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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mubarak Pledges to Step Down; Obama Addresses Crisis in Egypt; Tourists See Delays in Fleeing Egypt
Aired February 1, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news.
Under intense pressure, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak makes an extraordinary announcement, saying he will hand over power when his term is up in September. But for so many Egyptians on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, that's not soon enough.
An extraordinary shift by the Obama administration, which urged President Mubarak to make a public pledge to his people that he wouldn't run for president again.
And a monster storm brings snow, ice, brutal cold from New Mexico to Maine. Thirty states facing warnings. Thousands of flights already canceled.
We've got the latest on this life-threatening event.
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: Let's begin with the breaking news this hour.
Egyptians erupting after hearing President Hosni Mubarak announce he will not be a candidate in the next election. Mubarak's broadcast statement follows intense pressure from his people to simply step down in what they called a "march of millions", countless thousands took to the streets today demanding change.
But Mubarak also felt that heat from the Obama administration, sources telling us the White House made clear at the highest levels that it wanted Mubarak to publicly promise he wouldn't run for reelection.
CNN's John King, David Gergen, and Gloria Borger, they're all standing by, but let's go to Anderson Cooper. He's joining us now from Cairo with the latest.
Anderson, a lot of folks thought that Mubarak's statement was simply too little, too late.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (via phone): (AUDIO GAP) still in Liberation Square, as they have been all day.
They certainly say it is too little, too late, and completely unacceptable. I also spoke to Mohamed ElBaradei a short time ago, about an hour ago. He says if this was advice that came from the Obama White House, it was completely the wrong advice, completely the wrong message. He calls it a trick, an act of deception by President Mubarak.
Here's some of that interview, Wolf, that I had with Mohammed ElBaradei.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Dr. ElBaradei, what is your reaction to President Mubarak's address tonight?
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE (via phone): Well, Anderson, this is clearly an act of deception. It is a person who doesn't want to let go, a dictator who doesn't want to listen to the clear voice of the people.
Anderson, you are in Cairo. You have seen what the city looks like, what the people want. And to continuously try to play tricks, he is unfortunately going to extend the agony here for another six to seven months. He has continued to polarize the country. He continues to get people even more angry and could resort to violence.
Whoever gave him that advice gave him absolutely the wrong advice. He just has to let go. And not only is going at best to be a lame-duck person; he's going to be a dead man walking. And I don't really understand what is behind that, other than a further six, seven months of instability, rather than the ground for a new regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Mohamed ElBaradei. And I will have more of that conversation tonight on 360, Wolf.
But it's interesting. I'm a few blocks now from Liberation Square, and you can hear people still shouting out, shouting into the night, very angry at reaction to what President Mubarak had to say.
BLITZER: Anderson, we're awaiting President Obama. He's getting ready to address the nation on the situation in Egypt, having met much of today with his top national security advisers. From the conversations you have had all day and the past couple of days what do you think they want to hear President Obama say?
COOPER: Well, look, the people we're hearing from most are protesters who have a very clear message, which is nothing short of President Mubarak stepping down immediately will be acceptable.
That's the message we hear from Dr. ElBaradei, from Muslim Brotherhood, from other groups as well. They say you can't have a transition to democracy while Hosni Mubarak is in power. There are still people in prison. There are people who have been killed in the last eight days, some 300 people, according to the U.N. There are people, large numbers of people who have been arrested, that the idea that, you know, that there's a Parliament here which is completely subservient to the whims of President Mubarak, so you cannot have a transition to democracy.
They want President Mubarak -- that is the first step, for him to leave, and then they want to have some sort of caretaker government that will transition to democracy to free and fair elections down the road.
BLITZER: And they're promising that they're going to not only continue these demonstrations, but they're going to become even more assertive in their demands tomorrow, the next day, certainly on Friday, which is a day of prayer in the Muslim world. They have already made those declarations.
Is that what you're hearing?
COOPER: They certainly have. It remains to be seen, though, whether a statement by President Mubarak tonight does satisfy some people in Egypt.
There are large numbers of people who maybe are not protesting and large numbers of people who we haven't heard from, some of whom may still support President Mubarak, at least his regime, some of whom simply are frightened by the notion of instability and want -- the idea that he will be leaving down the road is enough for them. It will satisfy their desire for change, even if it's eight months from now. So it remains to be seen whether this will weaken the momentum that the protests have had and have been building over the last eight days. We'll certainly be looking for that tomorrow.
COOPER: We will certainly stay in close touch with you, Anderson.
