Updated 12:18pm Anti-government protests in Egypt have captured the world's attention for 17 straight days, and today there are indications that major changes may be afoot.
A flurry of conflicting reports has surfaced this morning about whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will step down this evening in an address to the nation. The BBC quoted the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party as saying he "hoped" Mubarak would transfer power to the recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, while The Associated Press reported that CIA Director Leon Panetta believes there is a "strong likelihood" that Mubarak will cede control. But the AP is also reporting that the military--not Suleiman--may take control of the country, while Egypt's information minister is telling Reuters that Mubarak "is still in power and is not stepping down."
Whatever Mubarak's intentions, it appears he is currently huddling with key stakeholders. The Egyptian president has reportedly traveled to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh with the army chief of staff.
While the reports are still streaming in, some opponents of the Mubarak regime are already declaring victory. Google executive Wael Ghonim, who was recently released from detention, declared on Twitter, "Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians. #Jan25." Others have fired back, calling Ghonim's pronouncement premature.
But if Mubarak does step down, will all protesters feel vindicated? The BBC predicts that the movement will feel they've achieved a "great victory," yet NPR notes that Suleiman "has long been one of Mubarak's closest aides and head of intelligence in Egypt." Egypt analyst Mona Eltahawy tweeted that protesters will still have more work to do if Mubarak quits: "Reports that dictator #Mubarak will hand over power to torturer #Suleiman will only strengthen #Egypt revolution."
Mubarak appointed Suleiman, who had previously been his chief of intelligence, to be vice president on Jan. 29 in an effort to appease protesters calling for an to his three-decade regime. Suleiman has been meeting with opposition leaders in a quest to end the turmoil in Egypt, but many are skeptical that he represents enough of a change to appease those looking for reform.
Analysts are trying to make sense of the momentous developments and the sudden change in the storyline. As recently as earlier this week, Vice President Suleiman was arguing that Mubarak should stay in power until new elections could be held in September, and the protest movement--racked by internal disagreements--appeared to be losing some steam. What changed?
- Mubarak May Have Lost Military Support, suggests Dan Murphy at The Christian Science Monitor. Murphy believes the military doesn't want to risk further violence and harm to its reputation. He notes that the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces met today but Mubarak didn't chair the meeting as he usually does and "didn't get the kind of four-square backing from the military he's relied on during his almost 30 years in power."
- Army Is Offering Mubarak As a 'Fig Leaf', claims Middle East analyst Julien Barnes-Dacey, as quoted by Reuters. He says the army elite is trying to preserve the regime and they figure that if Mubarak abdicates power, the protests may ebb, clearing "the way for the army to take a tougher line saying it is in the interests of stability."
- Don't Celebrate Yet, cautions Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times: "Those in power may dump Mubarak, but keep a repressive autocracy that they have a stake in."