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President Hosni Mubarak Addresses Egypt, Asks Government to Resign; Stakes Enormous for Israel

Aired January 28, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news -- the unrest in Egypt exploding in violence. Police and protesters clashing in a haze of tear gas and flames. The future of this critical U.S. ally very uncertain right now. We're bringing you these historic developments -- the revolt live and global, as only CNN can.

President Obama is keeping a very close watch on the situation in Egypt. Administration officials are choosing their words very carefully. A lot of questions about how much pressure they're willing to put on Egypt's embattled President Mubarak.

Americans have an enormous stake in what's happening in the Middle East right now. We're taking a much closer look at just how much the U.S. has invested in Egypt's government, in Egypt's military.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. It's just after midnight in Egypt right now, where a pillar of power in the Middle East could be on the brink of collapse. The uprising against President Hosni Mubarak reaching new levels of intensity and violence over the past few hours. We're following this breaking story playing out across Egypt.

Thousands and thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of major cities across the country. They were met by armored vehicles and riot police firing tear gas, water cannon and even guns. The headquarters of Egypt's ruling party was burned, reportedly by demonstrators. We have not seen President Mubarak all day. Repeat -- we have not seen President Mubarak all day.. And just a short while ago, the White House said President Obama has not spoken with the Egyptian president, either.

Let's go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

He's on the scene for us in Cairo, watching all of these historic developments unfold -- Fred, first of all, give our viewers the very latest.

It's just after midnight in Cairo.

What's going on?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there still are a lot of people on the streets, Wolf, here in Cairo. They're still chanting, as you -- as you said. The headquarters of the ruling party was burned by protesters. It was also looted. We've been seeing cars driving around in the streets with all sorts of office chairs on them.

There was massive rioting here throughout the day, the police using tear gas, demonstrators telling us that they were also live firing at some of the stages. They were showing us empty shell casings.

We were actually in some of the protests, where the police appeared to be firing live rounds our way and the demonstrators' way. And we also got into a lot of melee. We were caught in tear gas exchanges.

So certainly, it's been a very, very busy -- a very violent day here on the streets of Cairo. But I can tell you one thing. The people, they were always telling me they're not going to give up, they're not going to let up. And there were -- there were also stages of the game when they were beating back the -- the police forces.

And now that it's nighttime, the police have absolutely disappeared off the streets of Cairo. The army has taken its place. The army is here. The army is shielding key government institutions like, for instance, the information ministry, which is right next to our office; of course, not shielding the party headquarters of President Mubarak.

And there are many people here in this country who question whether Hosni Mubarak will, indeed, be the president of this country before dawn tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of rumors flying around Egypt, here in Washington, as you know, Fred, that the -- the Egyptian president's wife is already outside of Egypt, maybe in London; his son, Gamal, who is the heir apparent, he's already outside of Egypt. And we don't know what's -- what the status is of the Egyptian president, Mubarak.

But there has been a statement on Egyptian television saying get ready for, quote, "a major announcement."

Do we have any more information on that?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes. We're -- we're getting that from Egyptian television, as well; also from other Egyptian TV or etcetera, saying that there is going to be a major announcement by the speaker of parliament of this country.

And now one of the things that we have to note is that if the president were to step down, the speaker of parliament would, in fact, assume powers.

So right now we're still waiting on that statement. The national TV network is saying that it's going to come. We're not exactly sure when that is going to be the case. They keep saying it's soon, it's soon. But they're not saying when that's going to be. And you said one interesting thing before, the people here have not heard from Hosni Mubarak all day (INAUDIBLE) with the protesters. And the thing that they keep asking here is, what did Mubarak say?

What did Mubarak say?

And I keep telling them, I don't know. He hasn't said anything yet. And I think it's something that's really unprecedented here for this country, where there seems to be a complete meltdown within the government here in this country, which is so strong and so repressive on the people here, that it's really something where they found a new freedom.

And this is something that's really emboldened the protesters, as well, where they have seen that the -- the security forces are not invisible. The president is absolutely silent. This is really making the protesters who are on the streets here feel even stronger and more resilient -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, I want you to stand by and listen to this, because joining us on the phone right now -- he's one of our CNN iReporters who witnessed the clashes firsthand just outside his hotel balcony in Cairo. We're talking to Kristian on the phone. And for safety purposes, we're only going to use his first name.

Kristian, tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what you eyewitnessed today.

And you're just a regular tourist there.

KRISTIAN, WITNESS TO EGYPT REVOLT (via telephone): OK. Yes. I was watching from the hotel balcony the -- the scenes just outside the hotel, which is on the Nile. And, yes, at -- at around about 2:00 there was -- during the morning there was a lot of police that had built up -- riot police -- on the bridge and the surrounding square. And there was no protesters until after prayer.

