Mubarak stays, and army faces test of stability

Mubarak refuses to leave office, and the army will be tested both for its restraint and its ability to prevent violence after Friday prayers.

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The roar in Tahrir Square last night was not of triumph, but that "he must leave". President Hosni Mubarak rebuffed widespread speculation that he would resign, instead repeating his promise to abstain from the next elections, amend the constitution and seek justice for casualties in the recent protests. The transfer of some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman made hardly a dent on sentiment in the square.

It is clear that the hundreds of thousands on the streets are not satisfied with these concessions. After Friday prayers, Egypt's stability will very likely be tested again.

Before Mr Mubarak's speech, senior military authorities pledged in a televised address to protect the state and to "support the legitimate demands of the people". The army has a critical role to play, but it must be limited to providing security and stability. The armed forces so far have enjoyed considerable popularity among the people, but their role will be tested further now.

It could be said that the country is experiencing its most pressing crisis in decades. Paradoxically, now is precisely the time to repeal the longstanding emergency law. Mr Mubarak's promise to amend constitutional provisions that relate to the law will have only a limited impact.

With the exception of an 18-month hiatus starting in 1980, the law has governed the lives of ordinary Egyptians for more than four decades. Few acts, save for Mr Mubarak's resignation, have the power to change the tenor on the streets as much as its repeal.

Mr Mubarak has promised to remain in office until September elections while expressing his solidarity with the young people in the square. They, for their part, will remain opposed to his continued rule.

Cutting across religion, class and gender, millions of Egyptians have made their voices heard. One can only hope that the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protests continues to prevail.

Before Mr Mubarak's address, other protesters had expressed fears of a military coup. Now, it is incumbent on the armed forces to act with the utmost restraint regarding protesters. This is an unprecedented test of all of Egypt's institutions. How they perform will be remembered by all Egyptians.