Friday could be pivotal day in Egypt




-- After a tumultuous day of speculation, disappointment and then anger, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the titular head of his country.

Little else is clear.

"So I thought I would delegate powers to the vice president, according to the constitution, stipulations of the constitution," Mubarak said during his national televised address Thursday night.

The vice president is former intelligence head Omar Suleiman, tapped for the spot early in Mubarak's response to the protests. The Egyptian constitution allows the president to delegate powers to the vice president, a provision originally put into the document in case the president is temporarily incapacitated.

The constitution reserves three particular powers for the president alone -- they cannot be delegated to the vice president. Those are the right to dismiss parliament, to request constitutional amendments and to alter the structure of the government.

Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, said that while Mubarak was by law still the president, Suleiman was now "the de facto president."

Suleiman has already begun negotiations with some of Egypt's opposition, and Mubarak said he's already asked for the modification of five constitutional articles -- 76, 77, 88, 93 and 198 -- and the repeal of a sixth -- 179.

Articles 76 and 77 deal with how presidential elections are conducted. Article 76 sets standards for qualifying parties, which currently all but guarantee the ruling NDP a spot on the ballot, while 77 sets presidential terms at 6 years with no limits on re-election.

Articles 88 and 93 deal with how members of parliament will be elected. Article 88 in particular requires judges to oversee the elections.

Those changes, if implemented, would answer demands to open Egyptian elections to more opposition candidates and loosen the grip of Mubarak's party on power.

Article 198 allows the president to issue decrees with the force of law "in exceptional cases" as OK'd by two-thirds of parliament -- essentially a codification of emergency power, but it sets a limited period of time for that power.

And article 179, which Mubarak proposed repealing altogether, allows the president to send anyone suspected of involvement in terrorism to a military court.

Mubarak and Suleiman both pledged to continue this work -- but perhaps the real question about what comes next in Egypt can only be answered by the "youth movement" that launched the protests more than two weeks ago -- and the military's response.

After Mubarak's speech, the protesters angrily increased their demands that he step down. Groups of the protesters broke away from Tahrir Square, some heading to the presidential palace and others heading for the state television station, both heavily guarded by the Egyptian military.

In the predawn hours, the protesters appeared content to wave flags and chant a safe distance from the soldiers and their barbed wire. As the night dragged toward its eventual end, the numbers dwindled.

Other protesters remained in the square, where they showed their defiance by simply lying down on the streets and sidewalks under blankets for a massive "sleep in." Many of the protesters said they were overnighting in the square for the first time, despite Suleiman's call for them to return to their homes.

And after morning prayers later Friday, more protesters are expected to arrive for what could be the largest demonstration yet, and what will happen then is anyone's guess.

Some protesters say they fear "a bloodbath," and Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted after Mubarak's speech that Egypt would "explode."

Meanwhile, in Tahrir Square, the word heard chanted more than any other has been the Arabic word for "peaceful."