And then at -- at some point before 2:00, one could hear chants from -- from a distance -- "Allah Akbar!" "God is Great!" And it starts to get louder and louder. And then suddenly, behind a really tall building, I see like a huge crowd of demonstrators. And you just -- you know, you don't see the end of the line. It's just -- it's just so many demonstrators -- thousands of them. And there's about 300 or 400 riot police guarding the entrance to -- on the bridge, watching them all.

So, yes. And then they -- yes, they -- they met each other then and the demonstrators were just -- the -- they went up to the riot police. And they -- yes, they were just -- they were -- they were shouting things at the police and the police were shouting back. And, yes. Then it started with tear gas and the police hitting the protesters and so on.

BLITZER: And you were close enough to -- to be affected by that tear gas that was shot, isn't that right?

KRISTIAN: Yes, that -- that was correct. Well, the tear gas went into the crowds. So they -- they shot a lot of tear gas, actually. So that the -- the crowds went back, like up to 100 meters back. And they still started shooting a lot of tear gas, even when there were not protesters near the police.

Just the amount of tear gas that they shot went up into the air and it blew up to the hotel. So I -- I got it from my window.. So if the window was open, you got the tear gas into the room. And it was very strong stuff.

BLITZER: And you saw one demonstrator being taken away by an ambulance.

What happened?

KRISTIAN: Yes. I'm not sure if it was an ambulance or if it was just a civilian van. But, yes, I saw a few people helping -- helping this person who looked unconscious or injured of some sort and putting him into a van, and, yes, taking him away.

BLITZER: Now, Kristian, do you --


BLITZER: -- are you trying to get out of Egypt right now?


BLITZER: What are the opportunities to get to the airport and get on a flight?

KRISTIAN: At the moment, I'm not sure what the situation is in terms of travel. But I've heard reports that the airport, some flights have been cancelled, quite a lot of flights. So I don't know. It's quite hard to get information, actually, because, you know, the mobile network is not working. The mobile networks are shut off. And the Internet is -- is very slow. I have Internet access, but it's -- it's not so fast. And most people don't have Internet access. And it's quite hard to get in contact with -- with different persons.

BLITZER: So are you going to stay, at least for now, in Cairo?

Do you feel safe?

KRISTIAN: Well, I --

BLITZER: How do you feel about that?

KRISTIAN: I feel safe, yes. I think I -- I -- I feel already -- I feel for the people on the streets and the Egyptians, because they are the ones who are having the -- hard time. I mean I'm -- I'm a foreigner. I'm a tourist. So I'm, you know, I feel safe in the -- in the hotel. It's just not a problem for me.

BLITZER: So you're going to stay, at least for now, and you're not going to try to just scramble, get over to the airport and get on any flight that -- that might be leaving Egypt, is that what I'm hearing from you, Kristian?

KRISTIAN: Yes. I will sit tight for the -- for the next while. But I will look at the opportunity to -- to fly out, of course. And I'll see -- see what's happening. I'll watch the situation as it comes, yes.

BLITZER: Is Fred Pleitgen still with us?

Fred is our reporter on the scene -- Fred, are you there?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I'm still here, Wolf, and --

BLITZER: All right, Fred --

PLEITGEN: -- it was interesting to hear what --

BLITZER: -- I don't --

PLEITGEN: -- what --

BLITZER: I don't know if you want to ask --

PLEITGEN: -- what Kristian was saying because I've (INAUDIBLE) very little of --

BLITZER: I don't know if you want to ask Kristian a question. But go ahead and ask Kristian a question, if you have a question for him.

PLEITGEN: Well, I thought it -- I thought it was very interesting what he had to say, because one of the things obviously, that he's been experiencing that we've been experiencing, as well, is the fact that there's no Internet here right now. There's no cell phone service right now. And you can see how the government has been trying to stop people from communicating.

The question that I have for Kristian is that we've been hearing that -- that tourists here in Egypt have been held up by security forces and security forces have been trying to take cameras away from tourists, as well, to try and stop people from taking pictures and getting, really, what's going on here out to the wider public, because, you know, our own Ben Wedeman had his camera taken away today and broken by Egyptian security forces. They tried to stop us from filming. They -- they -- they used tear gas on a lot of television crews.