Anderson will have a lot more obviously 10:00 p.m. Eastern on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" live from Cairo.
It's an extraordinary shift in policy for the White House. Can this U.S. pressure on President Mubarak help ease tensions in Egypt? In a taped statement broadcast just a little while ago, President Mubarak said he will finish out his first - finish out his term working for the reforms that the protesters are demanding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I have spent enough time in serving Egypt, and I am now careful to conclude my work for Egypt by presenting Egypt to the next government in a constitutional way which will protect Egypt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's John King, our senior political analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen.
John, first to you.
Based on your reporting, what you're hearing at the White House, what's going on over there? What can we expect the president of the United States -- we're waiting to hear his remarks -- what are you hearing he's going to tell us?
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It will be fascinating to hear exactly what the president says. Because this is not everything they wanted, Wolf, and yet, at the White House they believe it's a significant step in the right direction. Because a President Mubarak who was stubbornly trying to cling to power just days ago has at least now, A., not only said he Would not run in the next election, but, B., said he would work with the Parliament on speeding up the election.
And what you just heard from Mohamed ElBaradei in that interview with Anderson is quite significant. The White House had hoped President Mubarak would agree to leave soon after a transitional government took place. They still think that is a possibility down the road.
But what they had hoped is that this is largely a revolution without a face. And they thought perhaps Mr. ElBaradei with his history as the diplomat might step in and say OK not good enough, but at least we can start a negotiation now. His decision to flatly say no negotiation, not good enough, obviously complicates the situation and puts even more pressure on the United States to answer the big question, what next?
BLITZER: Yes, because at least in my mind, the street, the Arab street in Cairo, David, senses weakness on the part of President Mubarak. And they don't want to stop. If he would have done this a week or so ago, maybe even a few days ago, it might have worked. But now it's too late.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's right, Wolf.
And President Obama clearly is not playing this just for the street protesters. He's balancing it off against America's national security interests as he sees them. And that is he doesn't want to precipitously pull the rug out from a person who has been an ally of the United States in the region for 30 years. Because that would send a signal to every other ruler of every other country, you get a few protesters out there, you got protesters going and we're going to turn against you. So he's trying to avoid that, but in the process he's not communicating, he's not showing the kind of solidarity with the protesters and the people who are going to be -- really are taking charge in Egypt for the future and I think he's got himself in a real dilemma.
He essentially has nudged Mubarak. And what the protesters wanted him to do was to shove Mubarak.
BLITZER: And it's interesting, Gloria, he sent Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, as a special enjoy, someone who is well known in Egypt, well known to President Mubarak and the entire military and political establish there. And he went in to see President Mubarak today with a message from President Obama. I'm not sure what that message was, but he's a tough guy, Wisner, and he probably delivered it with diplomacy but also with force.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, but I think it was probably the nudge rather than the shove, as David was talking about.
I also believe that the White House would really have rather seen some kind of caretaker government or some kind of transitional government, some notion of that, so that perhaps Mr. ElBaradei could help out with a transition. He's a known figure to Barack Obama. The State Department has reached out to him.
But you heard his response from Anderson Cooper, saying that this was a deception, so that's not going to work. What I was told by an administration source is -- and I think this jibes with what David is saying, is that, look, they do not want to get too far out in front of the events on the ground.
And there is some sense that this could still continue to unravel, and you may well end up with some sort of transition or caretaker government, but we will have to wait to see what Barack Obama says in a few minutes.
BLITZER: And when he speaks, John, it's going to be fascinating. Because he's got a domestic American audience. He has got an international audience who will be watching here on CNN International as well, but he's got an audience in Egypt that he's going to be addressing. And this is going to have to be a carefully crafted statement on his part.
KING: And he has -- and you're right, Wolf. He has an audience in Egypt. He has the current government and the future leaders, those people on the street of Egypt listening to him. He also has the Jordanian government, another longtime U.S. ally that reshuffled its deck today that has a sense of the jitters, not on the level of Egypt, but a sense of the jitters.
He has an Israeli government looking around wondering what is going on in the neighborhood and how much worried do they need to be, and then he has everyone else in the region, including people who frankly do not hope the United States comes out looking good here like Iran and others who will stir this up. And so the president has to deal with the people in the streets of Egypt, his longtime ally in Hosni Mubarak. But he also has to deal with, Wolf, a neighborhood you know very well. It is perhaps the most complicated, the most dicey neighborhood in the world.
BLITZER: Very quickly, David. GERGEN: Sure. I'm surprised he's speaking. I'm not sure what he can do to help in this situation.
