- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2011

CAIRO | Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced late Thursday that he had relinquished authority to his vice president but refused to step down, enraging thousands of protesters who had thought he would resign — and even had begun celebrating his departure in the hours before his speech.

“I decided to transfer powers of the presidency to the vice president, according to constitutional guidelines,” Mr. Mubarak said in a speech aired on state television.

Mr. Mubarak said he would continue to meet his presidential responsibilities in protecting the constitution and the people’s interests, as well as overseeing political reforms and a transition of power to newly elected officials in September. Egypt’s constitution allows the president to transfer authority to the vice president but does not require the president’s resignation.

Watching the speech on crackly monitors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of 17 straight days of anti-government protests, demonstrators shifted from boisterous elation to silent confusion to deafening fury as it became apparent that the 82-year-old autocratic leader intended to remain in office.

As Mr. Mubarak spoke, protesters took off their shoes and held them in the air, symbolically saying, “Take a walk.”

Anti-government protesters take off their shoes and hold them in the air, symbolically saying "Take a walk," in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Thursday as they react to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's televised statement to the nation. (Associated Press)
Anti-government protesters take off their shoes and hold them in the air, ... more >

Thunderous chants of “Get out, get out” began before the speech was over. When the president stopped talking, many people wept. Throngs of young men marched out of the square shouting, “Tomorrow, we are going to the Presidential Palace.”

Immediately after Mr. Mubarak’s address, Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief who is viewed by many as simply an arm of the Mubarak regime, addressed the protesters and pleaded for calm in the streets.

“Go back to your houses, go back to your work, the homeland needs your work,” Mr. Suleiman said. “We have a road map in order to achieve most of the demands.”

In Washington, President Obama openly and sharply questioned whether Mr. Mubarak’s pledge to shift power to his vice president is an “immediate, meaningful or sufficient” sign of reform for a country in upheaval.

In a written statement issued after the speech, he criticized Mr. Mubarak for not offering clarity to his people or a concrete path to democracy. He called on Egyptian government leaders to do so, declaring: “They have not yet seized that opportunity.”

“Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy,” he said, “and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world.”

Earlier Thursday, Egyptian government officials announced that Mr. Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, would meet the demands of the protesters. What’s more, unconfirmed reports of a military takeover fed speculation that he would resign.

Because their No. 1 demand is Mr. Mubarak’s immediate ouster, many protesters assumed he would step down.

The earlier announcement was met with trepidation by some Egyptians, who feared a military takeover could tighten the government’s grip on the population rather than transition the country into democracy.

But for activists who have been protesting in Tahrir Square night and day for more than two weeks, the announcement was met with elation.

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