Unmoved by Mubarak's speech, Egyptian protesters insist: 'He must leave.'
Responding to Egyptian President Mubarak's offer to not run for reelection in September, one protester in Cairo's Tahrir Square said: 'Thirty years of injustice is enough. We don’t need eight more months.'
A roar of anger went up from the thousands of people in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square even before the president had finished his address, offering an immediate answer to an unprecedented offer from an autocrat who has ruled for almost 30 years with few concession to the people. They shook their shoes at a large screen where the president's image was broadcast, screaming “Get out! Get out!”
“I was angry, but now I am enraged,” said Abdullah Rawaq, shouting to be heard amid a crowd chanting: “He must go! We will not go!”
“Only one thing will make the anger go away: His immediate withdrawal. He must leave. That is the only thing that will make these people go back to their homes," said Mr. Rawaq, a middle-aged man.
The president’s move appeared a desperate attempt to stop the week of growing protests that have brought the nation’s capital and its economy to a standstill. Inspired by Tunisia’s popular revolution in January, Egyptians began protesting last week, demanding freedom, democracy, and Mubarak's resignation. The gatherings swelled to hundreds of thousands of people today, and the president is clearly feeling the pressure.
Mubarak: 'I will die on Egyptian soil'
His decision not to run for reelection echoes the same move by Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s now-deposed president. Mr. Ben Ali announced Jan. 13 that he would not seek reelection, but Tunisians spurned his offer and he fled to Saudi Arabia the following day.
Mubarak, however, gave a clear signal that he does not intend to follow Ben Ali into political exile.
“The Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of his achievements over the years in serving Egypt and its people,” he said in an address broadcast on state television. “This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty, and interests, and I will die on its soil.”
But Egyptians are pledging a similar fate for their president as they plan more massive protests for Friday.
“The age of Mubarak will end on Friday. It will be his last day,” said Ibrahim Toma, a protester in his 20s. “The poor don’t want him. The rich don’t want him. The Christians don’t want him. The Muslims don’t want him. What is he waiting for?”
He said Mubarak is afraid to leave for fear of prosecution. Tunisia recently issued an arrest warrant for Ben Ali, and the European Union has frozen his bank assets.
“Mubarak is afraid to go because of everything he stole from the people, because of all the people he killed here in Tahrir Square and in Suez," said Mr. Toma. During clashes with police over the past week, more than a dozen protesters were reportedly killed in Suez and upwards of 80 people have died in Cairo.
Protester: 'Thirty years of injustice is enough.'
Indeed, many in Tahrir Square on Tuesday night said they not only want Mubarak out but they want him judged for what they say are crimes against the nation. They also rejected the vice president recently appointed by Mubarak and any leaders from his ruling National Democratic Party.
Egyptians are demanding an entirely new slate and a chance to choose their own leaders. Their movement has now gone too far to turn back, they say.
“You think after all this, after everything that happened, we’re just going to leave when he says this?” asked Negla Sayyed, who came with her son to protest today. “I don’t think so. Eighty million people don’t want him. Thirty years of injustice is enough. We don’t need eight more months.”
Mubarak’s address was projected into Tahrir Square on a sheet hung from a building. Many who watched were planning to spend the chilly night in the square, where thousands have slept since Friday following a fierce battle with police. Some set up tents in the middle of the square. Others simply lay in the street.
ElBaradei: It's 'a trick'
Mubarak’s statement was immediately rejected by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, who has become a leading opposition figure in Egypt. Calling Mubarak’s statement "a trick” to stay in power, he reportedly reiterated that Mubarak must step down before opposition groups will negotiate.
Mr. ElBaradei today had a phone conversation with the US ambassador to Egypt, as Washington appears to be reaching out to key figures who may play a role in Egypt’s future. Meanwhile, a former US ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, traveled to Cairo to speak with Mubarak and help facilitate an “orderly transition.”
How that transition comes about, and who plays a role in it, remains to be seen. President Barack Obama, in an message following Mubarak’s speech Tuesday, said political transition "must begin now" and voiced support for the protesters who continue to call for Mubarak’s immediate resignation. “To the young people of Egypt, we hear your voices,” he said.
Those voices include Sayed El Sisi, an unemployed college graduate who blames the Mubarak government for creating the conditions in which many Egyptians find it difficult to earn a living.
“This is not enough for us, and we will not give up,” says Mr. El Sisi. “I want to see a new president in my country who will change every eight years whether he is good or bad, like in the US. We want change, and we want it now.”