Has Kristian had any -- any similar thing happen to him, where security forces have harassed him or anything like that?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Kristian. KRISTIAN: Well, I arrived to the hotel last night. And I saw the buildup of a lot of trucks, police trucks. And when I -- when I checked into the hotel, at that time, they weren't confiscating cameras or anything like that. It was just security checks. So I stayed in the hotel the whole time, pretty much. So I haven't -- I haven't left the hotel. And I haven't left the hotel with any of my -- my stuff. So I mean maybe they were doing that today, but I haven't experienced it. So, no.

BLITZER: All right, Kristian, here's a little piece of advice.

Don't leave the hotel, at least for now. Stay put. I'm sure you'll be fine, as long as you're in there. We'll stay in close touch with you.

And Kristian is one of our iReporters. He was a -- he's a tourist vacationing in Cairo, by chance. And he was an eyewitness to what he saw.

Fred Pleitgen, don't go away. We're going to be in close touch with you, as well.

President Obama, right now, is walking a very, very fine line in the U.S. response to this violence and unrest in Egypt right now. We're going to try to get to the bottom of why he hasn't spoken with the Egyptian president.

Where is Hosni Mubarak right now?

Is he in Cairo?

Is he still in Egypt?

Is he getting ready to leave the country?

These are questions we may be knowing -- we may be getting some answers to very, very soon.

And Americans are demonstrating support for the protesters in Egypt. But there's now talk that U.S. financial support for that country -- billions and billions of dollars every single year -- could be in jeopardy.

And as we go to break, amazing video from earlier.


BLITZER: All right. It's 12:15 a.m. now in Cairo. Egyptian television just reporting that they are expecting a major statement from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to the people of Egypt.

We'll believe it when we see it, because we've been hearing rumors all day that President Mubarak was going to be speaking on Egyptian television to the Egyptian people. So far, he's been a no show. We'll see if in fact this happens. But Egyptian television just moments ago saying we will be hearing from the Egyptian leader shortly. Let's see if that actually happens or if we hear from someone else. It's after midnight, as I've been pointing out, already in Cairo.

The breaking news out of Egypt is forcing the Obama administration to rethink its relationship with one of its most important allies in the entire world. The White House responding very cautiously to the scenes of antigovernment unrest and violence.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian who is working the story for us.

Dan, the White House press briefing was delayed and delayed. The press secretary very carefully picking every word. They know the stakes are enormous right now.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really do, and that's why President Obama is getting frequent updates beginning with a memo put together overnight by his national security adviser Tom Donilon, and then that usual daily briefing that the president gets that usually focuses on a whole host of issues today was focused solely on the situation in Egypt. We're told that that lasted for about 40 minutes.

The White House is trying not to take any sides in this unrest, but it's a very difficult balancing act from one of the U.S.' key allies.

BLITZER: We're going to interrupt and go right to Egyptian television.

Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, is now speaking.


HOSNI MUBARAK, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): -- in a very specific situation. We all honestly should stand with each other for this country.

I saw the demonstrations at first and what it wanted. I told the government to give -- to give them -- to give them the space to tell what they want and what they need.

After that -- after that, I was so sorry for what happened with the injured demonstrators and the officers. The government did what it was asked, and it was obvious -- it was obvious that the armed forces worked with our youth and protected it, and respected them to be peaceful in their demonstration under the law and before it transferred into chaos and threatened the law and the life of every citizen.

These demonstrations and what we saw before that in the years before, it shouldn't have happened before -- it shouldn't have happened due to the big gaps of freedom that were given. As the president of this country and with all the constitution -- with all the power that the constitution gave me, I assure you that he's working for -- that I'm working for the people and giving freedoms of opinion, as long as you're respecting the law.

There's a very little line between freedom and chaos. I am absolutely on the side of the freedom of the each citizen, and at the same time I am on the side of the security of Egypt and I would not let anything dangerous happen that would threaten the peace and the law and the future of the country.

Egypt is the biggest region in its -- in its region -- in its area, and it's under the law of its constitution, we have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos. No democracy would be there if we allow chaos.

These demonstrations wanted to -- wanted to speak about their opinion to give more job opportunities and to lower the prices and to fight -- and to fight the poor.

I know -- I know all that these things, these issues that the people are asking. I've never been separated from it, and I work for it every day. But what we are facing as a problem and what we have as goal goals, terrorism is not going to allow it to happen. But communication and talking will allow it to happen -- to be achieved.

It's not going to be allowed that things will be robbed and stolen and fires set. You won't shake my opinion that the economy needs to be fixed, the society needs to be fixed for a better Egyptian society and a Democratic one to be open to the world.

I'll always be on the side of the poor. And I'm convinced that economy is not to be kept for only the economists, and I am with bettering the economy.

Our program to fight and to open more job opportunities and education for youth and citizens it the best thing to protect Egypt, a nation for a civilized people.

