The president refuses to step down. What's next for Egypt? A coup? A revolution? A crackdown?
So Hosni Mubarak's not stepping down after all.
What's next? A coup? A widening revolution? A massive crackdown? Who knows? Egypt has plunged into uncharted waters for the past two weeks, and they just got several fathoms deeper.
Early today, word went out—from several news services, CIA director Leon Panetta, and several Egyptian officials—that President Mubarak would announce, in a nationwide address, that he's stepping down. The Egyptian military's Supreme Council announced that it was meeting to consider the nation's crisis—without Mubarak present, much less presiding, as he usually does.
Yet when Mubarak finally stood before the camera (nearly an hour later than scheduled), he refused to resign, repeating only his earlier pledge not to run again in the next election—which is scheduled for September, seven months from now. Meanwhile, he will delegate some authority to his handpicked vice president (and longtime confidant) Omar Suleiman—but will retain for himself the constitutional privileges of the presidency. And he urged the young people in the square (whom he likened to his "children") to "restore the normal way of life to the Egyptian streets."
Not likely. The split-screen on Al Jazeera's live newscast showed the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square—who had been waving flags and singing, thinking they'd be celebrating victory—screaming and waving their shoes in anger. This revolution might be just beginning, and the next phase could be critical—possibly hair-raisingly violent.
The Egyptian military holds the ultimate power in Egypt, as many have pointed out in the past week. It has also been noted that the Egyptian people, including the protesters, were fine with this fact, believing that the army (unlike the Interior Ministry's police) would stand with the people. The catch in this view is that, for 30 years, the military and Mubarak have been joined as one. Mubarak himself was an air-force officer and war hero, and in all the years of his presidency, he has treated the military well.
Now the military may have to choose sides. Mubarak's speech indicates he won't put up with these protests for much longer. He blamed foreign agents for fomenting the chaos, and, saying that he has spent his life standing up for Egypt, warned that he will not let outsiders dictate his country's fate.
Nobody in the square was convinced.
Earlier in the day, the army's commander, Hassan al-Roweni, told protesters, "Everything you want will be realized"—which led
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has emerged as one of the protest's heroes, to tweet, "Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians."
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images.