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THE SITUATION ROOM
Reaction to Mubarak's Speech From Streets of Cairo; 'Everyone's Lost, Everyone's Lost'; Obama Reportedly Watched Mubarak's Speech on Air Force One
Aired February 10, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the other messages that I got was, listen, you know, yes we can take this talk about the satellite channels and blaming foreign intervention. But there was a point during his speech when the president said -- President Mubarak said: "I never succumb to international pressure. I've always protected Egypt." A lot of people think that was directed at the U.S. and that the U.S. has no sway at this point.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news -- the outrage right now in Egypt. That's the crowd in Tahrir Square reacting to President Hosni Mubarak. He went on state television about an hour or so good and said he plans to stay in office until September, but he's delegating power to Vice President Omar Suleiman. And that has simply outraged the protesters. Many waved their shoes. That's a huge insult in the Arab world. They chanted, "Get out! Get out now!" And waves of people marched off in the direction of state television facilities.
We're watching all of this unfold.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CNN's Arwa Damon is on the ground for us.
She's watching all of this unfold.
But we'll get to her in a moment.
First, here's a little recap of what President Mubarak said on state television about an hour or so ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPT (through translator): We Egyptians will prove our ability and capacity to respond to all the demands by -- through dialogue. And we will prove that we are not servants to anyone and we will not be dictated by anyone and that no one will make the decisions for us except for the pulse of the streets and the demands of the -- of the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to check in with all of our reporters.
In Cairo, right now, Ben Wedeman is standing by.
Fred Pleitgen is on -- is standing by reporting now for us.
We'll speak with Arwa Damon.
We'll speak with Ivan Watson -- but, Fred, you're there at Tahrir Square. You're on the ground. You watched it. You can see, I'm sure you could feel the anger of this crowd.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, Wolf, there's massive anger here. And I think Anderson and one of the things he said put it perfectly. He said the people here just felt that Hosni Mubarak's speech was absolutely patronizing, that he was treating them as though they were little children.
They really don't -- they don't believe that this is in any way a youth revolution. They believe that this is something that comes from the entire Egyptian people.
But I have some of them here, some of the people who witnessed this speech.
And you're ahead of them, sir.
How did you -- how did you witness this speech?
What did you think of Hosni Mubarak's speech?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it's useless, absolutely useless. People are there are willing to die, OK, willing to die for freedom, all right?
All these people -- all these people you can see, all the millions, are looking for freedom, for justice and to be respected in all world, OK?
All the people he can see are looking for just the freedom to live as a human being. And we will have justice. And we will have freedom. And we will live as a human being in this life.
PLEITGEN: What do you think is going to happen tomorrow?
Will people march to the presidential palace?
How many people will come here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Many. Too many people are suffering. And I'm sure so many people, so many millions will -- will -- will be at the palace tomorrow. And they are having two options, all right, either death or freedom. And we will have freedom en salah (ph).
PLEITGEN: How long have you been here at this -- at this venue?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this venue?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since -- since it started. Since the 25th. I've been here 25th, 28th and I've been since -- since this started.
PLEITGEN: What did you want to hear from Hosni Mubarak tonight?
What did you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to hear that he understands his people, that he respected his people. He has ruled the country for 30 years. You can imagine a -- a dictatorship for 30 years. And people have been handling the suffering, handling the -- the starving, handling the -- the punishment, handling everything, everything you can see.
He -- all the people wanted to hear is just we have -- we have respected you -- he wanted to -- to say that he appreciated his people. He wanted to say that he respected his people, OK. And all we wanted to hear is just he leave. All we want is just he go in peace -- no bloodshed more than that.
PLEITGEN: Do you think...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But...
PLEITGEN: Do you think that Hosni Mubarak respects you?
Do you think he respects -- so you -- he thinks that you're a child?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He thinks...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen any respect since I've been in birth, his government, his dictatorship have not -- have -- haven't shown any, any respect to us, any respect.
PLEITGEN: What will you do now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will I do now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm ready to die.
PLEITGEN: All right. Thank you very much. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remain until he leaves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to remain until he leaves.
PLEITGEN: You'll remain here until he leaves?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He always gives us a shock. He doesn't care about our whole people. He doesn't care about the Egyptian people, the Egyptian -- he doesn't care about Egypt. He wants Egypt to be destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to...
PLEITGEN: OK. So you're...
PLEITGEN: So you're saying you're ready to die, you say?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, for freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For freedom.
PLEITGEN: For freedom?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a million persons...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a million persons are ready to die for freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me liberty...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- or give me death.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- all these people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me liberty or give me death.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won't give up. We won't give in until we see our people win. We won't give up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won't leave here until he leaves. That's it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think that the Egyptian people long deserve freedom. PLEITGEN: What's your message to Hosni Mubarak tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave. Leave us -- leave us alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, leave all...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave us alone.
BLITZER: All right. You -- you heard Fred Pleitgen speaking to Egyptian protesters there. They are angry. Multiply those individuals by 100,000, 500,000, a few million and you get is sense of what's going on in Egypt right now.
Anderson Cooper was there only the other day and he's been watching this unfold.
