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WASHINGTON — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday he would not run for the presidency again, but will use his remaining eight months in office to ease the transfer of power.
The announcement comes after President Barack Obama called on Mubarak to end his 30-year reign by not seeking another term in Egypt’s upcoming September elections.
Al Arabiya TV first reported Tuesday afternoon that Mubarak was going to announce his withdrawal.
But it might be too little, too late to appease protesters, who are demanding the president’s immediate and unconditional resignation. Millions attended a march in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo Tuesday.
“What is most striking about what we’re seeing here is just the variety of people coming out to march together,” said Lauren Bohn, a Fulbright scholar and Northwestern University graduate who has lived in Egypt for the past four months. “We’re talking Muslims, Christians, older people, younger people, females, men—there are so many faces to these demonstrations.”
It’s hard to pick out the Egyptian Army in the images streaming out of the country over the past eight days.
Clashes up to this point have been almost entirely confined to confrontations between protesters and riot police.
The Egyptian Army vowed Monday not to use force against the people protesting the rule of Mubarak, releasing a statement saying it “acknowledges the legitimacy of the people’s demands and is adamant on carrying out its responsibilities in protecting the country and its citizens as ever.”
The Army’s decision to step back may prove to have been a major force in deciding the outcome of the week’s events. Ultimately, the military has to answer to one big player: the U.S.
The U.S. sends Egypt more than $1.3 billion in military aid annually, or about a third of its annual military budget, to a Congressional Research Service report last June.
That puts Egypt second only to Israel in the Middle East in receiving U.S. aid. Israel’s request for the 2011 fiscal year totaled $3 billion, according to the same report.
U.S. financial support in the Middle East swelled in 1979 following the Camp David Accords and the famous Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. In that year, the U.S. gave $7.3 billion in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities and Israel’s return of the Sinai Peninsula.
Annual aid since then has transformed Egypt’s military arsenal which had mostly consisted of outmoded Soviet equipmentby allowing Egypt to purchase modern, advanced U.S.-manufactured weapons.
The State Department reports that such purchases range from fighter jets to tanks to Apache helicopters to anti-aircraft and aerial surveillance technology.
Because Egypt receives so much American aid, the U.S. wields considerable leverage over the Egyptian military, said Kamal Beyoghlow, Middle East expert at the National Defense University. In the past, the countries’ armies have enjoyed an amiable relationship, completing war exercises together.
A 2009 U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks further highlighted the nature of the countries’ relationship, saying:
“President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the USD 1.3 billion in annual FMF as ‘untouchable compensation’ for making and maintaining peace with Israel. The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.”
But at this point in the uprising, American influence on the Egyptian army may not matter, Beyoghlow said. The protests have developed enough momentum that even military action is unlikely to alter their direction.
“Right now the events are not really based in the respective relationships, it’s based on the man in the street,” Beyoghlow said.
Rebecca Cohen also reported for this story.