BORGER: Right. Absolutely. I totally agree with that. I was sort of stunned he was going to come out right now.
BLITZER: Well, it's going to be momentarily, we're told. We will go to the White House and hear what he has to say.
I would like you guys to stand by. We will get your reaction and assessment, analysis once we hear from the president.
I want to bring in Jack, though, right now. He's got "The Cafferty File."
Jack, this is an historic moment in the Middle East right now.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: Should the U.S. withhold any of the $1.5 billion in annual financial aid that we give to Egypt?
Deaddin writes from California: "As an American of Egyptian descent, I think that the U.S. should withhold all aid until elections are called, elections that are inclusive of all parties and all candidates interested in running. By withholding the aid, you will see the fastest results."
Michael in New Mexico: "No. We have to honor our treaties and other agreements with Egypt. We need to use their airspace, the Suez Canal. What is the cost of peaceful relations? -- A billion and a half in financial aid is a bargain for what we get in return. And considering that Egypt uses that money to buy U.S. military equipment from us, it really isn't aid at all."
Karen in Missouri says: "Living in Egypt for four years as an American, being a part of an Egyptian family and their culture, I know that Egyptians view any support given to Egypt and its people as a positive reflection on the U.S. To take away that aid would be regarded as a lack of direct support to the people of Egypt. To use the aid as a punishment would only hurt the people and our image in that country."
Mike writes: "Just as sports, hamburgers and french fries are a given in our country, bartering is as strong in most if not all the Middle East countries. The art of the deal is manifest in all negotiations, especially Mideast politics. Putting pressure on the military's income stream will transfer up the political chain from the Egyptian military leadership to Mubarak. It will ultimately define who really has the power in Egypt. Their military is more likely to make a better deal with Mubarak then any U.S. attempt to reason a new paradigm. We need to learn how to play their brand of hardball, in which friendship takes a side seat when push comes to become shove."
Steve writes: "If funds should be withheld from Egypt until a democracy is formed there, then funds should be withheld from Israel until a two-state solution is found and there is peace with the Palestinians. The double-standard should not apply yet again."
And Paul writes: "Stop all foreign aid altogether. Please show me the logic of paying out huge sums to anyone when the U.S. is broke and has to borrow the money, absolute madness."
If you want to read more on this, you go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.
Remember, we're standing by to hear from President Obama. He's getting ready to address the nation, indeed the world on the situation in Egypt. His remarks live here in THE SITUATION ROOM coming up.
Also, escape from Egypt. Americans who fled the chaos tell us what it took to get out of the country.
And countless Egyptians took to the streets today. We're taking you right into the middle of the "March of Millions," as it's called.
Plus, a monstrous storm across the United States. We're going to Oklahoma, where the National Guard has now been sent out to rescue motorists.
BLITZER: As you're looking at these live pictures from Liberation Square, Tahrir Square, in Cairo, you can also get the latest breaking news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The White House just telling us that President Obama spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes just a little while ago with the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and momentarily we will be hearing from President Obama. He's getting ready to address the nation.
There you see a live picture from the White House. He will walk to that microphone and speak on the situation in Egypt. He's wrapped up a 30-minute conversation with President Mubarak.
Shockwaves from the turmoil in Egypt are being felt in Jordan and now the king there is taking some drastic action to head off a possible, possible uprising there.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's working this part of the story for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, King Abdullah of Jordan changing his government. He's trying to avoid Mubarak's fate and get ahead of the turmoil in his country. It's extraordinary how fast this has all moved starting about six weeks ago in Tunisia when an unemployed 26-year-old frustrated man set himself on fire. That sparked the unrest that drove President Ben Ali out of Tunisia, as you know, Wolf. That also inspired the protesters in Egypt to take action. We see those results today. Now all eyes are on Jordan, very close, as you know, Wolf, to Egypt in circumstance in strategic importance and in proximity.
TODD (voice-over): His capital is only about 300 miles from Cairo. His major cities like Egypt's have seen upheaval in the streets in recent days. Widespread calls for change. Now Jordan's King Abdullah fires one prime minister and appoints another.
(on camera): The royal court says the new man, Marouf al-Bakhit, will put in place the reforms needed. Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal, the king's uncle and a key figure in the monarchy, spoke to CNN about what the change means.
PRINCE HASSAN BIN TALAL, JORDAN: He is very aware of the need to modernize, to develop an independent judiciary, is the role of the judiciary and of the legislature, but more than that, to develop a third domain of government, private sector and civil society at large.
