Egypt’s Mubarak Signals Eventual Exit, But Will Protesters Be Satisfied?
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JEFFREY BROWN: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak addressed his nation tonight and announced he will not seek another term. But he insisted he will stay in office until elections later this year, and oversee a “peaceful transfer of power.”
HOSNI MUBARAK, Egyptian president (through translator): I am an army man. It is not in me to betray what you have entrusted me with. My first responsibility right now is to regain calm and stability in our home country, to ensure the peaceful transition of leadership, and to ensure — and to ensure that the responsibility goes very peacefully to whoever the people of Egypt choose in the next election.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Egyptian leader’s announcement came after days of mounting protests. Vast crowds continued to fill the central square in Cairo tonight. They had watched as the speech aired on a giant television screen.
For reaction on the ground in Cairo, I talked by phone a short time ago to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Nick Kristof, what kind of reaction have you been able to get so far after President Mubarak’s announcement?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, The New York Times: Well, I think people frankly find it kind of derisory.
There is a strong sense that people want him out and out now. And the idea that he can say, “Oh, you know, I won’t run for re-election” is just so far from — you know, from people’s demands, that it’s — it’s not going to placate people at Tahrir.
And the idea that the U.S. would devote political capital to try to get him to, you know, say that he won’t run for re-election also seems kind of remarkable.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what is the situation on the — on the streets, where you are now? What are you seeing? What kind of — what kind of security is out there, how many people? What’s going on?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Well, at Tahrir itself, there are still people, although, you know, many fewer than — than in the day or — or early evening.
Outside of Tahrir, things are pretty dead and pretty quiet. In a lot of neighborhoods, you still have these barricades, sort of checkpoints, you know, in some cases every 100 yards, with, you know, people carrying clubs, bats, in some cases machetes, occasionally guns, and swords sometimes.
But the — and they are — they are sort of nervous, although not quite as jittery as they were just a — a day or two ago.
JEFFREY BROWN: And what about food and gas shortages, something we have been hearing about a lot in the last couple of days? How much — how much pressure is that adding to the situation there?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Well, there are a lot — a lot of shops are closed. Those that have been open have only been open for a couple of hours. And they have less food than they used to.
But I did go around to some shops today that, actually, I was kind of surprised by how — how much they — they did have. And another factor is that money isn’t getting around. The banks have mostly been closed. A lot of ATMs are out of money. But, I mean, I — there is some evidence that maybe President Mubarak thinks that he is — this is putting pressure on citizens.
I think it may well be that it’s really the other way around, that this is putting pressure ultimately on the government. But, in any case, there is something of a stalemate. And I don’t think that this is going to end it.
I think that at this point, you know, President Mubarak becomes an impediment to stability, and the road to stability is his leaving office, rather than his promising to — not to run for re-election.
JEFFREY BROWN: And one last thing. Is this based on — the opposition, the people you’re able to talk to, what’s your sense of how organized it is when they — when they — when they respond to Mubarak’s announcement?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: There — it is striking how little organization there is. You have a lot of very different groups. The only people who historically have really been organized as an opposition are the — the Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun, the — the Muslim Brotherhood.
And there never really has been allowed to be a secular opposition force. Now that is what is emerging for the first time but in a certain amount of chaos.
Having said that, I find it kind of remarkable how such an incredibly disorganized group had managed to create the Tahrir protests with a certain degree of order. I — when I was at Tahrir today, a man near me was caught with a gun.
And you had all these volunteers who grabbed him, seized the gun, led him over to the soldiers, and formed a protective cordon around him, so that he wouldn’t get badly beaten up. And — so, in absence of real effective organizations, these volunteers have emerged. And they’re doing a — you know, a quite impressive job.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right.
Nicholas Kristof in Cairo for The New York Times, thanks very much.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: My pleasure.
RAY SUAREZ: The late-day appearance by President Mubarak followed another dramatic day in Cairo.
Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Flowing overt Nile, walking proof that was an uprising a week ago has become a revolution. Some sang that the people were standing up for freedom.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: And, from others, an outpouring of hatred for one man’s 30-year rule.
MAN: There’s corruption of everywhere! Please, Hosni Mubarak, get out of our country! We are a freedom country! Get out of our country!
JONATHAN RUGMAN: The crowd squeezed its way through army tanks into Tahrir Square, the army’s pledge not to use force encouraging the biggest demonstration modern Egypt has ever seen.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Only last Friday, Egyptians were tear-gassed and shot when they tried coming here. Now nothing can keep them out. And many just can’t believe it.
MAN: This is like a weight off the shoulders of the people. It’s a phenomenal event. It really is. It’s unprecedented in Egypt and in the whole region, absolutely phenomenal. I can’t — I — I — there’s no way you can overemphasize this event.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: They were lynching Mubarak effigies from lampposts. They even likened him to Adolf Hitler.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: “You’re a coward,” they sang, “an agent of America. Go, go.”
There is revolution everywhere here.”
Who do you want to replace the president?
WOMAN: I think I cannot expect right now, because everything is happening, it is beyond expectations. How can we expect what is going to happen?
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Are you frightened for the future, or are you excited?
WOMAN: Excited, yes, yes.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Who do you want to be president?
MAN: I don’t have a clue, but — but not him.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Tahrir Square, they prayed for freedom from tyranny, the center of this city of 18 million people grinding to a halt. In a new Egypt, we were told, Muslims and Christians will live in peace.
But, for all the festivity, there’s a dangerous power vacuum here. Banks and the Internet have been shut for days. The economy is crippled. And Egyptians say nothing can change until the regime falls.
RAY SUAREZ: More than 18,000 people jammed the Cairo International Airport today, trying to get out of Egypt. Dozens of charter flights arrived to ferry away foreigners and Egyptians. But the airport was in disarray, with some police demanding bribes to let foreigners on planes. And by day’s end, 3,500 people were still waiting.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the political tremors from Egypt spread across the Middle East today. In Jordan, King Abdullah fired his government, after protests over rising fuel and food prices and demands for greater reform.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian government in the West Bank announced plans for local elections there — quote — “as soon as possible.” And there were calls on social media sites for Syrians to stage a day of rage in Damascus this Friday.