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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Egypt Uprising: State TV: Mubarak to Speak Tonight; CIA Chief Leon Panetta Informs Congress Mubarak to Step Down; Secretary General of Egypt's Ruling Party on Protestors' Demands: "They Won"; Ghonim: "Mission Accomplished"
Aired February 10, 2011 - 10:45 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: If you are just tuning in, breaking news out of Cairo, Egypt. We are getting word that possibly after a number of meetings and a number of phone calls today, that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak may step down as early as this evening. Who would take his place? His newly appointed vice president, who you see there on the other side of your screen. Omar Suleiman, his intelligence chief he appointed vice president.
We want to go ahead and simulcast now with our sister network CNN International. Ben Wedeman is up live, talking about what he knows on this lazing - the latest -- breaking development out of Cairo.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: -- outside pressure, say, from the military?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, really, there's a good deal of pressure at play here from the military, from the street, from countries like the United States. They want him to move on, to somehow step aside so this current sort of buildup to God knows what, can be avoided, because -- but we also know that President Mubarak has told people that he has a Ph.D. in stubbornness. And certainly, his few public appearances in the last two-and-a-half weeks have indicated that he after many years of service to Egypt as a man in the military, as vice president and as president, that he's not exactly eager to leave office under a dark cloud.
But Cairo and all of Egypt at the moment is very much under a dark cloud of uncertainty as to whether or if he's going to step down at all. Isha?
SESAY: Ben, stand by because I would like to welcome our viewers from the United States and of course around the world who are joining us here at the International Desk.
And, Ben, if you would, just run us through what stood out for you in that conversation I had with the secretary general of the National Democratic Party and this thoughts and expectations that president Hosni Mubarak could indeed step down before September if constitutional changes are made. Your thoughts again, Ben. WEDEMAN: Well, obviously, there is a good deal of pressure, Isha, from so many quarters. From the street, from Tahrir Square behind me, from this growing and suddenly assertive labor unrest for him to step down.
You have the United States, which I think desperately would like him to step aside so the power, the confusion, can be cleared away. But there are others who want President Mubarak to stay in. We know that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told the United States not to embarrass or humiliate President Mubarak. There are other Arab regimes who are very uncomfortable with the current situation. So, he is obviously pulled in many different directions, but certainly the direction he's being pulled in Egypt is off of his seat, out of power. Isha?
SESAY: Indeed. Ben, hat did you make of what Hossam Badrawi, the secretary-general of the NDP, said about this transfer of power to the vice president and not to the speaker, which was always my understanding of what is in the constitution right now, that power would shift to the speaker and elections in 60 days?
WEDEMAN: That's right. According to the constitution, power goes to the speaker of parliament, Mr. Futhi Suroor and within 60 days, there would be elections.
But, of course, the speaker of parliament is seen as a very illegitimate figure because of course, he is speaker of a parliament that many Egyptians believe was fraudulently elected. In late November, early December, there were parliamentary elections here which were wrought with rigging and fraud and what not. So, there is a good deal of hesitation to see power go to a man who represents a body most Egyptians consider to be corrupt and unrepresentative of the mass of the population.
Whereas in the case of vice president Omar Suleiman, many people do have reservations about him, but even though who are opposed to President Mubarak, at least among them, there are people who say, look, this is a man who knows how to run the country. We may not like his methods, but he is somebody who can control the situation and might be able to gradually engineer Egypt out of this current crisis to some form of stability whereby the measures, the ground could be laid for some sort of peaceful transition. Isha?
SESAY: Ben, it's 5:49 in Cairo right now. We see the scenes from Cairo's Tahrir Square thousands jammed into the square, once again on this day. The pressure clearly mounting on President Hosni Mubarak. You pointed out the U.S., the people there on the streets that we continue to show scenes of. But what of the military in all of this, and this development, if you will, that there are serious discussions that President Hosni Mubarak could step down before September? What's their fingerprint on all of this?
WEDEMAN: Well, basically who controls Egypt at the moment? It's the military. The police have come back on the streets in a limited number, but it's really the military who has all of the cards in its hands. It's managed to reduce the amount of violence between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces. It's all over the country.
I was in the town of Mahala (ph) today in the Nile Delta. There are tanks up there. No police to be seen. So, really it's the military that has a certain amount of trust among the protesters. The government itself realizes that it's the military that calls all the shots. So, really, they can decide at this point whether to allow Mubarak to stay in power for a limited amount of time, or they can simply say, look, you are tainted in this situation, and you must step down.
So, we are still waiting for them to make some sort of definitive statement as to where they stand, and I imagine had they do come out and make a statement, it will probably be decisive.
SESAY: We are hearing that President Hosni Mubarak could indeed address the nation today. We don't have a time for that expected announcement address.
But, Ben, what is your sense, if indeed, President Hosni Mubarak comes out and says what the NDP secretary-general said, Would that be enough to clear those people in Tahrir Square, news of Omar Suleiman taking over power?
WEDEMAN: Well, there are a lot of concerns about Omar Suleiman, his background as the head of intelligence in Egypt. And, of course, intelligence is one body of the state many Egyptians have not only great distrust of but also fear of. So -- but, really, it's hard to say at this point where Omar Suleiman will figure in the equation. He certainly has been for many years the right-hand man of President Hosni Mubarak. He is somebody who Mubarak trusts implicitly. But it's hard to say at this point, Isha.
SESAY: It certainly is. Ben, stand by for us, if you willl. We have shown our viewers the pictures. You have seen the sights. Now, listen to the sounds with us out of Cairo's Tahrir Square.
(CROWDS CHANTING AND YELLING)
SESAY: Ben, a short time ago, just before we got you up live, the crowd were united in, it seemed, one chant or series of slogans. Can you tell us some of the sounds what they are saying there in Tahrir Square when they make these chants, when they shout out these slogans?
WEDEMAN: Well, I'm a little too far away to hear what they're saying at the moment, but they've got some very imaginative chants down there.
