That’s the word from Suleiman, as of 15 minutes ago. Live video shows Tahrir Square in ecstasy, Egyptian flags ubiquitous among the crowd. A question for you to chew on as I scramble for updates: Was yesterday’s “I’ll hand over power but won’t leave” speech a trial balloon to see how protesters would react, with the military warning him in advance that he’d have to leave today if the crowds rejected that arrangement? Or did Mubarak fully intend to stay on until September but was forcibly ousted this morning after someone high up got nervous at the size of the demonstrations? I speculated yesterday that there was an eleventh-hour power struggle that saved him; it’d be weird if the dynamics of that struggle shifted so dramatically within just 24 hours.
Here’s Suleiman’s official statement via the Beeb:
Full statement from Vice-President Suleiman: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”
Says a protester, “We did it. I cannot believe it. Mubarak the dictator has gone. And the Egyptian people will forever be free.” Let’s hope so; most Americans aren’t as confident. Lots of updates coming, needless to say, so stand by.
Update: A new update at the BBC blog linked above notes that the Egyptian constitution doesn’t allow for power to devolve to the military but rather to the speaker of parliament if the president steps down. This is, in other words, a military coup; the question I posed above is simply whether it’s a soft one, with Mubarak agreeing that he has no cards left to play, or a hard one, with the military tossing him under the bus. It sure sounded like a coup this morning, too:
As protesters were swarming into the streets Friday morning for what was expected to be the biggest and most volatile demonstrations in the three-week revolt here, the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement over state television and radio indicating that the military, not Mr. Mubarak, was in effective control of the country. It was unclear whether the military would take meaningful steps toward democracy or begin a military dictatorship…
The statement Friday by the military’s Supreme Council struck a very different tone and appeared to assert that the military, not President Mubarak, was now in control. The military said that first it would end the 30-year-old emergency law — used to detain without trial— “as soon as the current circumstances are over.” The protesters have demanded that the law be eliminated immediately, before any talks about ending the uprising.
The first test of new reforms will be whether they make good on their promise to lift the emergency law ASAP. The second test will be deciding on a new president. It’s unclear to me what Suleiman’s status is right now: If the military’s high council is formally in charge, is he the power behind the throne making executive decisions? Is he the de facto head of the council itself? Or is he out too along with Mubarak?
Update: Here’s the live feed of Tahrir Square from Al Jazeera Egypt. Updates continue below. Click the image to watch.
Great news for the administration/president. People will remember , despite some fumbles yesterday, that the President played an excellent hand, walked the right line and that his statement last night was potentially decisive in brining this issue to a close. The situation remains complicated and delicate going forward, but this is a huge affirmation of the President’s leadership on the international stage.
Update: Ah, here’s a great clip from Fox Insider — the reaction in Tahrir Square at the moment of the announcement. Classic.
Update: RCP has CNN video of Suleiman making the announcement. Fox reported earlier this morning that an important statement would be forthcoming from Mubarak himself, but he’s nowhere to be found so far today. (In fact, he reportedly left Cairo this morning for Sharm el-Sheikh.) More evidence, perhaps, that this was a hard coup and not a soft one?
Update: Your Orwellian moment of the day came earlier this morning too in (where else?) Tehran:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Egypt’s popular uprising shows a new Middle East is emerging, one that will have no signs of Israel and US “interference.”…
Ahmadinejad says Egyptians have the right to live in freedom and choose their own government.
Update: The “Egyptian people will forever be free” project is off to a bad start:
Middle East channel Al Arabiya reports that the Higher Military Council, which has taken control from Hosni Mubarak, will fire Mubarak’s Cabinet, suspend both houses of Parliament and rule with the head of the supreme constitutional court.
Reuters is quoting a military source as saying Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi will be the head of the ruling military council.
Suleiman’s out too, then?
Update: I’m hearing on Twitter that Obama will speak at 1:30 p.m. He won’t take credit for Mubarak’s departure, natch, but that’s only because his spin doctors are already trying to do it for him. As the media conveniently forgets the past 17 days of bumbling statements and shifting demands from our foreign policy braintrust, here’s a vivid reminder from the Times (via Mediaite) of just how lame our “intelligence” wing has been during this episode. In a sane world, Panetta would be out on his ass — along with James “Largely Secular” Clapper:
Mr. Obama watched Mr. Mubarak’s speech on board Air Force One, returning from a trip to Michigan, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said. As soon as he arrived at the White House, Mr. Obama huddled with his national security aides. The administration appeared as taken aback by Mr. Mubarak’s speech as the crowds in Tahrir Square. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, testified before the House of Representatives on Thursday morning that there was a “strong likelihood” that Mr. Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.
American officials said Mr. Panetta was basing his statement not on secret intelligence but on media broadcasts, which began circulating before he sat down before the House Intelligence Committee. But a senior administration official said Mr. Obama had also expected that Egypt was on the cusp of dramatic change. Speaking at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, he said, “We are witnessing history unfold,” adding, “America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy.”
