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Mubarak Speech Prompts Egypt Protesters to Carry On

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Anti-government protesters demonstrate in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, February 10, 2011

Anti-government protesters demonstrate in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, February 10, 2011

The tension in Cairo is palpable after a chaotic day that saw the hopes of anti-government protesters raised, then dashed when President Hosni Mubarak told the nation he would delegate some powers, but stay on in office. After newly-empowered Vice President Omar Suleiman then told demonstrators to go home, many planned even bigger protests Friday.

It was the speech the protesters did not want to hear. After signals from the military that Mr. Mubarak was going to step down, the mood in the square had grown jubilant. Then the words of the president were relayed on loudspeakers and the expectant crowd grew quiet. As it became clear the man they want gone was not bidding farewell, the jeers began. By the end, the anger, sadness and a renewed sense of determination was overwhelming.

One protester said, "He lost the trust of every Egyptian now. He keeps promising us without doing anything. In this latest speech, he didn't say anything new. He just repeated the other speeches and said it again. We are all disappointed and we want revenge for the people that died for the sake of freedom. We will not stop at this point. This is not the end."

A fellow demonstrator also took no comfort in Mr. Mubarak's promise to review the much-hated emergency laws and other concessions they saw as far too little, far too late. He said, "We get nothing, we get nothing. We want the regime and the head of the regime down. We don't want this regime anymore. This regime is against us, against our freedom, against the Egyptian people."

The speech marked another shift during 17 tumultuous days in the political life of Egypt. Only an hour before, the crowd was happily thinking of what life would be like after the president was gone.

Lawyer Aya Badrawi didn't stop smiling as she contemplated the future. She said, "Today I am extremely happy, Finally it's a victory of the people. It's the beginning for freedom and democracy. Definitely these people found their way and definitely we will be having a different Egypt and a better one."

The square was alive with hope. Singers made their way through crowds, vendors hawked t-shirts and popcorn and a sea of flags proclaimed a pride in country, if not its leaders. The make-shift village of tents and field hospitals had grown to include an arts and crafts corner, where children, whose parents brought them to view history in the making, were painting watercolors.

A marketer, among those helping out, said,"Hopefully, if he leaves, that would be the best thing ever. For sure there will be some chaos. We're ready for it, because freedom never comes cheap and we are not going to give up our freedom for safety. We just want both."

Now neither seems guaranteed. No one was willing to predict what the army, so far largely neutral through protests, would do if the demonstrations continued to grow.

But Noura, a graduate student at the square, vowed they would not give up, matching Mr. Mubarak's decision to carry on, saying, "We came here and thought we would celebrate that he is finally leaving. But he said total nonsense and he is staying. The people will not stop and we will fight until he leaves, because he wants to crush our dreams and he will not be able to do so any more. We broke the fear."

Even as some left the square to sleep before more protests expected after Friday prayers, others set out across the city to take up positions beyond Tahrir during the night.