But just to get back to the earlier question. I mean, what people want, it's not just a change at the top. They don't want to see president Hosni Mubarak replaced by Omar Suleiman. They are talking about a complete change of the regime, which means a dismantling of the police state, dismantling, end to the emergency law that's been in place since 1981. They want to see parliament dissolved for all of the reasons I have mentioned before. So, they will be pleased to a certain extent that they were very much able to bring down President Mubarak, but they have much bigger ambitions. They want to see the regime and all that means completely taken down and a new government, a government that's democratic, representative, that does not depend on arbitrary arrests, torture and corruption. They want to see something completely new. Isha.
SESAY: CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman, we thank you. Stand by for us, because I want to bring in Ian Lee, a journalist who's actually down in Tahrir Square, home to these protests.
Ian, if you can hear me, just describe for our viewers in the United States and around the world what you are seeing, what you are hearing among the crowds there.
IAN LEE, JOURNALIST (via phone): Well, right now, it is packed here in Tahrir Square. People are anticipating something big to happen. No one is really quite sure right now what is going to happen, but there are a lot of rumors that President Hosni Mubarak might step down. People are all talking about that right now. They're chanting slogans down with the government. We're hearing women who are screaming, who are drunk (ph). It's very, very festive right now down here in Tahrir Square.
SESAY: Festive atmosphere there. Ian, have they been able to pick up on the development we're hearing of, if the president did indeed does step down, he could well transfer power to his vice president, Omar Suleiman? Has that trickled down to the square?
LEE: Oh, that is something people are talking about here . What their big demand in the beginning was President Mubarak to step down, but people -- if that happens, this place will erupt like never before. It will be a huge, huge scene of exuberance. Right now, people are still talking. They're screaming. They're celebrating, and the news hasn't even happened. I can only imagine what it is going to be like when -- if the news breaks.
SESAY: What's your sense, Ian, would that be acceptable to people there in Tahrir Square if, indeed, Omar Suleiman was to take the reins of Egypt?
LEE: Well, you know, definitely people are divided on that. A lot of people seem him as part of the old guard, part of the same system they are trying to get rid of. But by and large, most people here would be happy if President Mubarak stepped down and then they'll deal with that in negotiations.
But I think you'll see a lot of people, you know, this -- this protest start to wind down, if you do see President Mubarak leave. You do have people who are against Omar Suleiman, but would you have fewer probably people here in Tahrir Square.
SESAY: (INAUDIBLE) -- The secretary-general of national Democratic Party. He says quite simply, they've won. The people have won, the people in the Tahrir Square have won, if indeed this is the eventuality.
Just once again, describe the mood there in Tahrir Square because they certainly do seem re-energized.
LEE: Oh, definitely. Just walking into Tahrir Square, everyone was asking -- saying, it's going to happen soon, it's going to happen soon. People are just anticipating it. People are all smiles. There's drums. There's music. It's definitely -- it's probably the most packed that I've ever seen the square. It is definitely -- you know, if the news were to come in that Hosni Mubarak steps down, this will be the place to be this night in Egypt.
SESAY: It is just a few minutes before 6:00 p.m. there in Cairo. It is absolutely packed. It would appear that people just continue to make their way to Tahrir Square, which has become the focal point of all of this.
LEE: Definitely. I just saw people streaming into Tahrir Square. I saw a few people who were leaving, and I asked where they are going. They said we have to drop stuff off, and we're going to be right back. It's definitely going to grow the more people are anticipating what is coming next. This place is going to bursting at the seams.
SESAY: Journalist Ian Lee there in the midst of the crowds of Tahrir Square, where people are standing by in anticipation of some kind of address from President Mubarak. We're hearing he will speak out today.
Ian, stand by for us. We appreciate the insight and descriptions.
For our viewers from around the United States and around the world, we want to play for you some of that interview that we just did with the secretary-general of the Democratic National Party. That's the ruling party there in Egypt with Hossam Badrawi, who gave us his insight and expectations of what will happen next. Let's listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HOSSAM BADRAWI, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF EGYPTIAN DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL PARTY (via phone): Maybe, I don't know this, but this is a request from me as the secretary-general that as long as the constitutional amendments are being passed to the parliament by request of the president. So, he might be giving a talk to the nation for his next step, which I believe should accommodate the protesters.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SESAY: I just want to bring our viewers some startling news that we are just learning of here at the International Desk. Word coming to us that Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, has said just moments ago -- we are just getting this information -- that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the beleaguered leader of that nation could indeed step down as president today. That is the news we are just getting, that President Mubarak of Egypt could relinquish power of that nation that has been in turmoil for more than two weeks today. We spoke to the secretary-general of the National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, just a short time ago. It was his expectation that the process would be a pursuit of constitutional change which would see power shifted from Mubarak to his vice president, a process which in his estimation could take a number of weeks. And at that point, he said it was possible that President Mubarak would step down, of course, before September, which was his deadline.
We are now getting word just coming into us here at CNN, that the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, is now saying that that stepping down could occur today.
We are working to bring you more details to see whether we can get some more insight as to where that is coming from, how he has come to that estimation, who the U.S. is speaking to there in Egypt, what the military is saying. Of course, the military power brokers in this standoff considered to be the only ones that could really change the game, if you will. At least a spokesperson addressed the nation on state-run TV just a short time ago.
We are still working to bring you some details on what was said then, but the staggering development in all of this, word from the head of the CIA that Mubarak could step down today. A man who had said that he had a Ph.D. in stubbornness, that if he was to step down now, the country would be plunged into turmoil and chaos, and that he had said that he needed this transition or his stepping down to be coordinated in an orderly fashion for the sake of the country. Well, now, it would appear, at least from what we are hearing from the head of the CIA, that President Mubarak has changed up his timetable and now could step down today.
That is a scene from Tahrir Square. It is one minute past 6:00 p.m. right now, where the crowds are gathered waiting for an expected announcement from the president.
