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Unrest in Egypt

Aired February 10, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We heard from Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, basically handing over authority. We don't know if all authority, but a lot of authority, to his vice president, Omar Suleiman.

We heard from the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Sameh Shoukry, saying that for all practical purposes Suleiman now is the de facto president of Egypt, although the head of state remains, remains Hosni Mubarak.

We're talking now to Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who has been a severe critic of President Mubarak and the regime in Egypt.

Ben Wedeman has been in Egypt for a long time. He's our correspondent on the ground.

Ben, go ahead and ask a question to Mohamed ElBaradei right now, because this situation, as Mohamed ElBaradei says, is explosive right now. He's really worried that Egypt in the coming hours could explode.


Dr. ElBaradei, good to hear from you.


WEDEMAN: When you say explode, what does this mean? Do you think that -- obviously, we see more demonstrations in the street. Tomorrow is Friday, expecting more people to come out into the street.

Is there a possibility that if the army does not come out clearly on the side of the demonstrators, that there could be some sort of confrontation between the army, which is supposed to be maintaining law and order, and these protesters?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE: Well, Ben, that's my fear. That's my fear.

And people have almost taken it for granted that the army is on their side, will be on their side in such an emergency situation. And if you do not see that, if the army does not declare itself on the side of the people, you will have I think major clashes. You have been in the middle of all of that, Ben.

And there will be major clashes between the army and the people. And that's the worst situation we can get out ourselves into.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman, you're there for us, and I want Mohamed ElBaradei to stay with us, but give us your sense right now. This is a critical moment, Ben Wedeman. What's happening right now in Cairo? For viewers here in the United States and around the world who may just be tuning in, set the scene for us.

WEDEMAN: Well, we've heard this speech from President Mubarak, which many people anticipated would be some sort of step-down, some expression of a willingness to leave office in one form or another.

But when the people heard that that wasn't the case, that he is delegating some -- quote, unquote -- "powers" to the vice president, that simply was not enough.

And I think what is becoming very clear is that President Mubarak and Omar Suleiman think they can somehow weather this storm. And they're sending out very contradictory messages. On one the side -- hand, they're praising the so-called youth revolution and expressing sympathy for the desires of the youth of Egypt for change.

On the other hand, they're suggesting it's time for them to go home, go back to work and stop being manipulated and incited by foreign satellite news channels. Specifically, they're probably referring to Al-Jazeera, which is -- and the signal was actually blocked on the Egyptian satellite channels.

So a very confusing situation. They're pointing fingers in various different directions. And we will wait -- we will have to see if we get the same sort of reaction from other people who aren't demonstrating against the regime against foreign journalists, against foreign news channels, the sort of things we saw last week, where basically mobs went after foreign journalists, accusing them of being Israeli spies, American spies, people working for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

It's a very volatile situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm very worried about that.

And, Mohamed ElBaradei, how worried should we be? You're there. You're in Cairo right now -- when we hear Suleiman, the vice president now, for all practical purposes, the Egyptian ambassador says, the acting president of Egypt -- when we hear Mubarak say that there's foreign intervention and these satellite TV networks are instigating and conspiring to create all these problems to make Egypt look bad, how worried should we be that, on Friday -- and it's already Friday in Cairo, in Egypt right now -- how worried should we be that the violence will be directed specifically at journalists and human rights activists?

ELBARADEI: Well, we should be quite worried, Wolf, I'm afraid to say.

They are using all cheap -- all dirty tricks, talking about foreign interference, talking about foreign agents. I mean, when you see 10 million Egyptians in the street, to talk about agent provocateurs and all that sort of junk -- it's really junk, Wolf -- they need to step aside.

They lost -- people lost confidence in them. They have no legitimacy. And how could you be a president without any power? It's the most humiliating condition you can be in. For the sake of the country, they should go. I think -- I call on everybody, on the international community to put an end to this ugly situation we have living in Cairo right now.

BLITZER: Is it your fear right now -- well, let me just be more precise, Mohamed ElBaradei. What would you like to see happen in the coming days? What would be the best-case scenario? Who should take over?

ELBARADEI: The best -- the best situation, Wolf, is to -- again to have a transitional period of one year, to have a presidential council of three people, with one representative of the army to ensure continuity, but two civilian, that can take our government of -- that has the confidence of the people for one year where we can prepare for a free and fair election and a radical shift from one of the most brutal systems into a genuine democracy.

