Mubarak: I won’t seek re-election; crowds retort: Go now!

Exit prompted by biggest-yet Cairo rally; Muslim Brotherhood: No negotiations with president or new VP.

February 2, 2011 01:11
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 311 AP. (photo credit: AP / Egypt TV)

Hosni Mubarak will not run for re-election in September, the beleaguered Egyptian president announced on Tuesday night in a message broadcast on Egyptian state television.

The 82-year-old leader said he hopes to oversee a “peaceful transfer of power” at the end of his current term.

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“These are difficult days,” Mubarak said at the beginning of the address. “What hurts our hearts the most is the fear which has overtaken most Egyptians, and the anxiety that has overtaken them over what will happen to them and their families, and the future and destiny of their country.

“In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term,” he added.

Mubarak lamented “incitement” by political groups he accused of “hijacking” Egypt’s government.

The announcement followed the largest-yet protest in Cairo, as more than 250,000 Egyptians piled into the capital’s main square earlier in the day in a stunning display of defiance against Mubarak’s regime.

“There are political forces that have rejected invitations for dialogue, holding onto private agendas and without concern for Egypt’s situation,” Mubarak said in his address. “In the next few months, the remainder of my current term, I will work hard to carry out all the necessary measures to transfer power.

“In the few months left in my presidency, I ask God to give me strength to do this, so I am able to complete my presidency in a way that satisfies you and satisfies God,” he said before concluding, “We have to ensure our dignity and our freedom, generation after generation. God bless our whole country, peace be with you.”

Angry protesters, however, demanded that the Egyptian leader step down immediately, not in September, come election time.

Tuesday’s demonstration reflected a broad spectrum of Egyptian society, including young and old, urban poor and middle-class professionals. Protesters sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan “Leave! Leave! Leave!” as military helicopters buzzed overhead.

Similar demonstrations erupted in at least five other cities, with tens of thousands rallying in Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura, north of Cairo, as well as in the southern province of Assiut and Luxor, the southern city where around 5,000 people protested outside an ancient Egyptian temple.

Mubarak reportedly spent the day holed up in his villa in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm e- Sheikh.

In the capital, the masses in Tahrir Square shouted and whistled as a giant banner was unfurled from a lamp post reading “Game over, Mubarak.”

Chants started spontaneously, then swept through the crowd, often led by young women or elderly religious men. Protesters, some with young children, pounded traditional Egyptian drums, while others divvied out food to help fortify their comrades.

“It makes me feel like an Egyptian for the first time in my life,” 23-year-old Sabrin said.

“I’m so proud to be an Egyptian – I hope today will be a great day in our history.”

“We are even more confident of ourselves today,” added Muhammad Nabil, a factory manager, “This regime is shaking. We feel it shaking and we will continue!”

Two mannequins representing Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: “We want to put the murderous president on trial.” Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters’ feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country’s archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.

Soldiers at checkpoints set up at the entrances of the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering. The military promised on state television on Monday night that it would not fire on protesters, a sign that army support for Mubarak may have unraveled as momentum built for democracy.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood said the movement would not negotiate with Mubarak or his deputy Omar Suleiman.

“These are people we will not talk to,” Rashid Ayoumi, a senior official in the banned Islamist movement, told the German press agency DPA. Suleiman said late on Monday that he was seeking to open a dialogue with “all political parties.”

The movement to drive Mubarak out has been built on the work of online activists and fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant. After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the Tunisia unrest took to the streets on January 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million every day since.

With Mubarak’s hold on power in Egypt weakening, the world was forced to plan for the end of a regime that has maintained three decades of peace with Israel and has been a bulwark against Islamic militants. But under the stability was a barely hidden crumbling of society, mounting criticism of the regime’s human rights record and a widening gap between rich and poor, with 40 percent of the population living under or just above the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2 a day.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya television late on Monday, reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei rejected an offer by Suleiman for a dialogue on enacting constitutional reforms, saying there could be no negotiations until Mubarak leaves.

Suleiman’s offer and other gestures by the regime have fallen flat. The Obama administration roundly rejected Mubarak’s appointment on Monday afternoon of a new government that dropped his interior minister, who heads police forces and has been widely denounced by the protesters. State television on Tuesday ran a statement by the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, pleading with the public to “give a chance” to his government.

The official death toll from the crisis stands at 97, with thousands injured, though reports from witnesses across the country indicated the actual toll is far higher.

Perhaps most startling was how peaceful protests have been in recent days, after the military replaced the police and adopted a policy of letting the demonstrations continue.

Troops and Soviet-era and newer US-made Abrams tanks stood at roads leading into Tahrir Square, a plaza overlooked by the headquarters of the Arab League, the campus of the American University in Cairo, the famed Egyptian Museum and the Mugammma, an enormous building housing departments of the notoriously corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
Protester volunteers wearing tags reading “The People’s Security” circulated through the crowds in the square, saying they were watching for government infiltrators who might instigate violence.

“We will throw out anyone who tries to create trouble,” one man announced over a loudspeaker. Other volunteers joined the soldiers at the checkpoints, searching bags of those entering for weapons. Organizers said the protesters would remain in the square and not try to march, to avoid frictions with the military.

The eclectic assortment of demonstrators represented in Tuesday’s rallies included students, online activists, grassroots organizers, old-school opposition politicians and the members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Perhaps the most significant tensions among them are between young secular activists and the Muslim Brothers. The more secular are deeply suspicious that the Brotherhood aims to co-opt what they contend is a spontaneous, popular movement. American officials have suggested they have similar fears about the organization.

Hagai M. Segal, a lecturer in Middle Eastern Politics at New York University in London, told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Tuesday that a Muslim Brotherhood takeover could have disastrous implications for Israel.

Such an outcome, he said, would be the country’s “worst nightmare, a frightening deja vu of the events in Iran in 1979: then Israel’s key regional ally, Iran was overthrown and overnight became Israel’s key regional adversary and strategic threat, and this exact scenario is now feared in Egypt.”

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt

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