What a disappointment to those protesters -- they were led to believe, Anderson, earlier in the day, that Mubarak would step down. He's not stepping down. He's staying put, even as he delegates some powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I think it's important what that man in that square just said, that he's willing to die for this. And -- and, you know, we hear people say that kind of stuff. But -- but the people in that square have died already for this. Many people have died, Human Rights Watch and other groups believe there's more than 300 who have died thus far. We don't know the actual numbers. The Egyptian government claims there's only about 11 people who have died so far. Blood has been spilt on that very spot where those press -- protesters are standing right now.
And I'm not sure that the Egyptian government, that the regime of Hosni Mubarak really understands what is happening and what has happened. This is a man who has ruled for 30 years with an iron fist under emergency law that allows him to arrest people and do whatever he wants to those people in detention. And no one could raise their voices against it.
For the first time in their lives, you have hundreds of thousands of people who have been raising their voices and I think tonight feel that they have just been stepped on yet again and that this is just a slap in the face by the Mubarak regime.
And, frankly, we have heard nothing different from Mubarak or from his vice president, Suleiman, tonight than we -- than we have heard from them for the last two weeks. They keep saying these lies, that this is all foreign influence, that these are satellite news channels -- CNN and Al Jazeera and others, which are somehow manipulating these protesters, that these protesters are being paid to be there, that they're -- they're agents of foreign influence, they're agents of Israel or Hezbollah or Hamas.
And what is interesting, Wolf, is that the people in that square -- hundreds and thousands and now millions of them over the last two weeks, they have seen the lies for themselves. They know who they are. And they look around and they know who else is in that square. And then they see what the government, what the president and what the vice president is saying about them and what the state television is saying about them and they know that these are lies.
It's as if, you know, the blinders have come off and they are no longer afraid. And that's the thing I just keep coming back to -- they are not afraid anymore. They have seen -- people have tried to kill them. The government has tried to kill them. Mobs have tried to kill them, with government backing. And they have stood up and they are not afraid any longer.
And, again, they -- what they heard tonight is no different than what we have heard for more than two weeks now. They -- clearly, the government is trying to drive a wedge between those who haven't decided one way or the other and those who are protesting by calling the protesters, you know, just part of the youth movement and -- and trying to emphasize the need for stability, an end to the crisis.
Again, I keep saying, the crisis is not in that square. The crisis is the government's response to what is in that square. The crisis, the instability we have seen is because of the -- the government, because of the regime. They keep talking about trying to get business back to normal. It was the government in Egypt, the regime of Hosni Mubarak, which shut down the banks and shut down the trains and shut down the Internet service. They wanted a crisis. And they are -- it's an arguable point right now, but there's a lot of people who believe right now, they are, perhaps, even trying to provoke a greater crisis right now, provoke violence in order so they can justify cracking down and -- and -- and maintain power.
BLITZER: If that's their goal, they probably will -- will succeed, because this crowd is furious, as you can tell, Anderson.
Stand by for a moment.
Jamie Rubin is joining us.
Jamie Rubin is a former assistant secretary of State during the Clinton administration.
Jamie, I understand you've had your own private conversations with some Egyptian officials.
What are they saying to you?
JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I did have a conversation with an extremely well-informed Egyptian official in the last half hour, since the president and the vice president spoke. And at least from this official's interpretation and information, it looks like there's been a -- a fairly substantial communication problem. It appears that there was something dramatically different in his speech today, that according to this official, that he formally delegated all power from the president to the vice president, except for those powers that would prevent the reform movement, namely related to dismissing the parliament, dismissing the prime minister or allowing for a constitutional change.
So the short version of this is that, for those who played the last game, President Mubarak is de facto -- he is de jure the president, but the de facto president is now Vice President Suleiman, because of the words used, because there's a communications problems all day, where people thought it was going to be an extra- constitutional step, where it would be the military taking over and suspending the constitution. I think there's a lot of confusion.
But if this official is correct and all power -- all powers are going to the vice president, save for those that would involve changing the constitution to allow for a free and fair election in September, then I suspect that many of these protesters, including some of the leaders who spoke in the last few hours and said they would meet their objectives would be happier. But the tone, unfortunately, and the language about the children and young people and outside countries' involvement apparently has confused the issue, I think...
BLITZER: Well, let me...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Jamie, because our Arabic language specialists here at CNN have now scrubbed that reference -- that specific point in President Mubarak's speech. And according to the best translation we've had -- and we've gone back and forth -- it's very precise what he said. Maybe he wanted to leave it a little bit vague, but he said he was delegat -- quote, "delegating power." He didn't say he was delegating some power. At the same time, he didn't say he was delegating all power. He didn't say he was delegating the power. He said he was delegating power to the vice president. His language was -- was vague on that point.
The bottom line being, though, even if he delegates power to the vice president, he's still the president of Egypt. He's not stepping down. And that's not what these protesters wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that he's stepping down. And I suspect, after Suleiman's speech tonight, when he blamed foreign satellite networks and others for all these problems in Egypt, telling everyone to go home, go back to work, they're not going to be very happy, even if he were delegating power to Suleiman, he's apparently being seen by so many of the people there as basically the same as Mubarak.
RUBIN: Well, yes, Wolf. I think we all understand the views of the people in the square. And nobody would dispute any of the things that he said.
