Egypt's leading dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned Thursday that his country was about to "explode" and urged the army to take the side of the people after President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested in the heart of Cairo late Thursday, hoping to hear Mubarak say he will step down but instead learning that he had delegated presidential power to Vice President Omar Suleiman.
They vowed to launch their most spectacular protest yet in the Egyptian capital on Friday to demand the immediate departure of Mubarak who delegated his powers to Suleiman but stopped short of resigning.
Calling Mubarak's speech an "act of deception" on a grand scale, ElBaradei told CNN that protesters are "so angry" because they expected Mubarak to cede power to a government of national unity that would lead Egypt to democracy.
"There is no way the Egyptian people right now are ready to accept either Mubarak or his vice president," ElBaradei told the US television network. "And my fear right now is this will start violence."
He called on "the army, to come to save the country ... from ... going down the drain," after having written earlier on the Twitter website that "Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now."
ElBaradei said it was unclear whether the army would take the side of the people, even though there has been a rift between Mubarak and the military.
Egyptians "always thought the army is a protector of people of last resort. If they feel the army is not taking their side... the people will go crazy," he warned on CNN.
In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine before Mubarak's speech, ElBaradei said the US-backed transition process led by Suleiman will fail to take the country to democracy unless "we keep kicking their behinds."
He added: "I think the whole process is a faulty process. You don't get the fox to be in charge of the chicken coop."
ElBaradei recalled that Suleiman, whom Mubarak recently named his first ever vice president, said Egypt does not have the "culture" of democracy.
"No, I don't have any confidence" in Suleiman, said ElBaradei.
The military leaders who have practiced dictatorship for decades "don't understand, let alone are willing to move Egypt into democracy, unless we keep kicking their behinds," he said.
ElBaradei said he urges young Egyptians, whom he says are the only ones who can bring change because they have "no hidden agenda," to maintain their mass protests until they satisfy their demands -- above all that Mubarak leave.
His advice to the young people is to take charge of the "transitional period of a year," he said.
"And I am suggesting a presidential council of three people, a transitional government of national salvation, national unity under a caretaker government of people who have sterling reputations, have experience," he said.
The national unity government would "then prepare the country for free and fair elections," he added.
He called for abolishing the current constitution and replacing it with a new one "which is really democratic, with a president who has checks and balances" on him.
He also pushed for abolishing the "rigged" parliament and replacing it with one that "has the power of the purse and oversight" as well as establishing an independent judiciary.
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was the head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), outlined a similar political transition in an interview with Austria's die Presse daily.
He did not make clear his own political ambitions except to say that he has always described himself as "an agent for change" rather than a grassroots organizer.
"But I never said I'm not a politician," he said.© ANP/AFP