Egyptian President Resigns After Weeks of Protest

Amid mass protest and after weeks of unrest, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned the presidency, ushering in an era of military rule.

Demonstration in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, Egypt, February 9 (Jonathan Rashad)
Demonstration in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, Egypt, February 9 (Jonathan Rashad)

(FEB 11) President Hosni Mubarak resigned today, transferring power to a military council that will lead Egypt through its period of transition.

Mubarak’s recently appointed vice president and former spymaster, Omar Suleiman, broke the news of the president’s resignation on state television Friday afternoon. Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in the city of Alexandria, numbering hundreds of thousands, cheered “Egypt is free!” and “God is great,” knowing that after thirty years of single party dictatorship, their country might finally have a chance at democracy.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is now in control of Egypt, promised “to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people” and achieve a “peaceful transition all through a democratic society aspired by the people.”

The military takeover technically amounts to a coup. constitutionally, the speaker of Egypt’s parliament should have assumed the presidency but it seems unlikely that the demonstrators could have accepted this ruling party official who is known to be corrupt. There is no clearly defined role for Vice President Suleiman in the months to come.

(FEB 10) President Hosni Mubarak reiterated his promise not to stand for reelection Thursday night. One state television, he spoke at length about the need of amending the Egyptian constitution in order to end the state of emergency that has existed during Mubarak’s reign and provide for free and fair elections come September.

Newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former army general, warned earlier in the day that the country “cannot bear this for a long time,” referring to the mass protests that entered their sixteenth consecutive day. In the evening, he again urged protesters to return home and return to their jobs, promising to do “whatever it takes to have an orderly transition of powers in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

Many shops as well as the stock market remained closed in Cairo this week. Commercial activity and tourism across the north of the country have come to a near standstill.

Unrest on Wednesday extended beyond the capital. Two people were killed in clashes with police in southern Egypt while protesters in Port Said attacked the governor’s mansion. Strikes were organized in different parts of the country.

(FEB 8) Thousands turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square again on Tuesday as Egypt entered its third week of mass protests against the government. Suez Canal Company workers in the cities of Suez and Ismailia staged sit-in strikes. They are protesting against poor wages and deteriorating health and working conditions.

Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state television earlier in the day that a committee had been authorized to amend Egypt’s constitution. Opposition members allege that the government is merely buying for time however and they demand that Hosni Mubarak tender his immediate resignation. The Muslim Brotherhood, while continuing to call upon the president to step down, has been party to talks with the government in recent days.

(FEB 5) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that Vice President Omar Suleiman should lead an “orderly transition” of power in Egypt. Speaking at a Munich security conference, she further warned of forces in Egyptian society that are conniving to “derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda.” The Muslim Brotherhood has so far refused to enter negotiations with the government.

The United States’ commander of Central Command, that covers the Middle East, General James Mattis, suggested earlier this week that in the event of the Suez Canal being closed, America “would have to deal with it diplomatically, economically, militarily.”

(FEB 4) Huge crowds of demonstrators turned out in Alexandria and Cairo again on Friday in what has been dubbed a “day of departure” by protesters. Among them was Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a potential presidential contender should Mubarak resign.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized of Egypt’s opposition parties, insisted on Friday that it had no intention of fielding a presidential candidate in the near future.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister and deputy prime minister, appeared in Tahrir Square as well but seemed to be concerned mostly with reviewing the troops although he did chat with some of the protesters.

(FEB 3) Soldiers moved between rivaling protesters in Cairo on Thursday. Violent confrontations between supporters and opponents of the Mubarak regime erupted yesterday, killing at least two and wounding hundreds.

The country’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, said he needed until next week to complete his “dialogue” with members of the opposition. The former intelligence chief expected that presidential elections could be organized in August or September at the latest.

In an interview with Egyptian state television, Suleiman said that the president’s immediate ouster, as protesters have been calling for, would be tantamount to “chaos.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party, said it was invited to the talks but chose not to participate because of the violence of last night.

The vice president blamed yesterday’s rampage in Tahrir Square on a “conspiracy” and promised an investigation.

(FEB 2) Although the military urged Egyptians to return home after the president promised not to stand for reelection last night, violent clashes between opponents and proponents of the regime erupted on Wednesday, injuring more than six hundred people, according to the health department.

Stinging tear gas and Molotov cocktails were fired in the epicenter of demonstrations in Tahrir Square where supporters of the embattled president thundered through the crowds on horses and camels.

It wasn’t clear on Wednesday night whether the pro-Mubarak sentiments were entirely organized or spontaneous. While there have been reports of Interior Ministry and party officials stirring violence and paying agitators to disturb the anti-government demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Western journalists on the ground also reported that ordinary Egyptians, some of whom had participated in protests earlier this week, said that they were prepared to accept the president staying in power for several more months and now just wanted life to return to normal.

Despite the extremely volatile altercations, the police were nowhere to be seen while armed forces would hardly intervene. Military announcements that ran on state television throughout the night urged Egyptians to leave Tahrir Square but as fighting continued in nearby streets, it was difficult for the remaining protesters to flee the scene.

(FEB 1) After a “march of millions” in downtown Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak announced that he would not stand for reelection.

Large groups of protesters streamed into the capital’s central Tahrir Square on Tuesday afternoon. The crowd ranged from students and youngsters to old people with families bringing their children to witness a manifestation the likes of which Egypt had never seen before.

That evening, Mubarak appeared on national television and asked parliament to schedule advanced presidential elections this year. “I will die on the soil of Egypt,” he added, making clear that the 82-year old former air force commander has no intention of fleeing the country.