The question is whether the intention -- and this is what I had thought it was important to point out, was to delegate and make the vice president the president, except for these three...
BLITZER: Yes, but he didn't say that.
RUBIN: -- specified issues that I...
BLITZER: He didn't say the vice president is the president. Hold on a minute, Jamie, because I -- I think we have...
BLITZER: I think we have Roger Cohen --Anderson, are you still there, also?
COOPER: Yes, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, go ahead.
Why don't you weigh in for a second, Anderson?
COOPER: Well, I mean it's -- it's an interesting point that Jamie is making, which, you know, if -- if this Egyptian official is true, then, you know, I don't know -- really, frankly, know what to make of it. I mean it seems odd that the president of a country will go on television and the vice president of the country will go on television and even after two speeches not be very clear about what is happening. And I think, frankly, it kind of paints a picture of -- of the lack of transparency that we have witnessed, you know, obviously throughout the Mubarak regime.
But even now, when this regime is talking about transparency, we have not seen any transparency. We don't know the inner -- we don't know what's going on a day to day basis. We occasionally see on state television some officials meeting, a shuffling around of -- of cabinet officials. But we really have no sense of -- of what is really happening. They talk about these changes to the constitution and they've set up commissions. Look, if -- if this was another country that actually did want transparency, you would know a lot more about the people on these commissions, you would actually see them working. There would be a larger national dialogue about what's going on.
That's not the case. So even while the regime is paying lip service to the notion of fundamental change and reform, we're not seeing that in any meaningful way.
BLITZER: Yes. I think a fair point.
Let me just bring in Roger Cohen, the columnist for "New York Times."
He's in Cairo right now.
Roger, I know you're right in the middle of all the activity over there. Give us your assessment, what happens tonight in Cairo, and what didn't happened?
ROGER COHEN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (via telephone): Well, what happened tonight in Cairo is there was a huge case of bait and switch, Wolf, and everybody is angry and some people are confused.
You had the army coming on TV with communique number one, saying that the desires and demands of the Egyptian people would be satisfied. You had President Obama with a statement saying we're watching history unfold as if we were at a moment of definitive transformation, and I guess we'll be looking into how that came about.
And then, you know, there's a tremendous expectancy in the square, everybody dancing, drums going, everybody feels this moment of leave, leave, leave was finally coming to fruition.
And then in a long, meandering speech when he relegated the one important phrase to a subordinate clause toward the end, that the president essentially said he was handing authority under the constitution to Suleiman, but remaining as president. So the essential demand has not been met.
BLITZER: Because he can -- he could take back that power whenever he wanted. Whatever authority he's giving to the vice president, Suleiman, Roger, that could be rescinded by the president, who happens to be Hosni Mubarak.
COHEN: I think in theory it could be rescinded. He has handed authority to Suleiman, as I read it. As I read it, Suleiman is the man in charge, but where is Mubarak? I mean, is he in the palace? Is he going somewhere? It's all very murky.
And what I'm worried about is that tomorrow, Friday, you know, and Anderson has seen this personally on the streets, that things could get very ugly, because the tone of the army and Suleiman was very much, OK, now it's time to go home. You had these tremendous frustrated hopes tonight, Friday anyway, before all of this was being billed as a very big day, the day of the marches, so there could be something ugly brewing. That's -- that's what I'm concerned about.
BLITZER: And are you getting any indications from where you are, Roger, that the protesters may be marches on the presidential palace or State Television? It's now 12:17 a.m., it's after midnight in Cairo.
COHEN: Yes, I don't know about that, Wolf. I'm back at the "Times" bureau, having spent all day at the square.
I think most people, my understanding, are slowly dispersing at this point. We've had people saying on previous days that the march would leave -- a march would leave the square and go to the palace. It hasn't happened up to now.
I mean, somebody -- something's got to give here. If they've really decided on this course of action, i.e. Mubarak will remain as president, Suleiman will have authority, and they will try and come up with some credible process leading to a free and fair election, if they have decided irrevocably that is it, at some point I think they have to say -- they have to act in a way which ends the standoff. But how that happens, I don't know.
And again, I come back to President Obama's statement in the midst of all this, between the army's statement and Mubarak's, you know, a moment of transformation, we're watching history unfold, it really seems like there was a brought conviction, not only in Egypt, but at the highest levels of the U.S. government that we were about to see Mubarak not only hand over to Suleiman, but leave.
BLITZER: And the CIA director, Leon Panetta, told Congress he expected that Mubarak would be announcing he's stepping down on State Television tonight as well. The president spoke -- President Obama spoke after that.
Roger Cohen, stand by. Thanks very much.
We're going to continue the breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to check in with all of our reporters and our analysts on the ground in Cairo. Much more of this special coverage coming up right after this.
BLITZER: These are live pictures from Tahrir Square. It's 12:21 a.m., after midnight, in Cairo right now. These people are angry. They're furious. They did not hear what they wanted to hear from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, that he was stepping down. He was handing over authority, though, to the vice president, Omar Suleiman, not necessarily, though, all authority and he's making it clear he's staying on as the president of Egypt.
Ivan Watson is on the ground in Tahrir Square for us right now.
