Mubarak spurns opposition demands to leave office immediately

Anti-government demonstrators gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square react with fury on learning that President Hosni Mubarak will not resign.
Anti-government demonstrators gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square react with fury on learning that President Hosni Mubarak will not resign. (Linda Davidson)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011

CAIRO - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ceded some authority to his vice president Thursday but refused to quit, insisting that 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 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 the presidential palace.

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

Mubarak's rejection of the rebellion, in a rambling late-night speech, capped a confusing day of contradictory messages, exultant expectations and, ultimately, flattened hopes. It left Egyptians and the rest of the world anxious and afraid of how the conflict would unfold in the hours and days ahead.

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

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, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader, told CNN. "They have lost all authority, all legitimacy. . . . My fear is that the situation will turn violent."

The developments not only shocked Egyptians but seemed to catch the world by surprise, including the highest levels of the U.S. government. In a written statement, President Obama said "it is not yet clear'' whether the transition to democracy pledged by Mubarak would be "immediate, meaningful or sufficient.''

Earlier Thursday, CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress that "there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening." In an afternoon speech to university students in Michigan, 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 its commander in chief's absence. In a statement, the military chiefs pledged "support for the legitimate demands of the people" and promised "to oversee their interests and security."

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