Analysis: What's Next For Egypt

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Egyptians experienced a reversal of events in the past 24 hours. Thursday night, President Hosni Mubarak said he would not give up power. Friday morning, he did just that. NPR's Loren Jenkins talks with Steve Inskeep about what's next for the opposition in Egypt. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson checks in from the scene of celebration near Cairo's Tahrir Square, and NPR's Jackie Northam and Tom Gjelten weigh in with analysis from Washington, D.C.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Peter Kenyon alluded to Egypt's next president. We should tell you we don't know who that next president is or is going to be. And that poses a question, which we'll put here to NPR's Loren Jenkins - who's in our studios - our foreign editor. What is next for the opposition here, Loren?

LOREN JENKINS: It remains to be seen. You know, there is no real, organized opposition. What we have is a huge youth movement who's dragged everybody out of all walks of life, into the streets. Their power has been on the streets. If they go home now, they don't have any pressure - or any organization to pressure the new government, which is a military government, it looks like, from the -supreme military command is going to run the show, for the moment.

INSKEEP: Then can they push for more detailed demands through the street tactics?

JENKINS: Well, exactly. I mean, the people in the streets want a change of regime. They don't want a continuation of the current institutions.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks, Loren. Again, the news here: Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has apparently left office - left office, according to his vice president.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Let's review what's happened in the last hour or so in Egypt. Word has come from Egypt's vice president that President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and that the military, the supreme council of the armed forces, will take over. Let's listen to Omar Suleiman's own words.

Vice President OMAR SULEIMAN (Egypt): (Through translator) President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of Egypt. And he has decided that the higher council of the armed forces will lead the nation.

(Soundbite of cheers)

INSKEEP: That's Omar Suleiman, and you can hear the cheering in the streets of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where we'll go in a moment. I'll just mention a couple of other reactions from Cairo and around the world.

Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei spoke with NPR News earlier today, spoke with NPR's Robert Siegel and said, quote: It's the greatest day of my life. And statements from foreign governments are now coming in, welcoming the change in power.

We also have a statement from Al Arabiya television that says that Egypt's higher military council will sack the cabinet - fire the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament, and rule with the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. We're going to try to sort out what some of these things mean.

And let's go to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She is on the streets of Cairo. She has been for 18 days now. Soraya, what's happening where you are now - and where are you?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: There are still cheering. I'm on a balcony overlooking all of this, because it's just mayhem down there. You wouldn't be able to hear me if I tried talking from there, at the moment.

But people are just cheering, they're dancing, they're waving flags; cars are still honking. I mean, you can hear this noise all the way across to Zamalek Island, which is in the middle of the Nile River. And I can see that from here, on one side. And again, on the other side you have the protesters who are just in - euphoria is the best way to describe it.

I should mention the military has removed the barbed wire and barricades that have sort of kept people very tightly controlled as to who's coming in and out of the square. That's been removed. People are freely pouring in, freely pouring out, and the military is standing back as this goes on.

INSKEEP: OK. When you talk about the military backing away, that immediately raises a question for me - because you do have to wonder about security there. Is there any fear about security or about stability in the immediate area? Or do things look fairly calm?

NELSON: Things look fairly calm. I mean, with the exception of the fact that it's a huge celebration - I mean, picture Times Square at New Year's Eve; it's sort of that times 10 in terms of the area that I'm in at the moment. And so there doesn't seem to be any concerns, or any cause for security.

But the question, of course, remains: What happens tomorrow? There's a huge vacuum in power. And people on the streets, as euphoric as they are - we've talked to a few already, and they're expressing some concern about what comes tomorrow. But tonight is the night for celebration here in Cairo.

INSKEEP: What kinds of concerns are you hearing?

NELSON: Well, even earlier in the day - I mean, the fear is that the military, which has had coups here before, that there basically - that there would be another dictator that ends up getting installed; that you would have a ruling party -which by the way, I should mention, was dissolved earlier today, or it has been dissolved, for all intents and purposes, according to one of the top-ranking members we spoke to a short while ago, on the phone.

There are just - they basically - I mean, their concern is that the military is going to install another dictator and that, you know, that they're not pro-democracy - I mean, that this is not going to be a situation that's going to lead to the things that the protesters are demanding.

INSKEEP: Soraya, stay on the line. I want to bring NPR's Jackie Northam into the conversation. She's live in our studios here in Washington, D.C. Is there any clarity, Jackie, about what's next?

JACKIE NORTHAM: No, not at all. And that's one of the concerns, certainly for the Obama administration right now. They know the military has taken power, but they don't know, really, who will represent the military.

Amre Moussa, who is the head of the Arab League, came on just a short while ago. And he said yes, it's the council that is in control there, but it's Vice President Omar Suleiman who will be leading that council.

That would be good for the administration in the short term because they know who Suleiman is. They've worked with him. But they've also made it very clear that they don't see him as the replacement for Mubarak. He's a transitional figure.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure we're clear on this because there were questions earlier in the hour about whether Suleiman is in or out. You're saying, your indications are...

NORTHAM: Right. And that is attributed to Amre Moussa, who is the head of the Arab League. I just heard him on some of the networks just a short while ago, just before I came in here. That's how he sees it, and probably his group sees it.

But the thing is, is that this - just one of these many unknowns that are out there right now. You've got the immediacy of - the euphoria of everybody with Mubarak's resignation. But there are a lot of questions to be answered after that dies down.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Gjelten is also in our studios here. Tom, what is the U.S. interest in this situation?

TOM GJELTEN: Steve, we've been talking about all the questions here. But the questions are not limited to the role of the military, the future of democratic reform, the future of political reform, the future of the parliament.

The U.S. abiding interest is counterterrorism. And a lot of the questions that are being asked are, for example, what's happening - what's going to happen with the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip that - Mubarak and his people have been enforcing that. There's a lot of concern about that. What's going to happen with the Hamas activists who are in prison in Cairo jails? What's going to happen with the intelligence collaboration against al-Qaida?

These are very pronounced U.S. concerns. They are very much as unresolved as the democratic, the political questions. And I think that's something that -the Obama administration is asking those questions.

INSKEEP: Jackie Northam.

NORTHAM: Well, certainly in that case, you know, to quell those fears, it would be good if the U.S. is dealing with known - such as the military, such as Omar Suleiman. And in the short term right now, certainly, that will help, again, allay some of those fears - certainly about the border, certainly about other counterterrorism problems.

INSKEEP: Let's go back to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is overlooking Tahrir Square from a balcony there. And Soraya, because we've learned that the crowd seems to be somewhat in control of the situation at the moment, and we've raised this question of U.S. interests, I'm curious, in the last day or so - what the feeling in the crowd has been about the United States and the way that it has addressed this crisis.

NELSON: Well, certainly during the course of this crisis, they've been very anti-America. They felt that President Obama - not just President Obama, but American administrations in the past - has been the whole reason why President Mubarak has been in charge for all this time.

It's been more quiet. They haven't really said much about this in the last 24 hours. The focus has been more that Egyptians need to take care of this problem -that is, Mr. Mubarak - and that they will take care of this problem. So the anti-American slogans have not been out there the way they were before.

In fact, the xenophobia that certainly, we have experienced as Western reporters here, has been absent - which has - it's been a change from earlier on, during this process.

INSKEEP: OK, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Thanks very much for now. We're going to continue to hear from you and other NPR correspondents in Cairo throughout the afternoon that is now beginning, or the end of the morning in some parts of the United States. Thanks very much to NPR's Jackie Northam and Tom Gjelten as well. NPR's Loren Jenkins joined us earlier.

And again, the news here: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leaving office - that is, according to Egypt's vice president.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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