I want to bring in my colleague Jim Clancy, who is going to take over our coverage of what is going on in Egypt. Jim, joined by Suzanne Malveaux. They're going to carry you through the next hour -- Jim, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Obviously, I'm joined by my colleague, Jim Clancy, from our sister network, CNN International.
We want to get to straight to the breaking news out of Egypt. Clearly, these are very significant developments that are taking place. Word now that, possibly, President Hosni Mubarak may step down, and he may step down as early as today.
And as Isha just reported, we heard from the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, telling a congressional hearing, members of Congress in Washington that, in fact, there's a strong likelihood that President Mubarak would step down.
That is a very significant development, Jim.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Suzanne, you know, a lot of this goes to your beat, the White House, and what is happening. And I think when you see a U.S. official like Leon Panetta making a comment like this, it reflects the discussion that has taken place.
We have known that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we have known that Defense Secretary Gates both favored stability, and showing respect for Hosni Mubarak. But you had Vice President Biden pushing and pushing very hard to back those protesters in the streets.
MALVEAUX: And it has been a very delicate balancing act when you look at it, because even within the administration itself, the Obama administration, there have been divisions. We have heard from a representative, the special envoy who was sent there to say, look, Mubarak has to stay in power through September, he needs stability, he's establishing a legacy.
At the same time, you had a State Department spokesman who said, you know, he doesn't speak for us. Clearly, within the administration itself, there has been a struggle about how to best handle this because it is so significant, our alliance with Egypt and the leadership there.
CLANCY: And at the end of the day, they can still make the phone call and tell President Hosni Mubarak, you should step down tonight. He doesn't have to do it. He is his own president, after all, and this is what remains.
This is why the people that you're watching there in Tahrir Square, there's a lot of uncertainty out there in the streets. You know, people were thinking that this movement was losing momentum earlier this week. Well, it has regained the momentum.
Strikes have spread. Trade unions are now involved. And as we look at things that are developing on the ground, the pressure is clearly mounting. But the response, that's going to measure the progress that these demonstrators have really made.
MALVEAUX: And Jim, we're just getting new information in now. I want to bring that in.
I'm getting an e-mail here. This is from our own John King, who is quoting a senior U.S. official saying that within the Egyptian government, they tell the administration that President Mubarak -- I'm reading here -- has agreed to yield power to his vice president.
This is sensitive information. It needs to happen. But this is coming from a senior U.S. official, who is now saying, in fact, that Mubarak feels that this is the right time. And that is an incredible development when you look at how much pushback the administration has gotten from Mubarak, who's been in power for three decades or so.
CLANCY: They've agonized on this decision.
Let's get over to Ben Wedeman right now and hear what he knows there on the ground, perhaps reflect a bit of that momentum that has been gained by the protesters this night -- Ben.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, what we have seen is that, really, over the last 48 hours, a movement that some people said was starting to lose steam really has picked up dramatically, as you mentioned, with the involvement of trade unions, strikes across the country. It really does seem to be putting the pressure on the president to leave.
Now, I've heard from a reliable source that there will be an announcement shortly that may indicate the fate of President Hosni Mubarak. Certainly, given the circumstances, given the fact that it's expected tomorrow, there will be even bigger demonstrations, the pressure has gotten to the point where it would be very difficult for him to stay in power under these conditions -- Jim.
MALVEAUX: Ben, give us a sense of what it's like on the ground there. Are the crowds -- do they know about this information? Do they get a sense of what is going to take place here, the significance of this moment?
WEDEMAN: Well, certainly we understand they're getting very excited, because I think they realize that what they have been pushing for, at least one of the demands they've been pushing for, may be about to be revealed, and certainly the mood in the street is one of anticipation and excitement. People really do think that today may see this critical announcement whereby the president could hand over power to Vice President Omar Suleiman.
There have been rumors throughout the day that something dramatic is about to happen, but it's very difficult at this point to determine whether President Mubarak will make that critical decision. As I mentioned before, he's bragged that he does have a Ph.D. in stubbornness. And certainly if you go back to the speech he made to the nation on the 28th of January, he made it clear that he wasn't about to step down, that after a lifetime of service to Egypt in the military, as vice president under Anwar Sadat, and as president since 1981, he sees it as his duty to continue as the president.
And certainly as a military man, he's always made it clear that he's been given an assignment and he's going to carry it out to the very end. So we'll have to wait for the next minutes or hours to see if he's going to make that decision, or if all of this talk is for naught -- Jim.
CLANCY: Well, another military man, Ben, Omar Suleiman, is the vice president. When there's a temporary situation, I understand the constitution allows that he could become the president. But the real question tonight is -- and it's one that's got to be examined by those protesters -- does Omar Suleiman taking the reins of power really mean that much change for Egypt?
WEDEMAN: Well, let me clarify something for you, Jim. According to the Egyptian constitution, if the president steps down, power goes to the speaker of the parliament, Mr. Fathi Surur. And after 60 days, elections are to be held. So there needs to be some sort of modification to the constitution that would allow the vice president to assume presidential powers, and that has not happened yet. And as I was saying before, there's a good deal of hesitation to hand the powers over to the speaker of parliament, because he, of course, heads a body that most Egyptians consider sort of the mother of all corruption, fraud and whatnot in Egypt. So you need to get that changed in the constitution for powers to be handed to Omar Suleiman -- Jim.
MALVEAUX: Ben, we're getting back to you in just a moment.
But I want to bring in my colleague John King out of Washington.
Obviously, John, you have been speaking with senior administration officials, and this has been a very delicate balances act between what the White House has said publicly and what the White House has said privately regarding how quickly they would like to see President Mubarak go.
What are you learning?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Suzanne, you're dead right on the sensitivity of all of this.
I am told by a senior U.S. official that the administration is getting information that it believes is reliable and from ranking members of the Mubarak regime that, indeed, a plan is in place for the president to step aside and yield power to his vice president. Now, I want to add a healthy dose of skepticism. The administration is saying, as this official put it to me, "We need to see it happen."
