- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CAIRO | Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced late Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in September, calling an end to his nearly 30-year rule on a day when hundreds of thousands of his countrymen flooded the streets of Cairo and demanded his immediate ouster.

In a nationally televised address, the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak said he would complete the rest of his term to oversee a “peaceful” transition of power, a concession unlikely to appease the country’s pro-democracy demonstrators and opposition parties.

Clashes erupted between protesters and government supporters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria soon after Mr. Mubarak’s speech, and gunshots could be heard in footage by Al Jazeera television, according to the Associated Press.

President Obama, who spoke with the embattled Egyptian leader for a half-hour Tuesday afternoon, praised Mr. Mubarak’s decision not to stand for re-election and urged the nation’s military to “ensure that this time of change is peaceful.”

But even as Mr. Obama said it’s not for any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders, the U.S. leader laid out several conditions that a transitional government should meet.

UNDER PRESSURE: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tells his people Tuesday he will not seek re-election. (Associated Press)
UNDER PRESSURE: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tells his people Tuesday he will ... more >

“An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” he said in a brief statement from the White House. “The process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair and it should result in a government that is not only grounded in democratic principles but that is also responsive to the needs of the Egyptian people.”

But Mohamed ElBaradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency official and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has emerged as a key opposition figure, dismissed Mr. Mubarak’s offer, which would keep the president in power at least through the September election.

“He’s unfortunately going to extend the agony here for another six, seven months. He continues to polarize the country. He continues to get people even more angry and could [resort] to violence,” Mr. ElBaradei said in an interview on CNN.

Ayman Nour, a former presidential candidate and another leading opposition figure, said Mr. Mubarak clearly didn’t get the message from the days of mass protests in cities across the country.

“This is a unique case of stubbornness that will end in a disaster,” Mr. Nour told reporters. “It is only expected that he wasn’t going to run because of his age. … He offered nothing new.”

The political aftershocks of the Egyptian drama continued to be felt throughout the Arab world.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II on Tuesday fired his government, bowing to pressure from anti-government protests there. He appointed a new prime minister to “take speedy, practical and tangible steps to unleash a real political reform process that reflects our vision of comprehensive reform, modernization and development.”

Sparked by a popular uprising in Tunisia that resulted in the ouster of that country’s longtime autocratic leader last month, protests have swept across the Arab world, threatening the stability of several U.S. allies in the region.

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country and a key U.S. ally, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Cairo in the largest protest against Mr. Mubarak since the revolt began last week. Organizers called the event “the march of a million people.”

“You can’t imagine the number,” said activist Mohamed Aboulfotouh. “Today, I swear, I couldn’t even find a place to put my feet.”

Story Continues →