In these demonstrations, the chaos and the fires is a plan -- is a plan to actually wreck the security. Every Egyptian should care for the -- for the head of the country, not with causing fires or wrecking private and public businesses. But things will actually get to a solution in the future by communication and conversation for the country.

Dear citizens, I don't talk to you today as a president, but as an Egyptian. I spent war and peace in this country, very hard times. We overcame it, we were united as people. But when we knew our way and we set our goals, the road that we chose to fix is not to be ignored.

New steps for more democracy, for more freedom for the citizens. Steps, new steps for make new job opportunities and raise the economy and develop and to stand by the poor and the people who have limited salaries, this is what's going to make our future and we can't do that unless we are open and we are hardworking.

We need to build on what we already have and to make a new future. What happened in the past few days puts -- puts fear in everybody's hearts and the fear future and for additional chaos and wrecking.

I take responsibility for the security of this country and the citizens. I will not let this happen. I will not let fear to live in the citizen or to let them tell us what's going to happen in the future.

I ask the government to resign today, and I will tell the new government from tomorrow in very specific goals to work with the current situation.

I would say again, I will not be easy to take any -- to decide anything unless it's for the Egyptians. And I will protect Egypt. I took oath to protect Egypt and everybody.

God have mercy.

BLITZER: There you heard it, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak calling for calm, saying he's forced the government to resign, he'll appoint a new government, he says, tomorrow. He says the folks at Egypt have to obey the law otherwise there will be a disaster.

But he gave no indication whatsoever that he was at all ready to leave the country, to abandon his presidency. He says that he has a responsibility by the Egyptian constitution to maintain law and order right now, so he says he is staying put.

Let's bring in our own Fareed Zakaria, he's watching all of this unfold he's been a student of what's happening in the Middle East and Egypt for a long time.

I think it's fair to say, Fareed, that the Egyptian president was defiant in these brief remarks to the Egyptian people.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": He was very tough, Wolf. I think that the Egyptian government, Mubarak particularly, has made the decision that the Egyptian state can hold.

Remember, this is one of the oldest states in the world. This is the pharaoh's government, almost a continuous line of administration, very powerful army, largest in the Middle East. And Mubarak has decided that in the end he can prevail, so he does not need to make any preemptive concessions.

I think it might prove to be a miscalculation, but that is clearly Mubarak's judgment.

BLITZER: So what can we expect in the next few days? More of these riots and demonstrations? Will these words by President Mubarak have any calming effect on the street?

ZAKARIA: Well, in passing, he mentioned that he was going to dismiss the entire government. I assume there now the government, the prime minister and the ministers serve at his pleasure, so if he dismisses them he will simply appoint a new slate.

It is possible that he will try to find figures who have some more popular appeal, but, you know, my sense is that the Egyptian political life has been frozen for decades. I mean, Mubarak has been in power for 28 years, martial law has existed for 30 years. So it's very difficult to understand how he would make that decision without some kind of political process in which you broaden people and consulted with them.

I don't know whom he would appoint. If it's a reshuffling of the deck, I don't know whether it would work.

The odd thing, of course, is many of the people in his government, the prime minister, the trade minister, the finance minister, these are young reformers who have reasonably clean records. The problem the Egyptian public has is with Mubarak, not with his government.

BLITZER: Yes. Fareed, hold on for one moment. Don't go away.

Fred Pleitgen is our man on the scene in Cairo right now.

Fred, tell us what's going on, because I understand some protesters are really close to you.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're really close to us. You can see them right now sort of in front of our building.

What they're doing, Wolf, is making their way to the Information Ministry right now, and as you can see, the people there are quite angry. They have been chanting things like "We want him out! We want him out! We want a change!"

They came by here. And, of course, these people came by here just really a couple of seconds after Mubarak's speech was over. So, clearly, he didn't persuade the people that you're seeing here very close to our office building with the words that he was saying. And they are clearly, from what we're hearing up here, are clearly calling for him to step down.

As you can see, right now I would say it's a couple of hundred people. There's more people sort of filing down the streets.

If we can sort of pan the other way, right now the group of people are getting a little bit smaller, but certainly there will be more to come. They are also conglomerating here in this area.

It's one of the buildings, Wolf, here in downtown Cairo where the military stepped in after the police clearly wasn't capable of dealing with the situation, and where the military sort of calmed the situation down as things were getting out of control here. But now you can clearly see more and more people sort of filing towards this area, clearly not happy with what Hosni Mubarak said. And it's really something I've been seeing the whole day, is that protesters that I've been speaking to have been telling me they want this government, they want Hosni Mubarak to step down. They want him to step aside. They felt that it's time for a change.