Set the scene for us, Ivan. What are you hearing? What are you seeing?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting. When Hosni Mubarak was speaking, the whole crowd here, the tens of thousands or more than 100,000 stood still, stood quiet, and listened intently except for a few moments when they chanted "leave leave, leave" when they were clearly very angry at some of the things he said.
When Omar Suleiman, the vice president, came out to speak, nobody cared. The crowd angry, some people chanting "the blood of the martyrs." They've been showing the pictures of some of the people who have died here over the past two weeks, and saying that they were going to mark on the presidential palace. I understand that some have gone to the TV station that is nearby.
And if you need evidence of what these people are planning to do after that speech, take a look down here. Not only do you have a tent city, but literally as we've been here, some young men have been building a house in the square, a more permanent shelter than the tents that have cropped up over the past two weeks.
These people are not going. And what they have said over and over again is, "he leaves, he leaves, then we leave." That doesn't seem to be happening, so this sit-in is only getting more permanent. It has spread to the gates of the Egyptian parliament two days ago. Now it seems there's an effort to organize a sit-in at the State Television as well. When the Mubarak -- when Hosni Mubarak gave a speech a little more than a week ago here people were angry, very frustrated, Wolf, and the next day there were pro-government demonstrations. And some of the demonstrators told us they felt bad for Hosni Mubarak, he convinced them that he was going to take some measures. It will be very interesting to see whether he will still have some sympathy in the streets after this latest speech here, especially among the crowd here in Tahrir Square -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of anger building up.
Hala Gorani has been watching this with me. Hala, I want you and me, if we can now, to speak with a special guest we've invited here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Khalid Abdalla is an Egyptian actor, he was the star of the film "Kite Runner." He's been in Cairo now watching what is going on.
Let me get your reaction, Khalid. Tell us how you reacted when you, A, heard Mubarak and then heard Suleiman.
KHALID ABDALLA, EGYPTIAN ACTOR & PROTESTOR (via telephone): I mean, I reacted the same way everyone else did. I mean, I can't tell you what the expectation was like before, before this speech. There was a real sense -- I mean -- (INAUDIBLE) you have people around here almost saying it was a calculated decision -- a calculated decision to build a huge conversation, and then cause, you know, disappointment to the level of -- to the level of anger.
You know people around here are saying like it's almost like he's calling for a bloodbath tomorrow. No one really understand what country he's living in.
I mean, I never seen the people with -- (INAUDIBLE) I spoke with someone whose brother died in the previous -- you know, dies last Wednesday, and, you know, I mean he was -- he was beside himself. He was tears, screaming. It's an incredibly sad moment right now. I don't know what else to say.
BLITZER: Hold on a second cause Hala Gorani has a question for you.
Hala, go ahead.
GORANI: Yes, Wolf, thanks.
Khalid, how much -- what are you willing to do now? We heard from some protesters there in the square who told our reporter in Tahrir, we're basically willing to die for this. I mean, it was just so powerful to hear that from some of those demonstrators.
What are you and the demonstrators you're speaking to, what are you willing to do now to achieve that final aim, which is forcing the resignation of Mubarak?
ABDALLA: I'm sorry, could you say that again? GORANI: What more are you willing to do at this stage, Khalid, to force the resignation of Hosni Mubarak? He's clearly said he is not stepping down.
ABDALLA: Yes, I mean -- well from a professional position, I'm going to continue protesting in the same way I have before. I mean, non violent, peacefully, you know asking for what's just and what's right and what this country deserves.
That's -- I mean, you know -- but there are people willing to take it a step further. There are people who are willing -- there are already people I know who set up to State Television, as you said There are people talking about descending on the palace.
And, of course, those two places are offset by the Republican Guard and the Republican Guard has very -- is under a different, you know -- different than the army. And in certain areas they have a shoot to kill policy.
So I don't know if we're going to see more deaths. I don't understand how -- how he can claim to -- you know, he says all those just the lip service things about the youth of this country and all of that kind of nonsense, yet at the same time he's clearly claiming things, he's clearly asking for things (ph) to step up. And step up with -- and the (INAUDIBLE) force that's there.
Everyone's lost. Everyone's lost. People are trying to work out what more they can do. It's a really confusing, foul situation here. It's -- people are really hurt.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Khalid, you seem a bit down yourself about all of this. I'm curious whether you think, as some do, that this is all setting the stage to perhaps drive up the anger and create a pretense of reason for a real crackdown.
ABDALLA: Well, that's certainly crossed people's minds. I mean, I'm personally very, very sad. (INAUDIBLE) I mean, there are people crying all around me, and you know, the sight of the man (INAUDIBLE) falling to pieces is not an easy site for the eyes to behold.
I think it is possible. I think it is possible that he's stepping -- that he's trying to, you know -- trying to -- trying to get people to react violently so they have a reason to step in. I mean, it certainly feels like that.
I don't know. I don't know. He seems to be living in another world. I mean, I've been saying something for a few weeks now just amongst friends that, you know, this regime seems -- this regime of Hosni Mubarak seems so ridiculously stupid that you just can't believe -- you can't believe they're so stupid that you try to find, you try to interpret their actions as if they were intelligent. I mean, certainly, the intelligence -- the intelligent interpretation would be that's what he's doing. I fear that it's just -- I fear that it's just plain (INAUDIBLE). HOLMES: There's been a lot of good will over the last couple of weeks towards the military. It seems -- it's a bit incredulous to imagine that Mr. Mubarak took this step to stay in power without talking it over with the military.
