Since the one thing the rioters seemed to agree on is that he had delighted them long enough after 30 years on the presidential throne, and should depart for Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to know whether his decision to brazen it out will quieten or inflame the situation. The latter, one imagines. But—and this is speculation only—it must be assumed that the president secured the backing of the armed forces before deciding to make his stand. Thus the stage could be set for a more violent confrontation on the streets, which remain thronged in defiance of an official curfew.
Shortly after Mubarak spoke, so did Barack Obama. He called on the Egyptian president to "give meaning" to his promises to improve the lot of the Egyptian people. But all this makes it a cruel irony that Mr Obama chose Cairo as the venue for the big speech in 2009 that was designed to start to restore America's relations with the Muslim world. One of the main promises he held out there—American help for Palestinian statehood—has recently run into the sand as the result of what even his admirers admit was a sequence of cack-handed diplomatic fumbles, notably the mistake of picking a fight over Israeli settlements and then backing down. Now he will be judged, not only in Egypt but well beyond, by whose side he takes in the showdown between Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian people.
So far, the administration has been trying hard to avoid making a choice: Mubarak is our ally but we deplore violence and are on the side of "reform", goes the line. Hillary Clinton has called for restraint on all sides and for the restoration of communications. She said America supported the universal rights of the Egyptians, and called for urgent political, economic and social reforms. This is a sensible enough line to take, but sitting on the fence becomes increasingly uncomfortable as events unfold.