TODD (voice-over): King Abdullah clearly seemed to be watching what happened in Tunisia, then Egypt. Abdullah just turned 49 and as a younger and what some call a more agile leader than those in Tunisia and Egypt he wants to get ahead of the turmoil. But there are key differences in Jordan.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, ANWAR SADAT PROFESSOR FOR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: They want to take away from the king the ability to appoint the prime minister independently from the elections. They want an elected prime minister.
TODD (on camera): And by making this change, is he angling to do that?
TELHAMI: This change doesn't constitute that. This change is really like previous changes, which is he changes the government that he thinks is not performing. And he puts another government in place and asks them to perform. They're still reporting to him.
TODD:(voice-over): But in Jordan, unlike in Egypt, analysts say the opposition will not likely try to push its top leader, in this case, the king, completely out of power. And in Jordan the opposition is led by political parties, particularly Islamist groups. In Egypt it's more of a grassroots up rising by young people.
But Jordan is not completely different.
(on camera): What are the key similarities in Jordan to what's happening in Egypt?
JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: You have economic similarities. You have especially lots of young people who can't get their first job after they finish their education, and for a year, two years, three years, four years, they're hanging around. They say, why did I study? Why did I behave? What does this system have for me?
TODD: And a crucial similarity to Egypt, Jordan's position as a force for peace in the Middle East. Like Egypt, it helps moderate conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians. Like Egypt, it's a key U.S. ally in the region.
So just like Egypt, U.S. officials are very worried about what happens in Jordan, hope the king can stay ahead of this situation. Wolf, key things to watch here, Jordan and its border with Israel, it helped secure Israel's borders just like Egypt did. Israel right now if you're a security planner in Egypt you have got a lot to worry about right now because of these two borders and the border with Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-backed prime minister has just taken power.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a real, real fluid situation as they say. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
We're only moments away from the president of the United States. He's getting ready to address the nation, indeed the world on the situation in Egypt and the Middle East. Live coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Our top story right now, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak announces he won't again run for president and will step down in September. That follows serious pressure from the Obama administration to make a public promise that could give Egyptians hope for change. It also follows intense pressure from the Egyptian people, who took to the streets today in what was billed a march of millions.
We're standing by to hear from President Obama. He is getting ready to address the nation, indeed the world, on the situation in Egypt right now. Stand by for that.
But in the meantime, CNN's Hala Gorani was in the middle of all of the demonstrations in downtown Cairo today.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are on our way to Tahrir Square here. And the protest is moving forward into the epicenter of what has been this demonstration, this set of demonstrations. Today's protest seems to be more family-oriented. You see more women. Here's a little baby. We have seen men bring their little daughters and children out, holding up placards and chanting, Mubarak, go. Mubarak, go to hell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want someone young, someone young, think like me, think like these kids to say (INAUDIBLE) the future (INAUDIBLE) about these kids.
GORANI: What do you think of Mohamed ElBaradei of Amr Moussa? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
GORANI: No, nobody specific?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care about who it is. (INAUDIBLE) would be anyone else. I care about anyone, no Mubarak, maybe this one, maybe this one.
GORANI: You want a democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy. This is what I want.
GORANI: Right. For your kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For my kids.
GORANI: How old are they?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name? Speak English. What's your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
GORANI: After the light hearted chants and the placards and the fathers with their kids, some demonstrators are taking a break to pray.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Strong message for the Western world that a new Arabic mind has arised.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love Egypt, but I hate Mubarak.
GORANI: Now, state television has reported that some police elements are back out onto the streets. Now, we haven't seen any evidence of that in the distance that we have gone into Tahrir Square.
But what is clear however is what you can see right there, which is kind of tricky to film by the way head on. And that's a heavy military presence in the Egyptian capital.
How do you feel when you see your country like this? What goes through your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm proud. I'm proud. I'm Egyptian now. Only now I'm very proud that I'm Egyptian.
GORANI: You weren't proud before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
GORANI: And now you're proud?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BALDWIN: And Hala Gorani is joining us now live from Cairo.
Hala, first of all, those little kids, what were they saying in Arabic when they were chanting something? Tell our viewers.
GORANI: Well, they were these little kids, and that's what kind of contributed to the festive atmosphere of today's demonstrations. They had placards with messages that all sort of to one degree or another called for the removal and the resignation of President Mubarak. Go, President Mubarak. You are not welcome. You must go now.