Do you think that that good relation with the military is going to continue?
ABDALLA: I hope so. I mean, I really hope so.
I mean, there were people around me who immediately kind of said that the army really -- the army should be doing something, should be doing something far more, that what they're doing is not right. They're just forcing -- and there is an anger in that sense.
But I think -- you know, I can't see fighting against the army, because there's a desire still to keep the peace. This is essentially a peaceful movement. Their anger is directed at this moment at the regime, and that's very clear.
BLITZER: Khalid Abdalla is the actor, the protester, the star of the film "Kite Runner."
Khalid, thanks very much. We're going to stay in close touch with you.
Hala and Michael, stand by, because joining us now is the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador Shoukry, thanks very much for joining us.
You can see the frustration. You can see the anger on the streets of -- around Tahrir Square right now. These protesters are furious that they didn't hear what they were led to believe they would hear, that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, would step down.
Give us your reaction.
SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Mr. Blitzer, I'm calling in just as a matter of objectivity, to convey to you my sense of maybe some confusion on your part in terms of what exactly the president did say.
The president did say, indicate very clearly, that he was transferring all his presidential authority to the vice president. He had done so after he had referred to the parliament the constitutional amendments upon which the political reform would proceed. So that was a point while I was following your program that I felt needed clarification.
BLITZER: Well, are you saying, Ambassador -- and excuse me for interrupting -- that President Mubarak is no longer the president of Egypt?
SHOUKRY: President Mubarak has transferred the powers of the presidency to his vice president, who now undertakes all authorities as president. So we can say that the president is a de jure president, and no longer-- the vice president is the de facto president.
BLITZER: So Omar Suleiman, you're saying, is now the president of Egypt and Hosni Mubarak is no longer the president of Egypt? Is that what I hear you saying, Ambassador?
SHOUKRY: This is a constitutional issue, Mr. Blitzer, which needs to be addressed from a very specific legal, constitutional perspective, not from a perspective of any form of spin. The president has transferred his authority under Article 82 of the constitution to the vice president to undertake all presidential authority that is incorporated in the constitution. So, currently, the presidential powers are all bestowed in the person of the vice president.
BLITZER: All right. So I just want to be precise. And these are -- this is the information you're getting from the Foreign Ministry, from your government in Cairo right now?
SHOUKRY: Mr. Blitzer, I am getting this from the vice president.
BLITZER: From Omar Suleiman, that he is now the de facto president, if not the de jure president. He's the acting president of Egypt. Is that fair to say that?
SHOUKRY: He is now undertaking all authority of the presidency under the constitution.
BLITZER: Does President Mubarak have any authority left?
SHOUKRY: President Mubarak has transferred all authority to the vice president.
BLITZER: All authority. So he has no authority left?
SHOUKRY: The only three issues that the vice president cannot make any determination on are making amendments to the constitution or dissolving parliament or firing the cabinet.
BLITZER: Who can make those decisions?
SHOUKRY: Those are decisions that would be made only by the president. In this case, those decisions are not effective, because the president has transferred all power to the vice president.
BLITZER: All right. So, just to be precise, President Mubarak still retains those power, those three powers.
SHOUKRY: No. The constitution retains those powers, and they are not any longer bestowed with anyone.
BLITZER: Well, so who dismisses parliament if necessary?
SHOUKRY: No one.
BLITZER: No one can?
SHOUKRY: No one can.
BLITZER: So is it fair to say that President Mubarak now has no power?
SHOUKRY: That is certainly an interpretation you can make.
BLITZER: So President Mubarak now has no longer any powers. He's no longer head of state?
SHOUKRY: He remains the de jure head of state.
BLITZER: Does he also remain commander of the military?
SHOUKRY: He has transferred all powers under the constitution to the vice president, so he has transferred all effective powers to the vice president under the constitution.
BLITZER: And can he get those powers back? Or is that irrevocable?
SHOUKRY: That's a very technical constitutional issue that I'm unable to speak to without referring again very specifically to the legal terms of the constitution.
BLITZER: So we don't know if he can demand those powers back from Vice President Suleiman?
SHOUKRY: I don't think that is the issue currently, Mr. Blitzer. I think the --
BLITZER: Well, no. I want to be precise, and you're helping us better appreciate the nuances here. Remember, we were working off a translation, an English translate. But you heard, and you see the reaction of the crowd over there in Tahrir --
SHOUKRY: I've heard the speech, and I have in my hand the copy of the speech.
BLITZER: So the hundreds of thousands of people who were in Tahrir Square, they all left angry, furious. They didn't appreciate, I guess, the nuances of what you're telling us.
SHOUKRY: I'm not in Tahrir Square, so I can't really judge, Mr. Blitzer.
BLITZER: Will President Mubarak stay in Egypt, or is he getting ready to leave?
SHOUKRY: I have no information regarding that issue.
BLITZER: And as far as you know, he's in Egypt right now though. Right?