That happened everywhere else around the world, Wolf. And the road map is clear. The road map is quite different from the road map of President Mubarak and his associates, which is the road to hell, frankly.

BLITZER: The road to hell. All right, and as -- I will repeat what you tweeted. "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."

Mohamed ElBaradei, thank you very much. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Egypt right now.

Let me play a little clip of what the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak said, two hours ago.


HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I have delegated the vice president in -- delegated the vice president to carry out a lot of powers, and I'm very aware that Egypt will come out of this crisis and will not break its will.

We Egyptians will prove our ability and capacity to respond to all the demands by -- through dialogue. And we will prove that we are not servants to anyone and will not be dictated by anyone, and that no one will take the decisions for us, except for the pulse of the streets and the demands of the people.


BLITZER: And then, just a little while ago, I spoke on the phone with the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, who issued this clarification of precisely, in his view, what's going on in Egypt.


SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The president has transferred his authority under Article 82 of the constitution to the vice president to undertake all presidential authority that is incorporated in the constitution.

BLITZER: All right.

SHOUKRY: So, the -- currently, the presidential powers are all bestowed in the person of the vice president.

BLITZER: All right, so I just want to be precise. And these are -- this is the information you're getting from the Foreign Ministry, from your government in Cairo right now, that...

SHOUKRY: Mr. Blitzer, I am getting this from the vice president.

BLITZER: From Omar Suleiman, that he is now the de facto president, if not the de jure president, he's the acting president of Egypt; is that fair to say that?

SHOUKRY: He is now undertaking all authority of the presidency under the constitution.

BLITZER: Does President Mubarak have any authority left?

SHOUKRY: President Mubarak has transferred all authority to the vice president.

BLITZER: All authority? So, he has no authority left?


SHOUKRY: The only three issues that the vice president cannot make any determination on are making amendments to the constitution or dissolving Parliament or firing the cabinet.


BLITZER: All right, so that was just a little while ago when I spoke to the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Shoukry.

Ben Wedeman is with us, our longtime Cairo correspondent.

I assume you heard what Ambassador Shoukry said. You appreciate the nuances he's trying to clarify.

WEDEMAN: Yes, but, I mean, at the end of the day, it's very difficult to determine what's meant by this word "power" (SPEAKING ARABIC) in Arabic.

Without the definite article -- and I don't need to sound like a professor at the university -- it's very vague. It's not clear if it's all powers. Actually, it's clearly not all powers. It's some powers, whether it's many or few.

But the fact of the matter is that the way the crowd in Tahrir interpreted it is that President Hosni Mubarak remains the president of Egypt. And the tone of his speech was very much in the first person. I will do this. I will do that.

And that sent a clear message, that all of those people who thought that President Hosni Mubarak would no longer be the president when the sun comes up tomorrow morning were very disappointed, and we saw their reaction, many of them going to surround state television, calling for even bigger demonstrations tomorrow, possibly marching on the presidential palace in Heliopolis.

The net effect was that he greatly disappointed the demonstrators and probably we will see the result tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I got an e-mail, Ben, from a friend in Egypt who basically said what Mubarak did was give himself the powers of being, let's say, like the queen of England, the figurehead leader, the head of state, if you will, but with real -- no power to conduct the operation of the government. Is that your understanding of what Mubarak has done?

WEDEMAN: Perhaps, yes. He's reigning, but not ruling.

But the worry is that Omar Suleiman is Hosni Mubarak's man. He rose through the ranks. He became his right-hand man dealing with sensitive diplomatic dealings with the United States, with Israel, with Hamas, with the Palestinian Authority, with other powers in the region. And, therefore, as you've said before, there's no daylight between the two. They are really Siamese twins. That's the worry.

BLITZER: And I'm sure that's what the people in Tahrir Square are worried about right now.

All right, we're staying on top of this story. We're not leaving it. We're worried, obviously, about what's going on. We're trying to sort out fact from fiction from the reality, some of the rumors that are out there. Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: All right, these are live pictures from the street down on the ground at Tahrir Square. It's now 1:14 a.m. in Cairo. And the people are still there. They're not leaving. They're deeply disappointed that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, who may have transferred authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but he still is at least, as the ambassador to the United States from Egypt, Ambassador Shoukry, says, the de jure, the de facto -- the de jure president, but not necessarily the de facto president, if you're following what I'm saying.

