The United States is reported to have begun talks with Egyptian officials on a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, as anti-government protesters prepare for massive new demonstrations Friday, which they are calling the “day of departure” for Egypt’s leader.
The New York Times , in Thursday’s editions, reports that under the plan, Mr. Mubarak would turn power over to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.
The Times says the proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September.
The report, citing Obama administration officials and Arab diplomats, said the proposal is one of several options under discussion with top Egyptian officials involving Mr. Mubarak – though not him directly – in an effort to convince him to step down now.
Egypt will be tested again Friday as demonstrators trying to topple Mr. Mubarak gather after midday prayers to “put the last nail in the regime’s coffin.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sent messages to the Egyptian government, pushing for Mr. Mubarak to stand by his decision to oversee the transition in order to ensure that Islamists do not fill any possible power vacuum. Israel reportedly shares Arab concerns about a U.S. rush to push out Mr. Mubarak.
In an interview Thursday with ABC News, Egypt’s embattled president said he is fed up with being the country’s leader and would like to leave now, but fears Egypt would sink deeper into chaos if he did.
Mr. Mubarak blamed the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s largest and best organized opposition group – for the violence that has taken place in the capital over the past few days. In a national address earlier this week, the president vowed he would finish his term, but not seek re-election. He has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years.
Meanwhile, rock-throwing protesters continued to defy a nighttime curfew in Cairo, where sporadic gunfire was heard on the streets and pro-government mobs attacked demonstrators and dozens of foreign journalists around Tahrir Square. The military and security forces appeared to be doing little to stop the clashes or looting.
Vice President Omar Suleiman Thursday fueled anti-foreign sentiment by going on state television and blaming outsiders for fomenting unrest. He described clashes in Cairo between government supporters and opponents as a “conspiracy.” Mr. Suleiman said the government was not involved but would find those responsible.
The White House said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called his Egyptian counterpart Thursday, urging that “credible, inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government.”
The vice president rejected calls for Mr. Mubarak’s immediate resignation, saying the move would be a “call to chaos.” Mr. Suleiman said he has invited representatives from all political parties, including the Brotherhood, to begin a national dialogue. But opposition leaders have rejected any negotiations with the government until Mr. Mubarak steps down.
Egypt’s health minister said eight people have died and nearly 900 have been injured in two days of fighting around Tahrir Square. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the violent clashes that broke out Wednesday. He called the incident a “disaster” and said it would not happen again.