Egyptian president vows he will stay in office until September, and will not bow down to ‘foreign pressure’.Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has refused to step down from his post, saying that he will not bow to “foreign pressure” in a televised address to the nation.
Mubarak announced that he had put into place a framework that would lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles in the address late on Thursday night.
“I can not and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside, no matter what the source is,” Mubarak said.
He said he was addressing his people with a “speech from the heart”.
Mubarak said that he is “totally committed to fulfilling all the promises” that he has earlier made regarding constituional and political reform.
“I have laid down a vision … to exit the current crisis, and to realise the demands voiced by the youth and citizens … without undermining the constitution in a manner that ensures the stability of our society,” he said.
He said he would stick by his earlier announcment of not seeking re-election in September, though he did delegate some powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president.
“I will remain adamant to shoulder my responsibility, protecting the constitution and safeguarding the interests of Egyptians [until the next elections].
“This is the oath I have taken before God and the nation, and I will continue to keep this oath,” he said.
Mubarak’s comments were not well-received by hundreds of thousands gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who erupted into angry chants against him.
Earlier, the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces had met to discuss the ongoing protests against Mubarak’s government.
In a statement entitled ‘Communique Number One’, televised on state television, the army said it had convened the meeting response to the current political turmoil, and that it would continue to convene such meetings.
Thurday’s meeting was chaired by Mohamed Tantawi, the defence minister, rather than Mubarak, who, as president, would normally have headed the meeting.
“Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation… and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people,” the statement.
Tens of thousands poured into Tahrir Square after the army statement was televised. Thousands also gathered in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, our correspondent said.
Earlier, Hassan al-Roweni, an Egyptian army commander, told protesters in the square that “everything you want will be realised”.
Hassam Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), told the BBC and Channel 4 News earlier on that he expected Mubarak to hand over his powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president.
“I think the right thing to do now is to take the action that would satisfy … protesters,” Badrawi told BBC television in a live interview.
Ahmed Shafiq, the country’s prime minister, also told the BBC that the president may step down on Thursday evening, and that the situation would be “clarified soon”. He told the Reuters news agency, however, that Mubarak remained in control, and that “everything is still in the hands of the president”.
However, Anas el-Fekky, Egypt’s information minister, denied all reports of Mubarak resigning.
“The president is still in power and he is not stepping down,” el-Fekky told Reuters. “The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumour.”
Mubarak met with Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, at the presidential palace ahead of his address.
‘Witnessing history unfold’
Mahmoud Zaher, a retired general in the Egyptian army, said that Mubarak’s absence from the army meeting was a “clear and strong indication that [Mubarak] is no longer present”, implying that the Egyptian president was not playing a role in governance any longer.
In short comments ahead of a scheduled speech at Northern Michigan University, Barack Obama, the US president, said the US was watching the situation in Egypt “very closely”. Mubarak had not spoken at that time.
“What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold,” he said, adding that this was a “moment of transformation” for Egypt.
“Going forward, we want … all Egyptians to know that America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy.”
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, responded to reports that Mubarak may resign by saying that he hoped whoever replaced him would uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, according to an Israeli radio report.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foriegn affairs chief, said that the 27-nation bloc is ready to help Egypt build a “deep democracy”.
“I reiterated that no matter what happens in the next hours and days, the European Union stands ready to hep build the deep democracy that will underpin stability for the people of Egypt,” she said in a statement, referring to a conversation she had with Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, earlier in the day.
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has played a key role in helping protesters get organised, said on the microblogging site Twitter on Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”
Jacky Rowland, our correspondent in Tahrir Square, described the atmosphere as “electric”, with “standing room only” in the central Cairo area. She said that thousands gathered there were “celebrating a victory which has been anticipated, rather than actually achieved”.
In Alexandria, Jamal ElShayyal, our correspondent, described the atmosphere as “festive and joyous”.
Labour union strikes
The developments came as the 17th day of pro-democracy protests continued across the country on Thursday, with labour unions joining pro-democracy protesters.
Egyptian labour unions held nationwide strikes for a second day, adding momentum to the pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.
Al Jazeera correspondents in Cairo reported that thousands of doctors, medical students and lawyers, the doctors dressed in white coats and the lawyers in black robes, marched in central Cairo earlier on Thursday and were hailed by pro-democracy protesters as they entered Tahrir [Liberation] Square.
The artists syndicate and public transport workers, including bus drivers, also joined the strikes, our correspondents reported.
“It’s certainly increasing the pressure on the government here,” Al Jazeera’s Steffanie Dekker, reporting from Cairo, said.
“I think it’s worth making the distinction that the strikes going on are more of an economic nature, they are not necessarily jumping on the bandwagon of the protesters in Tahrir Square.
“Many of them are not actually calling for the president to step down, but fighting for better wages, for better working conditions.”
Pro-democracy supporters across the country have meanwhile called for a ten-million strong demonstration to take place after this week’s Friday prayers.
Hoda Hamid, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Cairo, said that the mood in Liberation Square was “one of defiance, and if we judge by what is happening today, then I think … many more people will heed that call and turn up”.
She reported that some protesters had drawn up a list of demands beyond simply the exit of Mubarak. They included the formation of a transition government, which would include a council of presidents, representation from the army and well-respected judges, for the period of one year.
They demanded that parliament be dissolved and that a temporary constitution be put in place while a new one was drawn up by legal experts.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin in Cairo reported that at least five government buildings, including the governor’s office and the office for public housing, were set alight in two straight days of riots in the northeastern town of Port Said. The situation in the city had calmed by Thursday evening.