The disappointment felt by Egyptians is matched only by their determination to fight on against Mubarak
The cool breeze in the air is not capable of calming the flames of anger that Mubarak’s speech ignited last night. I was in Tahrir square with hundreds of thousands of people. The square has never before been that busy at night. People of every age and background were flooding the place all afternoon and evening when they heard that the president was going to address the nation. You could sense the excitement and feel the elation as you walked next to people discussing all the possible scenarios after the president stepped down. Many impromptu parties were being formed, with drumming, dancing and chanting. The Egyptians would be free of the dictator who ruled and corrupted Egypt for 30 years. TV and radio stations had been announcing the charges against many of the symbols of the system; previous ministers and ruling party officials were going to be tried for their crimes and corruption.
The joyful jubilation continued around the square for hours, as the speech was delayed. Songs of solidarity were broadcast and people sang loudly with hoarse voices, the result of days of chanting and shouting pro-democracy slogans.
Then everyone hushed down to listen to Mubarak. Some couldn’t hear the loudspeakers, they were listening to their radios. Next to me a young artist was listening to the radio on his mobile and repeating the speech word for word for his group to listen. People remarked on how defeated his voice was. They thought the people’s demands would be met. But Mubarak’s old rhetoric did not change, and the language he was using was slowly making people realise that the old tactics have not changed. Tears formed in some of the eyes of those who heard it first; they understood what he was going to say. He is not stepping down. Anti-Mubarak chants echoed here and there, but the crowd continued to listen and their anger continued to rise. When he finished, we were all stunned. A middle-aged man who has been in the square since the beginning shouted a swear word. People behind me picked it up and made it into a short chant. The crowds in all parts of the square were enraged, chanting, screaming, crying.
Many had no words. They just sat, or smoked nervously, or looked at each other with vacant eyes. A young woman next to me asked her sister. “Didn’t he give his authority to his vice president? Why is everyone upset?” The people demanded that he stepped down, and he didn’t – confusing the population with technicalities. This trick did not fool millions of Egyptians who woke up during this revolution, and are willing to give up their lives for freedom.
Then there was a speech by the vice-president – most of those listening to it stood in front of the largest loudspeaker holding one of their shoes in their hands. Some chanted: “No to Mubarak. No to Suleiman. Both are working for the Americans.” Others threatened: “If you don’t leave, we’ll come to the presidential palace to take you out.”
There are no words to express the disappointment and frustration that fell on Tahrir Square and millions of other Egyptians last night. But there is also no way to describe the determination in the eyes of those who are staying in the square. They will continue to fight till they win. They have no other choice. If they leave now, in a matter of hours they will all be in detention accused of conspiring against the system. People who learned that they have rights are going to defending these rights “till the last breath”, as many vowed last night.