They didn't have enough social freedom, enough economic opportunities, so clearly very, very unhappy people who were not made any more happy by what they just heard from the Egyptian president, even though, of course, he did announce that he had asked the government to resign. And one of the things that has been a demand of the protesters so far was that the interior minister resign. So one of those demands seemingly were met.

And now you can see those people -- I don't know how well you can see it -- are moving towards the building of the Information Ministry. They had tried to storm that building before. Apparently, they got into some of the rooms.

But clearly the situation, Wolf, I was telling you before it was getting more and more quiet. Now there are more and more people filing into the streets of the Egyptian capital again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect most of the Egyptian population, at least those who were watching television, obviously, were watching Mubarak, and this may have ignited more of the negative reaction.

Earlier in the day, Fred, I take it they went ahead and ransacked, they looted the chief political party headquarters of President Mubarak. And now you say they are going after the Information Ministry, which is in charge of state television, all of the newspapers, and all of that. So it looks like they are really going after some of the pillars of the entire Mubarak regime.

Is that a fair assessment, Fred?

PLEITGEN: It is an absolutely fair assessment, Wolf, and it's not only one of the pillars of the Mubarak regime, it's also one of the most hated pillars of the Mubarak regime. There's many people here in Cairo and even Egypt who would like to loot that building and burn it down.

It is one where I've seen the people in front of that building simply chanting, "It's a sham! It's a sham!" Of course, referring to the information that is coming out regularly of the Information Ministry and, of course, from state media here in Egypt. So certainly this is a place that really ignites people.

It was even worse earlier in the day, when you had the police surrounding that building, when you had the police trying to fend off the protesters using, of course, tear gas, using batons. And the protesters told us in some cases even using live ammunition and, of course, rubber bullets.

The police themselves are also a lightning rod at this point in time here in this country. A lot of people here have been mistreated by policemen in their lives. A lot of people fear the police forces. And so certainly though the police defending the Information Ministry was certainly something that ignited a lot of anger throughout the day, but now you can really see that once that that speech ended, people have begun filing, coming down the streets, chanting anti- Mubarak slogans, calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down.

And you can see more and more people are coming this way. I mean, it seems like it's a trickle of people right now, but once they get to the Information Ministry, it really turns out to be quite a big crowd. And right now I would say it's about maybe 300, 400 people there right now, but we are expecting more and more people to come in, more and more cars now coming in as well.

And, you know, one of the things that Hosni Mubarak said in his speech there is that he couldn't let chaos and lawlessness prevail here in this country. I have to say, one of the things that I noticed at the demonstrations today is that people, by and large, were not ransacking or destroying private people's property.

There were cars going through the demonstrations. The demonstrators always went to the side and let them through. It was really anger at government institutions, anger at the police force, anger, of course, at buildings like the one that's occupied by the national party that people are venting at and that, of course, then were set on fire and looted.

So, it really isn't the case that there is large chaos here in the city. It is something that is fairly directed at government institutions, even though, of course, for the larger part of the day there were some pretty intense street battles here in downtown Cairo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred. Hold on a movement. Don't go away. I want to bring Fareed Zakaria back into this conversation.

Fareed, these protesters, they hate the police. That's why they are going after the interior minister. They hate the interior minister, which is in charge of the police.

The key question is, what happens with the powerful Egyptian army? Because a lot of folks in Egypt respect the army. And I think the decisive element in who leads and who doesn't lead will be where the army in the end decides to stand.

What do you think the Egyptian army is going to do?

ZAKARIA: Well, my sense, Wolf, first of all, you're absolutely right. The key here is how the Egyptian army decides to go.

My guess is that Mubarak consulted very closely with them. Remember, he is a former army officer himself. And my sense is that they would have agreed with his position.

Also remember they have curfews everywhere in Egypt. My guess is those would have to be enforced with some help from the army.

So it seems at this stage as though the army is deciding to back the Mubarak regime. In other words, they are not doing what they did in Tunisia. And for that reason, perhaps Mubarak has decided to be as tough as he's been.

BLITZER: Because if he has the support of the military, obviously that would be very, very significant.

There has been a curfew imposed tonight, but now it's well after midnight. It's after 12:30 a.m. in Cairo. You see these hundreds of people gathering now as if they have been energized by President Mubarak's address to the nation on Egyptian state television. It looks like they don't care about this curfew and the risks to themselves that this would entail.

ZAKARIA: Precisely. I think they are gambling, probably correctly, that the army or the police is not going to shoot and is not going to try to disperse it Remember, as you pointed out, it's a few hundred people in Cairo. The question really is, is this going to morph, is this going to grow?

