Revelry turned to rage in Cairo's Tahir Square on Thursday night, as Egyptian protesters absorbed news they didn't expect: President Hosni Mubarak wasn't leaving. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators had flooded the square all day, as reports spread that Mubarak would announce his resignation by midnight.
The reports seemed solid: Hossam Badrami, the head of Egypt's ruling party, told Reuters he thought the president would step down. In Washington, CIA chief Leon Panetta said he believed Mubarak's departure was "a strong likelihood." And Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for Cairo, pointedly told demonstrators in Tahir Square they would get their wish: "All your demands will be met today."
But when Mubarak finally stepped in front of a royal blue curtain at 11:20 p.m. to address the nation in a televised speech, reality trumped reports. In a sometimes-ambiguous address, Mubarak said he would hand powers to newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman. But it wasn't immediately clear how far those powers would reach. Even if Mubarak hands all presidential powers to the vice president, his pledge to remain in the country and "shoulder my responsibilities" until elections in September left protesters certain of one thing: The regime remains in control.
Mubarak's speech-time strategy didn't seem to sway demonstrators seeking his departure for nearly three weeks. In an attempt to deflect anger to outside forces, the president vowed: "We will not accept or listen to any foreign interventions or dictations." The reference to international calls for Mubarak to step down didn't resonate with crowds that wanted the same thing.
Even as Mubarak touted his allegiance to Egypt-and his refusal to compromise his personal dignity-the crowds in Tahir Square began roaring in protest. By the time the president assured the nation that Egypt would "get out of this difficult time," protesters were chanting toward him: "Get out! Get out!"
In the moments after Mubarak's speech, American media outlets tried to confirm their understanding of the Arabic address hastily translated into English. A CNN correspondent asked a protester in the square if Mubarak had stepped down. The Egyptian incredulously replied, "No!" When the reporter asked what Mubarak had called for, the protester said, "This guy is calling for more rage in the country."