Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to stand down in September in a dramatic speech last night - yet will it be enough for the protesters?
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to stand down in September in a dramatic speech last night, as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Cairo demanding his resignation. Opposition groups, however, insist they will not negotiate with the government until Mubarak leaves office.
In a live television address, the president said:
“My first priority is to restore peace and stability in our country, to ensure the peaceful transition of leadership, and to ensure that the responsibility goes to whomever the people of Egypt choose in the next election. I do not intend to stand for election again…
“The events of the past few days require us all – people and leaders – to make the choice between chaos and stability, and dictate new conditions and a new Egyptian reality.”
Full of defiance, and deaf to the reality of the walls closing in, he ended his speech vowing to stay in Egypt and “die on its soil”:
“This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil… I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.”
But will Mubarak’s announcement satisfy the protesters and sate world opinion? The reaction of those gathered in Tahrir Square, to a man, woman and child, young and old, Muslim and Christian, would appear to be a very flat no, with nothing less than his immediate departure enough to enable Egyptians to move forward.
President Obama, meanwhile, called for “an orderly transition” that “must be meaningful, must be peaceful and must begin now”, saying that, although “there will be difficult days ahead”, Mubarak understood “the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place”.
“We stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information. Once more we’ve seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens, and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future.
“And going forward the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world…
“Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.
“To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I wanna be clear: we hear your voices; I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.”
British opinion, though, is more cautious.
Today’s Indy leader says Egypt is at “a moment of hope, but also of peril”, with “an ominous lack of clarity over what would follow Mubarak’s departure”:
“There is something hugely invigorating about these demonstrations of mass people-power. Democratic representation of the Arab populations, after decades of repression, suddenly looks possible.
“Yet there are threats too. There has been mercifully little violence in Egypt thus far, but that could soon change. The price of food in Egypt is soaring. Youth unemployment is severe. There are a lot of desperate people in the country whose behaviour cannot be predicted. In recent days, looters have taken advantage of the preoccupation of the security services.
“The response of ordinary Egyptians, who have formed neighbourhood protection groups, has been impressive. But citizens alone, however well organised, cannot uphold the rule of law indefinitely. There is a danger of violence if Mr Mubarak refuses to relinquish power quickly. And there is also an ominous lack of clarity about what would follow his departure…
“This is a moment of great optimism for millions of oppressed people across the Arab world. But it would be wrong to ignore the reality that (mainly thanks to how autocratic rulers, aided by the West, have hollowed out civic society) it is also a moment of potential danger. It is a time to hope for the best, but also to prepare for the worst.”
While in The Times, Danny Finkelstein (£) looks at the wider picture, saying “the fight for democracy on the streets of Egypt could be [the key to the peace process]”:
“Peace, then, before land. But what comes before peace? Democracy. Liberty. Freedom… For Sadat, as for Hosni Mubarak, peace with Israel was a manoeuvre to shore up his regime. But the people of Israel and of Egypt didn’t make peace. Some Israelis regard Egypt as the most anti-Semitic country in the entire Middle East.
“After all these years, it is telling that everyone fears the opinion of the Egyptian street about Israel. Peace with Sadat and Mubarak could only ever be temporary, for as long as they lasted and as long as their interests remained the same.
“Whatever may now happen in Egypt, however much relations with Israel now deteriorate, real peace can only come once liberty and democracy are enjoyed by Egyptians. What we are seeing in Egypt isn’t something with consequences for the Middle East peace process. What we are seeing in Egypt is the Middle East peace process.”
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