SHOUKRY: Yes. As far as I know, he is in Egypt. BLITZER: Why couldn't he just say in simple terms what Leon Panetta, the CIA director, seemed to suggest he would say earlier in the day, or what -- at least the impression we got from the president of the United States, President Obama, this was an historic moment and that he was stepping down? Why couldn't he simply say it bluntly so that we don't have to read in between the lines?
SHOUKRY: I really can't answer that question. That's a question only the president can answer. I think all I can comment on is that, apparently, this process has been undertaken with a desire to maintain the legitimacy of the constitutional process.
BLITZER: And so is the vice president, Omar Suleiman, who you now say is the de fact president, is he in charge of the military?
SHOUKRY: He would be in charge of the military, because all have -- all authority has been transmitted to him.
BLITZER: All authority, even though in hour official translation -- in our translation -- he said he was delegating power? That was from the Arabic into the English, delegating power to the vice president. He didn't include --
SHOUKRY: What he said is that he was delegating the powers of the presidency to the vice president.
BLITZER: Yes, we didn't have -- our Arabic speakers say that their translation didn't mean he was delegating the power, all the power, or some of the power, it was a more ambiguous delegating power to the vice president.
Do you remember in Arabic precisely how he phrased it?
SHOUKRY: As I recall, he said that he has delegated the authority of the presidency to the vice president.
BLITZER: And is this just your interpretation, Mr. Ambassador? Because I know you, and I know you're an honorable man, and you're a good civil servant of Egypt, an excellent representative here in Washington. Is this your interpretation, or is the instructions, the guidance you have been given by your government?
SHOUKRY: I felt that I needed to clarify this issue. This issue has been clarified to me that this is the intention. I am transmitting it to you for the sake of objectivity.
BLITZER: And you've transmitted the same information to the U.S. government?
SHOUKRY: I certainly intend to.
BLITZER: You plan on speaking to somebody from the Obama administration, from the State Department?
SHOUKRY: There is a constant dialogue between us.
BLITZER: So let's just recap right now, because I'm grateful to you for being precise. Who is the head of state of Egypt right now?
SHOUKRY: The head of state of Egypt is the president, who has transmitted all his powers to the vice president.
BLITZER: All right. So just to be precise, the head of state is still Hosni Mubarak?
SHOUKRY: The de jure head of state is Hosni Mubarak. The de facto head of state is Omar Suleiman.
BLITZER: And de jure means the legal head of state, the official head of state. But the de facto meaning, for all practical purposes, you're saying Suleiman is the president.
SHOUKRY: For undertaking all decisions, responsibilities under the Constitution, it's Vice President Omar Suleiman.
BLITZER: He's in charge, for all practical purposes, right now?
SHOUKRY: For all presidential authority that is stipulated in the constitution.
BLITZER: And put on your hat as an observer, as an Egyptian, a proud Egyptian, someone who has watched this. And you and I have spoken several times. Put on your hat as someone who understands the mood of Egypt right now. Will this be acceptable to the protesters, that Suleiman, the vice president, in effect, becomes president?
SHOUKRY: I wouldn't speak on anyone's behalf. I think that remains to be seen. And whatever the demonstrators indicate will certainly be a matter of great concern to everyone. I think the demonstrators, the right to demonstrate, their right to participate in the political life of Egypt and to follow the reform process that is under way, and to form the roadmap to the future has been recognized by everyone.
BLITZER: And this roadmap, to be precise, this transitional process, your understanding is it continues until September, when the next scheduled elections are supposed to take place?
SHOUKRY: It continues in the areas that have been defined, the constitutional reforms, and the consensus that emanated from the dialogue in terms of freedom of expression, of following up on issues of corruption, and the possibility of suspending the emergency law when security conditions are more conducive so there is a number of reforms that are under way so as to guarantee a meaningful and peaceful transition of power and authority in Egypt.
BLITZER: Do you understand why Leon Panetta earlier in the day told Congress that he had been told that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, was going to step down as early as tonight?
SHOUKRY: I have no idea. I was not in communications with Mr. Panetta.
BLITZER: I think in part because a top Egyptian military commander, an army commander, went into Tahrir Square earlier in the day and told the protesters, "All of your demands will be fully met." They interpreted that as meaning -- and they were screaming with joy, they were dancing, they were singing -- that Mubarak would go away, would step down as president.
And so what I hear you saying, Mr. Ambassador, is that he has stepped down as president, even though he technically, legally still may be the head of state.
SHOUKRY: I can only reiterate what I said, Mr. Blitzer. He has transferred all powers to the vice president.
BLITZER: All powers to the vice president, except the ability to dissolve parliament. Is that right?
SHOUKRY: Which now is in the hands of no one.
BLITZER: Which is in the hands of no one.
What about the ability to end the state of emergency, which has been around since 1981? Who can end that?
SHOUKRY: That of course is the authority of the de facto president.
BLITZER: So, in other words, if Omar Suleiman wanted to end the state of emergency tomorrow, he could just sign a piece of paper and that would end it?
SHOUKRY: He has all the authorities under the constitution to act on any matter.
BLITZER: Do you have any indication he will end the state of emergency?
SHOUKRY: There were references in both the president's and vice president's speeches tonight that the reform process is under way.
BLITZER: That they were thinking about doing it, but he made no commitment, no pledge to do so. Is that right?
