“Leave! Leave!” chanted thousands who had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in anticipation that a televised speech would be the moment their demands for an end to Mubarak’s 30 years of authoritarian, one-man rule were met.
Instead, the 82-year-old former general portrayed himself as a patriot overseeing an orderly transition until elections in September. He praised the young people who have stunned the Arab world with unprecedented demonstrations, offering constitutional change and a bigger role for Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Waving shoes in the air in a dramatic Arab show of contempt, the crowds in central Cairo chanted: “Down, down Hosni Mubarak.”
In a 20-minute address in which he said he would not bow to foreign pressure — Washington has called on its old ally to make way quickly — Mubarak said he would “delegate to the vice president of the republic the prerogatives of the president of the republic in a manner that is fixed by the constitution”.
Vice President Omar Suleiman, a 74-year-old former intelligence chief, is not widely popular with protesters who are seeking a complete break with the military-dominated system which has governed Egypt for the past six decades.
Suleiman later appeared on state television to say there was a “road map” for transition and insisted he would oversee a “peaceful transition of power”.
I FELT YOUR PAIN
“I have felt all the pain you felt,” said Mubarak, who last week had already pledged not to run again in September. “I will not go back on my response to your voice and your call.”
“Your demands are legitimate and just … There is no shame in hearing your voices and opinions, but I refuse any and all dictations from abroad,” he said. “I have announced my commitment to peacefully hand over power after upcoming elections … I will deliver Egypt and its people to safety.”
After his speech last week, many Egyptians beyond the urban elites in the vanguard of recent protests had said they were satisfied by a promise of change in due course and have said they were more interested now in an end to economic disruption.
But the anger on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, hours ahead of a planned “Day of Martyrs” protest on Friday to commemorate the 300 or more killed by security forces since January 25 appeared ominous in an environment where the army has been on the streets for two weeks and on Thursday said it was in charge.
“He doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of what is happening in Egypt. At this point I don’t think it will suffice,” said Alanoud al-Sharek at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “He has performed quite a sleight of hand. He has transferred authority to Omar Suleiman while somehow retaining his position as ruler.”
Mohamed El-Erian, co-chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Co., said: “Given the intense disappointment with the speech in Egypt, the country has entered this evening an ominous period of extreme tension and danger that can only be resolved by credible regime change that the majority of Egyptians can buy into”
Earlier in the day, the military high command issued what it called “Communique No.1” and said it was taking control of the nation in what some called a military coup after two weeks of unprecedented protests.
News that Mubarak may hand over power, or be unseated, in this key American ally in the Middle East had provoked loud and emotional cheers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point for pro-democracy demonstrations. But some in the crowd were quick to protest they did not want military rule. Reuters