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Egypt's Hosni Mubarak says he'll leave at the end of his term

Amid another day of massive protests in Egypt, Mohamed ElBaradei says that's not good enough. White House envoy Frank Wisner also encourages Mubarak to step down.

February 02, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Ned Parker and Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • An image from President Hosni Mubarak's address on Egyptian state television.
An image from President Hosni Mubarak's address on Egyptian state… (Egyptian State Television…)

Reporting from Cairo — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak bent to a week of deadly anti-government unrest, announcing in a nationwide speech that he would not seek reelection this year but that he intended to stay in power "for the remaining months" of his fifth term.

Mubarak's late-night address, hours after more than 200,000 protesters had streamed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square, marked a dramatic bid to maneuver through a nationwide revolt, growing international pressure and an economy that has slid into turmoil.

The decision may ease a bit of the fury against him, but it is not likely to stop the widespread calls for him to step aside immediately. A wave of anger swept the square just after the speech. Protesters who remained there shouted: "Leave! Leave!"

"We don't want money or wealth; just respect us as human beings," said Khalid Abdul Rahman, 25, who earns a meager living offering private English lessons. "We have just one word: Get out. Get out."

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has become the symbolic head of the opposition movement, said Mubarak's concession was insufficient. He told Al Arabiya television that the 82-year-old president's continued presence would be destabilizing.

Mubarak, a close U.S. ally during his three decades in power, got the same message from an envoy sent by the Obama administration. White House officials said the envoy told Mubarak bluntly that he should quit before his term expires in September.

President Obama said he telephoned Mubarak to tell him that "an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and it must begin now."

Mubarak cast his decision as an effort to launch reforms and ensure an orderly transition to a new, more broadly based government.

"I tell you in all sincerity that I did not intend to seek reelection," Mubarak said. "But I am keen to end my presidency in a manner that will enable whoever succeeds me to take over the country in a stable climate."

Mubarak blamed "political forces with private agendas" for exploiting what he deemed the "legitimate demands" of the people for democratic reforms. He said opponents who were determined to create chaos "threw oil on the fire."

He indicated that he did not intend to flee the country, as did President Zine el Abidine ben Ali of Tunisia, whose ouster in January launched protests against repressive and corrupt governments throughout the Arab world.

"Egypt is the country I have lived in, defended and fought for," Mubarak said. "I will die on its land — and history will judge what is for and what is against us."

The protests in Tahrir Square on Tuesday were raucous but peaceful. Tanks and soldiers lined the perimeter, but, as on recent days, there was little tension between the army and the masses of demonstrators remarkable for their breadth and diversity. As military helicopters buzzed overheard, Islamists marched alongside businessmen, and students chanted with laborers.

It was a powerful reminder that Egypt, which under Mubarak's rule has fallen in international prestige and struggled at home, was once the center of the Arab world. The demonstration didn't approach the 1 million that organizers had hoped for, but it showed that the resolve of many Egyptians is stronger than the police state that has intimidated them for years.

"We are telling Mubarak: 'For years you have told us you serve the people. Now you must serve them by going,' " said Eliwa Shoman, who works in the city's metro system.

Mubarak previously had offered to open talks with opposition groups and reform the constitution. In his Tuesday night speech, he said he would ask parliament to debate constitutional amendments to make it easier for independent candidates to run — a key demand of ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work at the nuclear energy agency.

But there appears to be little compromise between the government and the masses, and the military remained balanced precariously between the two.

ElBaradei said there could be a dialogue between the government and the opposition, "but it has to come after the demands of the people are met, and the first of those is that President Mubarak leaves."

The unrest in Egypt has mesmerized the world and had some wondering if Mubarak, who for 30 years has skillfully crushed dissent, might be urged to step down by the military before dragging the nation into a prolonged crisis that could further damage its economy, especially its tourism industry.

More than 120 people have died in the violence over the last week . Since the army stepped in to replace the reviled security police, however, the protest atmosphere has at times seemed like a sprawling block party.

Scenes of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marching through the streets are troubling leaders across the Middle East. In Jordan, where protests have broken out over inflation and unemployment, King Abdullah II dismissed his government Tuesday.

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