My first responsibility now is to restore the security of the homeland, to achieve a peaceful transition of power in an environment that will protect Egypt and Egyptians.

The president further pledged to combat corruption during the remainder of his term. Protesters in Tahrir Square, who watched Mubarak’s speech live, chanted that they would not leave.

Shortly thereafter, President Barack Obama said that he had spoken with Mubarak by phone after his address and “he recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place.” The American president professed that an “orderly transition” must be meaningful and peaceful and begin now.

(JAN 31) Egyptian state television reported that President Hosni Mubarak urged members of his new cabinet to pursue “a wide range of dialogue with all the parties” active in the country. He seemed to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood however, blaming “a group of people who use the name of religion” for “infiltrating” the otherwise peaceful protests that have occurred throughout the north of Egypt for close to a week now.

Mubarak’s survival largely depends on the military’s willingness to continue to support his reign. Even as a pair of F-16s flew menacingly low over demonstrators in Cairo and tanks were deployed in Alexandria, Suez as well as the capital to quell the unrest, the military has pledged not to intervene in peaceful protests. Over a hundred people have already been killed in confrontations with riot police however.

With Israel’s consent, the Egyptian military increased its troop presence in the Sinai peninsula around the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where minor protests have also broken out.

The Sinai desert has been largely demilitarized since a peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to watch events in neighboring Egypt unravel with “vigilance and worry” and dreaded the prospect of an Islamic party taking power.

(JAN 30) With many streets in Cairo left without security after police stopped patrolling earlier this weekend, fear of anarchy and looting lingered as the capital awoke to what would become another tumultuous day in Egypt.

Banks remained shut throughout the country on Sunday, the first day of business in the Muslim world. The stock market, whose benchmark index tumbled 16 percent in two days after the unrest erupted, did not open either.

While some rioters managed to break their way into the Egyptian Museum to wreck havoc, soldiers and civilians joined forces to protect the nation’s antique treasures while blocks away, exchanges of gunfire were heard and tanks surrounded the Tahrir Square where mass demonstrations have been organized.

Thousands gathered in the evening to acclaim Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the United Nations nuclear agency and a spokesman of the opposition against the Mubarak government. In an interview with ABC’s This Week, he insisted that the president should resign and “a government of national salvation, in coordination with the army” be formed.

Defying a curfew along with protesters, ElBaradei promised that change would come to Egypt “in the next few days.” The crowd mingled easily with soldiers who looked on patiently. Similarly, in Suez, on the canal, troops allowed demonstrations to take place during the day.

(JAN 29) During the night, demonstrators in Cairo defied an official curfew and the ruling party’s headquarters was set ablaze. While hundreds continued to chant “Down with Mubarak,” in different parts of the city as well Alexandria, people were seen posing with tanks and shaking troops’ hands. In Suez, 15,000 riot police were out, using tear gas to disperse crowds.

Protests during the day were boisterous but largely peaceful. One notable exception was near the cordoned off Interior Ministry in Cairo where police shot live ammunition and burning tear gas as Egyptians rumbled toward the building — a highly visible and potent symbol of state authority.

In a televised address to the nation, President Hosni Mubarak showed no intention of stepping down. He did sack his cabinet and appointed a vice president for the first time in thirty years: Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt’s intelligence service since 1993 and Mubarak’s trusted right hand.

The president also installed former air force commander Ahmed Shafik as prime minister. His predecessor, Ahmed Nazif, was considered a modern technocrat, largely untainted by the corruption that is so rampant in the civil administration of Mubarak’s Egypt.

(JAN 28) A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the Egyptian government was dealing with some protests, most of which were inspired by Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution.” Despite the thousands of Egyptian citizens who demonstrated in the capital and major cities, I at first didn’t think anything of it. The Mubarak regime, in power for the last 32 years, has dealt with this kind of unrest before, from popular demonstrations against Egypt’s alliance with the United States to protests about unemployment. In all of these cases, President Hosni Mubarak and his security services crushed the movement before a massive growth could occur. Those participating were suppressed, dragged into prison and beaten in back allies (all standard Mubarak practices).

But today’s protests, at least in Egypt, are unique from protests in the past. For one, all segments of Egyptian society have decided to show up and represent themselves, from young men tired of searching for work to old people frustrated about the regime’s beat down on political expression. Conservatives, secularists, Marxists and Islamists have come together, many for the first time. And the issues that are driving the civil unrest are much broader than a simple wage decrease or price hike. Instead, people are publicly demanding regime change, which would have been inconceivable barely a month ago.

What does this all mean for Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party? Put simply, it means that Mubarak has finally realized after three decades that he is not a beloved man in his own country. For the regime as a whole, thousands of Egyptians chanting anti-government slogans translates into a unified call for pluralism, the refurbishment of a struggling civil society and a political system that is competitive and accountable to its people.

The protests throughout Egypt have built up over the past two days, with the Egyptian security forces starting to clamp down with extra rigor. There are already accounts of citizens and policemen being shot and killed in the ensuing crowds, signaling that this peaceful display of dissent could quickly turn violent if both sides aren’t careful. Egypt has begun to cut off Internet access, which has been a main organizing tool for the protesters. It’s a great time in Egyptian history and these marches are putting to bed some of the assumptions about Egyptians being apolitical zombies willing to follow their ruler.

Yet there is still one missing ingredient — a positive contribution from the United States. It’s no secret that Mubarak is one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, both in the war on terrorism and toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This partner is now blatantly opposing democratic forces in his own country.