And I don't know if you can hear behind me. There's still sort of a small core of protesters defying the curfew, not satisfied with the speech by President Mubarak saying he would not stand for reelection in September, saying there's only one thing that would prompt them to stop protesting, and that is the immediate resignation of President Mubarak and all of his close associates. So it really remains to be seen what impact the speech will have, Wolf. Will it sort of take the passion out of the protests? Will it contribute to the dwindling of the number of protesters? It's kind of an open question, but it seems as though it might have that effect. We will know more tomorrow, of course, Wolf.
BLITZER: We will know by who shows up and starts continuing to demonstrate tomorrow? Is that what you're suggesting, Hala?
GORANI: Yes, if the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands or if they go down to only a few thousand. Right now we have a small core of protesters. These are the die-hard people who spend the night in Tahrir Square, who are saying that they won't leave unless Mubarak leaves immediately.
So will we have the widespread demonstrations after President Mubarak's speech? That's what we're going to have to look out for. And that's what will determine whether or not President Mubarak will be put under even more pressure to take more drastic actions.
BLITZER: All right, Hala, we're going to stay in close touch with you. She's in the middle of all of the action in Cairo, CNN's Hala Gorani.
Let's bring in Professor Fouad Ajami right now from the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Fouad, we're waiting for the president of the United States to address the American people right now and address the people of the world, including in Egypt. What, if anything, should he say right now that would have an impact, a positive impact, from the U.S. perspective?
PROF. FOUAD AJAMI, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think that's a tough question.
I mean, those of us who are old enough, and that includes both of us, will remember the job that President Reagan and his celebrated Secretary of State Shultz did on Ferdinand Marcos when they eased him out of office.
But Ferdinand Marcos, in a way, the U.S. had much greater leverage on the situation. This really is an Egyptian story. It's a street story. It's about 80 million people. You've heard them. Your reporters were giving you these incredible snapshots of people who will tell you they are proud for the first time.
So I think it's a tough act for President Obama. In my opinion, there is something which is worth stating. The envoy we sent to Egypt, Ambassador Wisner, is a professional man. But I want to add this. He's also very friendly with the -- Mubarak. He has a history of being extremely friendly with the Mubaraks.
In the case of President Reagan trying to ease Marcos out, he sent one of his trusted friends. And that was Senator Noxell (ph) from Nevada who was a buddy of President Reagan. So we'll see. We'll see what kind of message was sent. And we'll see what the president will say to the people of the Arab world who are riding this wave of freedom.
And they don't feel America is very sympathetic to them. And they hear that we are worried about the systemic fundamentalism. We're worried about the chaos after the fall of Mubarak. So it will be a delicate task.
BLITZER: Fouad, stand by for a minute. I want to bring back our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen, as well.
David, you heard Fouad Ajami suggest that maybe Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador in Egypt, who knows the country well -- knows the Mubaraks well, I should say -- may not necessarily have been the right guy to deliver the message, the blunt message to President Mubarak. Somebody else maybe closer to President Obama should have gone. You understand the diplomacy and the sensitivity of what's going on. What do you think?
GERGEN: Well, actually, Frank Wisner is a highly respected diplomat who's handled a number of delicate situations. I think the real question and true I can respond to that what instructions he went with. You know, if he -- I cannot imagine that if he went with clear instructions he would have softened them so much.
I think the problem probably is that he went instructed to give a nudge, not a shove, and that's not what the -- that's not what people on the street want right now. What I'm concerned about is I'm not sure what the president can say tonight that is not going to be thrown back in his face by the people in the street and by ElBaradei. But if he pleases them, he's going to -- he's going to be really departing from what he was trying to do with Frank Wisner just a few hours ago.
BLITZER: And Gloria, what...
GERGEN: I'm not sure how he's going to... BLITZER: It's one thing what Frank Wisner, what message he brought to President Mubarak from President Obama, but it's another thing we just heard, that the president of the United States had a 30- minute phone conversation with President Mubarak tonight.
BLITZER: You know what? He could deliver whatever message he wants directly to President Mubarak in that kind of phone conversation.
BORGER: He can. And he may deliver another one, you know, tonight in public. I mean, you know, the question to me is whether the White House actually told him you need to set up some kind of transition government or some provisional government or caretaker government, and he didn't do that.
The people I was talking to in the administration were saying, "We don't want to comment before we hear Mubarak, because we know what he'd like him to say. But we can't comment on it because we're not sure what he's going -- you know, what he's actually going to say." Right?
So clearly, there seem to be some kind of question about what Mubarak would do.