Jill Dougherty certainly is following what I'm saying. She's our State Department correspondent. What a day it's been for U.S. officials who are trying to appreciate what is going on as well, Jill, because earlier in the day, Leon Panetta was telling Congress he thought Mubarak was going to step down as early as tonight. Then the president of the United States gives remarks in Michigan in which he says this is an historic moment, seems to suggest that Mubarak is stepping down. Then Mubarak hands over authority to the vice president, but not necessarily completely stepping down. What are you hearing?


And, Wolf, just a few minutes ago, a State Department official walked by here just by the live shot. And I said are we going to hear anything either from the secretary or anybody else? And he was saying that this is extremely hard to react to because there are a lot of complicated details.

And some of those details are exactly what did President Mubarak hand over to his vice president, and what did he not? And so our best understanding is this is what happened. He handed over day-to-day powers to his vice president. That would include things like oversight of police, the Interior Ministry, other key agencies, control of economic power, running any negotiations with the oppositions -- the opposition.

So that goes to Vice President Suleiman. Now, according to the constitution, there were three things that Mubarak could not hand over. And those are the power to dismiss Parliament, the power to dismiss the government, and the power to ask for amendments to the constitution.

So those three things still remain in Mubarak's hands. So you might ask, I was asking myself, if he is just a figurehead, if he is -- if Suleiman is the de facto president, then why doesn't President Mubarak just leave?

And so I think President Mubarak would say, I can't do that because technically there are certain things I can't hand over, unless the constitution were changed. So -- and these aren't that insignificant. Yes, maybe changing the government or the cabinet, but amending the constitution, dismissing Parliament. Remember, dismissing Parliament, that's the Parliament that people on the square there are very angry about, because it was elected in what is perceived as a bogus election.

So I think you've got -- number one, you have got this game up here, which is very, very complex and very legalistic and a lot of articles, et cetera. And then on the street, you have that basic fact that President Mubarak is still there, whether he's limited in his powers or not.

And that's the dilemma, you know, on the streets. And when people are really in a revolutionary, a revolt -- a situation of revolt, they are not going to be looking at articles and all sorts of details like that. So that's the dangerous conflagration that could happen if they don't get what they want. BLITZER: You heard the -- Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner, the former IAEA head, say: "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."

Before President Mubarak spoke, before Vice President Suleiman spoke, the president of the United States spoke. He was in Michigan. He seemed to believe -- at least based on the interpretation I came up with, he seemed to believe that Mubarak was going to leave or step down at a minimum. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change. And they have turned out in extraordinary numbers representing all ages and all walks of life, but it's young people who've been at the forefront -- a new generation, your generation, who want their voices to be heard. And so going forward, we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.


BLITZER: That was the president of the United States speaking earlier.

Let's bring in some of our analysts, our correspondents to assess what's going on.

Candy Crowley is here, David Gergen, Gloria Borger.

Candy, I think it's fair to say U.S. officials were expecting more.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They were expecting more and are now still trying to figure out why they expected more.

We're talking, is this a lost in translation moment here? Or in fact were they told things that were not quite true? And that's what they're trying to figure out. What was the role of the military here, because as we know -- I was talking to somebody earlier via e-mail who said, like, did some of these sources mislead us, or did Mubarak mislead them? So, where does this -- it's a complex place over there.

One other thing I will add, hearing from an official who is on the diplomatic side who said, de jure, de facto, Mubarak and Suleiman. these are distinctions without differences in that square. So...

BLITZER: David, is that what your conclusion is as well? Because the Egyptian ambassador, Ambassador Shoukry, he was very precise. He says Mubarak really doesn't really have any power left. He's handed it all over for all practical purposes to the vice president, Suleiman. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a fog bank.

BLITZER: It's a what?

GERGEN: It's a fog bank. I think these are legal slicing and dicing that don't make the difference on the street.

There are two things here, Wolf. Whatever -- however we got here, this will not stand. We're going to have massive demonstrations tomorrow. There's a real chance of a bloodbath. There's a real question of what the army is going to do. All of that means this is not going to last this way. This kind of crisis builds up and it has to have a resolution soon.

