An Egyptian-based human rights activist says beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak’s Tuesday night’s speech shows his belief that the ongoing “situation is manageable.”
Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the protesters’ message is clear that President Mubarak should step down after serving as the country’s leader for three decades.
“I think the protesters are trying to keep the momentum going to draw in additional protesters to keep the numbers up because, while the numbers remain high and the interest is there, they want to sustain that pressure from that perspective on the government and on the president specifically,” said Morayef.
“Whether or not the president will respond to those demands I think is doubtful, in the short term, as his latest speech has shown. He has rejected the primary demand of resignation, but made an offering of not running in the next election. This does remind one to such an extent of the concession that [former Tunisian President Zine Abidine] Ben Ali made towards protesters’ demands by committing to leave by 2014.”
In his late Tuesday speech, President Mubarak told the nation he will not run for office in the upcoming election scheduled for September. His remarks on state television came after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets nationwide in peaceful demonstrations demanding that the embattled president resign.
However, it is unclear if his decision will quell demands from many Egyptian protesters who want to see him leave office right away. After the speech, some demonstrators chanted demands that Mr. Mubarak vacate office immediately. “Leave! Leave!,” they shouted.
In Cairo, throngs of people who had gathered for hours listened to the speech in Tahrir [Liberation] Square - a focal point of the peaceful protests.
Some analysts say President Mubarak wants to “stall” for time in order to consolidate what they described as his shaken grip on power. But, Morayef said the protesters want a transition to new leadership for the country.
“There are enough angry constituencies out there on the square [Tahrir] who have legitimate demands, whether these are socio-economic or political, or who just feel it’s time for a change in leadership,” said Morayef.
“Tahrir, over the last few days, has become a safe space of expression and assembly. It’s not an experience Egyptians ever had before, the fact that they can say whatever they want, they can say it to the media and there is no police around to be scared off; any potential consequences for you and for your family is a new experience, and I think that is not one they are likely to forget very soon.”
Opposition activist Mohamed ElBaradei told U.S. cable news television (CNN) that Mr. Mubarak's decision to remain in power will extend Egypt's “agony” until September’s election. He called the move an "act of deception" from someone who "does not want to let go.”
“His latest speech shows that President Mubarak still feels the situation is manageable, and he feels that, by granting some of the demands by protesters, that will calm down the level of anger and will allow things to continue more or less like they were before,” said Morayef.