fter days of unrest, after declaring martial law in some of the country’s main cities, the authoritarian leader gave a much anticipated television speech. His tone was repentant. He promised change and reform. The people wanted democracy and he promised to bend to their wishes.
For a long time, the United States had been advising him to open his political system—but had been seen publicly as his chief supporter. The U.S. president had given lofty and elegant speeches defending democracy and human rights, assuring the people of the Middle East that the United States supported their democratic demands. But both the leader and his American supporters were caught off-guard by the size of the demonstrations. American officials began trying to walk a dangerous tight-rope: offering support for the beleaguered leader but also establishing ties and credibility with the opposition.