But I have a question for Fouad here. And it's about the military. It seems to me that the army is playing a tactical kind of day-by-day gain here in Egypt. We know how important the military is. The most respected institution in Egypt. Do we see any daylight here between Mubarak and the military? Mubarak was careful to say that he's a man of the army when he spoke.
AJAMI: Absolutely. I think you ask the right question. Remember, the army is the silent force here, but it's ultimately the dominant force. If I were to hazard again a guess about what the military, the military is not going to go and commit a blood bath on behalf of an aging death squad who has had his time and who's had his day. I think they will try to ease him out.
Again, they will give him maybe again the term that David used. They will give him perhaps a nudge plus. Because I think the decision has been made that this man's time and this man's era has ended.
And what Mubarak was trying to do was not necessarily acceptable to the army. When you prepare your son for succession, you are preceded by two legendary men, Nasr and Sadat. And they both made no dynastic claims whatsoever. So the army was not completely on board with the ambitions of Mr. Mubarak and Mrs. Mubarak and the family.
BLITZER: Fouad, hold on for a moment. David and Gloria, as well. I want to go right back into Tahrir Square. Hala Gorani is on the scene. All right. Excuse me, Arwa Damon is on the scene for us.
Arwa, what are the folks saying there now? ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, we're still hearing the chants echoing across all of Tahrir Square. The demonstrators insisting that, no matter what President Mubarak may have said, they quite simply weren't buying it. They just don't trust him any more. That's fresh video. The disbelief on that person's face as the president was saying that he was still going to stay in power, although he wouldn't be running in the September elections.
Demonstrators really enraged at his words, calling them an insult to all Egyptians. They say they have only one demand, and you can see it in the banner, "Mubarak, go out." They were waving shoes in the air, the ultimate insult in the Arab world.
And listen to this man's anger. That same anger we heard echoed throughout as soon as the president stopped speaking. And we are still hearing it, although the numbers have greatly diminished from the demonstrators in the square.
One man was saying that this nine-month time period is just not enough. He said, "What we need is now. We've waited 30 years. There's no more time for Mubarak. We want him out now," Wolf.
BLITZER: And you saw the protesters take off their shoes and show the soles of their shoes to President Mubarak. That's an insult, as you know in the Arab world.
Arwa Damon, stand by. The president of the United States is only a couple minutes away from addressing the American people on the situation in Egypt. Our live coverage will continue from the White House right after this.
BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from Tahrir or Liberation Square, right at the heart of Cairo, where tens of thousands of people are still there. Hundreds of thousands were there, at least hundreds of thousands, earlier in the day to protest the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. They want him to leave.
Mubarak about two hours ago, a little bit less than two hours ago, went on Egyptian state television, and he announced that he would not seek re-election in the scheduled elections in September. He even suggested maybe those elections could be moved up. But he made it clear he wants to remain Egypt's president until the next round of elections.
He also was defiant in saying he will go after what he called those criminal elements that were out on the streets illegally, looting, starting fires, going after antiquities. He suggested that he wants to work for some sort of orderly transition.
But that statement was certainly not enough. This is the picture, by the way, at the height of the -- at the height of the protests in Cairo earlier in the day. You can see how huge those crowds were. The people at those demonstrations, we're told by our reporters on the scene, were not pleased with what they heard. In fact, they said Mubarak did not go far enough. It was way too little, way too late. They want him to leave. They want him to leave right away. And they're promising that if he does not, they will continue these demonstrations tomorrow and the next days, culminating on Friday in what they're calling a day for him to leave if, in fact, he does not leave.
Meanwhile, in Washington President Obama has been meeting with his top national security advisers for much of the day. He's been getting briefed on what's happening in Egypt. He sent over a special envoy, former U.S. ambassador Frank Wisner, to -- to deliver a message to President Mubarak. We're told the two of them met earlier in the day. Wisner well known to President Mubarak.
But President Obama, we're also just told, spent 30 minutes tonight on the phone with President Mubarak, delivering, presumably, his own message to the Egyptian leader. We don't know what he said. We certainly don't know what President Mubarak said. But we do expect President Obama to be explaining much more in the coming minutes.
There you see on the right of your screen the podium where he will be speaking from, the Grand Foyer over at the White House. And on the left, downtown Cairo right now, where people will be anxious to hear what the president of the United States has to say about the crisis in Egypt right now.
There's the president's notes. His aide just bringing his remarks there. And we expect the president to walk up to the microphone very, very soon and to deliver these extremely carefully crafted remarks. We're only a minute and a half or so away.