But the second point I want to make is perhaps more important. I think this gives President Obama an opportunity. And that is to hit the reset button in how he's been approaching this. Knowing that Mubarak is on his way out, this is the moment in my judgment for him to come down firmly on the side of the demonstrators, listen to the voice of the people, and to make a firm break and clear -- clean break with Mubarak. We're not going to deal with him anymore. We will deal with the army.


BLITZER: And Suleiman as well?

GERGEN: I think you can deal with Suleiman, but you ought to act -- take the ambassador at his word. This guy is no longer president. We're not going to deal with him anymore. But we want and we will push for this government to listen to the voice of the people.

BLITZER: Gloria, you and I, all of us know Leon Panetta. We have known him for a long time. He's a very precise kind of guy. When he, as the CIA director, goes up to Congress, is testifying, and he says what he said earlier in the day -- and we will get that clip -- we will play it for our viewers.


BLITZER: But what he basically said was that -- what he basically said was that we fully expect that Mubarak will be stepping down as early as tonight.

BORGER: Right. And I think it's very strange that a CIA director, as informed as Leon Panetta is and as careful as Leon Panetta is, would get that far out in front of a story if he didn't truly expect that to happen. Which brings me back to Candy's lost in translation point, because maybe they expected because they were told they would get something different, and that's not what Mubarak and Suleiman did.

The president said orderly and genuine transition. And he did not get either one of those. What he got was a deliberately vaguely worded statement. In this kind of a situation, we all cover politics here, the last thing you need to do or should do is be vague. (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Maybe that's what the military wanted, though, Wolf, because in the end, the military, as ElBaradei said to you, the military may be hanging back to be the heroes of the day in Egypt. And that may be the preferred solution.


BLITZER: Let me play the clip of what Leon Panetta told Congress earlier today.


LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: And as you can see, I got the same information you did, that there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, which will be significant in terms of where the hopefully orderly transition in Egypt takes place.


BORGER: The ambassador said to you that in fact that's what Mubarak had done, he did step down. But, of course, he didn't.

BLITZER: He has still some powers, although he's given away a lot of his powers to the vice president.

BORGER: Right. But that's their spin. That's their spin on it.

GERGEN: And at the moment the ambassador's interpretation is rather singular.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: He's the only person as far as I can tell who is making that interpretation of what's happening.

BLITZER: Yes. You really need to be precise in a situation like this, as potentially dangerous as this situation is right now.


And I think we had heard before when you were talking to Jamie Rubin that someone in Egypt had to said to him, wait a second, he transferred all the powers, except for the three, disbanding Parliament, amending the constitution. I now forget what the third one was. But they were very specific things under the Egyptian constitution.

The problem is why wouldn't you lay that out? This is a smart politician. He knows what's going on, on the streets. Why wouldn't you do that unless you wanted to be vague to see if this will work? Will this work?

BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on for a moment, because I want to take a quick break, but go back to Cairo, continue to follow what's going on.

Some folks are just marching right now. Many of them are staying in Tahrir Square. They're not leaving by any means. Stand by. Our special coverage will continue here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's useless, absolutely useless. People out there are willing to die, OK, Willing to die for freedom, all right?

All these people, all these people you can see, all the millions, are looking for freedom, for justice and to be respected in all world, OK? All the people you can see are looking for just the freedom to live as a human being, and we will have justice. And we will have freedom. And we will live as a human being in this life.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do you think is going to happen tomorrow? Will people march to the presidential palace? How many people will come here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely many. Too many people are suffering. And I'm sure so many people, so many millions will -- will be at the palace tomorrow. They're having two options, all right, either death of freedom. And we will have freedom (INAUDIBLE).


BLITZER: You heard strong words from that one protester speaking to CNN's Fred Pleitgen on the street right there at Tahrir Square.

Michael Holmes is joining us, our CNN International anchor who has covered this story for many, many years.

It's obviously a confusing situation, Michael, but it's a very, very dangerous moment right now, as you heard from Mohamed ElBaradei. He says he's worried that Egypt right now could explode.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that is the real risk. And you're hearing that on the ground, Wolf.

And that is that, in some ways, this is being orchestrated. And that's the fear you're hearing by some -- from some on the street, that the atmosphere is being set up for a crackdown, be it martial law or some sort of retribution on those protesters if they put a foot wrong.

