Rage in Egypt as Mubarak hangs on

CAIRO Thu Feb 10, 2011 6:38pm EST

1 of 42. Demonstrators react as they listen to Mubarak's speech in front of a big screen in Tahrir square, February 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

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CAIRO (Reuters) - President Hosni Mubarak provoked rage on Egypt's streets on Thursday when he said he would hand over powers to his deputy but refused to step down after more than two weeks of protests demanding that he quit.

The armed forces high command had earlier issued "Communique No.1," declaring it was taking control of the nation in what some called a military coup seeking to end the turmoil under the 82-year-old former general, who has ruled for 30 years.

"Leave! Leave!" chanted hundreds of thousands who had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square in anticipation that a televised address would be the moment their demands were met.

Instead, the former air force commander portrayed himself as a patriot and war hero overseeing an orderly transition until an election in September -- in which he said last week he would not stand. Mubarak praised young people who have stunned the Arab world with unprecedented rallies. He offered 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."

Asked if Mubarak would step down, an Egyptian official had told Reuters before the speech: "Most probably." But his information minister had said that would not be the case.

Joy turned to despair and then to anger.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner and retired U.N. diplomat who runs a liberal political movement, wrote on Twitter: "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."

DELEGATING POWERS

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."

"It is not immediately clear what powers are being handed over," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC.

Suleiman, a 74-year-old former intelligence chief who was promoted just last month, is not widely popular with protesters who are seeking a complete break with the military-dominated system that has governed Egypt for the past six decades.

Suleiman appeared on state television to say there was a "road map" for transition and said he would oversee a "peaceful transition of power" in the Arab world's most populous nation.

Egypt's sprawling armed forces -- the world's 10th biggest and more than 468,000-strong -- have been at the heart of power since army officers overthrew the British-backed king in 1952.

The army, from politically plugged-in generals to poor conscripts and junior officers, is key to what happens next. "This poses a real dilemma for the army," said Rosemary Hollis at London's City University. "Are they going to allow the demonstrators to escalate their demonstrations so that they push the point that Mubarak has got to go, and that means the army definitely does split with Mubarak? he demonstrators are very disappointed and there will be violence."

Robert Springborg of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School called Mubarak and Suleiman's speeches "enormously provocative," made by "desperate men, willing to gamble the fate of the nation for their own personal interest."

"The speeches ... are not intended to bring an end to the crisis in a peaceful way but to inflame the situation so there is justification for the imposition of direct military rule. They are risking not only the coherence of the military but even indeed, and I use this term with advisement here, civil war."

The army quelled bread riots in Egypt in 1977 and halted a rampage by policemen over pay in 1986, but the momentous scale and consequences of the uprising that began on January 25 across the country dwarfs those events.

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," he said, once more, as he did last week, trying to paint himself as the father of the nation.

After the 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.

Tourists, a key source of income to the country of pyramids and Red Sea beaches, have deserted the hotels since last month.

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.

"We want a civilian state, civilian state, civilian state!" Doaa Abdelaal said on Twitter, an Internet service that many see as a vital catalyst for the protests in Tunisia and Egypt that have electrified oppressed populations across the Arab world.

"The army is worried that tomorrow on Friday the people will overpower state buildings and the army will not be able to fire back," Anees said. "The army now is pressuring Mubarak to resolve the situation."

It remained to be seen if his speech would satisfy the army.

"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."

WASHINGTON WARY OF TUMULT

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.

Washington's approach to the turmoil has been based from the start on Egypt's strategic importance -- as a rare Arab state no longer hostile to Israel, as the guardian of the Suez canal linking Europe and Asia and as a major force against militant Islam in the Middle East.

President Barack Obama, hailing history unfolding, said the United States would support an "orderly and genuine transition to democracy" -- Washington would be publicly uncomfortable if the army held on to power, and also does not want Islamist rule.

It had no immediate reaction to Mubarak's speech.

Washington pressured Mubarak to speed up the pace of reform but stopped short of demanding the resignation of the president of the country, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and an army which receives about $1.3 billion in U.S. aid a year.

The protests that have shaken the Egyptian political system and the political landscape of the Middle East was partly inspired by the example of Tunisia, where street protesters toppled the president on January 14.

(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Tom Perry, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Andrew Hammond, Alexander Dziadosz, Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, Patrick Werr, Edmund Blair, Jonathan Wright and Alison Williams in Cairo, Erika Solomon and Martin Dokoupil in Dubai, Arshad Mohammed in Washington, David Stamp in London and Brian Rohan in Berlin; Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Comments (48)
Kyung wrote:
Freedom of the press and the ability of the people to know and discuss what effects their lives is a basic human right.

Feb 09, 2011 8:21pm EST  --  Report as abuse
OCTheo wrote:
It is all about nothing. US is just posturing. United States government does not want Mubarak to leave. Both US and Israel need Mubarak to help in the Palestinian genocide.

Just like the Wikileaks memos have revealed, they say one thing to the public and do the opposite. Egyptians must never give up. It is now or never. If they go home before Mubarak leaves, most of them will disappear, some will be tortured, and some will be murdered. And at the end, US will send more weapons to Mubarak and his henchmen.

Military AID, is what US does best. Sending war materials and equipment to people that have no food, no school and no medical care. That is why there are too many wars in Africa. If US spends the same amount of money given to Mubarak in arms, for school, hospitals, and food, Egypt will be the most developed country in Africa. Development and peace is not good for corporations that make weapons. So war and violence makes more money, and creates uncertainty, which in turn keeps a dictator in power for 30 years.

In 1963, the late Martin Luther King Jr said; “My country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. A year later, they killed him for making that statement. The amazing thing is, that statement is still true today. US spends more money than any country on earth on weapons of war. US exports more weapons than any country. US starts more wars than any country. US invades more countries than any government. More people are killed in the US every year by handguns. More people are in prison in the US than anywhere on earth. US has more police officers, prison guards than any country.

What does all say about America? War and violence is the norm and they export their behavior to anywhere there is peace. Since 1945, the United States of American/CIA has purposely destroyed, deposed and replaced by coup, democratically elected governments in over 50 countries around the world.

Mubarak is a cancer that must be removed immediately, by any means possible. Egyptians must decide what happens to Mubarak and his corrupt government, not Israel, not EU, and not US.

Feb 09, 2011 11:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
breezinthru wrote:
When a government provides success and opportunity for only a narrow percentage of its population, there are a lot of citizens who really have nothing better to do than to point it out.

Feb 10, 2011 5:39am EST  --  Report as abuse
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