A record turnout of protesters is expected in the streets of Egypt today just hours after President Hosni Mubarak again refused to step down. Following widespread anticipation he would resign, Mubarak vowed to remain in office and said he would transfer his presidential authority to handpicked vice president Omar Suleiman. Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous gets reaction from some of the hundreds of thousands who packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin our show in Egypt where pro-democracy protest leaders have called for a march today of 20 million people across the country. Massive demonstrations are reported in Cairo, Mahalla, Tanta, Alexandria and Suez. The marches come one day after the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak declared on state TV that he would not resign but would hand over some power to his newly appointed vice president Omar Suleiman. Mubarak’s defiant speech followed a day of widespread rumors that he was to announce his resignation.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous was in Tahrir Square last night in the hours before Mubarak gave his speech.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s Thursday night. There’s a lot of electricity in the air that tonight could be the night, tonight is the night that Mubarak will step down. There’s rumors flying that he may have already left. We’re really not sure. But what a lot of people are waiting for is some kind of word. There was some announcement of an army general saying that Mubarak is stepping down as commander of the armed forces. We’re waiting to hear more. There’s a radio broadcast right now. People are eagerly listening to get any news or any kind of update. And every day since we’ve been here in this uprising, every time we’re here in Tahrir, people crowd around the camera wanting to have their voices heard, wanting to have their faces shown to the world, as they call for democracy.
SAFWAT: My name is Safwat, Safwat. Actually, the night is wonderful. We have a hope to peace. Everyone is here. Hope, the future, good future. This is one hope, is our hope.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, here in the middle of Tahrir, there are more and more tents set up. The city of Tahrir, if you can call it that now, continues to grow. Over here is a big space where a lot prayers take place. And there’s almost like a pathway of roads and tents and shelters that have sprung up as people have occupied this space for two weeks. They’re waiting here. Many say they’re not going to leave tonight. They’re going to spend the night here, in case there’s any kind of announcement.
AKRAM: My name is Akram. I’m a club owner here in Cairo. Well, you know, I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the news. I’ve been very happy for the past couple of weeks. It’s as simple as: this country needs major change. You know, we need to start living. We need to start seeing clean streets, clean systems, clean everything. We need a complete new change of this country from A to Z.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And do you think it will happen tonight, that Mubarak will step down?
AKRAM: I think all the signs are saying so. If not, we’re going to wait. But we’re going to — we’re here. We’re here ’til he goes. There is no turning back at the moment.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, I’m standing on a stage here, one of the many stages here in Tahrir. There’s just a sea of people behind me, as you can see. They’re giving the peace sign. They’re giving a peace sign for freedom. They’re waiting for Mubarak to leave. There’s electricity in the air tonight. And you can see Tahrir is just packed with people. Shoulder to shoulder they’re standing.
HADLI: My name is Hadli, and I’m one of these people who are here to support the roses that came up in the Egyptian soil. And we’re here to protect them and to protect the revolution. And I’m one of the believers that we should never have any new leaders. The people is the leader. The young people are the leaders. We are not looking for names.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It seems to be a little quieter now. I think something may be happening. So now there’s a hush over the crowd. Everyone is listening to try and get a sense. Mubarak is talking right now. People are huddled over radio sets. They’re trying to make out what’s being said on the speakers. It’s a very quiet moment, a tense moment. It could be a historical moment.
So it looks like Mubarak is not going to step down. This is not the news that they were wanting. They are holding up their shoes in defiance, and they’re starting to scream, ”Ad-dhab!” — “Leave!” and starting to scream again, so the noise is rising back up again here.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 1: What I’m expecting today is that the people will be aggressive, in the way of another. But I hope that we’ll be peaceful, as we all have been peaceful. OK? But again, he play with our mind, a mind game, OK? He just gave another promise, with 67 and 77. He want to make amendment for 88, especially, and the amendment of the — how to oversee the judicial authority, to overrule over the candidates, and especially he want to amend the Article 189 about how to amend the constitution in the future. OK? Simply, he have amended 34 articles on 27 March in 2007, OK? Can you imagine? Thirty-four articles out of 200 articles. He can amend the constitution easily. Gamal Abdel Nasser made the constitution four times. And Sadat make it in 1971 and amended in 1980. The constitution is simple, simple. We can make a new one. We can make a new one. You have no authority. Since 25 January, you have no authority above us.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 2: We just, all these people, want you to leave! That’s what we want. We want you to leave. We want a fair prosecution. He don’t want to. He just said a few words not to — “Nobody in Egypt can prosecute me.” That’s what he said. We are not leaving, Mubarak. We are staying here until you go out and we prosecute you. That’s what I want to say.
HANAN ABDULLAH: My name is Hanan Abdullah. I don’t know why — it’s sort of believably unbelievable, the speech. And I can’t say I’m surprised, because he will go to any length to clutch on his last straws of power. But he’s lost all legitimacy. It’s infuriating. Everyone is absolutely furious. I don’t know what he expects. He’s totally deluded as to what’s happening. It’s very clear nobody wants him here.
