A week after protesters took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez demanding President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the man who has ruled Egypt with an iron fist for the last 30 years addressed Egyptians over state television late Tuesday / early Wednesday morning (2.45 am India time).
Mubarak, 82, made the following points:
.He does not intend to contest September's presidential election.Mubarak's address follows talks with US President Barack Hussein Obama's special envoy Frank Wisner.
.He will ask the new Government appointed by him to take up political reforms and address key 'legitimate' issues agitating the people.
.He will initiate amendments to the Constitution -- including setting a limit to presidential terms.
.He will call on Parliament to hold early elections.
.His Government has begun 'dialogue' with political parties but some have refused to join talks as "they have their agenda".
.He will instruct police to ensure freedom and dignity of people.
.He is a "man of the Army" and will not abdicate his responsibility of ensuring peaceful transition.
.He is proud of the years he has spent in service of Egypt and Egyptian people.
.He is an Egyptian, Egypt is his land and he will die in Egypt.
Will Mubarak's 'offer' help put an end to the protests? Will the protesters disperse?
The immediate response of the protesters has not been very positive. Many chanted: We won't go! You must go!" They clearly want Mubarak to step down now.
But it is also true that a vast majority of Egyptians do not want the country to descend into chaos and anarchy and would prefer an orderly transfer of power -- a 'safe transition' -- from the Mubarak regime to an interim arrangement. The looting and arson have heightened fears among common Egyptians.
Interestingly, voices in support of Mubarak or in favour of a smooth, orderly transition are now being heard. Business owners and those dependent on the services sector are beginning to lash out at the protesters.
Change yes, but few Egyptians are in favour of radical change. Let's not forget that the protesters -- the highest turnout was on Tuesday, pegged at a quarter million -- are a fraction of Egypt's 80 million population.
At the same time, many are insisting that they "want the state cleaned" although they don't know what to replace the existing system with.
Imponderables: Where does the Army figure in all of this? Can a loose coalition of protesters mobilised via Facebook and Twitter without a command and control system exercised by an acknowledged leadership maintain the momentum or will it now lose the edge and energy? Will a division emerge between those who are willing to go along with the timeframe proposed by Mubarak to usher orderly transition and those who want change now?
So, is it now a battle of wits? Who blinks first?
Wednesday will provide some indicative answers. Meanwhile, here's my editorial comment in The Pioneer on the larger implications of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings for the Arab states.