And with the marching down to the television station, any sort of match, if you like, or spark could set off a very bad situation. You know, that's I think the big worry at the moment.

BLITZER: Is it enough, what the Egyptian ambassador to the United States told us here on CNN a little while ago, Michael, that, for all practical purposes, Mubarak no longer has any real power, that all of that power, effectively, he says, has been hand over -- handed over to the vice president, Omar Suleiman?

HOLMES: I don't know that it will be for the people on the street. They wanted Mubarak to go, and a lot of people are going to be looking at this and wondering why he didn't. If he handed over the powers, why not go? And that would have taken a lot of the sting, a lot of the air out of the protesters' demands.

Mr. Suleiman, on the -- on the ground, is going to be seen as the same old faces, the same old regime; nothing really much has changed. He's certainly been close to the United States over the years. Probably fairly acceptable to the U.S. on some levels in that regard, on a diplomatic front, and also to Israel he's been very close. He's worked very closely with the ministry of defense in Israel on the Palestinian question and other security issues.

But on the ground he's seen as a man who headed up the -- the often feared and certainly hated intelligence services. All kinds of allegations have swirled around him. There were those who say he was involved in helping out the extraordinary rendition of prisoners to Egypt, where they were allegedly tortured and so on. He's not a man that's going to carry a lot of respect on the streets among those protestors you're looking at there on the screen, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, as we take a look at this situation, I guess one of the most confusing parts, Michael, was when earlier in the day the Egyptian army chief went into Tahrir Square and told the protesters, "All of your demands are about to be fully met." And you know how any normal person would interpret that, right?

HOLMES: Yes, yes, and that is extremely confusing, although one would imagine, unless he took a complete 180 turn, whether Mr. Mubarak -- he must have made this decision, you would think, in consultation with those in the military who are obviously all-powerful in Egypt. The fact that he then didn't step down is very confusing.

Ben Wedeman is on the line.

Ben, you're more of an expert on these things than me. Would you imagine that Mr. Mubarak would have made any decision without talking to the military? And if so, how do we explain what was being said earlier?

WEDEMAN: Well, it's very difficult to determine that. It does appear that there may be something of a rift between President Mubarak and his vice president, Omar Suleiman, on one hand and the army on another.

In fact, they're sort of issuing parallel statements. The army already put out one statement in which it called communique No. 1. And many people here interpreted that as meaning the army has taken over.

Now they say -- the army also announced that at midnight it would put out another communique. And here we are at 1:35 in the morning, and that communique still hasn't come. So it's very confusing.

And certainly, the fact that the army goes out -- a senior army general goes out into Tahrir Square and says basically, "Protesters, you have what you asked for," and then nothing happens. And in fact, the opposite happens. President Mubarak comes out, speaks very much like the president, does concede that he's delegating certain powers to the vice president. But certainly didn't give the protesters what they want. So it's not clear where the army stands at this point -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. A lot more to discuss. Ben, please stick around. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Michael, don't go away. We're going to continue our special coverage. Much more coming up. We're waiting for a statement from the president of the United States, as well. Some sort of statement from the White House on what's going on. We're anxious to get some clarification where the Obama administration stands on all of this. We'll share it with you the moment we get it.

Our coverage continues after this.


BLITZER: They're still there at Tahrir Square. They're not going anywhere. The protesters, they're not satisfied with what they heard tonight from the Egyptian president or the Egyptian vice president.

Michael Holmes is here with us.

Michael, I think it's fair to say that a lot of us who have watched this situation, not only the past few weeks but over these many years, were deeply worried about what might happen next.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And perplexed by what happened earlier. The speech by Mr. Mubarak, all indicators were going to be that he was likely to step down. And then the speech itself, really, there seemed to be a detachment from reality in many ways. One of the lines, he said no one will take the decisions for us except the pulse of the streets and the demands of the people. We've been hearing from those people. Fred Pleitgen is among them. Joins us now.

Fred, people bemused, angry, what?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bemused, angry and very disappointed, most of the people I've been speaking to. I mean, I've seen people here who said they just absolutely couldn't believe what they heard Hosni Mubarak say. And I have two people actually here with me.

