In a seeming tactical victory for the thousands of protesters still occupying Cairo's Tahrir Square, top members of Egypt's ruling party resigned Saturday, according to Egyptian state television.
Safwat el-Sherif, the widely reviled chief of the National Democratic Party, is out, to be replaced by Hossam al-Badrawy, a doctor who was previously the party's secretary for business. Gone, too, is Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, as well as the other four members of the Steering Committee that runs the NDP.
Protesters were clearly not satisfied by the announcement.
"It's a good step, a good tactical gain for the protest movement," said Ghad Party secretary-general Wael Nawara, calling instead for the full dissolution of the NDP. "So far they have not responded to any of our demands," he said. "Instead they have been sacrificing scapegoats."
"It's just a game," said Magdy Soliman, 38, a software engineer who supports former International Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change. "They're all criminals. From the same gang." (A longtime Egyptian democracy advocate who knows Badrawy well said he was "pretty decent" in comparison to other party figures and had tried to reform the NDP from within, albeit to little discernable effect.)
The news came amid reports, sourced to U.S. and Egyptian officials, that Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman "was exploring a transition of power in which President Hosni Mubarak would give up presidential powers but remain a figurehead until elections are held."
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has formally backed "a gradual transition" that would involve Suleiman supervising fresh elections in September as Mubarak informally cedes power but does not leave outright.
A group of prominent Egyptians calling itself the "Council of the Wise" is trying to mediate a similar solution between the government and protest leaders, though it's doubtful many of the demonstrators Tahrir Square will accept anything less than Mubarak's outright resignation.
Hassan Nafaa, chairman of the political science department at Cairo University who is in touch with many opposition figures, worried that the loose coalition of groups calling for Mubarak's ouster don't have a coherent game plan. "There is no strategy. Every group has its own perception of the situation, its own dynamics, but I don't think there is any common strategy. They want Mubarak to leave or delegate authority but differ on how to achieve that."
Meanwhile, Mubarak was shown on state television Saturday presiding over a meeting of his economic advisors, and he remains head of the NDP. A number of journalists and activists remain missing, including the bureau chief of Al Jazeera's Arabic channel, presumably swept up by the Egyptian regime's still very active and brutal security apparatus. "There's a new game in town and we don't know the rules," said one Cairo-based analyst whose organization had come under severe pressure in recent days.
At Tahrir Square today, the army took a firmer hand, sending elite reinforcements, manning checkpoints, and pushing protesters to move their makeshift barricades inward. A top Army general appeared and urged the protesters to go home, telling them he respected their right to speak out but said that they were damaging the Egyptian economy.
Outside the area around the square, traffic surged as life began returning to normal. State television appeared to be toning down what Nawara described as a "campaign of terror and xenophobia against foreigners," though the overall depiction of the protesters as wide-eyed radicals bent on destroying Egypt -- with the help of Iran, Israel, and Qatar, no less -- remained in place.
"Given the events of the past 48 hours, the best possible scenario is a slightly more open authoritarian regime. Egypt's democratic moment was thwarted this time," said Joshua Stacher, an assistant professor at Kent State University.