A quick thought, David Gergen, before the president walks in.
GERGEN: Well, it's hard to know. Wolf, this is one of the most extraordinary -- remember, this president wanted to make the hallmark of his Middle East policy his own speech in Cairo. And yet tonight might be more important because he has to walk this fine line.
And, you know, he does not want ElBaradei and his protesters throwing things back in his face. But how is he going to walk this tight rope and still -- and still be a leader? I think this is a tough, tough environment. Tough speech to give.
BLITZER: And Gloria, go ahead.
BORGER: I think -- I think -- I agree with David. I can't imagine a more difficult speech for the president. I mean, he's not only speaking to us. He's speaking to the people in Cairo. He's speaking to the entire region.
BLITZER: And there you see the setting for this speech that the president will deliver. It's probably going to be rather brief, I'm sure. It's not going to be very long. Reminds me of only the other day when the president spoke with President Mubarak. President Mubarak spoke on Egyptian television. And that was followed shortly thereafter by President Obama's similar scenario unfolding right now.
But these were -- these remarks by the president of the United States will be very, very significant in sending a message not only to the people of Egypt, but indeed to the entire region where the U.S. stands.
And it's a delicate, a very delicate moment for the president, because despite his flaws, despite the human rights abuses, the lack of democracy, real democracy in Egypt, President Mubarak has been a strong ally of the United States. Very close strategic military-to- military relations. Very close efforts in combating international terrorism. Working together with the Israelis in the peace process.
Here's the president of the United States.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, everybody.
Over the past few days the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt. We've seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people. We've borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States.
And my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts and a broad range of the Egyptian people, as well as others across the region and across the globe. And throughout this period, we've stood for a set of core principles.
First, we oppose violence. And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people. We've seen tanks covered with banners and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.
Second, we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information. Once more, we've seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future. In going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve in Egypt and around the world.
Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people.
Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments. This is one of those times.
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful. It must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that's not only grounded in democratic principles but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
And throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to Egypt. And we stand ready to provide any assistance that is necessary to help the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath of these protests.
Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitably of human freedom.
To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: we hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren. And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.
There will be difficult days ahead. Many questions about Egypt's future remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers. That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets. It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers. And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum. A new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity, a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day.
Thank you very much.
BLITZER: All right. So there he is, the president of the United States. He only spoke for four and a half minutes, but very, very powerful words calling for an orderly transition that is meaningful and peaceful and beginning now in Egypt.
Let's assess what we've just heard from President Obama. Once again joining us, David Gergen, Gloria Borger and Fouad Ajami, the professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
First to you, Fouad. How do you think this is going to play, most importantly in Egypt?
AJAMI: I think, Wolf, maybe President Obama should have had David Gergen as his adviser. I think the advice that there really wasn't much that he could say.
Emotively, it was a decent statement to say something about the Egyptian people, about their dignity, about their poise, about the resistance of the army to any possibilities of violence, but I think it's not easy. You can't -- sometimes you really can't split the difference between freedom and tyranny. You can't walk that fine, thin line. And it was very hard for the president. I sympathize with the argument that maybe there wasn't any need for the statement.
BLITZER: David, you didn't think it was necessarily a good idea for the president to speak out at this very sensitive moment right now. Did he change your mind?
GERGEN: Not really, Wolf. And I must say, I'm very much in echo with what Fouad just said. I'm very sympathetic with the president. He's got a terrible dilemma on his hands. He does have to walk a tight rope.
But I would imagine, you know, what it basically said, he wants to see an orderly transition and begin now, but he's happy to labor -- or he supported the idea of Hosni Mubarak running that transition, leaving him in power, and that's exactly what the people on the streets do not want. They want immediate and unconditional departure.
The president fell well short of that, and I fear that from the United States's point of view, we're now going to have the protesters saying the United States is resisting this, and that, you know, ElBaradei is going to come in and tell Anderson again not good enough. And that worries me. I'm just -- I'm very sympathetic with the president, but I must -- OK, there it is.
BLITZER: And Gloria, very quickly, he said it's not the role of the United States or any other country to determine who Egypt's leaders should be.
BORGER: That's right. But I do think he did try at least to move this timeline up a bit. When he said the transition needs to begin now, the president didn't talk about waiting for a special election. He didn't get deeply involved in who should lead the transition.