Yet, they do believe, Suzanne, that the pressure has built and that the military has sent the president the message. And again, they say they are being told by people they trust in the Mubarak regime that this plan is indeed in place for the president to step aside, yield power to the vice president. And the administration says, number one, it needs to see it happen. It has had mixed and conflicting signals throughout this crisis.
And number two, it says it's seeking what the source called clarifying information about the timetable and the mechanics of all of this, because as you know and as you have been discussing with Ben and others, there have been some questions about constitutional questions, legal questions. You know, can the vice president take power? And if so, what has to be done to enact the Democratic and other political reforms that the protesters have been demanding?
But the biggest headline is the administration, Suzanne, from this source tells me he does have information from people t hey trust in the regime that this plan indeed is in place for President Mubarak to step aside and yield power. And again, I'll say it one more time -- they do have a bit of skepticism. They want to see it, but they're beginning to believe it.
MALVEAUX: And John, I want to press that point a little bit, because obviously we've seen events unfold in the White House over the last couple of weeks and the course of this conflict.
On the one hand, you had President Obama urging President Mubarak to do this quickly, to resolve this matter, and praising the military for the lack of violence on the streets. And you had 24 hours later, the statement from Mubarak coming out, saying that he was going to wait until September. You had the Obama administration playing catch- up, doing a switch-around, if you will, and essentially had to back Plan B, which was to have the vice president there and have Mubarak give him a little bit more time.
Why do they think this might be any different? Why do we suppose that they feel this sense of trust now that this could be the moment that this happens?
KING: Well, this is the first time they would say that they're getting specific information that the president has agreed to step aside. Early on, when the vice president was appointed -- and as everyone has discussed, the vice president has been someone the United States has dealt with for -- way previous to this administration, somebody they trust, somebody they have faith in -- they believed the process had begun.
And you're right, it was a little more than a week ago when the president said he wanted an orderly transition and he wanted it to begin now. It has been a messy process. There's no doubt about that.
The administration would say that it never said President Mubarak had to go tomorrow, but it did want him to announce his intentions to leave and put in place a transition plan. And the administration will have to answer for how some of the public statements don't exactly match up to how they evolved over several days. But their main point has been, he needs to step aside, he needs to make an announcement to the Egyptian people, and he needs to set in place a plan to have a transitional government and then a process that allows political parties to register and grow, that sets a clear date for elections, that makes clear that the emergency martial laws will be lifted, and that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of demonstration, some sort of a campaign atmosphere, if you will, will be allowed to exist in Egypt.
The administration will go back and dissect this for many, many months. The main thing they want is for President Mubarak to step aside and to make public announcement that he is stepping aside. And again, they believe on this day, Suzanne, after what has been -- you put it just right -- a messy couple of weeks, they believe on this day, the information they are getting is that that crowd will get its demands answered pretty soon.
CLANCY: John King, Jim Clancy.
We're going to listen to the crowd here for a second as we hear their enthusiasm really coming to a peak here with anticipation.
CLANCY: John King, Jim again. You know, the U.S., the White House has finally made a decision, that they're asking Mr. Mubarak to step aside. It has come at an agonizing pace. It has made the White House appear as if it was very indecisive on this one. And it comes, moreover, above the voices of allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, that were advising and have been advising up until the last few hours the U.S. to stay the course with Mubarak, to stay the course for stability and respect for a longtime ally.
KING: And Jim, on the last point, the administration would say staying the course was simply an unsustainable position, that the genie is out of the bottle. And you are seeing it right there with those crowds gathering and growing by the day in Tahrir Square even after the first attempt by the government to stifle the dissent and the protests with a crackdown.
Look, it has been a messy process. The administration would argue it has not been as messy as we in the media have been making it. But as we dissect that, the administration, number one, has said pretty much from the beginning that President Mubarak was going to have to listen to these people and go.
There is a big debate about whether by "begin the transition immediately," they meant he needed to go immediately. But there is no question, Jim -- there is no question that from Saudi Arabia, form the United Arab Emirates, from Israel, for that matter, there have been words of caution to this administration, essentially saying, you don't know what you're unleashing here, you need to stand by Mubarak, because if he falls, there will be uncertainty and unrest across the region.
The administration's answer back is that this is not a U.S. decision to be made, that they did not tell Mr. Mubarak to go, or they cannot force him to go, anyway, but they can tell him to look at those crowds, to listen to the military, and to realize he has lost the credibility of his own administration and that he cannot sustain his power in Egypt, and it is best for him to go.
There will no doubt -- you know the region very, very well, my friend -- there will no doubt be a domino effect and a lot of questions. What will happen in Yemen? What will happen in Jordan? What will happen in Iran, for that matter?
And how what any new government -- if it is Vice President Suleiman, in the short term the Israelis will feel a little better in the short term. What will come next? What will come of the elections? How big of a factor will the Muslim Brotherhood be? Those are all giant question marks that will be answered in the weeks and months ahead.
But the bottom line when you talk to people high in the Obama administration is that the crowds in Egypt, the dissent in Egypt is widespread. It is not limited to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is way across society. And that this was going to happen, and that their position is that they helped President Mubarak get the message, they didn't deliver the message. MALVEAUX: John, thank you very much. We're going to be standing by. Obviously, we'll get back to you if there are more developments, more things that you are hearing from senior administration officials.
I want to go to our own Ivan Watson, who is in Cairo -- he is on the ground there -- to get a sense there of what you are seeing, what you are watching.
Ivan, you spoke with Wael Ghonim, one of those who started, sparked this whole kind of Internet movement, if you will. Give us a sense of what you're seeing and how people are reacting. What is the anticipation like on the ground?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it rained here in Cairo this morning, but that has not dampened the enthusiasm of the tens of -- let's say hundreds of thousands of people right now here in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
You can hear the sound of the drums, perhaps, and clapping going on. As I came in, the self-appointed security groups of young men who pat you down and check your ID as you come in, one of the guys was positively beaming. I said. "You're in an awfully good mood today." He said, "Yes. I think this will soon all end soon."
