Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said yesterday he would step down in a few months once a successor is elected, a move that responds to massive street protests but which may not satisfy many who want him out now.
A million people, maybe more, rallied across the country earlier in the day, clamoring for an end to the 30-year-rule of the former general who has towered over Middle East politics.
In Cairo’s Tahrir, or Liberation Square, there was cheering after the 82-year-old leader's pugnacious broadcast on state television, but also questioning about whether a transition of many months will be something the opposition will agree to.
“Leave, leave” came the chant, showing Mubarak’s defiant insistence on serving out his fifth term did not go down well.
Looking calm in suit and tie, he said: “I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation, that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I’ve spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.
“I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safekeeping and banner ... preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution ... I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure peaceful transfer of power.”
His downfall after three decades could reconfigure the geopolitical map of the Middle East, with implications from Israel to oil-giant Saudi Arabia.
Unrest is already stirring in other Arab countries such as Jordan and Yemen, sending oil prices higher on fears of trouble spreading to No. 1 producer Saudi Arabia and of concern about passage through Egypt’s Suez Canal.
» Mubarak, 82, was thrust into office when Islamists gunned down his predecessor Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981. The burly former air force commander has proved a far more durable leader than anyone imagined at the time.
» The president has long promoted peace abroad and more recently backed economic reforms at home led by his cabinet under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. But he has always kept a tight lid on political opposition.
» He has resisted any significant political change even under pressure from the United States, which has poured billions of dollars of military and other aid into Egypt since it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, signing a treaty in 1979.
Obama has hand in Egypt outcome
After days of putting pressure on Mubarak while seeking to avoid unleashing instability in the longtime U.S. ally and most populous Arab nation, Obama sent an envoy to privately urge the Egyptian president to prepare for a transition in power.
Former U.S. ambassador Frank Wisner met with Mubarak earlier and delivered a message about the need to prepare for an “orderly transition,” according to U.S. officials.