Question mark in the headline because Egypt’s information minister insists it’s not a done deal. As I write this, though, Mubarak’s preparing to speak on state TV (which has gradually turned against him) and Fox News is citing a senior Egyptian official as saying he’s ready to quit.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is to step down tonight, two sources told NBC News, amid widespread protests against his 30-year rule that have gripped the country.
Following an all-day meeting of the country’s supreme military council, the army said all the protesters’ demands would be met and a further statement was due to be made later Thursday, clarifying the situation.
NBC News reported that a high-ranking source inside the president’s office said that Mubarak would step down and the newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, would take over. This was then confirmed by a second source.
The army statement was labeled “communique number 1,” which the AP took as a sign that a coup was underway. Simple question here: Is this in fact a coup by Suleiman and the military or is it a true capitulation to the protesters’ demands? Already on Twitter, I’ve seen some Egyptian protesters like Wael Ghonim declaring victory and others lamenting that it’s a betrayal of the movement. No one seems to know precisely what’s going on — even Leon Panetta will only say that there’s a “high likelihood” that Mubarak is out — but here’s my half-assed theory. As noted last night, Suleiman has been threatening in heavy-handed ways to crack heads if the protests don’t calm down soon. Tomorrow is Friday, though, the day of prayers and traditionally the day of huge political protests in the region. Given that the crowds in Tahrir Square have grown since Ghonim’s release a few days ago, it stands to reason that tomorrow’s monster protest would have finally forced some sort of bloody confrontation between Suleiman/the army and the demonstrators. Suleiman, under U.S. pressure not to use violence, probably figured that the only way to avert that was to present Mubarak’s scalp to the people, hoping that that would placate them enough to take the edge off tomorrow and finally restore some normalcy. (The BBC’s correspondent thinks demonstrators will indeed see it as a great triumph.) The regime blinked, in other words — but probably only because the White House has guaranteed Suleiman its support in a “soft coup” but not a hard, violent one. And what choice does Obama have, really? If he doesn’t prop up the military regime, the Saudis will.
Mubarak’s set to speak at any moment; if he really was forced out, I’m not sure why he’d bless his overthrow by agreeing to a televised farewell address — unless, of course, there are troops standing behind the camera with their fingers on the trigger. Stand by for updates. While we wait, lest you think the military really, truly has sided with the people against Mubarak, spend a few minutes reading this. Yikes.
Update: Looks like they might bypass Suleiman, at least formally, and devolve power to a junta.
President Hosni Mubarak will step down shortly and transfer authority to the Egyptian Higher Council of the Armed Forces, a senior Egyptian official confirmed to Fox News on Thursday.
The group is comprised of the minister of defense, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi — who stands atop the military hierarchy — along with the military’s chief of staff, the chief of operations, and commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Air Defenses.
Under the Egyptian constitution, the speaker of parliament is supposed to take power when the president quits. Is this good enough for protesters, then — an extra-constitutional handover to a military council with no time limit (yet) on their rule?
Update: Assuming that Suleiman will play some major role in the new government, either as president or as the power behind the throne, I’m amazed that some protesters seem to be kinda sorta okay with it. A CIA analyst puts it bluntly:
“Mubarak and Suleiman are the same person,” Emile Nakhleh, a former top Middle East analyst for the CIA, said shortly after Suleiman was named vice president just days into Egypt’s anti-government protests. “They are not two different people in terms of ideology and reform.”
Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, called Suleiman the “hit man” for the Mubarak regime. He told ABC News that when the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man’s whole arm instead.
“He’s a charitable man, friendly,” said Suskind. “He tortures only people that he doesn’t know.”
Update: Obama’s supposed to give a statement at any moment, but here’s where he was at as recently as an hour ago: “We’re going to have to wait and see what’s going on.”
Update: Obama’s in Marquette speaking to college students; he offered a few pleasantries about “change” in Egypt, but clearly he’s not going to offer a full statement on this until Mubarak makes his move.
Update: I’m not sure what her source is, but Megyn Kelly’s reporting on Fox that the army plans to “act” against the protesters if they reject the handover of power to Suleiman as not good enough. That’s basically what I argued up above — that they’re handing them Mubarak’s scalp to appease them and end the demonstrations, but that the regime will otherwise crawl on roughly as is.
Update: For what it’s worth, the rumor on BBC Arabic is that Mubarak’s already fled the country and that the speech we’ve been waiting for was recorded hours ago.