Protesters treated President Hosni Mubarak's latest concession of reform as not enough and demonstrations continued for his resignation. Plus, our complete coverage.
Protesters treated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s latest concession as a good sign, though maybe not in the way Mubarak hoped. State TV announced Saturday the resignation of the top leadership body of Egypt’s ruling party, including Mubarak’s son, Gamal, in yet another attempt to show the regime is serious about reform. They’ll be replaced by younger political figures, including one party member who’d been sidelined for his criticism of administration policies. But protesters in Tahrir Square said anything short of Mubarak’s resignation is not enough. One activist said it would only "reinforce their resolve and increase their confidence because it shows that they are winning, and the regime is retreating inch by inch."
Anti-government demonstrations continued in Egypt Saturday, as protesters, many of whom have given interviews and Tweeted, know they’ll be marked by the security apparatus if they fail. A gas pipeline exploded in north Sinai, sending a massive tower of flame into the sky. State TV blamed saboteurs. Mubarak tried to play it cool, holding a meeting on how to revive the economy after almost two weeks of marches for his ouster. Meanwhile, everyone waits to see what the army will do. If the army asks Mubarak to leave, it could open leadership up to civilians, but the army would risk losing the grip on power it’s held since 1952. On the other hand, if they forcibly remove protesters from Tahrir Square, they’ll be as hated as the police. Everyone involved recognizes the military’s importance: The Obama administration is negotiating with officials about a military-backed interim government bridging the gap between Mubarak and elections; Mubarak appointed military leaders as his vice president and prime minister; and Mohamed ElBaradei said a presidential council including military brass should be formed. The protesters are clearly trying to woo the military too. "The people and the army are one hand!" they chanted as Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi appeared in the square Friday.
While protesters refuse to negotiate until Mubarak steps down—and he’s refusing to step down until September— they met with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to discuss ways out of the impasse. "It was a message to see how to resolve the crisis. The message is that they must recognize the legitimacy of the revolution and that president must leave one way or the other, either real or political departure," said one activist at the meeting. The activists are reportedly considering a proposal floated by the “wise men,” a group of academics, lawyers, businessmen, and former officials separate from the protests in the square. One proposal is to dissolve the parliament and end the emergency laws that grant power to the police. Another has Mubarak deputize his vice president and step down in all but name. Protesters have formed a committee to carry out future negotiations. Its members include ElBaradei and representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood and youth factions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the Middle East now faces a "perfect storm" of tension and strife, and that nations must embrace democratic change. "Free people govern themselves best," Clinton said in Munich on Saturday, adding that the region's history of authoritarian governments is "simply not sustainable." With water and oil shortages in some nations, Clinton warned that pressure for reform would not be held back for long. "Some leaders may believe that their country is an exception, that their people will not demand greater political or economic opportunities, or that they can be placated with half-measures. In the short term, that may be true; but in the long term that is untenable."
Obama comments on Egypt on Friday
Political elites from Egypt to the United States are nudging Mubarak out of office, according to The New York Times, seeking a dignified exit for the 30-year-dictator. Political and military leaders have discussed limiting Mubarak’s official decision-making powers and removing him to his home at Sharm el Sheik, while allowing him to maintain the titular moniker of president for the time being. It has also been suggested that Mubarak take a well-timed medical leave to Germany, effectively removing him from the political game in Cairo and hopefully assuaging the concerns of some protestors who seek a decisive democratic transition in Egypt. “None of this can happen if Mubarak is at the center of the process,” said one official. “But it doesn’t necessarily require the president to leave office right now.”
Back in Washington, President Obama declared in a press conference on Friday that the U.S. is pushing for a transition of power to begin "right now." He continued: “This is obviously still a fluid situation...The whole world is watching.” Obama reiterated his insistence that the U.S. opposes acts of violence from both the government and protesters, and urged Mubarak to make "the right decision." He also stressed that attacks on journalists, human rights activists and peaceful protesters are "unacceptable.” Asked if Mubarak should leave immediately, Obama said the Egyptian leader is “proud, but he’s also a patriot.”
Photos: Demonstrations in Egypt
Mubarak talks to Christiane Amanpour.
An Egyptian journalist died Friday afternoon from gunshot wounds he sustained last week during protests, becoming the first reported journalist to die in that conflict. Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, 36, was reportedly photographing the protests on Jan. 28 from the balcony of his home near Tahrir Square when he was shot. Mahmoud worked for Al-Taawun, a newspaper run by the state-run news agency Al-Ahram. The U.N. has condemned the attacks against journalists in Egypt, numbered to be around 101 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Meanwhile, CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan and cameramen Don Lee and Max McClellan were released Friday after being held for one day by the Egyptian military. They are heading back to the U.S. The White House said Friday they are working with the American Embassy in Cairo to get the U.S. journalists who have been beaten and detained out of Egypt.