The Journal actually headlined an early-morning story about Egypt, “Crisis Puts White House in Disarray.” Then, mysteriously, that headline was changed to “Crisis Flummoxes White House.” Ben Smith of Politico speculates that the White House might have actually phoned the paper and objected to the earlier hed, accurate though it was. That’s how sensitive they are about how embarrassing this situation has become to them. In fact, I’ll end this update with a choice quote from that Journal story from Steve Clemons, a liberal who’s attended two meetings on Egypt with National Security Council members: “The mystique of America’s superpower status has been shattered.”
Update: One of the cold comforts about military dominance in Egypt is that it makes a Muslim Brotherhood takeover unlikely, at least in the short term. The army simply has too much at stake — especially financially — to let Islamists spoil their racket. The downside of that, though? It has too much at stake to let Egyptian entrepreneurs spoil it either, which means economic stagnation and political discontent for years to come. Fred Kaplan:
As in many undemocratic countries, the military is more than just the military. Egypt’s officer corps is said to own or operate vast networks of commercial enterprises, including water, construction, cement, olive oil, the hotel and gasoline industries—in all, about one-third of the country’s economy—as well as vast chunks of seaside property…
The army’s material interests don’t mesh so well with the premises of a thriving middle-class society. And the absence of such a society—the combination of large numbers of well-educated young people and few jobs to suit their talents—has no doubt fueled these last two weeks of protest.
That same WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo reported that the military views efforts at privatization “as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms.” To the extent the military does retain power in Egypt, the people’s “rising expectations” may be frustrated, regardless of the outcome of this current clash. Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, Egypt, once the emblem of Arab stability, might be locked in the dynamics of revolution for a long time to come.
The above is also entirely true of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which controls hugely lucrative industries inside that country. The trick for the Brotherhood will be emulating the Iranian model to coopt the military somehow. They’ll have to do it in reverse order from how Iran did it — i.e., instead of starting a la Iran with an Islamist revolt that’s later secured by a de facto military coup (in 2009), they’ll have to follow today’s de facto coup with an Islamist revolt — but it’s not impossible. If the Egyptian military holds on too tightly to power and the public gets restless again, they could strike a deal with the Brotherhood in which the Islamists take formal control in the name of “democratic legitimacy” in return for guaranteeing that the military can keep its business rackets going.
Update: Another fun clip from Fox Insider. More than 90 minutes after the announcement, Tahrir Square is still roaring so loudly that reporters can’t hear themselves.
Update: A hopeful note from an op-ed at Politico. However this ends, and we probably won’t know for years, the successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt could make peaceful demonstrations the new vogue for political expression in the Middle East for awhile.
Speaking of which, one of Ace’s co-bloggers wondered on Twitter which Arab regime would be next to go. My pick for the last to go: The Saudis. They’ll be more ruthless than Mubarak was and they’ll receive far more western backing in that ruthlessness, partly because of our oil interests there, partly because of the greater risk of a fundie takeover, and partly to avert the ominous symbolism of Mecca being captured by jihadist nutjobs. But even the Saudis are worried now. According to Fox News, Obama’s phone call on Egypt with Abdullah a few days ago was “unusually tense” because we wouldn’t back Mubarak as fully as they’d like.
Update: A depressing piece from Ellis Goldberg at Foreign
Policy Affairs makes the same point as Fred Kaplan: The army’s not going to relax its stranglehold on the economy, which means democracy and privatization are dead on arrival.
The practical demands of the protesters seem fairly simple: end the state of emergency, hold new elections, and grant the freedom to form parties without state interference. But these demands would amount to opening up the political space to everyone across Egypt’s social and political structure. That would involve constitutional and statutory changes, such as reforming Egypt as a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, in which a freely elected majority selects the prime minister (who is now appointed by the president). These changes would wipe away the power structure the army created in 1952 and has backed since.
A freely elected parliament and a reconstituted government would weaken the role of the presidency, a position the military is likely to try to keep in its portfolio. Moreover, open elections could hand the new business elites power in parliament where they could work to limit the role of the army in the economy. This would put the army’s vast economic holdings — from the ubiquitous propane cylinders that provide all Egyptian homes with cooking gas to clothing, food, and hotels — in jeopardy. Moreover, the army has always preferred that the country be orderly and hierarchical. It is uncomfortable with the growing participatory festival on the streets and, even if the officers were to tolerate more contestation than their grandfathers did in the 1950s, they would likely try to limit participation in politics to those whose lives have been spent in the military by retaining the system of presidential appointment for government ministers.
Update: Tapper has a useful reality check up in advance of the coming White House spin about how pro-democracy they allegedly are. Which of the last two presidents pushed harder — and provided more funding — for liberalization in Egypt? Hint: Not Hopenchange.
Update: A mystery solved, maybe: Richard Engel claims that senior Egyptian military leaders expected Mubarak to quit yesterday and were “furious” when he didn’t, going so far as to threaten to resign and join the protests if he didn’t do so today. True, or self-serving spin after the fact aimed at proving that they were on the people’s side all along? The rumor yesterday was that Mubarak’s speech was pre-recorded; if that’s true, then if the military disapproved of it, presumably they could have stopped it from airing. I still like my “trial balloon” theory from way up top in this post better.