You both came here from America. You're American-Egyptians, and you came here to help out in the demonstrations because you want to see change in Egypt. What did you say today from Mr. Mubarak?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing. He's still playing the same game. He's playing with the institution. He doesn't -- he doesn't offer anything new. The people demand him to leave. And that's it. Leave.

PLEITGEN: What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The same thing. Actually, he give us nothing. And if you hear from everyone here, they say for him just to go out, you and your regime and give us -- what's he give us? What's he say? He's going to stay with Mr. Omar Suleiman? For what? We need for him to go out and protecting corruption in this country -- he didn't get. You see the lifestyle for everyone here. All the people need for him to be out.

PLEITGEN: You say you left at some point because you didn't feel you had the right opportunities here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, yes. Just for (INAUDIBLE) but my (INAUDIBLE) are here, you know? They have feeling like he will control everything: control the money, control the decision in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Egypt is -- there's a brain drain for the Egyptian people. We're leaving because of the corruption. If the corruption ended, that means those people would stay here. There's going to be better life for everybody.

PLEITGEN: What do you think is going to happen now? People aren't going to stand for this. People aren't going to let this happen, are they?


PLEITGEN: What do you think will happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to leave. I don't know what the next move. But they're not -- they're not leaving this way. Mr. Mubarak leave.

PLEITGEN: What do you think will happen? Do you think there will be more violence? Do you think things will get out of control?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the problem -- the problem is not only going to be just only here in Tahrir Square. It's going to be everywhere. All the people are waiting for him to say, "I'm leaving."

PLEITGEN: Having lived in America I think 16 years both of you have been living in America, did you ever think Egypt would be the way it is right now with all of these demonstrations going on, with people standing up for themselves? Did you think that was going to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a big surprise. That was a big surprise for us. But we're very happy for this to happen. And this is why we came back to stand by those people.

Actually, I believe about my country. I believe about people -- we have, like, civilization. We can make everything. We can make everything. You know? And I think all the people here are going to build the futures without President Mubarak. This is the only way. He should be out.

PLEITGEN: And you think tomorrow how many people will come? How many people do you think will come tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think millions.

PLEITGEN: Millions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to ask one thing, you know, for the American people to remember Martin Luther king, how many people went out with Martin Luther King 40 years ago and changed the life of the American people that brought Mr. Obama to be our president. That's the same thing that we need here.

PLEITGEN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

All right, Michael. As you can see, many people still want to speak to us. We'll get back to them. We'll get their opinions, and then we'll tell you about them, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Fred, thanks for staying around. Fred Pleitgen there right on the scene.

Wolf Blitzer, you know, one of the other quotes that leaps out from what Mr. Mubarak said was -- he said that there had been a national dialogue, a constructive one, that brought together all the young people who called for this change, et cetera, et cetera, had resulted in harmony. Well, it didn't look like it, did it?

BLITZER: No. It doesn't look like much harmony right now. It looks like there's a potential for some real serious problems in the coming hours.

Michael, we're standing by for a statement from the White House on where the Obama administration stands on all of this. We expect to get it fairly soon. We'll continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: All right. I want to show our viewers live pictures from Tahrir Square. It's approaching 2 a.m. over there right now. There's still a lot of people. They're still very, very upset. They're disappointed. Many of them furious that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did not announce on Egyptian television he was formally stepping down or leaving the country, he was handing over authority, at least in most areas to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but not necessarily everything, and that's causing a lot of consternation.

We're getting reports that demonstrators may be moving, may be approaching, getting closer and closer towards the presidential palace, where we believe President Mubarak is. There's a potential real danger, a real friction right now that could spark, in the words of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency director, an explosion, in his words.

Brian Todd has been taking a very close look at powers in Egypt: constitutional powers, what kind of power Mubarak might still have, what kind of power he's transferred to the Egyptian vice president, Omar Suleiman, although it may not even be relevant right now, Brian.


BLITZER: Because so many of the protesters, they're not differentiating between Suleiman and Mubarak. But go ahead and tell our viewers on some of these constitutional issues in Egypt.

TODD: Right, Wolf. They're not differentiating because the president himself didn't seem to differentiate. First when he spoke, that's what led to some of the confusion. All he said was -- in his speech was, "I have delegated the vice president to carry out powers." As you know, he didn't say "some powers"; he didn't say "all powers." And that left most of us in a state of confusion for a period of hours.

