I watched President Hosni Mubarak’s speech Thursday night from Tahrir Square, where a live broadcast of Al Jazeera was being projected onto a sheet hanging from some lamp-posts. The sound was terrible, so it was hard to hear too much of what he was actually saying, but really that didn’t matter too much.
Even without hearing every word, the crowds gathered around me could tell within about two minutes that things weren’t going to go the way they had expected.
I had spent the previous hour wandering the square gathering up ecstatic quotes from thronging crowds who honestly believed tonight would be the end of the Mubarak regime. Just why they thought that will emerge in news reports over the coming days. Several credible news organisations ran with the news that he would be resigning and President Barak Obama — in his comments both before and after the speech — certainly seemed like a man who fully expected to hear something different.
Either way, Tahrir was absolutely ecstatic. People were hugging and congratulating each other. Several concerts and poetry readings broke out on the various stages that have been assembled. I’ve never seen so many Egyptian flags outside of a football match, nor heard the national anthem sung with such enthusiasm.
The overall mood was that the people had won, and that Egyptians had accomplished something that would have been unthinkable just two months ago — and something that would serve as a model for a potential domino effect of Middle Eastern democratic revolutions.
As Mubarak continued and it became clear that there was no resignation coming tonight, the crowd’s mood shifted from euphoric anticipation to a sort of grim realisation of what was really taking place. There was a brief sense of deflation that was quickly replaced by fast-rising anger. People in Tahrir are wondering just what they have to do to deliver their message in a form that Mubarak will understand.
I approached one young veiled woman in her early 30s who looked particularly upset and asked her how she felt. She identified herself as a schoolteacher and said simply: “I feel hatred.”
Look for new, possibly more aggressive, tactics to emerge from the protest movement in the coming days as the demonstrators seek new ways to turn up the pressure on Mubarak’s regime. Organisers will continue to emphasise the peaceful ethos that has carried them this far and kept them on good terms with the army.
But as of early Thursday morning, a decision had apparently been made to expand beyond Tahrir Square and occupy more of the city. As of 4 am Cairo time, the Information Ministry was surrounded and a crowd estimated at about 3000 had reached the presidential palace in the Heliopolis district — several miles away from Tahrir — and appeared to be digging in for an extended sit-in.