(Update:In his first public reaction to the week-long political turmoil in Egypt, President Obama stopped short of calling directly for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down now, as demanded by many protestors and opposition figures in Egypt.
In a brief statement at the White House hours after Mubarak declared that he would not stand for another term, Obama said he had spoken to the Egyptian leader by phone after the announcement.“He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that change must take place,” Obama said. He had told Mubarak that he believed “an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and the change must begin now.”)
(CNSNews.com) – “Leave, leave!” protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir square chanted on Tuesday night, moments after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on state television that he would not stand for re-election when his current term expires in the fall.
The reaction suggested that, for many of the protestors, the prospect of another nine months with Mubarak at the helm falls short of the expectations that have been building during the week-long upheaval.
“Demonstrators do not seem to be cheering anything from the president’s speech, saying they will remain protesting until the three decade reign of Mubarak comes to an immediate end,” the Egyptian news site Bikya Masr commented shortly after the speech.
The dissatisfaction was also evident in postings by Egyptians on Twitter and other Internet sites.
Mubarak’s 10-minute address came at the end of a day marked by huge demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria, topping a week of protests that has shaken the Arab world’s most important country, viewed as a longstanding U.S. ally.
Alongside the headline announcement that he would not seek another term, Mubarak stated that he would remain in office to oversee the “necessary measures to transfer power.”
Although he pledged to institute some reforms and said a new government would take steps to respond to the demands and concerns of young Egyptians, the tone was more defiant than apologetic.
Mubarak said he was proud of his achievements, and shot down any hopes that he might be hounded into exile, as was Tunisia’s long-serving president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after weeks of unrest.
“This is my country,” he said. “This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests. I will die on its soil and be judged by history.”
Mubarak also warned that Egyptians had to chose between “chaos” and stability, and suggested that the protests had been exploited by “political forces.”
Mubarak’s announced decision not to step down immediately was a challenge to opposition groups which earlier in the day said they would refuse to hold any dialogue on reform with the ruling party until the president leaves office.
President Obama, who this week sent retired diplomat Frank Wisner to Cairo to urge Mubarak not to seek another term, would speak about the unfolding situation shortly, the White House said.
After Mubarak’s speech the U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights First said it doubted the announcement would bring the protests to an end, and urged the U.S. government to tell Mubarak to cede power to an interim government that includes credible opposition representatives.
That interim government would then oversee the necessary constitutional and legislative changes leading up to new presidential and parliamentary elections, it said.
Mubarak became president in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and won uncontested “referendums” on his candidacy in 1981, 1987, 1993 and 1999, in each case winning more than 90 percent of votes cast, according to official results.
In 2005 he permitted what was billed as the first multi-candidate election – an exercise marred by allegations of ballot-rigging and other irregularities – and was said to have won 88 percent of the vote.