Mubarak Makes Concessions, Protesters Want More

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has failed to meet protesters demands to resign. Dr. Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at the think tank Chatham House in London, tells Steve Inskeep that Mubarak feels he's already made enough concessions to demonstrators.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's talk some more about President Mubarak with Dr. Maha Azzam. She's an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a think tank in London.

Welcome back to the program.

Dr. MAHA AZZAM (Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Program, Chatham House): Thank you.

INSKEEP: You were watching the signs yesterday, like the rest of us -the military announcements, the statements by officials. Why do you think Mubarak did not resign in the end?

Dr. AZZAM: I think Mr. Mubarak feels that he has already made concessions. He felt that by handing over powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman, that in itself was a major step. And he felt that in an overall sense, by talking about amendments to the constitution, by talking about his understanding of what the youth were saying in general, that that was enough to plicate the situation. Ultimately he's an authoritarian leader, and he behaved as he has in many ways for 30 years, not listening to what's happening on the ground.

INSKEEP: Although it's interesting, if you were to presume for a moment that the government acted deliberately and with one voice, it was a strange chain of events that they would give so many suggestions that he seemed to be, perhaps, about to resign, and then in the end defy people. Does that psychologically seem like a savvy thing to do?

Dr. AZZAM: I think they weren't acting with one voice. I think there were different messages. I think that when the military general Anan told people that there's going to be a very important statement and that demands were going to be heard, he really thought that was the case. But there were mixed signals. The United States got those mixed signals, as well, and we were all led to believe that there would be something radical that was going to be said and that he was going to step down.

INSKEEP: If I read what the protesters are saying now correctly, some of them seem to be urging the military to step in, meaning the military other than Mubarak, who of course came from the military himself. Is there any possibility of Mubarak being shoved aside by the military in this situation?

Dr. AZZAM: I think there is a big possibility of that. I think Mr. Mubarak was already sidelined, but people want to hear that he's actually stepped down. I think what happened yesterday was another step in his being sidelined, but it still was not enough for the protesters. They want to hear, clearly, that he's stepped down, that's there is going to be a transition to free and fair elections.

And the speech after Mubarak's, by Omar Suleiman, didn't comfort the protesters. On the contrary, it was the voice of a man who again told them to go home, to go back to their jobs, and ultimately was endorsing the kind of position that Mr. Mubarak was taking - which is yes, you may get democracy at some time, we are going down that path sort of, but not right now. We're not ready for it. And that is very worrying.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing. Mohamed ElBaradei, who's been among the leading voices in the protest movement wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times in which he laid out a way that he thought there should be a transition to democracy. And to summarize, he said that the parliament that exists should be dissolved, that Murbarak, of course, should go, that the constitution should be abolished, and a provisional constitution written under a three-man presidential council. Does that sound like a plausible scenario?

Dr. AZZAM: I think it's a plausible scenario, in so far as if people want regime change they have to go down a route like that or similar to that. Ultimately the constitution does not have legitimacy. Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman are constantly talking about amendments to the constitution, that they have to have transition through the constitution - doesn't make sense, quite honestly. It's a way of gaining time.

So yes, we ought to have this kind of transition that Mr. ElBaradei is suggesting. The details of it can be refined, but ultimately if we want a complete change in Egypt, one that offers democracy to its people, I think the old structures has to be dismantled.

INSKEEP: Maha Azzam is at Chatham House in London. Thanks very much.

Dr. AZZAM: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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