SHOUKRY: They made a reference to the political dialogue on the way, and among it, the issue of lifting the emergency law under the appropriate security conditions.
BLITZER: Yes. And just to be precise -- because I know you've been very helpful to us, and I'm grateful to you, Mr. Ambassador, for doing this -- if Mubarak decides tomorrow, or a month from now, or six months from now to take back the power from Suleiman, the vice president, can he?
SHOUKRY: I really do not have the information. Again, these are legalistic issues. I don't have the article of the constitution that relates to these issues.
BLITZER: What are you bracing for tomorrow, Friday? It's already Friday in Egypt. It's approaching 1:00 a.m. now in Egypt. It's a day of prayer, but all the anticipation is that after the midday prayers, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will go out and protest.
How worried are you, Mr. Ambassador, that this could get ugly?
SHOUKRY: There is a -- I think it's been declared on several occasions at the highest level that the Egyptian people have the right to demonstrate and express their opinions under the protection of the government and the protection of the military, and I'm sure the Egyptian people will undertake their responsibilities to express their opinions in a peaceful manner, and the voice of the people has been heard and the voice of the people will continue to guide the reform process.
BLITZER: Do you feel that the U.S. administration, the Obama administration, as the foreign minister of Egypt said in an interview with PBS this week, your foreign minister, that the U.S. administration is improperly interfering in domestic Egyptian affairs?
SHOUKRY: I'm sorry. My position here as ambassador necessitates that I maintain the channels of cooperation and consultation, and this is our interest, to maintain our special and strong relationship to the United States. The U.S./Egyptian partnership is an enduring one, one that is important to both sides.
BLITZER: Have you been asked to convey any disappointment, any displeasure or anger to the U.S. government on behalf of your government on some statements that may have been made be American officials?
SHOUKRY: No, not at all.
BLITZER: So, in your contacts with U.S. officials, you've been basically saying the U.S. and Egypt have a good relationship, have always had a good relationship, let's continue that good relationship? Is that right?
SHOUKRY: It is right. We are constantly in contact, and the dialogue is one of partnership, cooperation, and mutual understanding.
BLITZER: And what's the message they have given you, the State Department?
SHOUKRY: It is a reiteration of the same message that the president has conveyed on several occasions, that this is an Egyptian process, and the United States is supportive of a reform process, and is supportive of a peaceful and meaningful transition of power in Egypt.
BLITZER: All right. Mr. Ambassador, if you can have a few more moments, Hala Gorani is with us as well.
SHOUKRY: I am very sorry, but I do have other obligations, Mr. Blitzer.
BLITZER: Oh, you do? OK.
Ambassador Shoukry, we appreciate your clarifications for us. They were very useful. Thank you very much,
Ambassador Shoukry is the Egyptian ambassador to the United States. He helped us better appreciate the nuances here.
SHOUKRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let me go back to Fred Pleitgen, who's down there at Tahrir Square right now.
I don't know, Fred, if you could hear the clarifications from the ambassador, but he's being precise that for practical purposes, Mubarak is no longer president, Suleiman is president, even though de jure, or legally, Mubarak remains the head of state of Egypt.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.
I have been able to listen to that. And actually, I have also gotten the opinions of some of the people, because they are very well aware of that fact, and in spite of that fact, they still don't think enough was said tonight.
Sir, let me ask you first, what's your name?
AHMED SAAD (ph), PROTESTER: Ahmed Saad (ph)
PLEITGEN: Ahmed Saad (ph).
Today we learned that the president is only the president in name, and Omar Suleiman apparently has all the power.
Is that enough for you? Do you think that has been enough?
SAAD: Well, I will say that it's -- if it's real, if it's real, it's not. But the whole scene, when you look at the scene from the top, there's a lot of contradictions and confusions. OK?
From all the facts today, it looks as if Mubarak is going to resign, number one. The military council makes a meeting without Mubarak. Mubarak was not there. He was absent at that meeting.
And according to our constitution, the president of Egypt is the head of the military council. OK? So he should be there. OK?
So when you see a meeting of the military council without Mubarak, that means there's division in the country. OK?
The military institution, there is division, OK, between the military -- there is a conflict between the military institution and the presidential institution. OK? That's number one.
Number two, a lot of people responsible in the country said that Mubarak is going to do what the people want. OK? That means that he's going to resign.
After that speech, we found that he is not resigning. OK? He said that "I'm going to transfer all my authorities to Omar Suleiman." OK?
PLEITGEN: It's not enough for you?
SAAD: It's not about enough or not enough. It's about it's real or not real.
We are seeing a lot of contradictions. OK?
Omar Suleiman, himself, who should get the Mubarak -- the president's authorities, yesterday said that it's not acceptable at all for anyone to say that Mubarak should leave his authorities to me. Mubarak is the president of the country. OK?
This day, Mubarak transferred the authorities to Suleiman. This day, also, according to the military speech that -- the military, the Egyptian army is defending the people's will. And he will do his best to defend the people and what they want. OK? And to achieve their requirements of what they are asking for. OK?
After that speech and after the military council meets, it was so clear that Mubarak had to resign and that the military council is going to do a lot of pressure on the presidential institution to force Mubarak to resign. OK?
