Egypt's Mubarak cedes some authority but refuses to resign

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 6:43 PM

CAIRO - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ceded some authority to his vice president Thursday but he refused to quit, insisting he would stay in office to oversee a drawn-out transfer of power. His defiance stunned and angered hundreds of thousands of protesters in the capital who responded with chants of "revolution, revolution."

Enormous crowds, which had gathered in anticipation that Mubarak would announce his resignation in a televised address, expressed their disappointment and fury as the message sunk in that the president had no intention of leaving. Some masses moved tentatively toward the heavily guarded state television tower, while others vowed to march on Mubarak's presidential palace.

"Oh Mubarak, be patient! The people will dig your grave," shouted protesters in Tahrir Square late into the night.

The Egyptian army, which rolled more tanks into the city center, did not move immediately to impede the demonstrators. But the military's allegiance in the power struggle between the president and the people remained a question mark and appeared to swing back and forth.

Some leaders warned that Mubarak was risking a bloody revolt.

"There is no way the Egyptian people right now are ready to accept either the president or the vice president," Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and opposition leader, told CNN. "They have lost all authority, all legitimacy. . . . My fear is that the situation will turn violent."

Mubarak's defiance not only shocked Egyptians but seemed to catch the world by surprise, including the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Earlier Thursday, CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress that "there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening." In a speech to university students in Michigan, President Obama gave no indication that he expected otherwise, calling the events in Egypt "a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change."

After 17 days of swelling protests and labor unrest, demonstrators in Cairo thought they were on the cusp of forcing Mubarak from power Thursday afternoon when Egypt's military chiefs pledged in unequivocal-sounding language that they backed the protesters' goals.

Crowds had thundered their approval when Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo region, strode into the square and declared: "All your demands will be met today."

Anticipation soared even higher when Egypt's supreme military council announced that it had convened an emergency session - in their commander-in-chief's absence. In a statement, the military chiefs pledged "support for the legitimate demands of the people" and also "to oversee their interests and security."

About five hours later, at 10:45 p.m., Mubarak addressed the nation on television from his palace. Standing next to an Egyptian flag, he tried to assure the public that he had heard their grievances.

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