Now, amid some of this excitement, as these families stream in, as one young man I talked to on the way in, in a long line said, "This is my first time coming, I think I'll stay here," there are notes of caution. Just now, before the music started, a man on the loudspeaker addressing hundreds of people just in this part of the square said, "We will not leave the square until our demands are met, until an official statement comes from the regime, and until our organizing committee tells us it's OK to go."
And there was another statement. You mentioned that activist, Wael Ghonim, who had been held in solitary confinement, blindfolded for 11 days, who we talked to yesterday. He put out on his Twitter account, which has been a loudspeaker, cyber-loudspeaker, you could argue -- he said, "Guys, don't do much speculation. Just wait and see."
So, amid some of the excitement we're seeing here, some notes of caution, and urging people to take it easy, wait. And there is still a lot of distrust for this government.
Another point to bring out, Suzanne, there are reports now that an army general that I met yesterday, General Hassan al-Roweny -- he's a senior commander here in Cairo, he's been moving around this area for days now -- he addressed part of the crowd and he vowed to them that, "All of your demands will soon be met."
We also heard that recently in a live interview over the phone with CNN coming from the head of the National Democratic Party, a gentleman by the last name of Badrawi, who even, I believe, said, "The protesters have won." So we are certainly getting some strong signals from senior members of the Egyptian ruling establishment. And, of course, you can hear the euphoria and excitement from the people in the square below.
CLANCY: Ivan, I'm going to ask you to stand by while Suzanne and I are going to go to the phone line. We want to get a question asked here.
And Ivan mentioned his name, Hossam Badrawi. He's the head of the National Democratic Party. That is the party of President Hosni Mubarak, by far and away the largest political party in Egypt right now. And he joins us on the line. He's the new leader of that party.
Mr. Badrawi, can you tell us, do you have word from the president's office that he will announce he is stepping down immediately tonight?
HOSSAM BADRAWI, SECRETARY GENERAL, EGYPT'S NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (via telephone): No, I don't have a word from the president's office about that. That's one mighty question. I asked the president to transmit the power to his vice president, so long as the constitutional amendment is on the way, so as to continue his promise there to the people in his speech.
CLANCY: Do you think, sir, that this speculation about an imminent announcement coming from the president is premature?
BADRAWI: That's my expectation, that he speaks to the nation, but I have no information to assure that.
CLANCY: What is the sense inside the National Democratic Party, inside the government, at this hour, as it looks on at the protests which are not winding down, which, very clearly today, expanded in both size and scope?
BADRAWI: As you know, I have just appointed leading the party three days ago. And because everyone knows in the country that I have a political background asking for mostly what the protesters are asking for, so I think the (INAUDIBLE) needs a revolutionary change within its structure, human resources, and political views.
And I represent that, and that's why I was chosen for this position. And I believe people in the Tahrir Square know exactly that their requests have to be achieved not by promises, but by actions. And I think the president, sending his request to the parliament to amend the articles that would guarantee a safe and a fair election of the next president and the new constitution, together with moving the power and authority to his vice president, would give the people some assurance that the change are real, and get the confidence of the people that the country is moving forward.
CLANCY: Hossam Badrawi, the head of the National Democratic Party, the largest party, the party of President Hosni Mubarak there in Egypt. Hossam is the new director general of that party.
And there are no easy questions tonight, sir. But can you tell us -- the military held high-level meetings today. What conclusions were drawn there? BADRAWI: Troops keep the country safe, but as any democratic person, I would like to see normal life, normal democratic life, and elections for a new president to come forward. I would not like to see a military rule even under any circumstances. However, their presence to keep safety of the country should be as short as possible until the country makes the choice for the next leadership with the new constitution.
MALVEAUX: So, just to be clear -- this is Suzanne Malveaux. Just to be clear, are you saying that military rule is something that you are actually seriously looking at, whether or not that would continue? A lot of people on the ground, the protesters, they do not believe that that is the future of the country, and they are not satisfied with that.
BADRAWI: I would not be satisfied either. I would like to see the military keeping the country safe, but not the army driving things (ph) of ruling the country.
CLANCY: Sir, you know, you are a political man there with the National Democratic Party. Realistically, how long is it going to take for new parties to emerge, for parties to organize, to decide on their own candidates, and then put those candidates in front of the people? Some people say it can't even be done by September.
BADRAWI: Yes, that's possible. That's a very tough mission in front of me.
However, I am determined to make revolutionary changes and open the party for the ideas that I represent that has been documented in many reports. The last of them was the UPR (ph) report about human rights in Egypt that I was responsible for. However, it's a very difficult task in front of me.
CLANCY: Hossam Badrawi, the head of the National Democratic Party in Egypt.
Sir, I thank you very much for joining us tonight.
Just to sum it up, he does not have confirmation that President Hosni Mubarak will step aside tonight, but he says the people in the square, the people in the streets that are calling for change, want to see that sooner or later.
MALVEAUX: And interestingly enough, Jim, he also talked about the fact that military rule is now in question, and that is something that a lot of people on the ground are looking at, because they say, you know, the future of the country -- that you do not want to replace one autocratic leader for another. And it's the military --
CLANCY: In reality, it's been military rule. Five of the last presidents in Egypt have been former military men.
Hosni Mubarak's role in Egypt was founded in the military. Omar Suleiman has been a military man.
The military has always had this presence. And I think what the demonstrators are saying is we want to take back our government.
MALVEAUX: Enough is enough.
CLANCY: Civil society.
MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And we're going to hear from one of those protesters.
I want to bring forward -- this is Gigi Ibrahim.
Gigi, can you hear us?
GIGI IBRAHIM, PROTESTER: Oh, yes. I can hear you.
MALVEAUX: Tell us what it is like where you are now. Are you in Tahrir Square? Are you among the mass of people that we actually see on the ground there?
IBRAHIM: Yes. I'm in Tahrir Square. There are thousands and thousands of protesters here everywhere, raising the flags. They're anticipating Mubarak to step down. And it's definitely a feel of celebration, but also anxiousness and kind of not knowing what this announcement will actually say.