Clearly, the regime is making a calculation that says perhaps you'll have a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people in Cairo, but it's not going to engulf all of Egypt. I'm still surprised that Mubarak did not try to offer more concessions, more of a political process forward. Perhaps that will come later, but right now it seems as though they think they can ride the wave of these few hundred people demonstrating in front of the Information Ministry.

BLITZER: I agree, Fareed, because the only concession he really made, if in fact it is a concession, he said he's asked the government to resign today, and there will be a new government named tomorrow. But if, as you point out, if this is simply a reshuffling of the deck, that's not going to satisfy the demonstrators out there, because their anger isn't necessarily at who the finance minister is or the prime minister, for that matter, their anger is at the president, President Mubarak.

ZAKARIA: In a sense this all began, Wolf, when Egyptians began to realize over the past year that Hosni Mubarak intended to run one more time for a term in office. In other words, at 82, he was going to run again. And that told them that the political system was going to be frozen for the next five years, perhaps for the next decade. And that I think made them think there was no hope for any kind of evolutionary change in Egypt, and thus they turned to more active measures, inspired, of course, by the Tunisian revolt.

BLITZER: Fareed, hold on a second, because Nic Robertson, our senior correspondent, is also in Egypt right now. I want to bring him into this conversation.

Nic, you've been to Egypt many times over the years. It looks like what started off in Tunisia has been spreading around the region, but the stakes in Egypt are enormous right now.

Tell our viewers what you've seen, for example, over the past few hours. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think the stakes have just got hugely higher, President Mubarak taking this position. It is the antithesis, the complete opposite of what everyone has been calling for.

But what he appears to be setting the stage for now, a few hours ago we saw the army come on to the streets here, and everyone met them with rounds of applause, clapping and cheering them. The army told them that they were there to protect the people. The people accepted that. They were happy. They trusted the army.

But when I talked to people just an hour ago, and I said, "Well, is the army here to support President Mubarak?" They told me no, we hope not. We hope that they are here for us, not President Mubarak.

They are now going to realize the army that has essentially come on the streets by stealth, replacing the police who were defeated, and are now sitting at the street corners here, are going to be the force to be reckoned with tomorrow, because the demonstrators say they will come back and take on the institutions here, as we've seen them burning them in Cairo and Alexandria and other places. They will take on those institutions until President Mubarak is forced out, and that's going to mean taking on the army.

Many of the police stations in this city, Alexandria, have been destroyed through the day, we've been told. We haven't seen them all ourselves, but that's what local people are telling us here.

This is a very big challenge and a very dangerous one now, to pit the army against the people. Which side will the army go? We saw the police step back from that challenge today, chased off the streets, a power vacuum. It's a very dangerous situation we enter tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is that curfew in Alexandria, now approaching 1:00 a.m. over there, is that curfew holding? Are people off the streets, Nic, or are people defying the order for a curfew?

ROBERTSON: I think people here really don't care about the curfew. They -- when the army arrived, it was several hours after the curfew. They were still out on the streets here in the thousands. And even many hours after the curfew, with the army in place, I saw families coming down, a middle-aged man and his wife and two young daughters and two young sons, just come to look at the army and see what they were doing.

They were inquisitive. They heard the army were out there to protect them, so people certainly don't feel that they have to oblige by a curfew. There were several hours here where there wasn't any sense of security.

Another man put it to me this way, Wolf. He said, "Look, with the police completely gone, many police stations destroyed, the police beaten off the streets, beaten into retreat, there's no one to provide security. People can loot houses. Common thugs, common criminals can do what they want to do." He said, "The army is here to look after us."

They will stop that happening. They will keep security.

So the army came on to the streets trusted by the people. They certainly haven't scared the people off the streets.

However, President Mubarak's speech is going to change all that, because their challenge is to get rid of the president. He's called the army on the streets. The army are there. That will be the challenge to all the demonstrators tomorrow, to remove the army as well as they did with the police force.

BLITZER: Hold on, Nic, because Fred Pleitgen -- you're in Alexandria, where there's been a lot of turmoil, obviously. Fred Pleitgen is in Cairo. Look what's happening. These are live pictures you're seeing outside the balcony where he is.

It looks like the chanting is getting more intense, Fred. Are more people showing up?


PLEITGEN: Yes, there are people actually -- they seem to be conglomerating in front of our building here, chanting things. What we heard from them before is they were saying, "Get out! Get out! We don't want him! We don't want him!"

