Mubarak: 'Choice Is Between Chaos And Stability'

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday that he will not seek re-election when his term ends later this year. The announcement came the same day demonstrators gathered for a major march from central Cairo to the presidential palace to press for Mubarak's ouster. Host Robert Siegel speaks to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson for the latest.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

As tens of thousands of demonstrators chanted get out, get out, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went on television tonight to say that he will not run for re-election when his term of office ends later this year.

President HOSNI MUBARAK (Egypt): (Through Translator) I have exhausted my life serving Egypt and its people. However, I am totally keen on ending my career for the sake of the nation.

SIEGEL: Mubarak refused demonstrator demands to resign immediately and leave the country. This is my country, he said. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interest, and I will die on its soil.

As crowds in the street whistled in derision, Mubarak said that he would seek reform in his remaining days in office, and he vowed to restore public order. The choice, he said, is between chaos and stability.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo and listened to the speech from her hotel just off Tahrir Square where protesters remained camped into the night.

And, Soraya, what exactly did the president say he wanted to do with his remaining days in office?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: He said he wanted to oversee an orderly transition to the next government, and he also made some very positive noises that I'm sure it will be received well by at least some of the people down there.

For one thing, he called on parliament to change some of the constitutional measures, to basically implement term limits and to also ensure that other parties or other people can run.

At the moment, the way it's set up basically his own ruling party will be the only one standing for elections. He also called on parliament to implement some judiciary rulings that had been made in response to the very controversial parliamentary elections. And what some people - or what some analysts here have said is that if those rulings, in fact, are implemented, this parliament could be made null and void, which, again, is something that this crowd has been calling for.

But the fact that he refuses to leave, the fact that he says he's going to stay until the elections and is not calling for early elections that is just not going to go over well with this crowd.

SIEGEL: Soraya, what did you make of President Mubarak's characterization of the demonstrators who have been calling for his resignation for the past eight days and their demonstrations?

NELSON: Well, it's - I mean, it just shows the disconnect. He was pretty bitter. It was - it's pretty clear from his - from what he was saying that he just doesn't see - he says it started out orderly enough but that it became chaotic, and he blames the demonstrators for the looting, for the attacks on the government buildings and so on.

And so he just - he doesn't - it just seems he doesn't get it yet or that's certainly the impression down on the square. They certainly don't get why he doesn't get it yet either.

SIEGEL: He did talk about ordering the authorities to track down corrupt officials, and he spoke about the media. What does he have in mind?

NELSON: Well, it's something, again, that they have been calling for. The fact that he was so vague about it makes it unclear whether this is just something that he's throwing out there as a, you know, I have to say this because I'm under a lot of pressure right now to do it or whether he, in fact, means it.

I think the things he said about parliament and about changing the -doing the constitutional reform perhaps has more meaning. He also seems somewhat bitter, I should mention, toward the political forces that have sort of - or the political figures that have sort of risen up here as opposition figures not necessarily representing the demonstrators out there but certainly sharing their sentiments. And, you know, he said that they were a threat to the stability of this country.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Cairo.

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