He’s still speaking as I write this and the translation is rough, but it surrrre sounds like he’s planning to serve out his term until September. A money line: No outsiders can give him orders The country’s Information Minister denied earlier (see the 8:03 p.m. update) that he had agreed to step down, but everyone assumed that that was a formality while arrangements were being made for him to leave.
He did say that he’s passed some of his duties to Suleiman and vowed that the much-loathed emergency law will be lifted — but even there, he didn’t give any firm commitments.
After all the media hype of the past several hours, I assume the crowds in Tahrir Square are about to go berserk. And once that happens, given Suleiman’s threats yesterday about a crackdown, the tanks are going to roll. Stand by for updates; all hell’s about to break loose.
Update: Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey says people in the street are “going crazy.” Here we go.
Update: What happened here, exactly? On Twitter, Kirsten Powers is speculating that media reports that he was going to quit were based on nothing more than rumor and wishcasting by journalists. I don’t think so. If it was that thin, Obama wouldn’t have alluded earlier to history unfolding before our eyes and Panetta wouldn’t have gone out on a limb by claiming that there was a strong likelihood that he would quit. Nor would Egypt’s military leaders have risked their prestige by making promises that won’t be kept:
[T]he first confirmation that Mr Mubarak would step down came from Lt Gen Sami Enan, the chief of the Armed Forces, who travelled to Tahrir Square to announce that the stand-off between the regime and the protesters would be brought to an end within hours. Through a loud hailer, he said: “All your demands will be met tonight.”
The change in the mood of the crowd was instantaneous. “The army and the people are one hand,” rose the chant.
By the time a uniformed officer appeared on television to read out “Communique number one” of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, it was clear that Mr Mubarak was no longer Egypt’s key player.
What happened here, I think, was some sort of eleventh-hour power struggle at the top, apparently within the military itself, about whether to push a reluctant Mubarak all the way out or keep him on with his powers devolving to Suleiman. That would explain why his speech was delayed for so many hours: Until the last moment, pro- and anti-Mubarak figures in the regime may have been wrestling over this. The pro- side won, and now we’re in the worst of all worlds — with this guy still on top, repudiating the United States as “outsiders,” and the military set to crack heads now that the crowds are ready to run wild in outrage over Mubarak’s power play.
Update: Protesters are already chanting “tomorrow, tomorrow” in anticipation of the day of prayers and massive demonstrations to follow. Assuming the crackdown doesn’t start tonight, tomorrow it is.
Update: Needless to say, if Mubarak still has enough support within the military to hold on even under pressure this tremendous, there’s no reason to believe he’ll follow through on his promise to step down in September, transfer his powers to Suleiman, etc. Referring to the U.S. as “outsiders” who are trying to dictate to him means our leverage with him is down to nil, especially with the Saudis poised to pick up the slack, so who’s left to push him out?
Update: More evidence that people very high up thought Mubarak was on his way out today. The new secretary-general of his own party was crowing to reporters earlier that he had phoned Mubarak and told him to scram for the good of the country. That’s obviously his way of positioning himself to take credit later, after Mubarak announced his resignation. Oops:
Hossam Badrawy, the new secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party said he told Mr. Mubarak in a telephone call that the president needed to step down for the good of the country.
“I came to this decision after many meetings, both with the vice president and with many, many of the beautiful, brilliant young people who are gathered in the square. I discussed this with the president. I told him that this move is what the republic needs,” said Mr. Badrawy…
“I have no definite information, but that is my expectation” that he will step aside,” Mr. Badrawy said. “This is the only way to restore confidence in Egypt.”
Update: Suleiman just finished speaking on TV and fired a shot across the bow of protesters, telling them that change is coming so now it’s time to go home. Crackdown status: Still on pace. Said Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman of Mubarak’s speech, “He just lit the final fuse.”
Update: A little more evidence for my “eleventh-hour power struggle” theory from CNN:
Senior US official on #Mubarak speech: Not what we were told would happen, not what we wanted to happen
NBC has more about U.S. officials being “taken by surprise.” Apparently we’re still relying on assurances from the Egyptian military that they won’t fire on the protesters, even though it was almost certainly assurances from the Egyptian military that led us to believe Mubarak was on his way out.
Update: Here we go: Protesters trying to organize a march on the presidential palace.
Update: Evidently, the spin from Egypt’s diplomatic corps will be that this really is a victory for the protesters because Mubarak formally gave up his powers. Even thought (a) he gave them up to his right-hand man, who’s followed his wishes loyally for decades, and (b) remains in position to reclaim those powers if/when this blows over.
President Hosni Mubarak has transfered all effective powers of the presidency to Vice President Omar Suleiman, making Suleiman the de-facto president of Egypt, the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States said.
“The president did indicate very clearly he was transferring all his presidential authority to the vice president,” Sameh Shoukry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “President Mubarak has transferred the powers of the presidency to his vice president, who will now undertake all authority as president.”
That makes Suleiman the head of the military, according to Shoukry, attributing the information to the Egyptian government.
Update: Pathetic — but still more proof that they really were taken by surprise on this:
Written stmt coming from White House – no on cam statement
Too bad. I was looking forward to an extra-purposeful “let me be clear” in The One’s comments on this.