But nevertheless, it would be a huge victory for this revolution which demanded for Mubarak to step down as a first demand. And if that actually happens, it would be an amazing, amazing victory.
MALVEAUX: And Gigi, how did you find out about it? I mean, was this something where word just spread in the crowd? Are people -- do they have radios, do they have televisions?
What is taking place? And how are people getting information? How did you find out?
IBRAHIM: There are TVs out at the stages that we have here, and people are connected. They have some radios. We have people calling us, telling us what's on TV. So even though there's not like a big screen, but I think we're getting the live feed from the stages, the different stages that we have around the square.
MALVEAUX: Would you be satisfied, are you going to be satisfied, if, in fact, you have Hosni Mubarak, the president, he leaves today, but you have the vice president, a very good friend, Omar Suleiman, a very good friend of President Mubarak, who is now in power in that position, is that good enough? Or do you want to see a complete turnaround, a complete change altogether in the regime and the government?
IBRAHIM: Yes. Yes. I mean, a removal of Mubarak is a huge step, but it's not the only step, because the people demanded the removal of the regime, and Mubarak is only one part of this regime.
And people have chanted for 17 days now that they are not for Omar Suleiman either, because Mubarak had lost all legitimacy, and now he is handing it over, the powers, to the vice president, as illegitimate as the regime of Mubarak being in power. So we'll have to wait and see what kind of transition the announcement will bring.
But nevertheless, people will at least be enjoying the moment of Mubarak stepping down after 30 years. And then afterwards, there will be talks about maybe possibly even continuing the strikes against Omar Suleiman himself if that's the case.
MALVEAUX: And Gigi, real quick here, you know, a lot of the protesters, including yourself, you've said that you're going to stay there until you see President Mubarak leave and step down, make that announcement. If he does that today, will you stay in Tahrir Square until the whole government, the whole structure is changed? Or will you leave, will you disperse, and decide, you know, this is good enough, we're going to go on with our lives?
IBRAHIM: I mean, I'm not sure about the Tahrir situation, but one thing I am sure of is that protests will continue until actual action, even with a new regime being put in. It's not going to be overnight, so even if Mubarak leaves today, and a transition government comes in, there is going to be protests that are going to continue to demand for economic peace (ph), for the constitution to be reformed to include everybody to have a real democracy, where not one person is installing another regime for us.
The people themselves choosing the regime, electing people through free and fair elections. And I really believe that until then, those protests, even whether they're in Tahrir or outside of Tahrir, will not stop, and they will continue.
MALVEAUX: Gigi Ibrahim, thank you so much for joining us. Obviously, we'll get back to you as the developments in the street continues.
This is a huge, huge deal that is taking place there in the streets of Cairo, across Egypt, and really across the Middle East, when you think about it, Jim. I mean, your experience in the region, this is really kind of a phenomenal time that we are seeing, the developments, and from one player to the next to the next. I mean --
CLANCY: Every eyeball is on what's happening down there in the square right now. You can bet on it.
Suzanne, let's get everybody -- let's just update people here a little bit on what has happened right now, why we are in this rolling breaking coverage. CNN and CNN International here teaming up here to bring you nonstop coverage here and describe the situation.
There has been a clear shift in momentum back to the streets, back to the protesters. Against that back drop there have been varied reports coming out predicting that President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years would announce tonight in a televised address that he will step aside.
Now, at the same time, and Suzanne, help me out here, the U.S. is signaling it has finally made a strategic decision about what to do with Hosni Mubarak. MALVEAUX: And, Jim, we are just learning as well, President Obama, obviously, he is focused on domestic issues. He is traveling today, but we know that through senior administration officials, and as well as his spokesperson Robert Gibbs, we are learning that he is clearly keeping his eye on the developments on the ground there because this is going to have such a huge impact on U.S. relations in the Middle East with our allies.
And, you know, we don't know whether or not President Obama will come out and talk about Egypt, or, you know, talk about the possibility -- it's just a possibility now -- whether or not Mubarak will step down. But we do know that behind the scenes this has been a difficult task, a balancing act for this administration to try to weigh the benefits, the positives of obviously a stable country, a stable ally in that volatile region.
CLANCY: Right. I think decision may (ph) (INAUDIBLE). You've got Leon Panetta who's up at congressional hearing. The CIA chief is quoted as saying that he believes President Mubarak is about to aside.
But, on the other hand, this is what's causing a lot of concern, a lot of confusion. You also have the prime minister of the country, the Egyptian prime minister, the new one, saying that President Mubarak is still the president, he is still there in his place, and he has not stepped aside. What happens next, that's why we're watching so closely.
All right. Let's go back down to the square. And who have I got? Have I got Ivan Watson still standing by?
MALVEAUX: You know what, Jim? I think John King actually available at this time out of Washington. Let's go to John king and see if there are any other developments that are taking place out of Washington.
Anything else you're learning, John?
KING: Suzanne, you mentioned, the president is on his way out to the Midwest. He's doing an economic convenient today. And doing what the administration believes is the right approach right now. The administration, publicly -- and when it says publicly is being very, very careful for the most part.
And I say for the most part because Jim just mentioned Leon Panetta, he's the director of Central Intelligence, his job most days is to keep the secrets of the United States government. The things picked up from intelligence sources all around the world . But he was testifying at a House Intelligence Committee hearing today, and I believe we can share with our viewers one of the ways Leon Panetta did leaned into this crisis a little bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: As you can see, I got the same information you did, that there's a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, which would be significant in terms of whether the hopefully orderly transition in Egypt takes place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: For him to say that publicly at this sensitive moment is actually quite startling and quite interesting. But a strong likelihood from the director of Central Intelligence, who, of course, would have all U.S. intelligence from the region.
A strong likelihood he said that President Mubarak will step aside as early as this evening. That's Leon Panetta publicly. And Jim and Suzanne, I'm also told by a senior official that privately they have received word from ranking officials in the Mubarak regime that generally give them reliable information that the plan is in place for President Mubarak to yield power to the vice president.
