Analysis: Egypt's President Mubarak Steps Down
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Before we go on, let's listen to a little bit of his words.
INSKEEP: President Honsi 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.
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INSKEEP: Soraya, what are you seeing and hearing?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: And you can just hear shouts and screams and honking everywhere. It's incredible.
INSKEEP: Is there any doubt - I suppose there must be - but what doubts do people still have about Mubarak's intentions, about whether this is real?
SARHADDI NELSON: At the moment, it seems like they have no doubt. They just - there is such a release here. I mean, this was such a disappointment - as you had mentioned - last night to the people who have been protesting, you know, have been demanding this ouster for weeks, that I think just hearing this news from the lips of the vice president, hearing that the control has been handed over to the military, which is seen as an honest broker here in this country, just seems to have been accepted as the truth. And people are cheering - and they're still cheering, minutes and minutes and minutes later.
INSKEEP: Just yesterday, Soraya, you and I were talking about constitutional issues, about who gets to take over power. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner, is among the protesters - was writing in the New York Times about the necessity to dispose of the constitution. Does anybody know about the legal authority here, or the manner in which the military is taking over?
SARHADDI NELSON: No. Those questions will have to be answered as people put aside the jubilation and start to think about the future here. Certainly yesterday, President Mubarak had talked about dictating - or assigning the changes or the review of the constitution that needs to be done in order for there to be a referendum, in order for the constitution to change. And so whether that's enough, whether his pronouncement last night is enough, whether in fact there will be constitutional changes, whether there will be free and fair elections, all of these things have to be talked about. But at the moment, I think it's just the release - of finally achieving the goal that is having - people here are just - I mean, you can still - I'm sure - hear it behind me; they have not stopped cheering since this announcement came down about 10 minutes ago.
INSKEEP: What has the reaction been like through this day, as you've watched the demonstrators across Cairo?
SARHADDI NELSON: And they told me - some of the protesters that I interviewed there told me that, you know what? It's not just Tahrir Square. It's everywhere, and this man needs to get the message.
INSKEEP: Soraya, will stay with us for a moment, please? Again, we'll repeat for those who are just joining us...
SARHADDI NELSON: Absolutely.
INSKEEP: Shadi Hamid is with the Brookings Institution. He's based in the Persian Gulf region, and he is currently in Cairo. Welcome back to the program, sir. What are you seeing?
M: Well, I'm hearing the beeps and the cheers from - from inside here. The street is erupting. People have heard the news, and they're thrilled. There might be some caution in order. There were similar scenes of jubilation yesterday, when everyone seemed to think Mubarak would step down. I think we should probably - it's hard to say - this happening today, this happening tomorrow? But you know, as far as I can see, people - people seem to be very happy to hear the news.
INKSEEP: What does it mean that the military is taking over, that the supreme council of the armed forces is taking over?
M: So military coup is not the same thing as democracy. So yes, it might be a step in the right direction, but Egypt still has a long way to go before it actually meets the demands of the protesters.
INSKEEP: Shadi Hamid, thanks very much for your analysis this morning. Very much appreciate it.
M: Thank you.
INKSEEP: And again, we're following news that President Hosni Mubarak has apparently resigned in Egypt. That, at least, is the word from Egypt's vice president on state television. And NPR's Tom Gjelten is live with us in our studios here in Washington. And Tom, very briefly, what are the risks and the opportunities in this situation for the United States?
TOM GJELTEN: You know, what I find interesting, remarkable, Steve, is that we have this huge outpouring of joy at the news, as Shadi Hamid had said, that there's been a military coup. We have an outpouring of joy over the development that the military is taking control in Egypt. I think that that leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
INKSEEP: And let's go back to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who I believe is still on the line from Cairo, overlooking Tahrir Square. And it sounds, Soraya, at least at this moment, for the people in the square there, that this is not a moment for doubt - that this is a moment for joy, that the one demand that they had, above all others, was granted.
