Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was supposed to announce his resignation on Thursday. The Egyptian military expected it. The new head of his ruling party pleaded to him face-to-face to do it. However, despite more than two weeks of massive demonstrations by protesters unmoved by lesser concessions, the president still didn’t get it.
Mubarak’s top aides and family — including his son Gamal, widely viewed as his intended successor — told him he could still ride out the turmoil. So the televised resignation speech the rest of Egypt had expected became a stubborn — and ultimately humiliating — effort to cling to power. It only enraged protesters. On Friday, the military moved decisively.
On Saturday, insiders in Egypt gave an initial picture of what happened in the hours before Egypt’s “unoustable” leader of nearly 30 years fell. Some of them spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Their account portrayed Mubarak as unable, or unwilling, to grasp that nothing less than his immediate departure would save the country from the chaos generated by the protests that began on Jan. 25.
A senior government official said Mubarak lacked the political machinery that could give him sound advice about what was happening in the country.
“He did not look beyond what Gamal was telling him, so he was isolated politically,” the official said. “Every incremental move [by Mubarak] was too little too late.”
The military, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly impatient with the failure of Mubarak and newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman to end the protests. The unrest spiraled out of control on Thursday and Friday, with demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins and even gunbattles engulfing almost the entire nation.
Insiders spoke of fighting among Cabinet ministers over how great a threat the demonstrators posed, and of deliberate attempts by close aides, including Gamal Mubarak, to conceal from the president the full extent of what was happening on the streets.
The insiders who spoke to reporters include a senior Egyptian official, editors and journalists from state newspapers close to the regime who have spent years covering Mubarak’s presidency, retired army generals in contact with top active duty officers, senior members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and analysts familiar with the machinations of Mubarak’s inner circle.
Their account of the events of the past three weeks shows that the military became concerned soon after the protests began. They said it was the military that persuaded Mubarak to appoint Suleiman as vice president — the first since Mubarak took office in 1981 — and place him in charge of negotiations with opposition groups as a way out of the standoff.
Suleiman failed on that score — on Tuesday he was reduced to threatening that a coup would replace the negotiations if no progress was made. Leaders of the protests vowed not to negotiate until Mubarak was gone, even after he said he would not seek another term in September and promised reforms to reduce poverty, end repressive emergency laws and make Egypt more democratic.
By Thursday, nearly everyone had expected Mubarak to resign, including the military.
Hossam Badrawi, a stalwart of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, met with Mubarak on Thursday and later told reporters that he expected the Egyptian leader to “meet people’s demands” — read that stepping down — later the same day. After Mubarak did not, Badrawi, who had been named the party’s secretary general a few days earlier, resigned in protest, according to two party insiders.