Amid protests that have drawn thousands of Egyptians to the streets in defiance of the government, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced yesterday he would not seek re-election when his term expires this fall, but Harvard professors and students agree it will do little to quell the ongoing Egyptian uprising.
Mubarak’s announcement came after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered yesterday in Midan Tahrir—”Liberation Square” in Arabic—for the largest demonstration yet in what has been a week of sustained protests against a government that has stifled dissent and trampled on civil liberties.
“At this time it’s hard to imagine the population dispersing from Midan Tahrir and being satisfied with Mubarak’s current promise,” Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Anthropology Professor Peter Der Manuelian wrote in an e-mailed statement. “My hope is that this doesn’t increase the tension and violence.”
The clashes between police and protesters have often grown violent, with riot police using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters. Media reports have also been peppered with accounts of looting in the country’s capital, Cairo, where the unrest has been centered.
History of Science Lecturer Ahmed Ragab, who grew up in Egypt and whose family is participating in the protests, watched Mubarak’s speech last night on a live feed from the Al Jazeera website and said that the long-time dictator’s concessions may be insufficient to mollify protesters’ concerns.
“[The protesters’] reaction was unmistakable and the same as mine,” Ragab wrote in an e-mailed statement. “The crowds roared and chanted ‘Leave ... leave, we do not want you.’”
NELC professor Ali Asani called Mubarak’s latest moves “attempts to save face” and said that nothing short of his resignation would end the protests.
“The momentum for change has really built up and I think there’s a coalition of forces that has decided that the old regime just needs to go,” he said.
Mubarak became President of Egypt in 1981 and has clung to power ever since through a combination of repression and sham elections. But theannouncement that he would not seek a new term in September elections is too little too late, according to Ragab.
“I think Mubarak’s speech is a desperate attempt at saving his reign and autocratic rule through implementing reforms, which were called for many times through the past decade and which he refused to implement through the years,” he said.
“The people will not relent until Mubarak’s rule is ended,” he added.
Tarek Anous, a research assistant in physics who attended high school in Egypt, said he agrees that the protests are likely to continue until Mubarak resigns.
“I don’t think his comments have any bearing on what the protesters will do,” Anous said. “There are some people who are probably getting tired of protesting, but I think the general consensus is that he needs to go.”
The announcement that Mubarak will not seek re-election sets the stage for the first free elections in Egypt in recent memory but raises the question whether, in the interim, Mubarak will crack down on opposition and backpedal on his promise to step down.
“Eight or nine months in office is plenty of time to crack down on the protests and to arrest and suppress the opposition, as [Mubarak] has done for the last 30 years,” said Abdelnasser A. Rashid ’11-’12, a former president of the Harvard Islamic Society.
Ahmed S. Belal ’12, who grew up in Egypt and whose family is participating in the protests, agreed Mubarak must resign immediately.
“There cannot be a new legitimate democracy with Mubarak involved in it,” he said. “He’s a figurehead of the oppressive regime. He’s directly responsible for a lot of the deaths that have taken place over the last week and over the last 30 years. His policies have held back Egypt for thirty years.”
—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.