SARHADDI NELSON: Absolutely. They - I think it is just such a relief for them because this has been really hard, not just on the country and on the economy and on the government, but on these people who have held vigil here for the better part of - what is it, like 15, 16 days at this point.
INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much.
SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo, as Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution was. NPR's Tom Gjelten is here in Washington. And again, the news, according to the vice president on Egyptian state TV, is that President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, or will resign. And we'll give you more details as we learn them in a swiftly changing situation. It's NPR News.
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INSKEEP: We're going to try to sort out what this means with Tarek Masoud. He's been a guest several times on this program in the last few days. He's with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, an expert on the Middle East. Welcome back to the program, sir.
INSKEEP: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: What do you make of these developments?
INSKEEP: Well, I think that basically, Mubarak's last gambit failed, and the military kind of pressured him to step down.
INSKEEP: Well, let's remember what you were telling us earlier today. You speculated that perhaps Mubarak persuaded the military to give him one last chance - let me give one more speech and see if I can win over the people. And then, of course, the question would be: What happened today?
INSKEEP: Right, exactly. And the crowds didn't go away. And I think that basically, people were getting impatient and desirous of a kind of stability in that realm. So I think that - I think that's why he ended up making the decision to leave.
INSKEEP: Now, when NPR's Tom Gjelten hears this statement, he told us a moment ago, what he hears is news of a military coup. Is that a proper way to understand what has happened here?
INSKEEP: Well, not really because, you know, like I said, this was always a military regime, and I think what happened here is that Mubarak had to go in order to save the regime. There's not yet been a fundamental change in the structure of government in that country.
INSKEEP: Oh, now, that's extremely interesting because the military had been earlier guaranteeing that they were going to bring all kinds of democratic reforms to pass - just earlier today - but I suppose we cannot know if that statement is still operative, as they say.
INSKEEP: And you know, because their mindset is that Egypt is under constant threat, they may want that process to take a very long time, because they believe that only the military can provide the stability that Egypt needs.
INSKEEP: Although it's going to be interesting to see if this is enough for the protesters. I am thinking of what someone was telling me earlier today about the process in Tunisia, where a longtime ruler was thrown out of office and in the end, the replacement rulers were not acceptable to the crowd, either.
INSKEEP: But if the military says Omar Suleiman is leaving as well, and Defense Minister Tantawi, or Army Chief of Staff Sami Eman is going to take over, I think that actually could cause the crowds to dissipate.
INSKEEP: Are you saying that Suleiman has been - has blackened his own reputation by being so closely associated with Mubarak in recent days and weeks?
INSKEEP: I think Mubarak actually blackened his reputation. I mean, it's ironic: If Mubarak hadn't appointed him vice president in these last few days, and then in today's move had said, I am now handing power over to Omar Suleiman, people might have accepted that. But now, Omar Suleiman has become so associated with this regime and, you know, he opened his mouth too many times and people saw the nature of this guy - a kind of throwback to the 1960s era of hard authoritarianism, that I think none of the protesters would be willing to accept him.
INSKEEP: Tarek Masoud, will you stay with us for a moment? I want to bring some more voices into this conversation. NPR's foreign editor Loren Jenkins, who's covered this region one way or another for decades, is in our studios now. Loren, good morning.
LOREN JENKINS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What do you make of these developments?
JENKINS: Extraordinary. Extraordinary. And confusing. I mean, we started yesterday morning with the military basically taking over quietly and giving signs...
INSKEEP: Or saying so anyway, yeah.
JENKINS: So there's obviously great confusion within the ruling circles there, and probably within the army. I assume there are a lot of divisions - and it's to be found out exactly what happened. But I think the last 24 hours have been really, an extraordinary period.
INSKEEP: But my question for all of you gentlemen is, is it clear now what the United States needs to do, and what the United States government wants to do? Tom Gjelten, you can begin.
GJELTEN: I think if the protesters - once they process this - decide that it's not enough, I think that will leave the Obama administration in a very awkward point.
INSKEEP: Loren Jenkins, you were the one who was telling me earlier today that in Tunisia, when the ruler - Ben Ali - left, it was not enough for the protesters. They decided they wanted more.
