Egypt abuzz at reports Mubarak will step down tonight

State television has confirmed that Hosni Mubarak will address Egypt this evening at 8pm GMT, with reports emanating tonight that the president will resign, ending 30 years in power.

State television has confirmed that Hosni Mubarak will address Egypt this evening at 8pm GMT. Hossam Badrawi, Secretary General of the ruling NDP, has spoken to BBC News saying that he asked Mubarak “to stand aside” for Vice President Omar Suleiman. “He was very accommodating,” he added, going on to confirm that he would be “very surprised” if Mubarak was in power tomorrow.

It has been a long 17 days for the Egyptian uprising. The protests began peacefully; the public moved against the regime in their hundreds of thousands across the Egyptian capital and largest cities. Mubarak responded by crippling public transport and cutting off the internet and social networks.

He blocked Al Jazeera’s broadcasts, arrested journalists and forced Vodafone to send pro-government text messages across the country. He was blamed for inciting two days of bloody violence, before the army moved in and forced the warring factions apart. Mubarak announced he would stand down in September.

The protests seemed to wane, only slightly. Mubarak released the internet and the army opened the roads and train stations only to find even larger numbers, perhaps millions, attempting to join the protests. Not seeking re-election was not enough. Strikes broke out and the crowds continued to grow.

As the protests dragged on, the pro-democracy demonstrators began to rely on their famous Egyptian wit for encouragement: “Leave already, my arm aches,” read one sign; “leave. I miss my wife,” said another. A darker joke moving around Tahrir square says:

“Mubarak died and met the late presidents Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser in the afterlife. ‘Poisoned or assassinated?’ they asked. ‘Neither, Facebook!’ he replied.”

There is certainly an overwhelming exhilaration in Tahrir Square tonight. They think they have made history in the world’s most populous Arab nation. Nothing is clear, rumours are rife; Mubarak may try and hold on.

If the President does stand down, either the Vice President or the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament could take over as head of state. Neither of these options would likely appease the crowds. Both men are integral parts of Mubarak’s ruling elite. Moreover, neither the Vice President nor the Speaker can call free and fair elections under the current make-up of the constitution which remains highly restrictive.

The other ‘transfer of power’ points towards a potential military takeover, which would be welcomed by the public who continue to view them with pride and admiration. The army has said vaguely that:

“All demands of the demonstrators will be met.”

This would be an interim measure and would not be accepted as a permanent solution to the crisis. Whether protest would continue under this period is unclear.

What we do know is that if Mubarak does leave, it will reverberate around the Arab and Muslim world with a veracity that other regimes may not be able to withstand. This fear is evident in the peculiar unholy alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia who have both lobbied the United States to resist any outright removal of Mubarak.

His overthrow by popular force and not through a slower, more structured set of reforms makes it far more difficult for other dictatorial Arab nations to pacify their citizens with similar gradualist olive branches. Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to see democracy come to nations who would want their governments to more forcefully express their outrage at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Tonight could rival the fall of the Berlin Wall for Egypt and the Arab world. Equally, it could be an anti-climax if the ruling party attempts to retain power after Mubarak. However, we also can be certain that if the protesters are disappointed by tonight’s announcement, they will stay in Tahrir Square.

They will continue to cripple the country. They will not be moved.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.