The Egyptian military has endorsed President Hosni Mubarak's plan for a transfer of power.
In a statement read on state television, the military's High Council said it endorsed the transfer of some powers by Mubarak to his vice president, Omar Suleiman.
The military also promised free and fair elections later this year but set no date. It also promised it will look into electoral fraud. The military warned against any threat to national security and called for a return to normal life. It also promised to lift the state of emergency as soon as the current situation ends.
Protesters in Egypt are promising to come out in large numbers today following Mubarak's decision -- announced in a speech on state television on February 10 -- not to step down. They are vowing to march on the presidential palace.
Saying he was speaking from the heart, "as a father to his children," Mubarak said the hundreds of Egyptians who have died protesting his 30-year grip on power over the last 17 days had not died in vain, and that he felt the pain of their families.
He praised the country's youth, who touched off the protests on January 25, and said the demands of the demonstrators were lawful and legitimate. But he also said he had taken an oath as president before God and country to serve as president and he would not accept “foreign instructions:”
“As the president of the republic, I do not find any embarrassment or fault in listening to young people in my country and responding to that. However, the real embarrassment and shame and what I did not and will not accept ever is to listen to any foreign instructions coming from abroad, regardless of its sources or motives," he said.
An opposition supporter with an Egyptian army officer in Tahrir Square.
The 82-year-old leader announced he will transfer some of his powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but will remain in office to oversee a peaceful transfer of power. He reaffirmed his earlier pledge not to seek reelection when his term expires in September.
"I decided to delegate to the vice president responsibilities of the president according to the constitution. I know very well that Egypt will overcome this crisis and that its will will not be broken. It will stand on its feet again with the commitment and honesty of its children and will return the cunning of the plotters and the gloating of gloaters," Mubarak said.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians listening to the speech in Cairo's Tahrir Square began shouting and chanting as they realized that Mubarak would not be leaving office.
Surprise In Washington
What moments before had been an atmosphere of joyful celebration, with protesters dancing and singing in anticipation of Mubarak's resignation, quickly turned to anger. Many in the furious crowd waved their shoes in a traditional Arabic expression of anger, chanting, "He must leave! He must leave!"
A large group of people quickly began marching toward the presidential palace, where Mubarak had spoken from.
Vice President Suleiman appeared on state TV shortly after Mubarak and urged protesters to “go back home” and ignore foreign elements that aimed to “weaken Egypt” and “cause chaos.”
Suleiman, who has led one round of talks with opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, said he is “committed to do all it takes to ensure a peaceful transition of power based on constitutional provisions." He added, "Change has begun… The door is still open for more dialogue."
In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a statement after Mubarak spoke that reflected the White House’s surprise at his decision to stay and impatience with the pace of reform.
Obama sharply questioned whether Mubarak's pledge to shift power to his vice president is an "immediate, meaningful or sufficient" sign of reform for a country in upheaval.
Without naming Mubarak, Obama’s statement criticized the leader for not offering clarity to his people or a concrete path to democracy. He called on Egyptian government leaders to do so, declaring: "They have not yet seized that opportunity."
"Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world,” he said.
Anticipation Of Announcement
Cairo's Tahrir Square was packed with people waiting to listen to Mubarak's speech
The dramatic turn of events began around 6 p.m. local time when the Egyptian army announced that it was taking "necessary measures to protect the nation and support the legitimate demands of the people," a move that observers said signaled that the military had assumed control of the country.
The statement, which was read on state television, was labeled, "Communique Number 1" -- a choice of words that suggested a military coup was under way. Egypt's military council held an emergency meeting on February 10 without Mubarak, who is the council head.
News of the military's move came as the BBC reported that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said Mubarak could step down and the situation will be clarified soon. Reports that Mubarak would address the nation prompted widespread speculation that he would soon resign.
The head of Mubarak's National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, told BBC World News that he wanted the embattled leader to tell Egyptians that he will do the right thing.
"[I would like President Mubarak] to tell the people that he has fulfilled his promise, that the order for a constitutional amendment [has gone] out to parliament, and that he understands the credibility of the protesters, and that he respects the requests of the young people in the streets," Badrawi said.
Huge Crowds Expected
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands of demonstrators have camped out for days, people watched the military's announcement on a television screen with growing excitement.
Minutes before, the military's chief of staff, Sami Anan, had been greeted with roars of approval when he appeared in the square and vowed to safeguard people's security.
An Egyptian army commander, Hassan al-Roweny, also told the crowd, "Everything you want will be realized. Protesters lifted al-Roweny onto their shoulders and carried him around the square, shouting, "the army, the people, one hand." Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting "the people want the end of the regime" and "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."
Joel Rubin, an analyst with the Washington-based National Security Network and a member of the White House Egypt working group, called Mubarak’s defiance “pretty shocking."
The White House, he said, had been “holding its breath” to see what Mubarak would do.
He predicted that Friday will see unprecedented numbers of Egyptians in the streets, which in turn could trigger military action. “I think we’re going to see a lot more people out there and it is quite possible that the stare-down we’ve seen in the last couple of days will boil over into potential violence, and that will bring in the army," Rubin said.
"The question," he added, "is what will the army do? Will the army push back on the crowd? Will it step in to remove Mubarak? I’m not sure.”
Thousands of protesters remained in Tahrir Square overnight, as they have in previous nights, preparing for Friday's demonstration. The day promises to be one of the largest, if not the largest, gatherings since the uprising began.
Fifty-year-old university professor Antonini Abu Sayed said he would be among those returning in the morning, because Mubarak’s concessions didn’t satisfy protesters' demands.
Ismail Zarkaria, 45, called Mubarak’s speech “unprecedented in its stubbornness and foolishness,” and said, “Tomorrow I am heading to the palace in protest. Until Mubarak falls, there is no turning back."
Another protester said the most important thing now is to elect a legitimate leader. "We need a ruler, a ruler who comes from a transparent ballot box. Even if the transparent ballot box came up with a donkey, we would accept that and raise him above our heads," he said.
Sameh Ali, a 29-year-old who described himself as an activist, dismissed Mubarak’s partial transfer of power. “Giving Suleiman presidential powers means nothing to protesters. The protesters' calls have fallen on deaf ears. And we will escalate our protests tomorrow, until victory.”
Reaction on Twitter was swift: “Egyptocracy” wrote, “Mubarak just portrayed to the world what 30 years in power does to a person."
“Harizunzru” wrote, “Most offensive thing about Mubarak speech was claim that 'blood of martyrs wouldn't be wasted' as if it wasn't on his hands."
And this from “Khazelton:” “Mubarak's last trick is to incite the people of his country to violence. Deny him the success of his plan. Please."
Written by Heather Maher with Richard Solash and agency reports.