Mubarak Steps Down, Ceding Power to Military

Friday, 11 February 2011 08:11 By Alan Cowell, Anthony Shadid and David D Kirkpatrick, The New York Times News Service | Report | name.

Mubarak Steps Down, Ceding Power to Military
Anti-government protesters chant slogans against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak outside the heavily guarded presidential palace in Cairo, on Feb. 11, 2011. (Photo: Scott Nelson / The New York Times)

Cairo - President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military, ending his 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak has passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

"Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs," Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

The departure of 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak, at least initially to his coastal resort home in Sharm el-Sheik, marked a pivotal turn in a three-week revolt that has upended one of the Arab’s world’s most enduring autocracies. The popular protest, peaceful and resilient despite numerous effort by Mr. Mubarak’s legendary security apparatus to suppress them, ultimately deposed an ally of the United States who has been instrumental in implementing American policy in the region for decades.

His departure leaves the military in charge of this nation of 80 million, facing insistent calls for fundamental democratic change and open elections. The military, which has repeatedly promised to respond to the demands of protesters, has little recent experience of directly governing the country. It will have to defuse demonstrations and strikes that have paralyzed the economy and left many of the country’s institutions, including state media and the security forces, in shambles.

Shortly before the announcement of Mr. Mubarak’s departure, the military issued a communiqué pledging to carry out a variety of constitutional reforms in a statement remarkable for its commanding tone. The military’s statement alluded to the delegation of power to Mr. Suleiman and it suggested that the military would supervise implementation of the reforms.

The military did not indicate whether it intended to take the kinds of fundamental steps toward democracy that protesters have been demanding. This was the second direct statement from the military in two days, and it largely stuck to the main constitutional and electoral reforms Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman had promised to implement. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Suleiman would retain a role, under the military council, in running the country.

State radio reported that Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy and widely respected businessman, has agreed to act as a mediator between the opposition and the authorities in carrying through the political reforms, a development that was cheered by protesters.

In Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising, many protesters were overcome with the emotion of achieving their unlikely but determined quest to overthrow Mr. Mubarak. In a show of solidarity in at least lower levels of the army, three Egyptian officers shed their weapons and uniforms and joined the protesters.

The Egyptian military issued a communiqué pledging to carry out a variety of constitutional reforms in a statement notable for its commanding tone. The military’s statement alluded to the delegation of power to Mr. Suleiman and it suggested that the military would supervise implementation of the reforms.

The military did not indicate whether it intended to take the kinds of fundamental steps toward democracy that protesters have been demanding. This was the second direct statement from the military in two days, and it was not clear if the military was asserting more direct leadership or if it intended to signal that it stood behind the vice president.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Suleiman would retain a role. State radio reported that Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy and widely respected businessman, has agreed to act as a mediator between the opposition and the authorities in carrying through the political reforms, a development that was cheered by protesters.

The recently appointed leader of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawy, who had stated flatly on Thursday that Mr. Mubarak was ceding power, announced that he was stepping down.

Although Mr. Mubarak had said in a speech Thursday that he was “delegating” his powers to his vice president, he did it in an aside that was easy to miss. He apparently referred to a provision of the Constitution that would have allowed him to reclaim those powers. And the rest of his speech sounded very much like he was an active president with no intention of resigning, and in a patronizing tone that further enraged protesters.

Western diplomats said that officials of the Egyptian government were scrambling to assure the public that Mr. Mubarak had flubbed his lines, and that his muddled speech had in fact signaled that he had irrevocably handed over presidential authority.

“The government of Egypt says absolutely, it is done, it is over,” a Western diplomat said, suggesting that the Egyptian military and government officials had expected Mr. Mubarak to make his exit clear last night, but that the president failed to deliver those lines. On Friday there was no mistaking Mr. Suleiman’s statement.

That diplomatic scrambling appeared intended to forestall the potential for violent confrontations as hundreds of thousands of protesters, angered by Mr. Mubarak’s refusal to step down on Thursday, flooded the streets demanding his full resignation — if not also his public trial for violence against them.

By about 1 p.m., state television was reporting that thousands had gathered around the state television building and were threatening violence against employees who entered. Their rage had been stoked when, after a day of mounting official signals that he was about to make an exit, the president failed to convey any such conclusion in either the tone or literal meaning of his speech.

The statement Friday by the military’s Supreme Council struck a very different tone and appeared to assert that the military was now directing events. The military said that it would end the 30-year-old emergency law — often used by the government to detain political opponents without trial — “as soon as the current circumstances are over.” The protesters have demanded that the law be eliminated immediately, before any talks about ending the uprising.

The military also said that it would oversee the amendment of the Constitution to “conduct free and fair presidential elections.”

“The armed forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people,” the statement declared, and it vowed to ensure the fulfillment of its promises “within defined time frames with all accuracy and seriousness and until the peaceful transfer of authority is completed toward a free democratic community that the people aspire to.” The military further promised the protesters — “the honest people who refused the corruption and demanded reforms” — immunity from prosecution or “security pursuit.”

The statement urged a return to normalcy but made no threats to enforce it. Western diplomats and American officials say that the top military commanders, including the defense minister and the chairman of the armed forces, have told them for weeks that the Egyptian Army would never use force against Egyptians civilians to preserve the regime. And on Friday morning the military said that the defense minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, was presiding over the military’s Supreme Council, which appeared to have taken control of the state.

It has been “increasingly clear,” a Western diplomat said Friday, that “the army will not go down with Mubarak. “

The military statement, broadcast first by a civilian announcer on state television and then by a uniformed military spokesman, came as the city — and many other places in Egypt — began noon prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day and the beginning of the weekend, a moment that has been the prelude for large-scale demonstrations since the revolt started.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in the suburb of Heliopolis, news reports said, as troops backed by armored vehicles and razor wire barricades did nothing to prevent them from assembling. In the upscale neighborhood of Mohandiseen, about a thousand protesters spilled out of the Mustafa Mahmoud mosque to march on the Radio and Television Building, even though shouting matches broke out as some Egyptians watching them urged them to call off their protest because Mr. Mubarak had repeated that he would leave in September when elections are scheduled. But one demonstrator, Mohamed Salwy, 44, said: “Mubarak doesn’t understand. I think these protests are going to have to go on for a long time.”

Once they arrived at the broadcasting center, they were joined by thousands of others, facing a ring of steel made up of a dozen armored personnel carriers and tanks forming a cordon. Soldiers with heavy machine guns looked down at them from a balcony.

Outside the capital, television images showed large numbers of protesters gathering under a sea of Egyptian flags in Alexandria, and there were unconfirmed reports of thousands of protesters surrounding government buildings in Suez.

David D. Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Thanassis Cambanis from Cairo, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Marquette, Mich.

 

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Last modified on Friday, 11 February 2011 11:14