Mubarak pledges not to run for reelection, plans to remain in office to transfer power
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
CAIRO - Under pressure as never before, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt promised Tuesday that he would relinquish power after elections this fall, his most significant concession yet to an extraordinary public uprising that has upended the old order in the Arab world's most populous country.
But the gesture failed to quiet demands from Egyptian opposition leaders and pro-democracy demonstrators that Mubarak step down immediately, while President Obama insisted that a transition to democracy in Egypt "must begin now."
On a day when popular protests reached a new pitch, Mubarak's announcement left no doubt that time was running out on his three-decade reign as Egypt's president, a post in which he has served as a critical ally of the United States. Mubarak said he would not be a candidate for a sixth term and promised "a peaceful transfer of power."
There was no sign, however, that the hundreds of thousands of protesters who turned out in downtown Cairo would surrender what they believe is an unstoppable momentum toward toppling one of the Arab world's most durable leaders.
"He needs to leave right now. We've already waited 30 years, and we don't want to wait any more," said Amy Hashem, 23, who was among the thousands of demonstrators who have vowed to occupy Tahrir Square, Cairo's central plaza, until Mubarak leaves office.
"It would have been better for him to say, 'I love my people and I'm leaving,' " opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said in interview after Mubarak's speech. "Unfortunately, this will just extend the period of instability."
A revolutionary spirit has seized Egypt over eight days of mounting protests, and there were signs Tuesday that the sentiment was spreading. In Jordan, King Abdullah II fired his prime minister and cabinet after days of unrest over price increases.
But there were also indications that Mubarak's move might mollify some critics. Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister who is considered likely to seek the presidency, called the announcement "a very important step" that "should be considered carefully."
Under growing pressure at home and abroad, Mubarak had been left with very little room to maneuver. His announcement will set off jockeying among potential successors, including ElBaradei and Moussa, who is now secretary general of the Arab League, as well as other candidates from a broad array of opposition factions, from liberal technocrats to more conservative Islamists.
With 80 million people, Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world, and developments here are being followed minute by minute by anxious leaders across the region. On Tuesday, leaders could not have liked what they saw.
The demonstration in Egypt was by far the largest since the protests began on Tuesday of last week, and the jubilant mood reflected a confidence among the crowds that Mubarak would soon be gone. The 82-year-old has long maintained his grip here through fear, but there was none in evidence Tuesday, with soldiers smiling as protesters peacefully filled Tahrir Square and surged beyond into downtown streets.
Protest organizers had vowed to bring a million people to the streets of Egypt, and while reliable crowd estimates were impossible to come by, the turnout was unquestionably impressive. The protests also attracted record crowds in cities across the country, and organizers said a nationwide strike would continue until Mubarak steps down.