But I will add that the source I spoke to added with me, a little bit of cautious and skepticism. They say simply, there have been so many mixed signals and conflicting signals over the past two weeks, they want to see it.
But, again, deep inside the administration and high in the administration, they are told there is a plan in place for President Mubarak to yield power. They want to see it happen and definitely want to see it happen before you'll hear the President of the United States himself, out publicly talking about it.
MALVEAUX: Understandably cautious, we know, John. And John, you and I, we covered President Bush -- his many trips to the Middle East together. And it clearly, -- there was a problem -- there was a challenge for that administration as well, with president Clinton as well, that you had these dueling expectations.
On the one hand, that job, very necessary, to stroke and to support this leader because of the kind of advantages that the United States has with Egypt. At the same time, it cost a lot of money, a billion dollars in aid, a lot of money to actually sustain that kind of relationship.
Why do you suppose now, under President Obama, we have this moment?
KING: We have this moment because the people of Egypt are demanding this moment. I think we better be careful not to overstate the influence of the United States in the revolution itself. This is an indigenous, homegrown revolution in Egypt that the administration is reacting to.
Some analysts say they warned the administration, that the administration essentially turned a blind eye in the last couple of Egyptian elections and scheduled Egyptian elections and allowed the corruption to go forward, turned a blind eye. Criticized him once or twice but didn't do much about it when President Mubarak jailed his lead opponent in the last presidential election. So this revolt you're seeing, this revolution you're seeing in that square is not born of the United States. So the administration now has to make a strategic decision about how to respond to it. They have made the decision that despite 30 years of standing by President Mubarak, that he needs to go and they hope he will go in an orderly fashion that leaves the military in place, that leaves the vice president in place to then have a transition to some form of democracy and elections hopefully in September, some have said sooner if they can pull it over.
But you mentioned covering President Bush and Clinton. Remember, President Bush raised a lot of eyebrows around the world when he gave a speech essentially saying past U.S. presidents, including his father, George H.W. Bush had too much of a premium on security and on oil and not done enough to push for democratic reforms in the Middle East. And then there's some criticism that President Bush didn't then follow through on that.
But this is a long legacy of U.S. realpolitik, as Jim Baker would call it, doing business with these regimes in a way that helps the United States economically, that's oil, security-wise, military presence, intelligence presence in the region helping to protect Israel in a way that ignored abuses by all of these governments, including Hosni Mubarak.
And again, the term you hear most often in the past 10 to 12 days in Washington is, the genie's out of the bottle in Egypt. Now, we have to figure out what next.
CLANCY: Well, we may figure out what's next. We are now being told by Egyptian state television that there will be an address by President Hosni Mubarak, and it will come tonight.
So, there we have it Suzanne. We just have to stand by and wait and watch. It's very difficult but I can't imagine the president coming on television to announce that he's going to stay in office. But, what he announces is very important. He's agonizing over it. His supporters are agonizing over it. Israel is agonizing over it. The military tonight in Egypt is agonizing over what role do we pick up here.
MALVEAUX: And as you had mentioned before, this has been a military regime. I mean, you have at least --
CLANCY: They're involved.
MALVEAUX: Every family has a member that's in the military in Cairo, in Egypt. And, clearly, they are very much invested in the outcome of all of this.
We're going to take a quick break and we'll have more right after this.
MALVEAUX: More information on this breaking news out of Egypt, the possibility that President Hosni Mubarak may be stepping down perhaps as early as today.
I want to go directly to the State Department. Our national affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, who's been speaking with her sources there.
Jill, what kind of information are you learning about the likelihood of this?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Suzanne, the latest we are getting from a senior Egyptian government official, and he is telling CNN that President Mubarak is expected to step down, and that will happen tonight, and then this plan would go into effect.
Now, the plan is that the military would assume power. He is saying that this is not a coup. It is not a coup in a traditional sense. But the plan would be the military steps up, they transfer power from the civilians to the military.
Now, what he is saying, this is again, a senior Egyptian government official, is that the political process was trying to work out some sort of transition. But, he says, that process was not given the confidence or support either from the opposition or from the international community. So, he said, they came to a consensus that the political process hadn't been able to move forward under the constitution, so they are going to go outside of the constitution.
But, again, this Egyptian official stresses that this is a consensus decision. It is not a coup. So, again, just to tell you one more time, it's -- the military will take over. President Mubarak is expected to step down tonight, according to a senior Egyptian government official.
MALVEAUX: So Jill, perhaps a very simple question here, but if Hosni Mubarak steps down, who would be in charge?
DOUGHERTY: It would be according to this official the military.
Now, what does that mean? It could still mean that there would be other officials, let's say Vice President Suleiman, perhaps, in a different capacity. Nut it would be military rule at least at this stage.
MALVEAUX: And when you say the military would be in charge, are you talking about the top guy in the military? Is he the one who would then have ultimate power? Or are you talking about the Vice President Omar Suleiman? What would be that kind of role? Is it a dual role you're talking about?
DOUGHERTY: This Egyptian government official is not going that far and everyone is stressing this is a very fluid situation. But --
CLANCY: I'm going to interrupt here because I want to take our viewers up to Capitol Hill where CIA head Leon Panetta is talking this very moment.
Let's hear what he has to say.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
PANETTA: -- as the administration has urged, can move to reach out to the elements -- all of the elements of the opposition and be able to development a time line for political reforms that lead to, hopefully, free and open elections.
If they can move in that kind of orderly process, then I think it could, you know, it could have a positive effect with regards to that area. If, on the other hand, obviously, this turns in another direction, then that, too, could affect not only the security of Israel, but the security of other nations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you done any particular analysis of what the changes would mean to Israel?
PANETTA: Yes, we have, and we'd be happy to share that with you in another forum.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. How would you assess the stability of the following governments: Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan?
