Today, just hours before Hosni Mubarak’s announcement this evening that he would not seek another term as President, Leonard spoke with New York Times reporter Kareem Fahim in Cairo. There have been a number of developments in the last 48 hours, from the Finance Ministry saying that people out of work because of the demonstrations would be eligible for unemployment benefits, to the military’s announcement last night that it would not use force against demonstrators. The latter, according to Fahim, opened the door for today’s massive protest in Tahrir Square, which some news organizations say was attended by over a million people. (As a side note the Iranian government has said it supports the protesters; which is only a little ironic.)
Fahim told us that “The range of responses [from the Mubarak regime] is very hard to read or understand at this point. There are a number of new actors in the government and it’s not clear if everyone is acting under the President’s direction or if some of the people under him are trying to ease his path from power.” Mr. Mubarak took a step down that path this afternoon, but in his speech maintained that he will “die on [Egyptian] soil.”
Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is known in this country mostly as a foil to the Bush Administration during his time as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but he is now the most prominent (and media friendly) opposition leader in Egypt. Fahim said that while ElBaradei has “name recognition in the country. I don’t think he has any base of support yet, although there is a large activist community, especially in Cairo that’s enthusiastic about him. But I think he’s an unknown quality to a lot of people and he ended up speaking for the opposition for the moment probably because he represents sort of a consensus figure and maybe a figure who might be seen as more palatable to whatever outside powers are involved in these discussions at this point.” The American Ambassador and recently appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman spoke with ElBaradei today.
Several of the other producers on the show and I have been watching Al-Jazeera’s English feed online for the past couple days (You can watch it here). The network remains off the air in Egypt and Fahim mentioned that state-run television has been painting a very different picture about what is happening in the country. The Internet also remains shut down, but according to Fahim some activists saw that as a boon to the movement, saying “I spoke to several Internet generation activists…and they said once they had to leave their computers alone, once they were off Facebook, once they were off Twitter, there was nothing left to do but go to the streets. And that’s what they did. They sort of credit the decision to cut off the Internet with enlarging the size of the crowds."
The Lopate Show will continue to cover events in Egypt this week.