Mubarak to step down, amid protest of millions

Last updated 22:32 02/02/2011
Reuters

Following intense protests throughout Egypt -- President Hosni Mubarak says he will not run in another election. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

Egyptian soldiers remove the few remaining barricades in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
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Egyptian soldiers remove the few remaining barricades in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Crowds gather in Cairo

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Crowds were building in Cairo's Tahrir square for a ninth day of protests to try to force Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from office with one clear message: "We will not go, he will go."

The chant pulsed from speakers set up on the edge of the square as protesters began to regroup for the day unpersuaded by Mubarak saying in a nationwide broadcast late on Tuesday (local time) that he would not stand for a sixth term of office.

The core of protesters will have to convince the broader public to keep up the momentum in pushing for Mubarak to go in a country where many Egyptians have been shocked by the convulsions on their normally quiet street.

At least 1500 people were in the central square, which has become a focal point for the protests and drew hundreds of thousands on Tuesday. Many had camped in tents and under blankets, determined to stay until Mubarak goes.

Banners measuring some 20 metres long read: "The people demand the fall of the regime."

Many shops remained closed in downtown, but some customers said on Tuesday that several ATMs they tried were working and giving out cash as normal.

Many Egyptians live hand to month and have felt the strain as protests demanding Mubarak step down have spread across the country, disrupting services ranging from food supplies to cash machines.

Although SMS messaging was still patchy, mass circulation messages were landing. One which arrived on Wednesday said: "The armed forces are concerned with your security and wellbeing and will not resort to the use of force against these great people."

It was reiterating the army stance announced on Monday that they would not use violence against protesters.

REGIONAL INSTABILITY

Mubarak's departure would reconfigure the politics of the Middle East, with implications from Israel to oil giant Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah of Jordan replaced his prime minister on Tuesday after protests. Yemen and Sudan have also seen unrest.

Just four weeks to the day since the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself on fire to protest at oppression and corruption, the wave of anger he set in motion has gathered strength across the region. Some liken it to the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989.

Just a week ago, few Arabs could conceive of the Egyptians, better known for good humour and forbearance than for political energy, rising up to unseat a man who has ruled unchallenged for 30 years. Last week, Mubarak seemed certain of a sixth term, or of handing over to his son.

Unrest is stirring in other Arab countries like Jordan and Yemen, sending oil prices higher on fears of trouble in Saudi Arabia and on Egypt's Suez Canal.

Continued turmoil in Tunisia, however, is a reminder that political change is unlikely to be smooth anywhere.

ISLAMISTS

Effigies of Mubarak were hung from traffic lights. The crowds included men, women and children from all walks of life, showing the breadth of opposition to Mubarak.

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The demonstration was an emphatic rejection of Mubarak's appointment of a new vice president, Omar Suleiman, a cabinet reshuffle and an offer to open a dialogue with the opposition.

The United States and other Western allies were caught out by the uprising. Washington has called for reforms and free elections but is also concerned that Islamists could gain a slice of power should Mubarak be forced out.

The prospect of a hostile neighbor on Israel's western border also worries Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kamran Bokhari at political risk consultancy Stratfor said even Mubarak's concession to step aside in due course was "huge": "It will send shockwaves across the region. It's not that I would necessarily say there's going to be a domino effect, but I think we will see an increase in protest and governments will certainly be worried. It is a tectonic shift.

"I don't think it will be enough for the protesters ... Then the most likely scenario would be the military would have to force Mubarak out ... Then you would have elections. It's quite possible the Muslim Brotherhood would perform well, but the military will also want to have a role."

At least 140 people have died since demonstrations began last Tuesday. Al Arabiya said the interior minister sacked last week was going to be prosecuted by the military.

- Reuters

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