Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said he will not stand for re-election in September, as protests against his rule grow. Speaking on state TV, Mr Mubarak promised constitutional reform, but said he wanted to stay until the end of his current presidential term. The announcement came as hundreds of thousands rallied in central Cairo urging him to step down immediately. US President Barack Obama said that Egypt’s transition “must begin now”. He said the US would be happy to offer assistance to Egypt during that process. In a short statement, Mr Obama said that it was not his country’s right to dictate the path for Egypt, but that any transition must include opposition voices and lead to free and fair elections.
The BBC’s Steve Kingstone, in Washington, says Mr Obama made it clear that he expects immediate, tangible action from President Mubarak – amid lingering doubts in Washington as to whether the Egyptian can survive the unabated popular anger. And the US president offered encouragement to the protesters, stating “we hear your voices”.
The demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria were the biggest since protests began last week. In his address on Tuesday, Mr Mubarak said he would devote his remaining time in power to ensuring a peaceful transition of power to his successor. “My first priority is to restore peace and stability in our country, to ensure the peaceful transition of leadership, and to ensure that the responsibility goes to whomever the people of Egypt choose in the next election. I do not intend to stand for election again,” he said. But he criticised the protests, saying what began as a civilised phenomenon turned into a violent event controlled by cowards. “The events of the past few days require us all – people and leaders – to make the choice between chaos and stability, and dictate new conditions and a new Egyptian reality,” he said. He said he had offered to meet all parties but some had refused dialogue.
Mr Mubarak ended his speech by saying that he would not leave Egypt. “This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil,” he said. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has dismissed Mr Mubarak’s announcement as “a trick” to remain in power, according to CNN news. The Nobel Peace Prize winner told the news channel that he wants Mr Mubarak to step down immediately and to hand over power to a caretaker government until elections can be held. Late on Monday night, violent clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak factions erupted in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria. The army fired into the air but there were no reports of casualties. Some demonstrators were defiant and said they wanted Mr Mubarak to resign immediately. “We will not leave! He will leave!” some chanted in Cairo. “The speech is useless and only inflames our anger,” said one protester, Shadi Morkos. “If Mubarak was not going to run for a sixth term, why did he not say it before? Why does he leave the people hanging… We will continue to protest.”
Leaders of the protests had called on Mr Mubarak to step down by Friday, when demonstrators are planning to march on the presidential palace. “This won’t fly any more,” said 35-year-old Ahmed Khalifa, a doctor. “If Egyptians stay on the streets till Friday, probably Mubarak’s next offer will be to step down right away.” However, other Egyptians said they believed Mr Mubarak’s offer was a suitable compromise. “My own personal opinion is that this is the best thing that could be done at this point,” Omneya Okasha, a resident from Alexandria, told the BBC. “I believe that any sudden change at the current moment could lead to more drastic consequences. I find this a stable solution something that suits both sides – a win-win situation. But a lot of people will still protest and they will still want him to leave,” she said. Mr Mubarak’s speech came after a meeting with US special envoy Frank Wisner, who was said to have urged the president to announce his departure.
Meanwhile the UK Foreign Office said it was studying Mr Mubarak’s proposals. “President Mubarak has made some proposals to the Egyptian people. We will study the detail of these. Ultimately the real test will be whether the aspirations of the Egyptian people are met,” it said in a statement. Mr Mubarak’s speech also comes a day after Egypt’s powerful army vowed that it would not use force against the protesters, despite maintaining a strong presence in central Cairo. Further protests were reported in Suez, Mansoura, Luxor and Assiut. – BBC