EGYPTIAN President Hosni Mubarak refused to stand down last night, sparking fury across the country and fuelling talk of a military coup.
Mubarak said in a televised speech that he would delegate powers to his deputy Omar Suleiman, but pledged to remain as leader until elections in September and repeated his vow to die on Egyptian soil.
“I am conscious of the dangers of this crossroad... and this forces us to prioritise the higher interests of the nation,” he said.
His late-night speech was met with furious chants of “leave, leave” from tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the focal point of the unrest since late January.
Egypt’s emerging opposition leader, Mohamed Elbaradei, said on Twitter after the speech: “Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now.”
Robert Springborg, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School, said: “The speeches [last night] are not intended to bring an end to the crisis in a peaceful way but to inflame the situation so there is justification for the imposition of direct military rule.
“They are risking not only the coherence of the military but even indeed, and I use this term with advisement here, civil war.”
Cario’s military head General Hassan al-Roueini had told protesters in Tahrir Square earlier in the day that “all your demands will be met today”.
Foreign secretary William Hague, who is in Bahrain, said it was not “immediately clear” which powers Mubarak planned to transfer, and that the UK government would closely follow any developments.
In the US, the S&P and Nasdaq were slightly higher as the markets closed during Mubarak’s speech, on hopes that it would end weeks of uncertainty.
London Brent oil also gave up gains to close at $101.52 (£63.09) for March delivery on expectations that Mubarak would use his speech to resign, but head of trading consultant Cameron Hanover, Peter Beutel, said last night: “The great fear of the oil market is that violence and protests which seem likely to intensify after the speech may be transferred to other parts of the oil-rich Middle East.”
Oil cartel OPEC said yesterday that it is increasing production to help ease the ongoing pressure on prices.
Deputy governor of the Central Bank of Egypt, Hisham Ramez, said yesterday that the Egyptian markets were “functioning in a normal way” with some foreign investors taking part in the first bond auction since the unrest, though the bank had to offer yields of 11.8 per cent.