Crisis in Egypt: New Elections Announced for Coming Weeks

Mubarak's new VP addresses the nation as protesters plan another march.

ByABC News
January 31, 2011, 8:50 AM

Jan. 31, 2011 — -- Egypt's beleaguered regime announced today that it will hold new elections in the coming weeks, a remarkable concession by President Hosni Mubarak after a week of massive protests demanding that he step down.

The announcement was made by Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, who said that he has been authorized to talk to opposition parties.

Suleiman's statement came as protesters are hoping to turn out a million demonstrators on the streets Tuesday in what could be decisive showdown between Mubarak and the opposition forces.

Hundreds of Americans fled the turbulent country as Egyptians prepared for another day of protests.

For Complete Coverage of the Crisis in Egypt, Featuring Exclusive Reporting From Christiane Amanpour, Click Here

A total of nine flights carrying a mix of official and non-Embassy staff will leave Cairo by the end of today, for Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, the State Department said.

Many others remained at Cairo's airport, hoping to leave the country where protests over the last week have left scores dead and hundreds injured.

Mubarak, the embattled president of the world's largest Arab state, swore in a new cabinet today but the move merely resonated with protesters as another way for the 82-year-old president to cling to power.

The appointment of the new cabinet did little to quell the thousands of anti-government demonstrators calling for Mubarak's ouster. The new government is filled with familiar faces, including Vice President Omar Suleiman, who previously served as intelligence chief, and Ahmed Shafiq, minister of aviation and ex-leader of the Egyptian Air Force, who is the new prime minister. Mubarak also retained his long-time defense and foreign ministers.

Thousands defied a fourth day of curfew and converged in Cairo's main center, which has served as the staging ground for this uprising, chanting "we want the fall of the regime," and "Mubarak must go."

"This is not a new government. This is the same regime, this is the same bluff. He (Mubarak) has been bluffing us for 30 years... We gave him more than one chance, but he does not understand," said one angry protester.

The Obama administration maintained public place pressure on Mubarak, though officials again refused to take sides.

"We're not picking between those on the street and those in the government," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today. "I don't think people looking for freedom are looking for someone else to pick what and how that change looks like."

A coalition of opposition groups is organizing a million-man march to take place on Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m. Opposition groups want to march from Tahrir, or Liberation Square, to the presidential palace, according to various reports, to force Mubarak to step down by Friday. They are also calling for a strike as banks, schools and the stock market remain shuttered for a second day.

Police are back out on the streets after virtually disappearing late Friday, leaving a vacuum in security that was filled by looters, vandals, and the release of prisoners from the country's jails.

Over the weekend, buildings were set on fire and clashes continued between protesters and the government.

View ABC News images from Tahrir Square.

After days of allowing protesters to gather in Liberation Square, Egyptian soldiers are deploying more tanks and columns of foot soldiers to try to keep them out. Barbed wire blocked the main road leading to the square, and the army was building a barricade across the street in front of the State TV building.

The military, however, hasn't yet made any move against demonstrators. In fact, in a sign that Mubarak may be losing the support of the country's most revered institution, the Egyptian army released a statement today saying that it will not use force against protesters and that it understands that demands by the Egyptian people are legitimate.

The military was deployed Friday at the height of this week's tension, and unlike the police, it has mostly been welcomed by the public.

Since soldiers began patrolling the streets, it often seemed unclear what their orders were in controlling the protests. Protesters were seen riding on the tanks of soldiers and some soldiers were even seen chanting along with the protesters.

Spokesmen for several of the opposition groups said their representatives were meeting today to develop a unified strategy for ousting Mubarak.

"We don't want life to go back to normal until Mubarak leaves," Israa Abdel-Fattah, a founders of the April 6 Group, a movement of young people pushing for democratic reform, told the Associated Press.

The opposition groups range from youth groups to online activists, old-school opposition politicians and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak has authorized his newly appointed prime minister to open negotiations with the opposition, according to state television.

Leaders from the opposition groups will also discuss if Nobel laureate Mohammad ElBaradei should be the opposition's leader. ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, spoke out against Mubarak Sunday on "This Week with Christiane Amanpour," saying only his departure will resolve the volatile situation.

"First step, he has to go. Second step, we have to have a government of national salvation, in coordination with the army... Then, we prepare for a free and fair election, a new constitution and then move on to democracy," ElBaradei said.

Meanwhile, concerned about the impact of the security situation on their country, Israeli officials told the Associated Press today that they have agreed to let Egypt move 800 troops into the Sinai peninsula for the first time since the two countries reached peace three decades ago. Under the 1979 peace treaty, Egypt regained control of the Sinai area but was not allowed to post military forces there.