Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on Tuesday night that he would not run for re-election in September in a last-ditch effort to placate the opposition. Speaking after massive protests paralyzed Cairo and other major cities for the eighth straight day, the embattled president stated: “My first responsibility is providing security to the country to peacefully transition the power in a safe way for Egypt and give the country to those whom Egypt chooses in the coming elections.”
Mubarak’s limited concession is unlikely to satisfy the demands of opposition leaders buoyed by a tidal wave of popular protest. Opposition activists have insisted that they will accept nothing less than Mubarak’s departure and have refused to enter a dialogue or negotiate with Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s chief lieutenant. Few observers expect that the opposition is likely to give the unpopular president a face-saving exit, let alone bide its time for eight more months. One popular chant of the protesters remains “He will go, we won’t.”
But it is the army that still determines whether Mubarak goes or not. The army’s senior leaders appear to be sticking with Mubarak, at least for now. Egypt’s military command has told American officials that they do not intend to crack down on demonstrators but will allow them to “wear themselves out.” A former U.S. official who is in close contact with high-ranking officers said that they are mindful that “a boiling pot with a tight lid will blow up the kitchen.”
Shortly before Mubarak made his speech, Obama Administration officials told reporters that President Obama had pressed Mubarak not to run for re-election. The message was transmitted to Mubarak by Frank Wisner, a retired diplomat who formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and reportedly remains a close friend of Mubarak.
The prospect of Mubarak stepping down, following the ouster earlier this month of Tunisian President Ben Ali, has helped to fuel protests throughout the Arab world, particularly in Yemen, Algeria, and Jordan. On Tuesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah dismissed his cabinet and appointed Marouf al-Bakhit as the new Prime Minister. A former general who served as Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007, Bakhit was directed by the king to boost economic opportunities and political access for Jordan’s citizens.
The growing instability within Arab regimes that are aligned with the United States prompted Iran’s repressive regime—which quelled its own popular rebellion in 2009—to cynically welcome the explosion of “people power” in the Arab world as an echo of Iran’s 1979 revolution. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi crowed that protest movements in Egypt and Tunisia had dealt a major setback to the “global arrogance” (i.e., the United States) and “proved that the global arrogance’s era of domination and control of the region has come to an end.” A foreign ministry spokesman taunted the Obama Administration for its vacillating policy on Egypt, saying: “That is why you see an agitation and bewilderment of their foreign policy.”