Unimpressed by president Hosni Mubarak’s speech on Tuesday night, in which he vowed not to renew his rule, thousands of Egyptian protesters remain holed up in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square., adamant in their demand that the president must step down.
Mubarak, in his defiant speech, announced he would surrender power, but only in September at the end of his term in office, after which he would not seek re-election.
But protesters reacted angrily, jeering him and once again calling for an immediate end to his 30-year reign.
“The speech is useless and only inflames our anger,” said Shadi Morkos in Tahrir square. “We will continue to protest.”
“We will not leave! He will leave!” others chanted at the time.
Meanwhile, near Tahrir Square, pro-Mubarak demonstrators gathered on Wednesday to reaffirm their commitment to his administration The crowd chanted: “With our blood and our souls, we will sacrifice for Mubarak,” Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reported from the protest.
She said people were “frenzied” and the atmosphere tense, with potential battle lines being drawn between the two sides of the Egyptian divide. Pro and anti government demonstrators have already clashed in Alexandria and Cairo following Mubarak’s speech.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, reporting from Cairo, said there is now a “real standoff” between anti-government Egyptians and Mubarak, with neither side seeming to budge in the others’ direction.
The ball is now in the protesters’ court, Dutton said.
“[Mubarak] has given them what they want. He has said he will step down, just not yet. And he has offered them all these concessions, demands that they have made over many years, for other parties to run in the elections, for there to be a fixed term under the president.”
“But it’s too and little too late,” Dutton added. “People are angry that these sort of changes are being imposed or suggested under a dictatorship, under this regime. They want him to go and they want him to go now.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera after Mubarak’s speech, protesters in Cairo echoed these same sentiments. “I want to say that this man is provoking us. This man wants to have a massacre in this country that has been good to him and his children.” one male demonstrator told Al Jazeera.
“Chants of ‘Down with the regime! Down with the president!’ started up again about 30 seconds after he was done with the speech,” Ashraf Khalil, a journalist based in Cairo, told Al Jazeera.
“Talking to the protesters in Tahrir Square, those who are remaining have made it clear that his latest concessions are unacceptable. They have no intention of giving him some sort of eight month farewell tour. They want him gone immediately and they plan to keep the pressure up,” Khalil said.
But to those demanding he leave Egypt, Mubarak said on Tuesday: “This is my country … and I will die on its soil.”
Reaction to Mubarak’s speech has been strong and swift. Immediately afterwards, Barack Obama, US president, said “orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”
But much of the reaction was registered on social networking sites, which have become a vehicle for anti-government protests. A flood of responses on the microblogging site Twitter mostly seemed to favour the Egyptians call for the president to cease power.
“Mubarak said he wants to die in Egypt – careful what you wish for!” one user called Guapo Plethora tweeted.
Another, Iyad El-Baghdadi, tweeted “Live from Tahrir Square: Everyone considers Mubarak an ex-President and think his days are numbered.”
Mona Eltahawy, a columnist and public speaker on Muslim and Arab issues, also tweeted saying, “It’s Mubarak vs Egypt and Egypt must win. Armed forces [have] to understand. There is no way Mubarak can stay til September. OUT.”
Opportunity for real change
Al Jazeera’s correspondents on the ground in Egypt reported similar sentiments. “I was in Tahrir Square for Mubarak speech and once they heard offer to not run again, chanting started “get out get out”. Dan Nolan tweeted.
Later he added “Nobody there believes any of his promises any more. They know this is their opportunity for real change and won’t stop til it happens.”
Ayman Mohyeldin, another correspondent, tweeted that “History may be repeating itself. Former Tunisian president Ben Ali gave three speeches and [vowed not to run again for elections].
Early into Wednesday, protesters in Cairo held up banners stating “Remove the regime”, Al Jazeera’s Dutton reported.
She said demonstrators were determined not to move, and were planning other major protests to take place after Friday prayers.
“The protesters I spoke with really do think Friday might be the day they drive Mubarak from office. They are very optimistic, they are jubilant,” Ashraf Khalil said.