Then they were saying, "Gamal" -- which is, of course, Hosni Mubarak's son -- "tell your dad that we hate him!" So, certainly also people calling on Hosni Mubarak to step down. Clearly not very happy with what they heard in that speech just a couple of minutes ago.

And it really is the same situation as with what Nic was just talking about, where people really just don't care about the curfew. I mean, it's not being enforced.

As you can see there's cars on the street here, people chanting. And really, these are -- if you look at these people, Wolf, these are ordinary people.

We saw, you know, fathers with their children. We saw husbands and wives. These are not hard-core, violent demonstrators. These are regular people, sort of a snapshot, if you will, of Egyptian society, a very broad part of Egyptian society that keeps coming here.

Right now they started chanting in front of our building. There's even more people now coming down to in front of the Information Ministry. So clearly that speech that we saw by Hosni Mubarak did more to incite more anger here than it would have to calm people down.

And I think a lot of people -- you know, Egyptians that we've been talking to, who heard that speech, said they simply couldn't believe what was going on, that they felt that Hosni Mubarak clearly didn't know what the situation was on the streets, didn't know what the people really wanted, and was clearly living in a world of his own, if you will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that police or military are anywhere near these protesters, Fred?

PLEITGEN: Well, the military is. The military is really stationary, surrounding the Information Ministry. The military is shielding installations; however, it's not stopping people from protesting or doing anything.

Right now you can see down here there's people chanting. The police, for their part, Wolf, have absolutely and completely disappeared off the streets.

Now, we do have to say the police, more than stopping the protests, they were really inciting even more anger. That's because they are so unpopular. The people hate the police force so much because there is so much police brutality here in this country.

You can see more and more people coming here, honking their horns, chanting. There's more people down the street.

So the military is shielding key installations, like, for instance, the Egyptian Museum, also, but also like the Information Ministry, to stop those from being taken over and from being destroyed. But they are not stopping people from going out here in the streets, they're not in any way enforcing a curfew here on these people. So, really, they are not doing anything to stop the political momentum that these demonstrations have --Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, hold on a second. I want to go back to Nic Robertson. He's in Alexandria for us.

Nic, it sounds like what's happening in Cairo is very similar to what's happening in Alexandria, where you are. The police have basically disappeared. There's a military presence, but people are still -- have been in fact mobilized by the speech that President Mubarak gave, and, if anything, it's even making matters more intense.

But go ahead and give me your assessment.

ROBERTSON: I have yet to go outside on the streets and check. A part of our team are out there looking right now. I hope to hear back from them.

But what Fred has been talking about in Cairo is absolutely reflected here. When he talked about the demonstrators opening up to let the civilian traffic go through, yet smashing the police vehicles and burning the police vehicles, that's the newer image of what we've seen here in Alexandria as well, a crowd that knows the limits of what it wants to do, a challenge to the security institutions of the country.

Again, to come back to the army, who are on the street corners here, if they are going to be enforcing the writ of President Mubarak, as will appear to be the case, because President Mubarak is not backing down, that is going to raise a challenge. And I think you can expect to see here in Alexandria, as you are seeing in Cairo, more people coming back out on the streets, galvanized by the speech.

I mean, when you're not here, it's hard to imagine, but people have been absolutely living, if you will, on the edge of their chairs. Not just the tens of thousands on the streets, the millions who are sitting in their homes, waiting to see what President Mubarak is going to do.

They have never seen anything like what's happening today, never imagined in their wildest dreams, and they want this man gone. And they have been sitting there waiting to see if the next announcement coming on state television was going to be him stepping down or he was truly leaving the country.

And what have they seen? As far as they can see, he's tried to dodge the responsibility, fire his government, talk in the way that was talked in the past about understanding the people's plight, helping them with their economy, helping their social situation, looking after the poor.

They have heard it all before. They don't believe it. So this is a country that was expecting something else.

It's a huge amount of excitement and expectation. This will be a huge disappointment, and it will motivate people back out on the streets again tonight, and very likely again, as we've heard people tell us, through the days to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic. Don't go away.

Nic is in Alexandria. We're going to get a report on what's happening there.

It's approaching 1:00 a.m. in Egypt right now.

Fred Pleitgen is in Cairo. We've got our other reporters on the scene as well.

We're also going to check in on what's going on in Israel right now. Israel and Egypt have had a peace treaty since 1979. Will that peace treaty be a casualty of what's going on right now?

We'll check in with our correspondents in Israel as well. We'll go the White House.

Much more of the breaking news coverage. History unfolding live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right. Just to reset for a moment, we just heard the Egyptian president defiantly say he's in charge. He's asked the government to resign, but he is staying in power. He will create a new government. Tomorrow he says there's no doubt, though, that, as of right now, the situation is very, very tense in Egypt.

