12 Feb 2011

How Hosni Mubarak finally fell

Gradually we are putting together the story of how President Mubarak fell. Every day we get another piece of the jigsaw, writes Lindsey Hilsum.

Gradually we are putting together the story of how President Mubarak fell. Every day we get another piece of the jigsaw.

Today I spoke to General Samel Seif Elyazal, who runs the Al Gomhouria Centre for Security Studies in Cairo, and remains close to the military high command. Once a diplomat, as a senior officer he retains his army links and is trusted to put speak publically about what they do. He told me that he’d been talking to senior officers every day.

He says that Field Marshall Tantawi, then Defence Minister, now the head of the Higher Military Council which is running Egypt, finally went to see President Mubarak on Thursday night to tell him the time had come.

The President had just given his fateful broadcast, in which he said that, while handing over some powers to his Vice President , he would nonetheless remain in post until elections in September. This was against the advice of the head of his National Democratic Party, Dr Hossam Badrawi. It’s believed that his son Gamal was amongst those who thought he could, and should, hang on.

“Field Marshall Tantawi met him for a couple of hours, maybe three hours and at the end of that discussion Tantawi convinced President Mubarak to step down,” said General Elyazal.

The announcement by protestors that they would march on the Presidential Palace and the TV station seems to have been pivotal.

“President Mubarak was convinced to stay until September by his assistants and, I think, his son, he was listening to them,” said General Elyazal. “But when things came differently and people went everywhere, not just Tahrir Square but to the Presidential Palace, where he is, when the discussion came from Field Marshall Tantawi, the advice came that it was right time to do that for everybody, for him and the country, I think he listened to that.”

So the decision was apparently made after that meeting, which went on into the small hours of Friday morning. Then the President apparently talked to his family, packed, and left for Sharm el Sheikh. At 6pm on the evening of Friday February 11th, then Vice President Suleiman made the announcement that the era of Hosni Mubarak was over.

Field Marshall Tantawi, now the most powerful man in Egypt, appears to have been the one to tell President Mubarak – as the protestors had been shouting for 18 days – that his time was up.

An Egyptian protester celebrates the fall of Hosni Mubarak (Reuters)