I watched on Al Jazeera television and followed tweets (#Tahrir) from Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians awaited a promised speech by President Hosni Mubarak. Over the past few days, protests in the country have grown to include workers and professionals. Today, thousands of workers around the country went on strike for a second day, and it was reported that doctors and medical students in white coats, along with lawyers in black robes, marched into the square. As the speech neared this evening, the masses of people were somewhere between a party mood and an apprehensive mood as they waited to see what he would say. There were chants of "Long Live Egypt."
Then came the speech. Mubark opened by commemorating those who fell -- "martyrs and injured" -- and promised to penalize those responsible. He admitted that mistakes had happened and that the demands of the youth were legitimate. But it quickly became clear that he had no intention of resigning. He reiterated that he will not run for re-election in September, but that he had a responsibility to give power to the winner of an election, and proposed a number of constitutional amendments he claimed would streamline and simplify the election process. He delegated some power to Vice President Suleiman and spoke of a framework for the peaceful transition to power in line with a national dialogue.
The longer the speech went on, the louder grew the chants and jeers from the crowd. By the time the speech was over, the air was filled with chants of, "He must leave! He must leave! He must leave!" Tweets were noting "angry crowds," "square boiling now," "the people are livid," "am watching tears in a womans eyes, face filled with pain as she listens."
It is now midnight in Cairo, and what will happen overnight remains to be seen. Mass demonstrations were already planned for Friday; they will now likely be much larger and much angrier. The role and response of the military is unknown, but it seems that the potential for violence is great. The last tweet I saw before posting this was, "The level of anger in Tahrir is off the charts, the crowd won't wait till tomorrow. This is going to produce a very disturbing scene," and there are reports that a march on the presidential palace is beginning.
Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.