Mubarak to Dissolve Govt in Wake of Mass Protests: A First-Hand Account From Cairo

CAIRO/NEW YORK , Jan 28, 2011 (IPS) - After a day in which thousands of protesters called for his ouster and clashed with security forces, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on state television after midnight Friday that he was dismantling the current government immediately and will announce a replacement cabinet on Saturday.

"I have requested the government to step down today, and I will designate a new government as of tomorrow to account for the priorities of the future," Mubarak said, according to a translation on the satellite channel Al Jazeera English, adding that he understood the economic, political and social grievances of the people. 

Mubarak made no mention of his own fate or any impending elections. Indeed, while he mentioned Egyptians' "lawful aspirations" represented by the protests, he said that some "demonstrations turned to riots". 

"There is a fine line separating freedom from chaos," he said, pledging to "defend Egypt's security and stability". 

"We should be cautious and aware of the many examples around us that draw people to chaos and mayhem and gain no democracy or stability," he said. 

Mubarak reportedly spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama by phone for 30 minutes after his address. 

"I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words," Obama said in a brief television address, noting Mubarak's pledges for reform. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away." 

Obama said the U.S. would be a "partner" with the Egyptian people in the pursuit of their goals. "Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people," he said, adding that the U.S. would work with the Egyptian government. 

"I want to be clear to the Egyptian authorities to refrain from using violence against protesters," said Obama, urging demonstrators to also refrain from violence. 

Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of demonstrators poured onto the streets in cities across Egypt, and many were met with U.S.-made tear gas canisters, rubber-coated bullets, and the batons of security forces. 

From the morning on, the protesters' numbers were increasing by the hour. Immediately after the morning Friday Prayers at Sixth of October City, a suburb of Cairo, 3,000 people were out on the streets. By the afternoon prayers, the numbers doubled. Among the crowd there were many women. 

The crowd appeared to transcend class lines, from people wearing the garb of private security guards to the middle- class and affluent. 

Some demonstrators brought their children, but when clashes with security forces heated up, many pulled the children out of the protests. 

At home, people were watching satellite broadcasts like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and even Al Hurra, the U.S. government- funded station, which all covered the protests. 

There are reports on satellite television that two more protesters were killed in Mansour, a city in the northeast Nile River Delta. Al Jazeera just reported that in the main city on the Suez, 11 people died today, on top of the three others that have died in recent days. 

Most forms of communicating out of Egypt are down or suppressed. There is still no Internet service, and mobile phone services are still down. 

Army forces showed up occasionally, but did not directly confront or clash extensively with protesters. 

The branch of the Army that came to downtown Cairo to protect the state-run TV and Radio building was from the Republican guard, which is the presidential guard. 

There were reports of tanks around the U.S. and other embassies, protecting those diplomatic installations. 

Cars popped up around the city in strategic areas with tinted windows. It's illegal for civilians in Egypt to have tinted windows. Usually, these cars are some kind of military intelligence. 

As day turned to night, more clashes broke out and some fires erupted in Cairo. Low-level operatives of Mubarak's government took to state-run television to blame the illegal Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, for the "riots". 

But most of the Brotherhood's senior leadership had been arrested before Friday's demonstrations. 

"Egyptians in Alexandria did the unimaginable on Friday, fending off a police attack for the first time in their lives. They are walking around in shock, unable to digest the significance of what they have done," wrote Peter Bouckaet, Human Rights Watch's global emergencies programme director, from the northeastern city in the Washington Post. 

Late on Friday night in Egypt, a simmering tension was palpable in Cairo's suburbs. Television reports said Mubarak's speech was immediately followed by small groups of protesters sloganeering against the aged president. If the absence of an announcement to step down is any indication, the government may react more violently in the future. 

*Emad Mekay reported from Egypt.

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