Tens of thousands of jubilant Egyptians waved national flags and cheered in joy as Hosni Mubarak quit as president Friday, the 18th day of intense protests against his 30-year rule. He handed over power to the military council as world leaders called for moving towards a democratic, civilian rule.
Mubarak, one of the longest serving rulers in the Arab world, bowed to vociferous demands of determined protesters calling for an end to his rule that began Oct 14, 1981 when he took over after the assassination of president Anwar el-Sadat at a military parade in Cairo.
His exit was as dramatic as his arrival 30 years ago. The former commander of the Egyptian air force was reportedly flown to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh and just two hours later, his confidante and Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that the president was “waiving” his office and had handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
A day earlier, there had been speculation that Mubarak was about to go. But in a televised address Thursday night, a defiant Mubarak refused to step down as president of a country of over 80 million.
The protesters became increasingly belligerent with Mubarak’s blunt refusal to demit office and they began to intensify their protests by spreading out in areas that were outside downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the epicentre of their protests since Jan 25.
Thousands of protesters moved overnight to the presidential palace in central Cairo.
The protesters also scaled up their demonstration by blocking access to the parliament building near the square.
With the rage against Mubarak intensifying, reports came in that Mubarak and his family had been flown out of Cairo.
Al Arabiya TV reported that Mubarak had departed to Sharm el-Sheikh aboard a military plane. He was accompanied by the chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Annan.
Other reports indicated that Mubarak has flown to an “unknown” destination.
And then came Suleiman’s statement to announce Mubarak’s stepping down that was heard with bated breath.
A roar of approval greeted the announcement, and the crowd of hundreds of thousands began chanting and waving flags in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as well as across the country.
The crowd in Tahrir Sqaure chanted “We have brought down the regime”. Many were seen crying, cheering and embracing one another.
“Tonight, after all of these weeks of frustration, of violence, of intimidation … today the people of Egypt undoubtedly (feel they) have been heard, not only by the president, but by people all around the world,” the Al Jazeera correspondent at Tahrir Square reported.
“The military has stood aside and people are flooding through (a gap where barbed wire has been moved aside),” he added.
US President Barack Obama, welcoming the change of guard, said that the “People of Egypt have spoken” and “Egypt will never be the same”. “We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron described the happenings in Egypt Friday as “a remarkable day”, particularly for those in Tahrir Square and elsewhere “who have spoken out so bravely and so peacefully for change in their country”.
“Egypt now has a really precious moment of opportunity to have a government that can bring the people together. We stand ready to help in any way that we can. We believe it must be a government that starts to put in place the building blocks of a truly open, free and democratic society.”
India welcoming Mubarak’s decision to step down hoped for a “peaceful transition of power in a time-bound manner”.
“We welcome the decision of President Mubarak to step down in deference to the wishes of the people of Egypt,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in a statement.
“We also welcome the commitment of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure a peaceful transition of power in time bound manner to establish an open and democratic framework of governance.
“We are proud of our traditionally close relations with the people of Egypt and wish them peace, stability and prosperity,” he said.
The Egytian army said that it “confirms the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end”, BBC reported.
The military endorsed the transfer of Mubarak’s powers to Omar Suleiman, and guaranteed a free and fair elections, constitutional changes and “protection of the nation”.
The army also urged “the need to resume orderly work in the government installations and a return to normal life to preserve the interests and property of our great people”.
Switzerland swiftly froze Mubarak’s assets after the announcement by Omar Suleiman.
The Swiss government decided to block any assets that may be held in Switzerland by Mubarak, DPA quoted Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey as saying Friday.
The minister said that a decree was issued shortly after Mubarak stepped down Friday to identify and block any assets belonging to the Egyptian president and his family.
Mubarak’s wealth has long been a subject of speculation. According to media reports, he and his family own assets worth more than $40 billion.
As Egyptians were delighted by the turn of events, there was celebration in Tunisia which had seen a massive uprising that culminated with the ouster of longtime leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
A large crowd of Tunisians descended on central Tunis Friday evening to celebrate the news that Mubarak had resigned.
Waving Tunisian and Egyptian flags, jubilant residents headed for Avenue Habib Bourguiba, where four weeks ago protesters had celebrated the news that their
The success of the protesters in ousting Ben Ali from power has inspired people across the Arab world to agitate for democracy.
“One, two, three, vive (long live) l’Algerie,” some of the crowd chanted, referring to Tunisia’s neighbour to the west, where a major pro-democracy demonstration has been announced for Saturday despite officially being banned.