets and promised to form new ones, in the hope that this would calm down the protesters. This move did nothing but fuel the protests further.
نكلمكم لأن الوضع يفرض تغيير عميق.. تغيير عميق وشامل
I am addressing you because the situation dictates deep change, deep and comprehensive change. (Ben Ali speech: 13 January, 2011)
In Extract 9, Ben Ali did not refer to ‘islah’ (reform), but rather to ‘taghyir’ (change). His change of rhetoric is a clear indication of his acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation and the enormous challenge that the widespread protests posed for his regime and government. There is here a stark contrast between the discourse of his first and last speech. In the first speech he was very cautious and defiant, but in his last speech he appeared more flexible in his approach, adopting democratic terms such as ‘change’, ‘democracy’, ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’.