Middle East

Egypt crisis: Premature celebrations on Mubarak speech

Protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, 10 February 2011
Image caption Many protesters raised their shoes as a sign of disrespect towards their beleaguered president

There was huge anticipation ahead of this speech by President Hosni Mubarak. Some protesters in Tahrir Square had already started parties and chants of "we brought down the regime". It turned out they were premature.

The address when it came, later than expected, could only be heard through crackling speakers. Yet the crowd quickly picked up on the patronising tone, with Mr Mubarak likening himself to "a father speaking to his sons and daughters".

He went on to praise the efforts of young activists, "dreaming of a bright future and shaping such a future", and their "legitimate demands". However, he once again overlooked their specific demand that he step down.

A few demonstrators wept as the realisation set in that this was not the speech for which they had waited. But the general mood quickly turned to anger. Some waved their shoes in an expression of contempt.

"This is not what we wanted to hear. We will continue our protest," said one protester, Nasreen, sounding exasperated.

Others were unimpressed by the president's repeated pledges to carry out democratic reforms.

"This regime will not be able to carry out these promised changes," said Marawa. "They are constantly out of step with us. This regime has lost credibility. How can we trust this regime any more?"

Another spectator in the square was angered by promises to investigate the deaths of the protests' "martyrs", asking: "How can Mubarak appear on television saying he is sorry for those killed and injured when is the very one responsible?"

CIA prediction

An earlier statement by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces had raised expectations of a dramatic announcement. It said, ambiguously, that it would remain "in continuous session" to discuss how to safeguard "the aspirations of the great Egyptian people".

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Media captionSocial media has played a crucial role in the ongoing unrest in Egypt

Soldiers had then told crowds in central Cairo to expect important news.

Adding to the tension, Hossam Badrawi, the new secretary general of the ruling NDP, told the BBC he would be surprised if Mr Mubarak was still president on Friday.

"I would be, because I think the right thing to do now is to take the action that would satisfy protesters," he said.

Even the CIA director, Leon Panetta, was quoted as saying he believed there was a "strong likelihood" the Egyptian president would leave office.

It was in apparent response to such international interest that Mr Mubarak noted: "What I never did and will not do, is to listen to foreign diktats coming from abroad, whatever their sources or justifications."

Military references

We are learning a lot about the 82-year-old president's pride and resilience as this crisis unfolds. He continues to talk about "shouldering his responsibilities" for the nation and appeals to Egyptians' sense of patriotism.

His latest speech, the third since this crisis began, was peppered with references to his impressive military career and length of public service, the fact he "faced death as a pilot and in Addis Ababa" where he survived an assassination attempt in 1995.

Outside of Tahrir Square, some Egyptians will have been impressed.

Despite handing over some "functions of the president" to his deputy, Omar Suleiman, for now Mr Mubarak retains the title of president and keeps control of political processes.

This includes what is now being referred to as "a road map" to implement democratic reforms and a "smooth and peaceful" transition of power.

Now speculation turns to the response of anti-government protesters. There is talk of possible marches to Egyptian state television or the presidential palace. Large numbers are again expected to descend on Tahrir Square after Friday prayers.

"Bokra, bokra," - "tomorrow, tomorrow," - is how many comforted themselves as they headed home.