Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered talks on sweeping reforms with opponents yesterday, indicating that massive pressure from street protesters, Western allies and his own army are ending his 30 years of one-man rule.
After a week of unprecedented rallies against the poverty, corruption and oppression under the 82-year-old military-backed leader, newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman appeared on state television to say Mubarak had asked him to begin dialogue with all political forces on constitutional and other reforms.
It seems unlikely Mubarak could preside for long within any new system that brought free elections to the most populous Arab state. After the fall of Tunisia’s veteran leader two weeks ago, the shift will send a shockwave throughout the Middle East.
Before Suleiman spoke, the armed forces command had declared the demonstrators’ demands “legitimate” and said it would not fire on peaceful protesters who called for a million people to take to the streets today to push Mubarak out altogether.
At the same time, the United States, which has backed him as a bulwark against radical Islam and a friend to Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, said bluntly that he must revoke the emergency law under which he has ruled since 1981 and hold free elections. Washington has sent an envoy, former ambassador to Cairo Frank Wisner, to meet Egyptian leaders.
High on the agenda of Western powers, which have been caught off guard by the speed with which Mubarak’s police state has been pushed back by unarmed citizens, will be trying to prevent a full takeover by anti-Western Islamists.
Mubarak shuffles Cabinet to no avail
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak overhauled his government yesterday to try to defuse a popular uprising against his 30-year rule, but angry protesters rejected the changes and said he must surrender power.
Mubarak’s new government did not impress them: “This is all nonsense,” said protester Omar el-Demerdash, 24, a research executive. “The demand is clear: We want Mubarak and his men to get out. Anything other than that is just not enough.”
Will Egypt go the way of Iran?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday he feared Egypt could end up with a radical Islamic regime like in Iran.
Netanyahu’s comments were his sharpest since protests began last week, demanding the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel’s most significant and oldest ally in the Arab world.
Netanyahu said he hoped Israel’s three-decade-old peace treaty with Egypt would survive any changes that were taking place in Cairo.
“We are all following with vigilance, with worry and hope that indeed the peace and stability will be preserved,” he said, alluding to the treaty Israel signed with Egypt in 1979, its first of two with an Arab nation.
Governments, airlines and tour operators worked together yesterday to fly their nationals out of Egypt. The U.S. State Department said that more than 220 U.S. citizens had been evacuated from Egypt, and that more than 2,400 Americans had requested assistance to leave. It said it hoped to bring 900 U.S. citizens out of Egypt yesterday with flights departing for Athens, Cyprus and Istanbul. Up to 52,000 Americans are registered with the embassy in Cairo.