Party Leaders Resign; Egyptian Protests Continue
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Guy Raz is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
In Egypt today, senior members of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned, including Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal. But Hosni Mubarak remains head of state and head of the party, and protesters in the street are sticking to their demand that the president step down.
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WERTHEIMER: Meanwhile, the White House appeared to put its support behind Egypt's vice president, Omar Suleiman, as a transitional figure to help guide the country through reforms and new elections. We'll hear more about that in a moment from NPR's Michele Kelemen, who is with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a security conference in Munich.
But first, to Cairo and the latest developments. NPR's Eric Westervelt is there.
Eric, could you tell me if these ruling party resignations caused any kind of reaction among the protesters who are gathered in the square for the 12th day?
ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, I have to say the news was greeted by cheers among the crowd. I mean, they were happy about this. To them, it signaled the beginning, you know, of the end of a party, you know, that many of them detest - and have for years.
But they also say the move was largely cosmetic and that it's not, you know, nearly enough. Hosni Mubarak is still head of state, and he's still head of the party. And they want him to go. So many see it as sort of deck chairs on the Titanic. Really, among protesters, they're saying this is obvious, the whole party needs to go.
WERTHEIMER: Today, the secretary of State - the U.S. secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders seem to be throwing support behind the idea of a transition to democracy in Egypt, headed by Vice President Suleiman - or at least, having Suleiman as a key player in that process. How do they feel about that?
WESTERVELT: I think many of the protesters out here in Tahrir Square, below me, see that as really unacceptable. I mean, the majority see Omar Suleiman as sort of Mubarak the Second, someone who's entrenched in what they see as an oppressive regime. They don't want to just see Omar Suleiman in place for six months or a year.
But I have to say, influential elites and some opposition parties, Linda, increasingly see this option as the only real way out of the crisis. They, you know, they point out that moving from dictatorship to democracy is obviously going to take time. There needs to be constitutional and judicial reforms, and a lot of work needs to be done to create viable parties and set the conditions to hold free elections.
And they see Suleiman as someone who could be a Gorbachev-like figure, who helps guide Egypt toward democracy in a way that Mikhail Gorbachev helped guide the Soviet Union in its rough transition away from communism.
WERTHEIMER: Now, the mass of those young demonstrators who have been leading the street protests against Mubarak, that group is largely leaderless. I mean, they appeared - that appears to be something of a source of strength. They can't disagree about the leader, but also weakness because they don't have anyone to lead them out.
WESTERVELT: I think that's exactly right. Who do you go to talk to, to negotiate with? There are several people who've started to emerge as possible leaders, but it really is a leaderless movement. And I spoke to a prominent Egyptian political analyst today who said look, Mubarak and the West created this youth movement in Tahrir Square. He said, we warned the West that indulging an authoritarian regime, you know, that was systematically undermining opposition parties through intimidation, jailings and other maneuvers - that this will create an explosive opposition, if it happens, that has no real leader or figurehead. And in many ways, that's exactly what's happened.
WERTHEIMER: Do you have a sense that the group in the square is there to stay? They've been there for 12 days. They must be - it would be difficult to keep this up for very long, I would think.
WESTERVELT: You would think but I, you know, was out on the square today and, again, there is still real energy there. There's real commitment. The crowd sort of ebbs and flows. You get people coming; you get people going. But there is a core there, and I think they feel that they do have a strong core of support that's going to continue this protest.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Eric.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Eric Westervelt, reporting from Cairo.
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