Thursday 21 September 2017

Egypt crisis: Washington forces Mubarak to quit

Egyptian President says he will not run in next elections

Crowds pray in Tahrir Square, Cairo, yesterday. Photo: AP
Crowds pray in Tahrir Square, Cairo, yesterday. Photo: AP

Richard Spencer in Cairo and Catrina Stewart

EGYPTIAN President Hosni Mubarak was forced by Washington last night to announce that he would step down at elections later this year.

Mr Mubarak was due to appear on state television in the late evening to announce his departure, after mass demonstrations against his rule in Cairo and other major cities.

But he was unlikely to bow to demands by hundreds of thousands of protesters to go immediately.

Mr Mubarak (82) was compelled to act after Barack Obama intervened. The US president sent a special envoy, Frank Wisner, to tell Mr Mubarak that he had lost support and it was "critical" he oversee a transition to free elections in September.

Western leaders have repeatedly expressed a desire for a controlled transfer of power, alarmed by Mr Mubarak's refusal to confirm that neither he nor his unpopular son Gamal would try to stand in September.

This raised the risk of greater instability and the seizure of power by radical Islamist forces.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations nuclear agency chief who has become an opposition figurehead, declared himself "ready to serve if called" in an interim capacity.

Those organising the demonstrations had set a deadline of Friday for Mr Mubarak to go, Mr ElBaradei said.

Calling on him to do so, the former head of the UN nuclear agency said he should be spared a trial if he left voluntarily and added: "I don't think he wants to see more blood."

He told Al Arabiya television that the president had to leave before protest leaders would take part in talks between the new Mubarak-appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman.

"There can be dialogue but it has to come after the demands of the people are met and the first of those is that President Mubarak leaves," he said.

Opinion was divided on whether Mr Mubarak's concessions would end the protests. "I guess this is enough," said Ahmed Baha (31) a civil engineer, in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

But Abdy Rahman (43) a government worker, said: "We can't wait until September."

Around one million people spent the day calling for Mr Mubarak to step down in protests across the country.

In Cairo, a large crowd was still in Tahrir Square last night -- hours after a designated official curfew -- following the biggest demonstration in the last eight days of protest.

A large section of the crowd of men, women and children which had packed the square spilled into surrounding streets waving Egyptian flags and chanting above the noise of military helicopter circling overhead: "He goes, we are not going." As effigies of the president were hung from traffic lights in some locations, crowds in Alexandria chanted: "Mubarak wake up, today is the last day."

The call was echoed by protests across the country, including in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, in Suez and the Nile Delta.

In another sign of the shockwaves reverberating across the Arab World, King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his government in a surprise move after three weeks of street protests calling for economic and political reform.

Unpopular

The king dismissed Samir Rifai, the unpopular prime minister, after just over a year in the post, appointing the ex-premier and former army general Marouf Bakhit, whom many Jordanians see as a conservative hardliner with little appetite for reform.

The move was unexpected, not least because street protests in Jordan have remained manageable and largely peaceful, with protesters refraining from openly challenging the king.

But Arab leaders have been badly rattled by the mass protests that have swept the region in recent weeks, first ousting the president in Tunisia.

King Abdullah's decision to dissolve the government goes part of the way to meeting political demands of the opposition, which had called for the resignation of the cabinet and an end to political appointments by the king. But it is unclear if it will be enough.

The palace said the new premier would be charged with carrying out "true political reforms", but that claim was greeted with scepticism by opposition figures, who said the appointment did not signal genuine change.

"This is not a step in the right direction and does not show any intent towards real political reforms or meeting the popular demands for people yearning for greater political freedoms," said Hamza Mansour, head of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. (© Independent News Service)

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