Mubarak Defies Resignation Anticipation, Protesters Pledge Big Crowds Friday
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JEFFREY BROWN: It was a day of high drama in Egypt.
Reports began early that President Hosni Mubarak would step down immediately. But in the end, the protesters who have made that their central demand were disappointed.
The Egyptian leader appeared on state television shortly before 11:00 p.m. local time. He insisted again he would remain in office until elections this September but said he would hand over some of his authority now.
HOSNI MUBARAK, Egyptian president (through translator): I thought to transfer the powers of the president to the vice president, according to the constitution. I am very well aware that Egypt will come through this crisis. The will of its people will not be broken.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Mubarak said it had pained him to be condemned by many of his own people. And he vowed to make things right, including lifting emergency laws when the time is right.
HOSNI MUBARAK (through translator): Any political system can commit mistakes and any state can commit mistakes. What is most important is to acknowledge these mistakes and put them right as soon as possible and put those behind them to account, bring them to account.
I would like to tell you that, as the president of the republic, I am — I am not embarrassed to listen to the youth of my country and to respond to them.
JEFFREY BROWN: The president was followed almost immediately by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the man assuming the reins of power.
OMAR SULEIMAN, Egyptian vice president (through translator): He’s empowered me to preserve each achievement and to — and to restore stability and happiness in the Egyptian — and so that life can turn — can come back to normality. I would like to ask everybody to contribute towards this goal, the young people of Egypt and it heroes. Go back home. Go back to work.
JEFFREY BROWN: Thousands of people had waited all day in central Cairo amid reports Mubarak would resign. When it became clear he would not, they began to jeer and chant, “Get out, get out.”
Hours before Mubarak spoke, the military announced it would take measures to — quote — “safeguard the nation.” And the defense minister was shown chairing the supreme military council without President Mubarak or Vice President Suleiman attending.
Moreover, the general commanding the Cairo area appeared before protesters and told them, “All your demands will be met today.”
It was all being closely watched by U.S. officials, from President Obama on down. He spoke in Marquette, Mich., this afternoon, before the Mubarak announcement.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change. And they’ve turned out in extraordinary numbers representing all ages and all walks of life.
America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.
JEFFREY BROWN: The drama involving Mubarak’s future came as labor strikes spread around the country, threatening Egypt’s economy, from postal and electrical workers to professional groups. For the first time, doctors in their white lab coats and lawyers in business suits mixed with the mass of protesters today in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
ALI ABU AL-OLA, striking lawyer (through translator): We are here to express our solidarity with the youth and with the revolution of change. We ask Hosni Mubarak that, if he loves Egypt, he should leave and avoid the bloodshed of the youth.
JEFFREY BROWN: Protesters also fanned out to other parts of Cairo, targeting government buildings, the prime minister’s office, the Parliament, and even the Ministry of Health. And the movement for change remained strong across Egypt, from Alexandria, to Port Said, near the Suez Canal, where crowds set fires.
Back in Cairo, young organizers vowed to bring enormous new crowds into the city tomorrow. And they said they would march on the state radio and television headquarters.