AHMAD SHOKR: My name’s Ahmad Shokr. Mubarak gave a speech tonight where he basically delegated authority to the Vice President Omar Suleiman. It’s unclear what that authority is or what the Vice President is supposed to do with it. He also said — he also instructed the Vice President to begin constitutional amendments on six articles in the constitution. As you can see from the raging crowds behind me, people are very angry. People have been on the streets for two weeks now — this uprising is two weeks old — to demand no less than an end to 30 years of autocratic rule under Hosni Mubarak. People have been very clear that their number one demand, before anything else, is for an end to the regime of Hosni Mubarak. That’s not what they got tonight. But I think the numbers are only going to swell up tomorrow. There will be more protests. People will not settle for piecemeal reform.
SAIF EDDIN EFFAT: My name is Saif Eddin Effat. First of all, I think the people have spoken. They already told, they want the whole regime to resign. They don’t want Omar Suleiman or Hosni Mubarak or some other guy from the government. They said that they want the whole regime to go. This is just playing with the people’s minds. I don’t know. I fear. I fear. I fear. I fear for what’s going happen tomorrow to the country. They say millions are going out in the streets.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Did you expect him to step down today?
SAIF EDDIN EFFAT: I did expect him to step down, but not to give his authorities to Omar Suleiman. I expected the army to take control of the country until a new government is formed, a people’s government.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: He also said he was sorry for the 15 that died, but in fact 300 have died.
SAIF EDDIN EFFAT: Yeah. He obviously doesn’t know the number of the deaths and the chaos that’s going through the country. This needs to end. This needs to stop. He needs to resign, and his regime needs to resign with him.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 1: You know what? The budget of Egypt is just $50 billion. If we just get the money with him, we will duplicate the budget of Egypt. And if we get the people around him, we will triple or maybe six times the budget of Egypt for more than 10 years. That means that the garbagemen will live a better life than us, and everyone of us will live a better and better life.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 3: Please, Mr. President, please! What shall I do to go away? Tell me! Tell me! Tell me what must I do to go away? Please, Mr. President! I respect you. You do a lot for me. I respect you. I respect. Please, tell me, what shall I do to go away? All of people dead, right? All of people dead, and you don’t care!
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 4: I’m very frustrated. I think I — people were expecting a lot more, a lot more. And I’m trying — like, personally, I’m trying not to let this get me down, but I just — I can’t believe the nerve of the guy. I can’t believe that he came on TV just to tell us this. I can’t believe that he is talking about how he won’t be dictated by others from outside, and while we are the people here. We’ve been sitting here for more than two weeks, and we are dictating to him what we want. We want him out, and his regimes out. And everyone, like everyone, is feeling so angry, but everyone is trying to encourage one another. And we are staying here. We are staying here ’til all of our demands get fulfilled, no matter what.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Did you expect him to step down today?
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 4: Yes, yes. Everyone really expected him to step down today. And we were actually, like, doing this internal talk of how, even if he stepped down, this is not the end of the road and how we need to focus — yes, celebrate our victory [inaudible], but focus on taking it — on moving on and pushing it 'til the end. So, this — I don't know why do I keep on getting disappointed and shocked. Like every time we anticipate this and he does the same tricks, so maybe I should just always expect the worst from him. So, yes.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You seem very emotional.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 4: Like, I was really — we really hoped that he’s going to step down. It’s very obvious. Everywhere in Egypt now, people are striking. People are — I went to Cairo University and found a spontaneous demonstration there. Nobody planned it. Nobody expected it. Even in governmental places, in the TV, in the — everywhere, everywhere, people are striking, and people are opposing him. And he has the nerve to come on TV and say that he is there to grant us a peaceful transition to a democracy. I am really angry.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What do you think is going to happen on Friday, tomorrow?
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 4: I think every time he does something like what he did right now, he just really triggers — like, he pushes the button of the anger of many people, and we end up having more and more people on the ground. So, if he wants all of Egypt to be in Tahrir Square, this is really what he’s pushing us to do.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You told me before that you’re going to take Cairo piece by piece until he leaves.
PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER 4: Yes, absolutely. And this is what we are doing. We have Tahrir. We have the parliament street. Out of Cairo, we even have other places in El Harga, in New Valley. The people took over the NDP headquarters, the state security headquarters, like everywhere. So we are — either he steps down and he fulfills our demands, or we are going to gain back Egypt bit by bit.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s Thursday night. Many thought that this would be the night that Mubarak stepped down. There was excitement in the air. But after his speech, there was nothing but anger and raw emotion. Tomorrow, thousands are planning to fill the streets, and to fill the streets of Tahrir as well as the streets of Cairo. They are demanding that Mubarak leave, and they will not stop until he does. I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous with Hany Massoud for Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, “Uprising in Egypt.” And yes, today is Friday, and there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people rallying and striking around Egypt. Networks around the world are reporting that President Hosni Mubarak has left Cairo. It is not confirmed at this point whether he is inside Egypt or outside.