CAIRO — Anger and disappointment seized protesters in Cairo Thursday as they realized that President Hosni Mubarak had no intention of stepping down and leaving the country, as they have demanded during more than two weeks of protests.
Even before Mubarak finished addressing the nation in a televised speech, chants of “down with Mubarak” and “leave, leave,” erupted in Tahrir Square.
Mubarak called the demands of the protesters “just and legitimate” and promised to lead the country out of the current crisis. He said he was transferring some of his presidential powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but did not elaborate.
Many watched in stunned silence to his speech, slapping their hands to their foreheads in anger and shock, some crying or waving their shoes in the air in a sign of contempt.
“For everyone it’s very, very, very disappointing,” said Ahmed Medhat, 41-year-old film director who listened to the speech from the square. “He disappointed all of us and now all people are going to protest tomorrow because we don’t want this system. This regime it’s over, this regime it’s over.”
“He gave a 50,000-word speech that didn’t include the only word people wanted to hear, which is goodbye, said Ahmed Rehab, a democracy activist from Chicago in Egypt to join the protests. “Everybody was just sitting there not listening except for that word and when they didn’t hear it, that’s it, they were done. They didn’t want to hear anything else.”
“People are angry and bitterly, bitterly disappointed,” said NBC reporter Ron Allen, who was in Tahrir Square. He added that many now feared violence and that the pro-Mubarak forces who attacked demonstrators earlier would again be emboldened.
“People were so angry and frustrated that this day was turning out this way,” said Allen.
“The issue is that it’s not that the people are being stubborn,” said Rehab. “It’s that the people have lost faith in this regime to carry out any real reform.”
“I think what really surprised people the most is that (Mubarak) seems to still not acknowledge that there is a revolution. He seems to talk as if it’s just minor protests… This delusion as people see it, is what makes them lose any kind of faith in him and his ability to move forward with the proper reforms.”
As demonstrators waited for Mubarak to speak, their euphoria was tempered by uncertainty about how the transition of power would take place after the president’s resignation, which seemed to be imminent.
Egyptian army commander Hassan al-Roweny told protesters in Tahrir Square that “Everything you want will be realized,” a witness told Reuters.
Roweny addressed protesters from a stage erected in the square, calling on protesters to sing the nationalanthem and keep Egypt safe.
NBC News reported that a high-ranking source inside the president’s office said Mubarak would step down and the newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, would take over. This was confirmed by a second source.
Hours earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama repeated that the United States stands ready “to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy” in the Middle Eastern nation.
“What is absolutely clear is we are witnessing history unfold,” Obama told students at Northern Michigan University. “It’s a moment of transformation,” he said.
But as they heard Mubarak’s words and realized he would not step down, protesters chanted: “The people demand the fall of the regime” and “The regime has fallen.”
Many protesters voiced concern about the role the military might play with Mubarak’s departure.
As the crowd grew after nightfall, protesters in the square began chanting, “civilian not military,” a signal they did not favor military rule.
“The military has been ruling this country since 1952. The top brass in this country are part of the corruption, torture machine that has been ruling this country,” blogger and journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy said in a telephone interview. “Definitely any sort of regime change that we want will involve removing those generals. … The only way to make sure that we get a proper regime change is for the strikes and the protests to continue until they are all out.”
El-Hamalawy said protesters were seeking a transitional government of their choosing, the constitutionredrafted, parliament dissolved and the emergency law lifted, among other demands.
“It’s definitely not Omar Suleiman, the spy chief, nor the army brass — who have always constituted the backbone of the dictatorship — who will bring us or oversee this democratic transition,” he said.
After the speech, however, some held out hope that the military would act in favor of protesters since they had indicated that they might not agree with Mubarak would say in his speech.
Mohamed ElBaradei warned Thursday that Egypt will explode and needs to be rescued by the military.
Copyright 2011 MSNBC.com