Then last hour when you spoke to the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, he offered some clarification specific to the constitution. First we're going to show you what the ambassador said.


SHOUKRY: The president has transferred his authority under Article 82 of the constitution to the vice president to undertake all presidential authority that is incorporated in the constitution. The -- currently, the presidential powers are all bestowed in the person of the vice president.


TODD: All right. So we looked at that article of the Egyptian constitution. We have a graphic to show you. It's fairly simple, and it's about as broad and vague as the president himself laid out. Here it is.

"In case the president of the republic, due to any temporary obstacle, is unable to carry out his functions, he shall delegate his powers to a vice president." That is Article 82 of the Egyptian constitution.

But again, Wolf, you know, as Mubarak laid out earlier, he wasn't specific. That article is not that specific. The vice president seems to have most, if not all, of the de facto power now, including the power of the military, which is so crucial right now. But again, you know, this is a very broad definition, and we're left to work with that as we head into a potentially volatile situation on Friday morning after prayers.

BLITZER: Yes. It's already Friday in Cairo right now. It's approaching 2 a.m. It could be a very volatile situation.

Brian, thanks very, very much.

I can't help but conclude that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a week ago, when he said he was not going to run for election in the September elections, he had done that a week or two earlier, may have been OK, could have placated a lot of those protesters. But that was too little, too late.

And I suspect the same thing happening today: too little, too late. He's handing over authority to his vice president. Had he done that a week ago, maybe he could have prevented what is about to happen in Egypt. But it may be too little, too late right now. Just my analysis of what's going on.

We're going back to Tahrir Square and more reporting, more analysis right after this.


BLITZER: Pictures you're seeing from Tahrir Square. These are earlier today. These people were not happy when they heard the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, failed to say he was stepping down and leaving the country, giving up everything.

He did hand over a lot of the authority, if not almost all of the authority, to his vice president, Omar Suleiman. But that certainly has not placated a lot of these people. These are some of the dramatic still pictures we're getting in of what has happened, the reaction to these dramatic and historic moments.

Michael Holmes, our CNN international anchor, he's with us, as well. You know, I can't help but conclude a little bit too little too late for Hosni Mubarak, what he did last week, what he's doing today. Had he done it earlier, maybe he could have saved himself a lot of these problems, but right now, it's probably too late, given the mood of the country.

HOLMES: Yes, yes. I think you're exactly right, Wolf. If this had come a while ago, even just not standing down but handing over powers like this that may have diffused a lot of the protest atmosphere in Tahrir Square, at Alexandria, and elsewhere, as well.

And it's quite a bizarre thing to hand over the power to the vice president but to remain as the president. It seems to be a very odd thing to do. It's very hard to know what is going through his mind.

And as we were discussing before, it's also curious what the role of the military is going to be now, where we had indications before that he was going to stand down. There were indications from senior officers on the ground there.

We also had indications from the United States, the ampanada (ph), for example. Now, the U.S. has very tight relations with the Egyptian military. The U.S. military and the Egyptian military. So one wonders whether there had been a bit of a heads up given.

But when he turned around and did not stand down, as was suspected, then it was quite a bizarre scenario. The military, as Ben Wedeman was suggesting earlier, maybe there's some sort of split going on. It all seems very odd. Ben, you agree?

WEDEMAN: Certainly. It does appear that, for instance, we're still waiting for communique No. 2 from the military, which was expected at midnight. Now it's almost two hours late. And certainly, they -- it's clear that they're not speaking from the same script.

You have the president who gives a speech and minutes later, Omar Suleiman, the vice president, gives a speech sort of seconding everything the president said. Before that you had the military putting out communique No. 1, talking about the importance of the interests of the Egyptian people. And then we're just sort of left waiting.

So it's not clear if the two are communicating with one another.

HOLMES: And what does that leave option-wise? The military, if they were caught off guard -- let's say, by what Mr. Mubarak did, this is, of course, an all-powerful organization in Egypt. It's woven into the society, the economy. Just about all walks of life. A very robust institution, if you like.

Is there any will or sense, in your experience of covering the military there, that they would be willing to step in at any point?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, they don't have a tradition of independently stepping in, apart from the president. And as you'll recall, the WikiLeaks cable describes some mid-level officers in the army, describing Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, as Mubarak's poodle.

