The mood turned ugly in Tahrir Square as hundreds of thousands of celebrating Egyptians heard President Hosni Mubarak inform them in a speech Thursday night that he would not leaving, as predicted by media earlier in the day.
“I will continue to shoulder my responsibilities… until power is handed over in the lawful elections in September,” Mubarak announced.
“He must go! He must go!” chanted the mob, waving their shoes in the air as the mood grew ugly and hundreds of thousands roared their frustration. Waving shoes is considered an extremely offensive gesture in Middle Eastern culture. Officials expressed concern that a million-man march planned to be held in Cairo on Friday could turn violent.
Mubarak said he would transfer some of his authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, but said bluntly, “I do not intend to stand down any time soon.” He added that the demands of the mob were just, and that he would be “steadfast in meeting those demands.”
He noted, however, that mistakes are made in any political system in any country in the world. “Owning our mistakes and holding responsible those who must be held responsible” is part of the job of a leader, he said.
Mubarak also made it clear that he would not accept direction from U.S. President Barack Obama, or for that matter anyone else, commenting pointedly, “I will not accept any advice that comes from outside the country, from wherever it comes, for whatever reason.” It appeared the remark came in response to a comment by Obama several hours earlier, saying the U.S. would support Egypt in whatever way necessary in “an orderly transition to democracy.”
Mubarak reviewed the constitutional amendments that were announced to the protesters in prior statements, some of which were aimed at repealing the country’s 30-year emergency status law.
He said he would delegate responsibility to Suleiman, and the country’s emergency laws would be lifted “when the time is right” – but for now, they would remain in place.
“I have been a youth just like you… I exhausted my life defending this homeland,” Mubarak told the crowd. “I have lived for Egypt, and I will die in Egypt. I will not separate from the soil until I am buried underneath.”
Mubarak's speech did not do much to calm the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who continued to call on him to step down immediately. Some of the protesters called to begin marching towards the presidential palace.
Meanwhile, Vice President Omar Suleiman called on the protesters to calm things down.
In a statement he made following Mubarak's speech, Suleiman said: "I will do everything in my power to maintain the achievements of the protesters. This is a crucial time for Egypt and all Egyptians should unite and look to the future."