Egypt President finally agrees to stand down

 
Elizabeth Fournier
EGYPTIAN President Hosni Mubarak finally bowed to massive collective pressure yesterday, saying he would step down at the September election, once a successor is elected.

His move followed eight consecutive days of protests, culminating with more than a million citizens taking to the streets yesterday calling for the former general to step aside.

In Cairo’s Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, there was cheering after the 82-year-old leader’s pugnacious broadcast on state television but also questioning about whether a transition of many months will be something the opposition will agree to.

Looking calm in suit and tie, Mubarak said: “I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation, that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I’ve spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.

“I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safekeeping and banner ... preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution ... I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure peaceful transfer of power.”

The crisis yesterday continued to have an impact on global markets, with commentators warning of upward pressure on agricultural commodity prices as governments in the Middle East limit exports and increase imports to add to precautionary stockpiles. Rising food prices have been one of the catalysts for protests in both Tunisia and Egypt, and the added pressure is likely to compound fears of contagion across the region.

But the hike in oil prices slowed yesterday, with brent crude futures climbing just nine cents or 0.1 per cent, compared to a jump of $1.59 the previous day. Concerns over supply disruptions from the Suez Canal eased as it remained open to shipping, despite the closure of several ports in nearby Egypt.

Away from commodities, the unrest has also disrupted Egypt’s plans to raise $683m (£423m) of debt this week, as auctions scheduled for Monday were delayed indefinitely until order is resumed. International businesses are also scaling back operations.

retreating, with US companies Nestle and Coca-Cola, business solutions provider Cisco Systems and German car group Volkswagen all scaling back their operations in the country. Yields on the most recent government bills, sold on 27 January, jumped 40 basis points to a high of 10.6 per cent, and Moody’s added to concern by downgrading the country’s debt to the second highest junk rating of Ba2.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday he hadspoken to his new Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Shafiq, who was installed by Mubarak last week in response to the riots. Number 10 said that during the call Cameron urged the Egyptian government to listen to the aspirations of its people, and that “bold steps were needed to to produce real, visible and comprehensive change, with a clear path to free and fair elections”.