No one is watching this more closely than Egypt's neighbor in Israel, where the stakes are enormous for what's going on.

Kevin Flower is our Jerusalem bureau chief.

What are the Israelis saying, the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu? Because at stake right now is this peace treaty between Israel and Egypt which was signed back in 1979.

KEVIN FLOWER, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, that's right, Wolf. But the silence right now from Jerusalem is deafening. We are hearing nothing officially from the Israeli prime minister's office, from the foreign ministry.

Rest assured that all government officials are watching these events in Egypt, in Cairo, very closely. But no official reaction at this point.

And as you said, this relationship between Israel and Egypt is a very, very important to Israel. Egypt is its most important ally in the region.

They signed that peace deal 30 years ago. And while a lot of people describe this as a cold peace between the two countries, the fact is, is that there is a lot of security cooperation that goes on.

Egypt has been a primary factor, a facilitator in trying to get talks with the Palestinians started over the course of the years, trying to make that process successful. So Israeli officials are going to be looking at all of this with great concern, and more concern tonight after that speech from Hosni Mubarak, as to just which direction this is going to go.

They do not want to see a regime change in Egypt. Israel does not want to see a revolution take place on its southern border, in the most important country in the region for it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because as they say, and they've said for many, many years in describing that relationship between Israel and Egypt, it may be a cold peace, but that's certainly a lot better than a hot war, especially when you consider the fact there are 80 million people in Egypt, a huge military, potentially an enormous threat to Israel, if in fact they abandon the peace treaty and move in different direction, if the next government, whoever were to take over after Mubarak, assuming someone else takes over, he doesn't remain in power, the stakes for Israeli would be enormous.

I assume the government, the prime minister in Israel, told everyone just shut up right now, because they're afraid anything Israel might say could make the situation, as bad as it is for Israel right now, even worse. Is that right?

FLOWER: That's absolutely right. And this happens on occasion for extremely sensitive issues, but this is a huge issue for Israel.

The prime minister's office, the prime minister directing ministers not to say anything publicly. It will be interesting to see if that holds, because Israeli ministers are not known for biting their -- keeping their tongue all the time. But we are into the Friday/Saturday Sabbath, so likely that we will hear something officially from this government at the end of the day tomorrow, but quite possible we'll hear from some ministers or some officials tomorrow in some capacity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's approaching 1:00 a.m. in Israel as well.

We'll stay in close touch with you, Kevin. Thank you so much.

There has been some demonstrations even here in Washington. Americans showing support today for the anti government protesters in Egypt. The demonstrators were holding some demonstrations in several cities, including New York and Washington.

Our Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the spirit of civil protest not confined to the Egyptian street. You have a group of Egyptian- Americans here in front of the White House chanting that Mubarak -- that he must go. They're trying to bring their own pressure to bear on the Obama administration to ratchet up its own pressure on President Mubarak in Egypt.

I'm joined by Mr. Saad Ibrahim. Mr. Ibrahim was imprisoned three times, he says, by the Mubarak regime over the last several years. He is now a professor at Drew University.

Mr. Ibrahim, the State Department, the Obama administration says they want Mr. Mubarak to reform, to embrace reform. Is that enough for you?

PROF. SAAD IBRAHIM, DREW UNIVERSITY: Of course it's not enough. It's coming too late and too late (ph). I think now they should probably ask him to leave peacefully as Ben Ali left Tunisia, and let the different people determine their own future by themselves.

TODD: But there is a --

IBRAHIM: They have many qualified people who can take over.

TODD: I want to ask about that. There is a question as to if not Mubarak, who else? Who fills that void?

Mr. ElBaradei might be a bit of an unknown. Is he the one to take over, do you think? Or is there something or someone else who should fill Mubarak's place immediately?

IBRAHIM: We have institutional guards to fill in if the president is removed or if he dies. And those institutional measures should be brought to bear. And of course we have hundreds of qualified Egyptians. And if you know ElBaradei's name, he's one of several.

TODD: Mr. Ibrahim, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Wolf, protests like this going on all over the U.S., we're told -- in Columbus, Ohio; Jersey City, New Jersey; and in Houston. More protests scheduled here for Saturday.

So a lot of Egyptian-Americans here voicing solidarity with the protesters in Egypt. We had one young lady tell us that there's not only a concern here for what's going on there socially and politically, but there are people here legitimately worried about their loved ones.

A young lady here told us she doesn't know about her brother, whether he's in harm's way or not. As you know, social media and other forms of communication have been cut off there. So, in addition to some political concerns here among this crowd, some real personal and family concerns as well -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.