But just in listening to him, it seemed clearer to me than a lot of other statements they had made. So I think what the White House was trying to do was say, "OK, we need to take this one step further." And I see a lot of daylight now between Mubarak and Barack Obama.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to have a full night of analysis and coverage here on CNN. Don't go too far away. We'll take a quick break, continue our coverage of the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: While Egypt's future hangs in the balance, the present terrifies tourists and ex-patriots, and they're trying to flee Egypt in big numbers. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from our New York bureau with more on these latest developments.
What are you learning, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the State Department says the pace of evacuation slowed a bit today because people had difficulty reaching the airport since today's protest shut down roadways.
But one American who managed to get out says while the airport may not have been as crowded as Monday, it was still wall to wall people.
SNOW (voice-over): This is what Cairo airport looked like Tuesday. Among the many fleeing Egypt, American businessman Al Valdini. He and his family were vacationing in Egypt and flew to Jordan Tuesday afternoon where he spoke with us by phone.
AL VALDINI, AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN (via phone): Getting to the airport was so chaotic. There were steel barriers there that were movable, and people were literally just pushing them up high. And the guards were having just a terrific time trying to control them, because they were coming from every direction.
SNOW: Valdini tells us he hired a guide and, with the help of extra cash, the guy was able to get his family on a commercial flight.
But not all Americans with commercial tickets are using them, some choosing to leave on charter flights arranged by the State Department. Twenty-two-year-old Devon Youngblood took this option, flying out Monday to Athens. She's now in Berlin.
DEVON YOUNGBLOOD, EVACUATED AMERICAN: I wasn't sure if I was going to get on a flight that day. They said that it could be the next day, but even then it sounded like it was worth waiting with the State Department, versus trying to even get through the other terminals.
SNOW: Youngblood had been working at an art gallery in Cairo and took these protest photos Friday. She tells us she was not frightened, but over the weekend she decided she should leave.
YOUNGBLOOD: There was a hotel across from our apartment, and they started handed out plaques (ph) to people for self defense and started having the neighborhood watch groups. And that was when I realized that things were going in that direction. I wasn't prepared to be in that situation.
SNOW: And by Monday night when Al Valdini reached Cairo from Luxor, he saw many watch groups including at this hotel.
VALDINI: The hotel employees clear out every time a bus of patrons come in. And they clear out onto the streets with bats and sticks and everything to let anyone that's interested in causing trouble know that they're going to defend their clients. So it was very lawless. And the police are nowhere to be found.
SNOW: Now, the State Department says it's flown out 1,600 U.S. citizens and their families since Monday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: More work to do. Mary Snow, thanks very much.
We'll take a quick break. Much more coverage after this.
BLITZER: Colorful signs in Cairo. Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For President Mubarak, the writing isn't on the wall; it's on the signs. Even the simplest of signs, two words on cardboard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The game is over. Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out.
MOOS: Of course, some prefer their signs in whole sentences. "Mubarak, you have to know that we hate you." Then referring to fear of a power vacuum: "The only vacuum to worry about is the one inside Mubarak's head."
Whether the protestors were in Cairo -- "Go out, you coward" -- or in California -- "Which part of step down can I help you understand?" -- the sentiment was the same.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Down, down, Hosni Mubarak.
UNIDENTIFIED MALES: Down, down, Hosni Mubarak.
MOOS: And though the English spelling is sometimes off -- "America is supporting clown" -- the message was loud and clear. Occasionally, a misspelling was intended as an insult.
Mubarak's face was X'ed out and put on a wanted poster, defaced to look like Hitler. He was transformed into a butcher, had a shoe thrown at him. At a Jersey City protest, demonstrators tried setting Mubarak's picture on fire. It took a few attempts before the flames finally caught.
"Leave and let us live" was almost polite compared to "Bye-bye, Mubarak, see you in hell."
(on camera) One protestor's sign was even inspired by cheese. In English, it's called The Laughing Cow.
(voice-over) In French it's "La Vache Qui Rit Muuh Barak." After he tried to shut down the Internet in Egypt, one protester responded with "Delete Mubarak" , while in San Francisco, a demonstrator held up an iPad displaying photos of protest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three, four, get Mubarak out the door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, four, get Mubarak out the door.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three, four, get Mubarak out the door.
JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": President Mubarak has lost the United States. He has lost the support of his people. He has lost the support of his people's pets.
MOOS: Pets and kids.
(on camera) And even when they had no signs, well, you've got to hand it to the protesters. President Mubarak is getting a crash course in sign language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALES: Hey hey, ho ho...
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED MALES: ... Mubarak must go!
MOOS: ... New York.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.