It looks like autocrat Hosni Mubarak may be giving into the demands of Egypt's pro-democratic uprising and stepping down from his 30-year term before the scheduled election in September. In Tahrir Square, General Anan said, "All your demands will be met" as crowds cheered wildly. ABC's Terry Moran tweeted that Anan told him, "Tonight it is over." Al Jazeera English correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin e-mailed Intel from Cairo, "Yes we are in breaking news president is stepping down!!," although the website's headline says Mubarak only "may step down," according to ruling party officials. Sources tell NBC News that vice-president, and former head of intelligence Omar Suleiman, will take over as leader. Earlier today, Egyptian army commander Hassan al-Roweni told protesters, "Everything you want will be realized". Parliament is closed, workers have been told to go home, and for the first time ever, the army has been on parliamentary ground in Egypt. In a statement delivered via state television, the army discussed its meeting with Mubarak's regime.
"Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation... and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people."
After seventeen days of courageous protests under threat of violence and detention by secret police, we are tempted to say: This is how you do a revolution! But with Suleiman — the man who sanctioned 80 hours of torture that led to a false confession about WMDs that led to justification of our invasion of Iraq — at the helm, it remains to be seen what Cairo's change in leadership will mean and how demonstrators will respond once the thrill of victory subsides. PBS columnist Mona Eltahawy says, "They do not trust Mubarak and they do not trust Omar Suleiman."
On Al Jazeera's live-blog, Mohyeldin reports that protesters' anxiety about who will fill the vacuum left by Mubarak extends to the military. (Public sentiment is that the army is with the people, where the police are more like Mubarak's private thugs.) "If General Suleiman or the military take over, that is of great concern to everyone. While the military is very much respected, people here want to see a transition from military rule to civilian rule." Marshal law has been in place since Anwar el-Sadat's assassination, and the past four leaders of Egypt have had a military background. On the station's live feed, Mohyeldin added, "By no means is the military's popularity in Egypt guarantee that it could" take on the function of peace-keeping during the transition either.
For now, protesters are dancing in the streets and chanting, "Here we are Egyptians — proud again!" as they prepare for Mubarak to address the people live on state television from the presidential palace. Reports that the presidential fleet has not mobilized could mean Mubarak will fly out of a military base, possibly to that luxury clinic in Germany.
Foreign governments are also waiting to see what will happen in Cairo. NBC's Brian Williams said Israelis are "as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a brief statement saying only, "The president is watching the same thing you are. I don't know what the outcome will be."
Hosni Mubarak 'may step down' [Al Jazeera]
Egypt's Mubarak to step down [MSNBC]
In Egypt's Political Transformation, Who Speaks for Whom? [PBS]
Live blog Feb 10 - Egypt protests [Al Jazeera]
Update: Speaking at a previously scheduled appearance in Michigan, President Obama at first seemed to prolong the White House’s undefined position on Egypt over the past few weeks, cracking Green Bay Packers jokes and thanking speakers before addressing Egypt, saying:
We are following today’s events in Egypt very closely and we’ll have more to say as this plays out. But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change. They’ve turned out in extraordinary numbers from all ages and all walks of life. But it’s young people who have been at the forefront, a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard. And so going forward, we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know that America will continue to do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.
With Mubarak yet to issue a statement, and Suleiman, a longtime intelligence ally of the United States, expected to replace him, it looks like the White House is still approaching the situation with caution and less clarity than protesters would like to hear.
*Stay tuned for Mubarak's speech.