Hosni Mubarak is expected to speak shortly to the throngs of protesters, at least a million strong, who have gathered in Tahrir Square to call for his ouster. Although there is no official confirmation, Al Arabiya television is reporting that Mubarak will announce that he will not run for reelection in September. It's a very different message from his last address to the Egyptian people Friday, when Mubarak thought reshuffling his cabinet would appease public unrest. Al Arabiya also said Omar Suleiman, his newly appointed vice-president, had already started meetings with representatives of parties. Mubarak's concession comes after a message from President Obama, delivered by former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, urging Mubarak not to run again, which in essence withdraws U.S. support for its closest ally in the Arab world. The White House, which provides Egypt with somewhere around $1.5 billion in military aid annually, stopped short of a blunt demand for the current regime to step aside. Rather, the message was "firm counsel that [Mubarak] should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader," echoing Hillary Clinton's support of an "orderly transition."
Another eight months of Mubarak's 30-year rule is unlikely to appease demonstrators, who are planning on spending the night in Tahrir Square. The Guardian's Jack Shenker, reporting live from Cairo, called the atmosphere "festive." Others describe people dancing to the beat of protest chants, tanks keeping the peace at every entrance, and a protective attitude toward foreigners, women, and children in the heaving crowd. Says Shenker:
They are really fired up, they're really emboldened by the fact that, assuming Mubarak announces this, they've secured a major concession from him and it's only spurred them on to continue the protests and stick it out till the bitter end.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt is holding talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, who has offered to act as a transitional leader. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was part of the United States' "public outreach to convey support for an orderly transition in Egypt." Yasser El-Shimy, former U.S. diplomatic attaché, told Al Jazeera English,
"I think that what people are expecting now from Washington now is a clear declaration from president [Barack] Obama that he stands with the revolution in Egypt. The Turkish and the Iranian statements that has come today should not have come before Washington, this should be sending alarming signals to the White House ... They are trying to find a way to fill any vacuums that might be created once Mubarak leaves the country, they [Washington] are trying to see if El Baradei can fill that hole."
Reports: Mubarak to skip bid for re-election after hearing Obama message [MSNBC]
Obama Urges Mubarak Not to Run Again [NYT]
US envoy meets ElBaradei [Al Jazeera English]
Egypt protests - live updates [Guardian UK]
Update: Mubarak just went on TV to announce, as expected, that he won't run for president again in September and will work to foster a peaceful transition. In fact, he dubiously claimed, he never intended to run anyway. So the egg is on your face, protesters; this whole hubbub was a total waste of time for you!
*Stay tuned for updates.