Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is slated to step down, handing power to a military junta after 16 days of demonstrations and violent riots across the country. But the next step is unclear, and it would appear that a full-scale Revolution may have begun, with strikes paralyzing the nation and tens of thousands of protesters celebrating in Cairo.
According to sources quoted by the pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite television news network, Mubarak plans to travel to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh following a speech to the nation from the presidential palace in Egypt's capital. Initial reports saying Mubarak had already announced his resignation late Thursday afternoon were quickly squelched, and media were cautious in their subsequent reporting from Cairo.
“Arrangements for himself and the family to leave the country have been carried out since the morning,” an Al Jazeera journalist reported from Tahrir Square, translated as "Liberation" Square. “He may remain in Sharm el-Sheikh in order to claim he is handing over power smoothly as requested by the West,” but it is not known for how long.
Civil disobedience started with the news that Mubarak would step down. “Work forces have started to go on strike,” the reporter noted. “The Revolution has started to paralyze the country nationwide,” with the likelihood of an impending clash “between the military and the people … a bloodbath is expected.”
The assessment appeared accurate, given a comment by opposition Kefaya Movement leader Hani Anan, who told reporters, “We didn’t get rid of Mubarak to get a military government instead.”
Nevertheless, the Egyptian military has announced it has stepped in to “safeguard the country,” with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces saying in a statement that it commits to upholding the people’s rights. A senior Egyptian army commander also told protesters in Tahrir Square their “demands will be met.”
Mubarak, reportedly prevented from making a speech to hand power to Vice President Omar Suleiman earlier in the day, is slated to make a statement from the palace Thursday evening. However, it is not clear whether the speech will be live or recorded, inasmuch as he may have already left for Sharm el-Sheikh.
U.S. President Barack Obama commented during a speech at a local stumping spot in the Midwest Thursday afternoon, "We are watching a moment of transformation unfold," noting that it was the Egyptian youth who had been in the forefront of the protests. "It is your generation," Obama said, "that wants their voices to be heard."
Obama added, "We want all Egyptians to know that we will support an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt," but then quickly turned his attention to local matters.The president was clearly avoiding the issue of whether Egypt might instead choose a different form of government -- that of Islamic, Shari'a law, under the formerly outlawed, opposition Muslim Brotherhood.
A senior Egyptian official told Fox News that authority was transferred to the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces, comprised of the Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and the country’s military chief of staff, chief of operations and commanders of the army, navy, air force and air defense.
The source added that the transfer of power would take place “outside of the Constitutional framework” since under normal circumstances, power would be transferred from the president to the speaker of the house, and elections would be held in 60 days. Due to the circumstances, the military council will “not be governing under the Constitution or any legislation,” the source told Fox. “So they will have to define the format under which they are taking power.”