Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he won’t stand down until elections due in September, angering the hundreds of thousands gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an immediate end to his regime.
Mubarak said he’ll stay on to ensure “stability” and push through political and economic changes before his departure. The Cairo crowd began chanting anti-Mubarak slogans before the president’s state television broadcast finished. “Your last day will be Friday,” some shouted, referring to the Muslim prayer day when further protests are planned.
Egypt “faces a choice between chaos and stability,” Mubarak said in the address. “My first responsibility now is to restore the security and stability of the nation to achieve a peaceful transition.”
Mubarak, who had previously declined to say whether he would stand again, last week appointed Omar Suleiman, head of Egypt’s intelligence services, as vice president. He said today he had never intended to seek another term.
The unprecedented protests, which followed a revolt in Tunisia that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, have left more than 100 people dead in Egypt and roiled international stock, bond and oil markets. Unrest has spread to Jordan, where King Abdullah sacked his prime minister today, and other countries including Yemen and Algeria.
“I expect the demonstrations to continue,” said Khaled Fahmy, professor of history at American University in Cairo, in a telephone interview. “He said he’s not going to run but then said he wasn’t going to run anyway. He really hasn’t offered much. What I’ve seen is that he has burnt bridges. There is no trust between him and the people.”
Opposition: Quit Now
The opposition movement, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and the former United Nations atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, accuses Mubarak of running a corrupt and repressive government. It has called on the president to quit immediately and hand power to a transitional government.
Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid, receiving about $2 billion a year since 1979, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel brokered by the U.S. Mubarak has backed efforts to encourage Arab acceptance of the Jewish state, oppose Iran’s nuclear program and isolate Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
As Mubarak fought to retain power, his authorities shut down Egypt’s stock market, after a 16 percent slump in the benchmark index last week, its banking system and most phone and Internet communication. Companies including Heineken NV and BG Group Plc halted operations in the country of 80 million, and expatriates fled aboard scheduled flights, charters and private jets. Tanks guarded key government buildings as thousands rallied daily in Cairo and other cities.
Crude prices have jumped about 6 percent since Jan. 27 on concern the turmoil in Egypt may disrupt supplies. The Suez Canal in the country’s north carries about 8 percent of global maritime trade.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Jan. 30 that Mubarak must “respond to the legitimate requests for participation by protesters” by holding “free and fair elections.”
Mubarak said today he will change laws governing presidential term limits and the eligibility of candidates before the next election.
The speech “did not address the inheritance of power to family members, it did not address amending the constitution to guarantee civil rights, it did not address lifting restrictions on political parties,” said Ayman Nour, who came in a distant second behind Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005, and is among the leaders of the current opposition movement. It “did not live up to the people’s demands.”
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