Mubarak keeps fuse lit

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak makes a televised statement to his nation in this image taken from TV.

After 17 days of intense protest — following 30 years of despotism — countless people in Egypt and around the world thought Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was going to resign late Thursday.

But it was not to be. Sounding alternately conciliatory toward the protesters and then defiant, Mubarak reiterated his plans to stay in office until September. He also said he would turn over more of his responsibilities to Vice President Omar Suleiman.

By doing so, Mubarak all but guaranteed the protests will continue in Cairo and around the country. As a result, he is doing more to threaten the security of Egypt and push it toward chaos than anything the protesters have done to date.

Mubarak also apparently confounded both top officials of his own government and Egyptian military leaders. Various news reports quoted members of both groups as saying they expected Mubarak to step down Thursday and transfer power either to his vice president or to a coalition of military leaders.

His speech sparked anger among the protesters and a promise of renewed demonstrations. Late Thursday, several people in Egypt were predicting the largest demonstrations to date on Friday. Some feared Mubarak would use any renewed demonstrations as an excuse to unleash violent reprisals.

Suleiman, speaking after Mubarak, urged all the protesters to disperse and let the country get back to normal. But with labor and professional strikes around the country Thursday, and more planned Friday, that seems unlikely to happen.

As the column below notes theology and ideology don’t appear to be the driving forces of this Egyptian revolution. The economy and personal freedom are. The hero of the revolution, after all, is a young Google executive touting individual rights, not some imam spouting religious calls to action.

However, groups like the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood could gain more support in the wake of Mubarak’s refusal to leave. The potential for a nonviolent transfer of power and the potential for a real Egyptian democracy looks more fragile now than it did just a few days ago, thanks to Mubarek’s intransigence.


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