As more than a hundred thousand Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in anticipation of President Hosni Mubarak’s televised speech, there were very clear rifts among the protesters about whether the regime would fulfill its promise to “meet their demands” tonight.
The military’s Supreme Council met today for only the third time in Egypt's history, taking over the country and raising speculation to a fever pitch that Mr. Mubarak would announce the end of his 30-year regime.
Some say such an announcement would impel them to return home, but others caution against a ploy by those at the top levels of Mubarak's government.
“I think they’re just playing for time, and I’m worried that they’re setting the stage for the military to suddenly strike at us,” says Mohammed Hawas, a businessman who ran for president in 2005 and seeks to run again in September elections. “None of us should go home before the regime is swept away.”
For Mr. Hawas and others, it’s not enough for Mubarak to step down – especially if a regime stalwart like Vice President Omar Suleiman were to take the reins.
“Yes, it’s Mubarak, but it’s the system, too,” says Ahmed Dadr, a soft-spoken student who said he was exhausted from participating in street battles with the police. “Getting rid of Mubarak and keeping the system means the revolution hasn’t succeeded.”
Others on Tahrir Square were much less suspicious and said that they trust that the military’s role in transition would be to guide Egypt to a true democracy.
Many seemed to disassociate the military from the crimes of the regime. One sign read: “The fist of the military and the Egyptian people are one. The regime must go on trial.”
Tahrir Square was packed with at least as many people as on Tuesday night, following the emotional TV interview of young Google executive Wael Ghonim. The crowd was fully mixed, with no signs of sexual harassment, pick-pocketing, or pushing and shoving.
An 8-year-old girl pulled a group including some headscarved woman through the crowd with great authority, amid chants and waving flags.
Right now, it’s an incredibly happy scene.
If Mubarak steps down, there is likely to be an explosion of joy and victory. If he does not do that, it’ll be interesting to see whether that deflates the crowd or causes it to explode in anger.
Mubarak has led Egypt for nearly 30 years after taking power in October 1981, following the assassination of iconic leader Anwar Sadat, who made peace with Israel. The departure of Mubarak, a staple of Middle East politics for three decades, would change not only the face of Egypt, but also of the region that has long looked to his country as an economic, political, and cultural center.