Egypt on the brink as Mubarak refuses to resign

Protesters have vowed to hold their biggest day of demonstrations yet as Egypt teeters on the brink following Hosni Mubarak's failure to resign as president last night.

Protesters have vowed to hold their biggest day of demonstrations yet as Egypt teeters on the brink following Hosni Mubarak’s failure to resign as president last night – despite reports last night that he would. The nation’s armed forces, at 468,000-strong the tenth biggest in the world, hold the key, with Egypt state radio reporting this morning that the military will make an announcement “soon”.

Reaction amongst those massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been one of rage, disappointment and despair – echoed by a disbelieving West.

A dismayed President Obama said many Egyptians “remain unconvinced” there would be a “genuine transition to democracy”, and that he wasn’t sure whether the transfer of powers to vice president Omar Suleiman was an “immediate, meaningful or sufficient” sign of reform.

He added:

“It is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world… The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy.”

Here, foreign secretary William Hague echoed President Obama, saying it was “not immediately clear” what powere would be transferred to the vice president, adding:

“We think the solution to this has to be owned by the Egyptian people themselves. All we want in the United Kingdom is for them to be able to settle their own differences in a peaceful and democratic way.

“That is why we have called from the beginning of this crisis for an urgent but orderly transition to a more broadly-based government. In the meantime we look to the Egyptian authorities to protect the right to peaceful protest.”

The papers, however, have gone further. Ian Black in the Guardian says Mubarak’s stubbornness “has embarrassed the army and endangered the people”, and “could spell disaster”:

“In a bizarre performance on state TV, Mubarak played father to his people, self-centred, angry and above all determined not to be forced from office before September, when new presidential elections are due.

“Looking grave, he repeated his most memorable line from his last big speech, vowing that he would ‘not leave this soil until I am buried underneath it’ – a sharp reminder, amid speculation about retirement to Sharm al-Sheikh or medical treatment in Germany, that he will not follow in the footsteps of the deposed Tunisian leader Zine al-Abdine Bin Ali, now living in gilded exile in Saudi Arabia…

“The concessions Mubarak did offer, to amend key provisions of the constitution including hated anti-terrorist laws, are certainly important, but little more than small print in the big picture of thirst for radical change and profound mistrust of the regime’s true intentions.”

In the Indy, Robert Fisk writes of the the “fury of a people whose hopes were raised and then dashed”:

“To the horror of Egyptians and the world, President Hosni Mubarak – haggard and apparently disoriented – appeared on state television last night to refuse every demand of his opponents by staying in power for at least another five months… The vast crowds in Tahrir Square were almost insane with anger and resentment…

“Can Egypt ever be free? For the army generals to insist upon his departure was as dramatic as it was dangerous. Are they, a state within a state, now truly the guardians of the nation, defenders of the people – or will they continue to support a man who must be judged now as close to insanity?”

While The Times (£), in a leader, calls Mubarak’s belligerence “a reckless move”:

“President Mubarak has pulled every trick in the dictatorship playbook. Insisting that he would not be pushed out by voices from abroad, as he did last night, was a last resort and a tried and tested stunt. It follows two weeks of increasing attempts to shut down every kind of media that might let Egyptians and the world stand witness to the events unfolding.

“The intimidation and harassment of journalists, human rights workers and other foreigners, and the refusal of the authorities to prevent looting, has looked like a clear strategy to scare the Egyptian middle classes into thinking that the stability of dictatorship might be preferable to the potential anarchy of freedom…

“After 30 years in power, it is clear that this is a man who is unable to let go… But with the demonstrators now vowing to continue until he goes, and justifiably outraged at this calculating despot, anything is now possible.”

Meanwhile, amongst commentators in the region, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy writes that the Middle East “does not need stability”, that “this so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies”:

“Its [Egypt’s] people, who have had enough of the country’s corrupt government and the tyrannical silencing of their voices, have taken to the streets. Riots. The Western world, including Israel, has tensed in the face of this great danger – the stability in the Middle East is about to be undermined.

“Indeed, that stability should be undermined. The stability in the region, something which Westerners and Israeli have come to yearn, merely means perpetuating the status quo. That situation might be good for Israel and the West, but it is very bad for the millions of people who have had to pay the price.

“Maintaining Mideast stability means perpetuating the intolerable situation by which some 2.5 million Palestinians exist without any rights under the heel of Israeli rule; and another few million Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 are living in camps in Arab countries, where they also lack any rights, hope, livelihood and dignity.

“A region rich in natural and human resources, which could have thrived at least as much as the Far East, has been standing stable for decades. After Africa, it is the most backward place in the world.

“The peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process. The United States and Europe stuttered at first, but quickly came to their senses. They also finally realized that the region’s stability is not only unjust, it is misleading: It will be undermined in the end. When the tank invades our lives, stones must be thrown at it; the infuriating stability of the Middle East must be wiped out.”

And in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Natan Sharansky, who was at the forefront of the protests two decades ago that initiated the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, said the protests offered the chance for the “free world” to “build a new pact” with the Arab world:

“If the free world helps the people on the streets, and turns into the allies of these people instead of being the allies of the dictators, then there is a unique chance to build a new pact between the free world and the Arab world…

“Let’s be glad that what’s happening now on the Arab street is happening before the Muslim Brothers control the entire Middle East… Let’s be glad that it is happening in countries which are still very dependent on the free world.”

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