Mubarak, after all this, he didn't resign. And he's transferring his authorities to Suleiman.
How come you're transferring your authorities to the man, and how come you want the people to believe that this is real while Suleiman, yesterday, said that this will not be done and it's not acceptable? And he said also in the BBC news, or ABC, that Egypt people is not now -- we cannot apply -- they are not ready for democracy. OK?
PLEITGEN: You're angry at Mubarak and Suleiman?
SAAD: I'm angry at Mubarak and Suleiman, and -- but I want to say that nothing is clear now. Mubarak is leading the country into a very dark tunnel. It will be a curse.
A division of the army -- hopefully between the authorities of the country. OK? They army will fight. Maybe the army will fight against the presidential institution.
What I think now, that Mubarak is defending himself behind the presidential guard. There are about 50,000 soldiers. OK? So there's a state of confusion.
PLEITGEN: What will that chaos mean on the streets here? Will more people to go the streets? I mean, it doesn't -- it seems everybody is angry right now.
SAAD: Yes. From what I'm seeing right now -- I'm from Alexandria, by the way, and this is my first day in Tahrir. I came here today to join the people, to see what they are saying, the way they are thinking.
From what I'm seeing right now, the people do not support what Mubarak said at all. They said he should leave immediately. And Mubarak is acting against the will of the people. What he said to --
PLEITGEN: OK. Thank you very much.
But as you can see, Wolf, the people know exactly what Hosni Mubarak said. And they are quite angry still, even after you've heard that clarification from the ambassador -- Wolf.
BLITZER: An important clarification from the ambassador, Ambassador Shoukry.
Stand by, Fred.
I want to go to Ben Wedeman in a moment. I want to take a quick break.
Much more of the breaking news coverage. History unfolding, live, right here on CNN.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Live pictures from Tahrir Square in Egypt now, in Cairo, where a lot of people are furious. They're very angry at President Hosni Mubarak, that he's still apparently the president of Egypt.
Mohamed ElBardadei is joining us, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. He's joining us on the phone right now.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
First of all, we just heard from the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Shoukry, who said that for all practical purposes, the vice president, Omar Suleiman, is now the de facto president of Egypt, that Mubarak is no longer really the president, even though he may be the president in name.
Is that good enough?
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, FMR. HEAD, IAEA: Absolutely not, Wolf. I mean, this is an act of deception at the grand scale.
People are stunned here. Everybody expected Mubarak and his regime -- they lost all credibility, all legitimacy -- to step aside. People were expecting that we would then move into a transitional period where you would have a government of national unity, under a government to carry on for -- in years to prepare for fair and free elections. I mean, there is no way the Egyptian people right now, Wolf, are ready to accept either Mubarak or his vice president. They have both lost every legitimacy, every credibility. The Egyptians made the revolt by their feet (ph) in the streets.
I mean, there are tens of millions. They are so angry. And my fear right now, Wolf, that this will start (ph) violence.
To put it simply, the man is gambling with the destiny of his country just for the sake of his staying in power. It's the most humiliating, to be a president with no power, but yet he still wants to continue as president. So it's a stunning situation.
BLITZER: Because based on what we heard from the ambassador, Ambassador Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, it sounds Hosni Mubarak is basically only a figure head president right now, having transferred authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman. But what I hear you saying is that there's really no difference between Suleiman and Mubarak.
ELBARADEI: Absolutely. I mean, Suleiman is considered to be an extension of Mubarak. They are twins.
Neither of them is acceptable to the people. Even Suleiman is less acceptable to the Egyptian people.
They haven't -- as you heard a couple of days ago, Wolf, saying that the Egyptian people do not have the culture for democracy. This is a guy who supports (INAUDIBLE) democracy.
The whole process has to go. I mean, we are now in a situation where the constitution has to be abolished, the assembly has to be abolished. Have a provisional constitution, a presidential council, and government to -- undertaking government, and just move on.
But it's not the outgoing regime who is going to introduce Egypt to the future. It should be the representative of the incoming regime, which are the people who made that revolution.
So it's very awkward. It makes every Egyptian absolutely angry, Wolf.
But more important, people are -- as you can see, are on the street, and people are very angry. Mad, actually. And I fear that they will turn violent if the army doesn't come to the rescue of the people right now.
And I call on the army to come to save the country from going into -- going down the drain.
BLITZER: Because I saw your tweet on Twitter, Mr. Ambassador. You wrote, "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."
Do you believe the army is with Mubarak and Suleiman, or with you and the protesters? ELBARADEI: It's a very good question, Wolf. Until the last few years, it is obviously that there was a rift, if you like, between Mubarak and associates and the army. The army keeps saying that they will issue another declaration tonight. We are still hoping to hear what they are going to say.
It will be the most lethal, if the people think that the army is not on their side, because the tradition is people always thought that the army is the protector of the people of last resort. And if they feel that the army is not taking their side, that's why -- then the people will go berserk, Wolf, you know, if they lose the protection, which they think the army has to provide them in such an emergency situation.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, hold on a minute, because I want Ben Wedeman to come into this conversation with you and me as well.
It's now the top of the hour. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're watching the historic developments unfolding in Egypt right now.
Within the past few hours, we heard from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, basically handing over authority.