CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he has handed his powers over to his vice president, but he refused to step down outright or leave the country, retaining his title of president and ensuring regime control over the reform process. Stunned protesters in central Cairo who demand his ouster waved their shoes in contempt and shouted, "Leave, leave, leave."
The crowd in Tahrir Square had swollen to several hundred thousand in expectation that Mubarak would announce his resignation in the nighttime address to the nation. Instead, they watched in silence, slapping their foreheads in anger and disbelief. Some broke into tears. After he finished, they broke out into chants for him to go.
Immediately after Mubarak's speech, Vice President Omar Suleiman called on the protesters to "go home" and asked Egyptians to "unite and look to the future."
The pair of addresses followed a series of dramatic events Thursday evening that had raised expectations Mubarak was about to announce his resignation. In a surprise step, the military announced on state TV that its Supreme Council was in permanent session in scenes that suggested the armed forces were taking control, perhaps to ensure Mubarak goes. The top general for the Cairo area told protesters in the square that "all their demands" would be satisfied, and the protesters lifted him on their shoulders, believing that meant Mubarak's ouster.
Instead, Mubarak went on the air several hours later, delivering a firm 15-minute address that suggested little has changed. Suleiman was already leading the regime's efforts to deal with the crisis, but the announcement gives him official authorities.
"I saw fit to delegate the authorities of the president to the vice president, as dictated in the constitution," Mubarak said near the end of the speech. The constitution allows the president to transfer his powers if he is unable to carry out his duties "due to any temporary obstacle," but it does not mean his resignation.
Mubarak said he would stay in the country and that he is "adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility to protect the constitution and safeguard the interests of the people ... until power is handed over to those elected in September by the people in free and fair elections in which all the guarantees of transparencies will be secured."
Mubarak said that the demands of protesters for democracy are just and legitimate, but he adhered tightly to a framework for reform that Suleiman drew up and that protesters have roundly rejected, fearing it will mean only cosmetic change.
He said he had requested the amendment of five articles of the constitution to loosen the now restrictive conditions on who can run for president, to restore judicial supervision of elections, and to impose term limits on the presidency.
He also annulled a constitutional article that gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians accused of terrorism. He said that step would "clear the way" for eventually scrapping a hated emergency law that gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest, but with a major caveat — "once security and stability are restored."