Euphoria as Mubarak Succumbs to the Will of Egyptian People

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday and handed over power to the military – three decades of iron-clad rule ended by an 18-day revolution. In a somber one-minute announcement on state television, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had resigned and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will “run the affairs of the country.” (CNN)

Tens of thousands of emotional Egyptians exploded in deafening cheers on the streets of Cairo, electric with excitement. It was a moment they had anticipated throughout long days of relentless demonstrations – sometimes violent – that demanded Mubarak’s departure. It was also a moment that many had thought unimaginable in the Arab world’s powerhouse nation.

“Egypt is free!” and “God is Great,” they chanted in the honeymoon of the moment. They waved Egyptian flags, honked horns and set off fireworks as they savored a moment that just days ago had seemed unimaginable. (CNN) Protesters hugged and cheered and shouted, “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.” (New York Times) “He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.” (New York Times)

Parents were seen putting their children on the tanks in Tahrir Square to have their photos snapped with the soldiers, while the soldiers reached down to shake hands with the protesters and people chanted, “The people and the army are one hand.” (New York Times) In a show of solidarity in at least lower levels of the army, three Egyptian officers shed their weapons and uniforms and joined the protesters.

“Now, we can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom,” said Dr. Gamal Heshamt, a former member of Parliament and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Now we can start to build our country. After 30 years of absence from the world, Egypt is back.” (New York Times)

Some people waved Tunisian flags, while young women danced on the hulking remains of burned-out armored personnel carriers. The Qasr al-Nil bridge, the site of ugly fighting between the protesters and Mubarak supporters, were crammed from one end to the next with people cheering and chanting, “Egypt! Egypt! Egypt!” It was here two weeks ago, that thousands of unarmed protesters beat back a six-hour assault by thousands of riot police armed with shields, clubs, tear gas and water cannons to march in to the square. It was hear 10 days that the same unarmed protesters organized themselves into brigades to break up the pavement into stone missiles to use as ammunition in a 14-hour battle to hold the square against an army of club-wielding toughs loyal to Mr. Mubarak. And it was here that they continued to call down hundreds of thousands of protesters even as the United States and the rest of the West began to rally around the idea of gradual, tentative political transition that left Mr. Mubarak in power.

A source with close connections to Persian Gulf government leaders told CNN that Mubarak had fled to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The Swiss government has directed banks to freeze all assets belonging to Mubarak and his family, said Norbort Baerlocher, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Embassy in Washington. The banks do not as yet have a clear picture of what Mubarak has but protesters on the streets are worried that he would attempt to flee the country with looted money.

In a televised speech Thursday night, Mubarak had indicated he was delegating authority to Suleiman, but Friday, deeply disappointed crowds calling for his ouster kept swelling throughout Cairo and in other major cities. Friday night, they got what they wanted all along.

Mr. Suleiman said on state TV that the high command of the armed forces had taken over. “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he sad. “May God help everybody.” (BBC)

Later an army officer read out a statement paying tribute to Mr. Mubarak for “what he has given” to Egypt but acknowledging popular power. “There is no legitimacy other than that of the people,” the statement said. (BBC)

“Our country never had a victory in our lifetime, and this is the sort of victory we were looking for, a victory over a vicious regime that we needed to bring down,” said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a 32-year-old transplant surgeon who was among the small group of organizers who guided the revolution. “After the celebration, we are going to insist on a civil government to run our country for the transition. We are not going to ask the people to stay in the square or leave – it is their choice,” he added. “Even if they leave any government will know that we can get them into the streets again in a minute.” (New York Times)

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, however, sounded words of caution amid the euphoria. He urged Egyptians to stay united beyond the moment of euphoria. “We have challenges ahead of us,” said the Nobel laureate whom many believe could emerge as Egypt’s next leader. “I think we need to not worry about retribution. Mubarak needs to go and we need to look forward.” (CNN) “This is the greatest day of my life,” ElBaradei said. “You cannot comprehend the amount of joy and happiness of every Egyptian at the restoration of our humanity and our freedom.” (BBC)

Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian activist who became a reluctant hero of the revolution said only one word would be used to describe Mubarak in history books: “Dictator.” “I want to say: ‘Welcome back Egypt,” he told CNN. Ghonim – a Google executive who is on leave from his job and whose Facebook page is credited with triggering the popular uprising – was seized by security forces and released Monday. His words and tears in a television interview galvanized the protesters in Tahrir Square. He said he knew Mubarak would be forced out after a revolt in Tunisia forced its leader out in January, and he said he believed the military can be trusted to respect the demands of the protesters. “Egypt is going to be a fully democratic state,” said Ghonim. “You will be impressed.” (New York Times)

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s banned Islamist opposition movement, paid tribute to the army for keeping its promises. “I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people. The main goal of the revolution has been achieved,” said the Brotherhood’s former parliamentary leader, Mohamed el-Katani. (BBC)

Ayman Nour, Mr. Mubarak’s rival for the presidency in 2005, described it as the greatest day in Egypt’s history. “This nation has been born again. These people have been born again, and this is a new Egypt,” he told al-Jazeera TV. (BBC)

Many of the anti-government protesters had been calling for Egypt’s powerful army, well-respected within the country, to take over as interim caretakers. Friday night, they voiced optimism that the military would pave the way for free and fair elections. But it’s uncertain what will come next in the most populous nation of the Arab world, and how Egypt’s revolution, that succeeded on the 32nd anniversary of Iran’s, will reverberate throughout the region.

U.S. President Barack Obama was notified of Mubarak’s decision Friday morning, said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, and was closely watching the extraordinary developments unfold in Egypt, a key U.S. ally. Mr. Obama said that Egypt must now move to civilian and democratic rule. This was not the end but the beginning and there were difficult days ahead, he added, but he was confident the people could find the answers. “The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard,” he said. “Egypt will never be the same again… They have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.” (BBC)

Mubarak’s decision to step down is “obviously a welcome step,” said a U.S. official involved in the Egypt discussions. Now comes “an unpredictable next chapter,” the official added. It is “a sign the military chose society.” (CNN)

U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks described Mr. Tantawi as “aged and change-resistant,” but committed to avoiding another war with Israel. (BBC)

Amre Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said Egyptians are “looking forward to a different (and) better future.” (CNN)

A high-ranking Egyptian military official said the army’s command was discussing whether to dismiss Mubarak’s government and parliament and also when the next election would be held. An announcement was expected later Friday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he respected the “difficult decision” taken in the people’s interest, and called for an “orderly and peaceful transition.” (BBC)

European Union leaders reacted positively to the news of Mr. Mubarak’s resignation. Foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said the EU “respected” the decision. “It is important now that the dialogue is accelerated leading to a broad-based government which will respect the aspirations of, and deliver stability for, the Egyptian people,” she said. (BBC)

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that this was a “really precious moment of opportunity to have a government that can bring the people together,” and called for a “move to civilian and democratic rule.” (BBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the “historic change” in Egypt. (BBC)

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said Egypt had reached a pivotal moment in history.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada will be pushing for free and fair elections in Egypt and respect for the rule of law. He also urged Egypt to respect its treaties and pursue peace in the Middle East.

But some analysts were already sounding the alarm over a military takeover. “Suleiman’s statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi,” analysts with the Stratfor global intelligence company said in a statement. “Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts,” the statement said. (CNN)

Abdel-Rahman Samir, a protest organizer, said the movement would open negotiations with the military, but said demonstrations should also continue to ensure changes are carried out. “We still don’t have any guarantees yet – if we end the whole situation now it’s like we haven’t done anything,” Mr. Samir told The Associated Press. “So we need to keep sitting in Tahrir until we get all our demands.” (New York Times)

Amnesty International, whose staffers had been among human rights workers and journalists detained by Egyptian authorities during the uprising, congratulated Egyptians for “their extraordinary courage and commitment to achieve fundamental change.” (CNN) But it warned that the departure of one man did not mean an end to a police state. “The repressive system that Egyptians have suffered under for three decades has not gone away and the state of emergency remains in place,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general. “Those in power must grasp this opportunity to consign the systematic abuses of the past to history. Human rights reform must begin now.” (CNN)

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