Mubarak's refusal to step down provokes rage on Egypt's streets
Egyptian president's televised address fails to meet expectations of anti-government protesters that have demanded his ouster for the last 17 days.
President Hosni Mubarak further provoked rage on Egypt's streets on Thursday when he said he would hand powers to his deputy, disappointing protesters who had been expecting him to step down altogether after two weeks of unrest.
Hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in Cairo's central Tahrir Square to hear the president speak. It was quiet when he finished. Then a storm of rage erupted, fists were raised and some people brandished their shoes, a sign of insult in the Muslim world.
"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."
"Get lost," the protesters shouted, claiming that Mubarak had usurped the rhetoric of the protesters for his agenda of continuity. "We won't allow him to steal our revolution," said one protester.
"He spoke of the blood of the martyrs; that was cynical and provocative," said Ahmed Sami, an engineer camped out for days with a hard core of protesters in Tahrir Square. "It was his people who killed our young ones," he said.
"Tomorrow we're going to the presidential palace and to all other public buildings in the country. We have to force him to leave office."
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 that their top priority 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."
"There is disappointment," said Wael Nawara, secretary general of the opposition al-Ghad party. "What [Mubarak] said is too late. There were high expectations for today, especially after the military upped its presence, so people expected something else," Nawara told the German Press Agency DPA.
"I dont know why [Mubarak] is doing this. It's as if he is trying to just oppose the people," Nawara said.
"The speech is frustrating and bypasses the will of the people," Helmy al-Gazzar, a senior member of Egypt's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, told DPA shortly after Mubarak's announcement that he would not be stepping down.
Although Mubarak said that he would transfer some of his powers to recently appointed Vice President Suleiman, al-Gazzar said "there are no guarantees," since "the powers delegated to Suleiman can be cancelled according to the powers given to him by the constitution."
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and key Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei warned that the country is on the verge of an explosion and needs to be rescued by the military. "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now," ElBaradei tweeted after Mubarak's speech.
The pro-democracy protesters have experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions over the past 17 days. First they had to overcome the brutality of the feared riot police to take control of Tahrir Square.
Then, on January 28, the security forces used live ammunition on the demonstrators, leaving an estimated 300 dead across the country. Shortly thereafter, looters and convicts began roaming the streets.
The authorities deliberately opened prison gates and allowed the inmates to flee - a move they hoped would cause intimidation and chaos, generating fear among the population that the protests would lead to anarchy and make the government indispensable.
But on February 1, hundreds of thousands of people streamed back onto the streets, in larger numbers than ever before.
When the protests failed to abate, the government struck back. Thugs hired by the NDP rode into Tahrir Square on camels and horses and attacked the peaceful protesters with stones, knives and even guns.
The battle raged throughout the night, but the government supporters were unable to dislodge the protesters. At least 13 people died and hundreds were injured.
It appeared that the violence had knocked the fight out of the activists, but the opposite was true - it only served to weld them together and strengthen their resolve.