PANETTA: You know, again, in open session here, I'm a little concerned about sharing specifics about any of these countries. I think it's suffice to say that there are a number of --
CLANCY: He's telling them that they have measured what a shift would be. He has said very clearly there that it is unpredictable. He said it could go in another direction. When asked about what effect it might have on Israel, he has declined to comment in a public forum. That's been one of the agonizing questions that's been asked again and again as we understand it.
One depiction I have heard from my sources is that the Israelis are terrified about the situation, about the risks that are posed by an unstable situation and the neighboring giant Egypt.
Let's go to Egypt now, live, where we find Ivan Watson for an update on what is happening on the ground this hour.
It is 6:44 in the evening in Cairo -- Ivan.
WATSON: Well, Jim, it rained this morning, but that has not dampened the enthusiasm of this crowd. And I think it's best for me to just get out of the way, and to take a few seconds to listen to the excitement from the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who are still streaming in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: I have the best wife and love my kids, but I'm willing to lose all of that for my dream to happen. And no one is going to go against our desire. No one. And I'm telling this to Omar Suleiman. He is going to watch this. You are not going to stop this. Kidnap me, kidnap all of my colleagues. Put us in jail, kill us. Do whatever you want to do. We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough, enough, enough!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WATSON: Jim, those are those defiant words that Wael Ghonim, he was one of the activists, the young Egyptian, who helped mobilize the first seminal protest on January 25th. Those are words that he told us in an interview yesterday, just absolute defiance saying he will not negotiate with a government that, according to Human Rights Watch, is at least partially responsible for the deaths of some 300 people over the course of the last 2 1/2 weeks in clashes between demonstrators and opposition groups.
And what started out as a protest that was organized by a revolutionary like this young man who was basically working through Facebook and Twitter, along with a number of other colleagues, has really blossomed into this mass movement that you see here in Tahrir Square. Another sit-in that has cropped up in front of the gates of parliament and protests that have erupted in other cities across the country over the course of the last 2 1/2 weeks and has now spread to labor unrest and unions that have been going on strike in a number of different cities, including Suez, that critical and strategic city on the Suez Canal that so much of the world's oil travels through.
MALVEAUX: Ivan. Ivan.
WATSON: Now the crowd here -- yes, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: What strike me about what that young man said while he was tearing up and saying that he would sacrifice everything is that he said that the vice president, he was against the vice president. It wasn't Mubarak, but the vice president, too. That this is a movement against the whole government.
Do you think that that young man, really one of the leaders of this revolt, this revolution and the people you see around you on the ground, are going to be satisfied if President Mubarak steps down?
WATSON: Well, the demands that they have issued have definitely evolved and changed and grown as the opposition movement, this revolution has grown, and as the people have grown more emboldened, and also as a result of the blood that has been spilled and the loss of lives.
I mean, let's bring this into context, Suzanne. Barely a week ago, this very square was a combat zone, it was a war here. There were clashes, Molotov cocktails being thrown. People were dying in front of us in clashes between the demonstrators and pro-Mubarak supporters. There were even apparently snipers at work here.
Initially, Wael Ghonim, that young man, says that the initial demands were for improvements in conditions for the poor, for the very unpopular interior minister to step down, for the emergency law that has been in place for as long nearly as that man has been alive, he's 30 years, for that to be removed.
The demands for Mubarak to step down, those came up after the police began clashing with peaceful protesters, after hundreds of people were rounded up and arrested.
And then one step further now, people are now calling for not just Hosni Mubarak to step down, but for the entire regime, for the security apparatus to be dismantled. Wael Ghonim telling me that he wanted immediately the National Democratic Party, the ruling part that's been in place, for that party to be dissolved.
So it's unclear if there's going to be some handover, and we're speculating, to the vice president, Omar Suleiman. It's very -- it's probably clear that a lot of the people here will be not satisfied with it. They are charged right now with revolutionary fervor -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Ivan, thank you. We'll get back to you.
We want to bring with us, this is a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Edward Walker, who joins us now.
Ambassador, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
Can you explain to us here -- we have heard from our correspondent Jill Dougherty who is getting information from Egyptian officials, that the military will still be in charge. That this is not a coup, but the military will be in charge.
What kind of change are we really seeing here? How significant is this today?
EDWARD WALKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT (via telephone): Well, you know, there's always been emergency laws in place, emergency rule in place there. So -- and that was one of the demands of the protesters.
But what they could do is declare martial law which is a legitimate, recognized state under international law. Under those circumstances, the military could take over the government, take over all of the functions of the government or some of the functions of the government. And it would replace -- the president would resign and undoubtedly, probably Omar Suleiman, too. So it would be the high command of the military running the (AUDIO GAP). So --
MALVEAUX: Do you think that's a good idea? A bad idea? I mean, if that were to actually take place, you know the Egyptian government, you know the society there.
WALKER: It's usually a bad idea for any country to move into a military government. But the individuals involved have a great respect for the country and for the constitution and so on, so it may well be just a step that would be necessary to move away from confrontation with the protesters and to make some fundamental changes in the legal structure of the country.
But it could also be very bad. The military would then require that people leave the square and clear the square as they develop.
CLANCY: Edward Walker, Jim Clancy.
Mr. Ambassador, I just wanted to ask you, it's being called -- it's not a coup, but it is a coup really. It's a noncoup. Coup is being invited here.
CLANCY: And the reality is that it would appear that those young people and others would are in Tahrir Square and the other places that they have gathered around Egypt like their civilian government even less than they like their military.
WALKER: I think that's right, and the military has been able to keep its nose clean during this entire incident. There have been some reports of military arresting people, but it hasn't been widespread. And generally speaking, the crowd has been saying -- equating the military with them. And you're right, they're preferred (INAUDIBLE) at this point.
But what happens is if they take over, and there is not democracy, there is not a free election and so on, which there can't be immediately under any circumstances, it takes time, the military will get tarnished very quickly and people will not be satisfied.
MALVEAUX: Ambassador Walker, thank you very much for your time. We're going to have more information as this developing news happens quick right after the break.