JENKINS: Does the army taking over mean that he's no longer vice president also? It's still to be seen. And will that be enough?
INSKEEP: Is the crowd basically in charge here? If they go away from the square, everything's OK. If they don't go away from the square, something else will have to give.
JENKINS: Exactly. I think they are in charge. I mean, they have - it's been extraordinary. It's 18 days of steady demonstrations - growing, expanding, continuing. They got the president of Egypt to resign.
INSKEEP: Tarek Masoud, I'll give you the last word here.
INSKEEP: And I think President Obama, one of the things he should say today when he speaks is that, you know, this is not an acceptable long-term solution. It's a good first step, but we want to see this midwife a genuine democracy in Egypt.
INSKEEP: If you were one of the protesters standing in Tahrir Square, would you trust the military?
INSKEEP: I would not, but I have a Ph.D. in political science.
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INSKEEP: We'll bring you more as we learn it, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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INSKEEP: Welcome back to the program.
M: I'm glad to be here.
INSKEEP: I suppose I have to begin by asking the skeptical question: Is there any reason to doubt that Mubarak has really left?
M: No. I think this statement from Suleiman, putting the army in charge, is final. Now, Mubarak is said to be in Sharm el-Sheikh. He's still in Egypt. So it's not like in Tunisia, where he left the country.
M: No doubt, tomorrow and the days ahead, there will people asking for him to be put on trial. And none of that is clear yet.
INSKEEP: Sharm el-Sheikh - of course, that's the Egyptian resort where he has a presidential compound. He's spent a lot of his time there. And we were told earlier today that that is, in fact, where he was going.
INSKEEP: Suleiman saying that the army has been put in charge. Does that mean that Omar Suleiman is in charge?
M: No, it doesn't. It's - if that had been the case, then he, as vice president, would've become president. All he said right now is that a council is in charge. So the power is diluted between various senior military officers. It's not even clear yet whether Suleiman is within that council. So his role is very murky at the moment.
INSKEEP: Although it's unusual that Suleiman would be the man who would make the announcement that Mubarak is going. It suggests that Suleiman is the man who's standing there to take over. But it doesn't seem to be that that's the concrete reality, is what you're saying.
M: Yes. I don't think we should read too much into the fact that Suleiman made this statement for now because - he had to make this statement, if only because Hosni Mubarak himself probably couldn't bring himself to make that statement.
INSKEEP: How would you describe the mood where you are, in Cairo?
M: The mood is ecstatic. There's nothing like it. You know, it's 10 times what the reaction would be if Egypt had won the World Cup.
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INSKEEP: Well, you know, there's a different World Cup winner every few years. You don't have a 30-year ruler go away that often.
M: Exactly. This is the first time this happens in Egypt's entire history, and it's a long history. I mean, I'm hearing - I'm a kilometer away from Tahrir Square, and I'm hearing the cheers from here - this chorus passing by on the streets, honking their horns. It's going to be an all-night party.
INSKEEP: I wonder if the reaction is even more emotional because people thought they were going to get this result yesterday, and were disappointed and depressed and crushed - and then came back today, and this happens.
M: Yeah, yes, absolutely. I mean, people, after yesterday's speech, didn't know what to think. And there was - I think one of the reasons that the army has taken charge is because there was concern that the tide was turning against it, that people could no longer stand this supposed position of neutrality the army was taking. So I think the - today's amazing protest - I mean, maybe a fifth of Egypt's population's out on the streets - forced the army's hand.
INSKEEP: We've just got a couple of seconds left. Do you think people trust the army?
M: I think that remains unclear. I think the protesters themselves will be divided. They'll certainly want guarantees that they haven't fought this battle for 18 days, to return to another Mubarak. And I don't think that's going to happen. There's been a definitive break with the past. And - but the struggle continues.
INSKEEP: Issandr El Amrani, thanks very much, as always, for your analysis. Appreciate it.
M: Thank you.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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