So it's not clear that they would act independently. But it does appear that, at the moment, they're not on the same page as the president.

And of course, don't forget: Omar Suleiman is the head, or was the head of Egyptian intelligence, which in many ways was sort of a counter force to the army. Under President Mubarak, the number of people working for the interior ministry and the intelligence services was well over a million. That includes policemen and the many basically paid informants among the population.

So there are two parallel powers here. The interior ministry obviously does not have M1-A1 tanks, but they do have a lot of influence, a lot of people on the ground who can affect the course of events -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Wolf, have you got something to ask?

BLITZER: Yes. I want to just point out that we're getting indications now that a few thousand protesters are approaching the presidential palace in Cairo. They left Tahrir Square a while ago. It's, what, six, eight miles, maybe 10 kilometers from Tahrir Square. Ben Wedeman, you're familiar with this area. There's a heavy military presence outside the presidential palace. We don't know if President Mubarak is there. But this is another potential flashpoint. WEDEMAN: Yes, certainly. And even under normal circumstance, that part of town is very tightly controlled. Not by the military but plain-clothed policemen, ordinary policemen, and so forth. And there are a lot of military installations, bases, ministries, sub-ministries in that part of town.

Since the 28th of January, obviously a lot of tanks, a lot of armor have been deployed in that area to secure that part of town, which obviously if demonstrators are heading there, it's really hard to say, Wolf, how close they can get, because last I heard there were about 20 check points between Tahrir Square and the president's palace, and some of those checkpoints people simply could not get through -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, Ben. I'm curious about Mr. Suleiman there. He's now been given the powers, as we've been hearing. The street is very different, isn't it, about how they regard this man, particularly with his background in the intelligence services?

WEDEMAN: Well, Michael, actually, people were of different opinions. As soon as he was appointed vice president, some people said, "Look, he's a man who, despite his shady past in the intelligence services, is somebody who knows what he's doing. He knows power of politics. He knows regional politics. He's on good terms with the United States.

And maybe he's the man who can somehow guide Egypt through this transitional period from the Mubarak regime to some sort of emerging democracy.

But the mood has really changed in recent days as it's become more and more apparent that he is very much an appendage -- appendage of President Mubarak, carried out his wishes, his orders. And not necessarily playing very well to the people in Tahrir Square who are very eager and anxious to move towards some form of real democracy -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Ben, thanks for that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to thank you, Michael, as well.

But quickly, I want to go to Fred Pleitgen. He's at Tahrir Square right now for us.

You've been doing an outstanding job giving us a flavor of what's going on. But I think a lot of us should be focusing in on some of those demonstrators who are moving, who are moving toward that presidential palace right now, obviously, a source of deep concern.

Fred Pleitgen is there, but unfortunately, he can't hear me right now.

It's a sensitive moment. It's approaching 2 a.m. Michael Holmes, I know you're still with me right now. When I say sensitive, it's going to be daylight in Cairo pretty soon. And there are going to be Friday prayers. But they were even anticipating before all of the confusion surrounding President Mubarak that Friday would be a tumultuous day, millions of folks just gathering to protest what's going on.

HOLMES: As you know, Wolf, in the Arab world, Friday, post prayers is a traditional day of protest if there is something to be protested. And last Friday we saw evidence of that.

And you're right. They were planning, the protesters, to have a major turnout tomorrow or today, Egypt time, on the streets. Now after what we've heard from Mr. Mubarak today, the people would have been scratching their heads initially. And we'll have to see whether the level of anger is there that we've seen over recent days.

And what people are going to make of this pretty much non- decision by him, in terms of his own future, wrapping himself in the Egyptian flag. Speaking to his people as sons and daughters and pretty much saying that he's listened to everyone, and they're all getting what they want, and their demands are being heard. And again, warning of outsiders. Not listening to those on the outside. Defiant but deaf to the voices of those people on your screen right there.

BLITZER: And so many -- so many insinuations by the Egyptian president and the Egyptian vice president that foreigners were involved in fomenting all of these problems, instigating the problems, specifically referring to satellite television networks that were creating, they say, problems for Egypt.

We're going to keep on top of this story. CNN is going to watch every step of the way. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's turn it over to CNN's John King.


And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington...