Mubarak Expected to Step Down


mubarakEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to announce he will step aside this evening, the head of the country’s ruling party said, conceding the main demand of protesters that are gathering to cheer in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Hossam Badrawy, secretary-general of the National Democratic Party, said he told Mr. Mubarak in a telephone call Thursday that the president needs to step down for the good of the country.

The comments by Mr. Badrawy came as Egypt’s powerful military signaled it was moving to take control of the country. State television showed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces meeting — conspicuously without Mr. Mubarak present.

The armed forces “have started taking necessary measures to protect the nation and support the legitimate demands of the citizens,” an army spokesman said on state television.

State television said Mr. Mubarak was meeting with Vice President Omar Suleiman and would address the nation Thursday night.

The dramatic announcements suggested a break in a 17-day standoff between protesters demanding Mr. Mubarak’ exit and a regime that had steadfastly refused to concede. But they also heralded a new, uncertain age in the Middle East, where Egypt has formed a key anchor of U.S. foreign policy and Israel’s security.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, visiting Washington, voiced deep concern about the implications of the unrest in Egypt during his talks with top Obama administration officials and key lawmakers, according to officials briefed on the exchanges.

In a series of meetings in Washington, Israeli officials warned their American counterparts that the changes could start of a broader “earthquake” that could sweep the region and privately questioned Washington’s wisdom in pushing for the ouster of “our friends,” according to one participant.

Israeli officials voiced support for the Egyptian military, but raised concerns that “it might have a hard time holding it together,” another participant said.

Protesters in Egypt, however, had ramped up the pressure in recent days, extending the borders of their demonstration and drawing in allies in the labor unions and professional syndicates. Another huge crowd gathered in Tahrir Square Thursday despite sometimes heavy rain.

The mood quickly turned joyous as soon as the comments by NDP’s chief were released. Mr. Badrawy said he didn’t know what Mr. Mubarak would do, but said he believes the president will step down.

“I have no definite information, but that is my expectation” that he will step aside,” Mr. Badrawy said. “I spoke to him as the head of the NDP,” Mr. Badrawy said. “I told him this is for the good of the nation. This is the only way to restore confidence in Egypt. This is the move that the republic needs.”He is definitely planning to speak to the nation tonight.”

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Crowds continued to gather in Tahrir Square when the first reports of Mubarak’s possible exit emerged, forming what appeared to be the largest crowd yet in more than two weeks of mass demonstrations. They waved flags and danced to nationalistic music blaring from loudspeakers. Groups formed circles and danced.

Mustafa Elsadda, a 50-year-old architect, and his wife and two daughters, joined the protesters at the square Thursday night. It was their first nighttime visit. They didn’t want to miss what they hoped would be a historic night for their nation.

“We are expecting him to resign,” said Mr. Elsadda. “I never dreamed this would happen.”

“It means a new era,” piped up his 20-year-old daughter Alia. “Egypt has so much potential, we just need a leader with integrity and honor, and now maybe we can have that. ”

Google executive and Egyptian protest leader Wael Ghonim’s said in his Twitter account @Ghonim: “Revolution 2.0: Mission Accomplished.”

Many protesters were jubilant at the prospect of an exit by Mr. Mubarak, but were already looking ahead to other demands.

“Its our right to celebrate this victory, but the mission is not completed,” said Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, 45, whose been at Tahrir since Jan. 28. “All of our demands have to be met. The people want the fall of the system. A new constituion, freedom, free and fair elections. We don’t want a military regime. We’re happy but we’re not finished.”

The youth movements that kicked off the uprising with a surprisingly large demonstration Jan. 25 held a highly emotional and chaotic press conference in the lobby of the Journalists Syndicate building downtown. They announced the formation of a new group — the Front for the Support of the Egyptian Revolution — that brought in more than 30 elders and prominent opposition figures.

Ziad al-Alimi, one of the youth leader, called for an end to the state of emergency, dissolution of parliament, a transitional government, new elections, complete freedom of expression and a new constitution.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq appeared on state television and said the decision is the president’s and that all options are open.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says developments remain fluid in Egypt and he is not confirming reports that President Hosni Mubarak is leaving office, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Mr. Gibbs said President Barack Obama is monitoring events and met national security adviser Tom Donilon before leaving Thursday morning for an event in Michigan.

Mr. Gibbs’ comments came shortly after CIA director Leon Panetta said Mr. Mubarak is likely to begin turning over more of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman to direct the country and to oversee the transition process.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Panetta said the CIA has received reports that “possibly” Mr. Mubarak would resign but cautioned: “We have not gotten specific word that he, in fact, will do that.”

Asked how the transition would work, Mr. Panetta said he does not know the “particulars” but said, “I would assume that he would turn over more of his powers to Suleiman to be able to direct the country and direct the reforms that hopefully will take place.”

{Wall Street Journal/ Newscenter}