Egyptians' Tahrir Square celebration turns bitter as Mubarak refuses to leave

Crowds of Egyptians erupted in chants after President Hosni Mubarak said he is transferring power to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but will not leave the country. (Feb. 10)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 10:53 PM

CAIRO - The mood shifted quickly in Tahrir Square on Thursday night, from euphoria, to quiet, and then to anger.

Until President Hosni Mubarak began to speak, there had been kissing, hugging, even dancing, with a feeling that victory was near.

The crowd fell silent to listen to the president, but it was only a few minutes before the demonstrators recognized that their hopes would not be met.

"He's not leaving," people muttered. Their shouts grew louder and their fury rose, many lifting shoes in the air, the rudest Arab insult. "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

For 17 days, emotions have ebbed and flowed in Tahrir Square. But Thursday, the sentiment swung more wildly than ever, from exultant joy to the most bitter contempt for a regime has stubbornly clung to power in the face of a popular uprising.

The crowd had begun to gather near sunset, fueled by rumors and government statements that seemed to suggest that Mubarak was ready to accede to protesters' demands and announce that he would step down, ending his nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

The square was so crowded that it was difficult to move. But many Egyptians felt safe enough to bring their children. Kids sat atop their fathers' shoulders, waving flags and swaying to the beat of drums.

Mohammed Abdul Magd, 31, brought his wife and their two toddlers to the square when he heard that Mubarak would be addressing the nation.

He wanted them to bear witness to what he thought would be his country's rebirth.

"Today is like their birthday," he said, holding his little girl Joweriyah, 3.

A folk singer sang to the crowds that "victory was coming."

Commemorative T-shirts were being sold for $2.

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