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In Tahrir Square, mood goes from glee to anger

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak's face glared down from a giant screen that rippled in the cold breeze at Tahrir Square. His gravelly voice boomed across a multitude of protesters standing silently, standing in shock, but most important, still standing.

When Mubarak stunned them by announcing that he would not quit, jeers filled the air.

When he said he was just like them, the countless thousands who have endured his 30-year rule and battled to bring democracy to Egypt laughed.

And long before Mubarak had finished, they answered in a roar that rolled across the square like a crashing wave until it drowned out the loudspeakers.

"Erhal! Erhal!" they chanted, thrusting clenched fists in the air. "Leave! Leave!"

They had come to witness history, the triumph of people power over a mighty Arab leader, the only president many of them had ever known. They had celebrated through a long night of wild rumors: Mubarak had fled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Mubarak was in prison; Mubarak was being pushed out by the military.

The euphoria deflated like a popped balloon when Mubarak started speaking at 10:45 p.m. Some gasped out loud. Some began to weep when it became clear that the president would not step down. The disappointment was palpable. Then so was the anger.

But if the crowd had been operating on false assumptions, it appeared that Mubarak was, too. It was clear that the strongman had miscalculated if he hoped to appease his critics by saying he would turn presidential powers over to Vice President Omar Suleiman and that the government would implement a long list of reforms.

"He makes us much more angry tonight," said Omar Hesham, 30, an engineer. "It would be better if he said nothing."

"He's ignoring us," said Fatma Ali, 22, fighting back tears. "People have been killed for their freedom here. We have sacrificed everything, and he refuses to sacrifice his office."

Organizers said they would go ahead with a protest today, the start of the Muslim weekend, with marches in the city.

"Come back tomorrow," shouted a man atop a burned-out car used as a barricade. "The fight is just beginning."

The protesters' frustration was all the more poignant because of signals just hours earlier that Mubarak would step down.

That afternoon, Gen. Hassan Ruwaini, military commander for Cairo, had gone to Tahrir Square and told protesters, "All your demands will be met today."

In Tahrir Square, mood goes from glee to anger 02/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 10:48pm]

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