Friday, February 11, 2011
Millions of Egyptians celebrated the country's first transition of power in 30 years on Friday, cheering, waving flags and setting off fireworks after President Hosni Mubarak buckled to protesters demands and stepped down.
Vice President Omar Suleiman announced the news on state television and said control over the affairs of state would be turned over to the military.
"In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency," Suleiman said in brief remarks just after nightfall. "He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state."
In a statement Friday night, Egypt's supreme military council said Mubarak had "acted in the interests of the nation" and that it was preparing steps to fulfill people's legitimate aspirations.
The moment the announcement was made, Cairo's Tahrir Square erupted in celebration. People ran through the streets hugging each other and shouting, "Egypt is free!" and "The people have brought down the regime!" Fireworks and the sounds of car horns and celebratory gunfire filled the air around the city of 18 million.
'This Is A New Egypt'
"It's the greatest day of my life," opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told NPR. "I could never have imagined that I would live long enough to see Egypt emancipated. It's an electrifying feeling."
Asked whether he was confident Egypt was moving toward democracy, ElBaradei said, "I have assurances that the army will reach out to a wide spectrum of Egyptian society and we will have co-sharing of power with the Egyptian army for a transitional period.
"We always had confidence that the army would come in a crisis, and they have come at exactly the right moment," the Nobel Peace laureate said. He estimated that the transition period would last about a year, but others said it was too soon to tell.
ElBaradei said he believed that Egypt's emergency law, which gives police virtually unlimited powers of arrest, had been lifted. "I think it is. I was told — but it's not confirmed — that the [military's] first command would be to abolish the emergency law."
Ayman Nour, who finished second to Mubarak in disputed 2005 presidential elections, told Al-Jazeera television that the nation had "been born again."
"This is a new Egypt," the opposition leader said.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group outlawed in Egypt, said he welcomed "the fall of a tyrant" but that Mubarak's departure was only a first step.
"I think all now are invited … to launch a real dialogue about the future — the near future and the far future," the spokesman, Essam Al-Aryan, told NPR.
The ruling National Democratic Party also was dissolved Friday and the recently appointed general-secretary of the party, Hossam Badrawi, has resigned. Badrawi told al-Hayat TV that his was "a resignation from the position and from the party."
"The formation of new parties in a new manner that reflects new thinking is better for society now at this stage," he said.
The NDP has been at the center of the political repression that has affected many Egyptians. "The announcement of the dissolution of this party will certainly give a boost to the morale of the protesters," NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Cairo.
Mubarak's Precipitous Rise And Fall
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said President Obama learned of Mubarak's decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office. Obama watched television coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes and was expected to make a statement later Friday.
Mubarak and his family left Cairo on Friday for the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh as hundreds of thousands of enraged protesters swarmed across the capital and other major cities demanding his resignation.
His fall came 32 years to the day after the collapse of the shah's government in Iran in 1979.
Mubarak was thrust into power in 1981 in the chaotic aftermath of President Anwar Sadat's assassination by Islamic extremists at a military parade in Cairo and has ruled with a heavy hand for 30 years, making him the longest-serving Egyptian leader since the 19th century.
Mubarak resisted calls for reform even as public bitterness grew over corruption, deteriorating infrastructure and rampant poverty in a country where 40 percent live below or near the poverty line.
Seeking to cling to power, he addressed the nation Thursday night and said he would retain his title but transfer some of his authority to Suleiman. An explosion of protests Friday rejecting the move appeared to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely. Hundreds of thousands of people had marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soldiers stood by, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building. A governor of a southern province was forced to flee to safety in the face of protests there.
Reports of the president's resignation came hours after the Egyptian military said it would support Mubarak's decision to remain in office through September elections.
The Armed Forces Supreme Council released a statement Friday endorsing the plan Mubarak unveiled Thursday night for constitutional changes and presidential elections and for transferring some powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman. The council also guaranteed that Egypt's hated emergency law would be lifted "immediately after the end of the current circumstances" — a reference to the mass protests.
The military also called for public services to resume and urged "the return of normal life in order to safeguard the achievements of our glorious people."
Joy And Fury Across Egypt
Hundreds of thousands of people across Egypt had watched Mubarak's speech Thursday in disbelief and anger as he refused to step down and made the symbolic gesture of handing over some authority to Suleiman. His defiant stance only emboldened the protesters, energizing their call for a "march of millions" Friday.
Hours before Mubarak stepped down, about 2,500 demonstrators assembled outside the gate of the presidential palace on Friday, and more than 10,000 tore apart military barricades in front of the State Television and Radio building. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers did not prevent people from joining the rally and chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.
Outside the palace, the words "You will be tried" were written in chalk.
Others massed outside the Cabinet, parliament and the state TV headquarters several blocks away from Tahrir Square, the center of the mass rallies that began Jan. 25.
Hundreds of demonstrators formed a human barricade around the building that houses state TV and radio, checking IDs and turning away those who work there. Tanks and barbed wire also surrounded that building overlooking the Nile, but troops did not keep protesters away.
In Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria, NPR's Corey Flintoff said "tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands" were peacefully marching along a main boulevard that snakes along the Mediterranean seaside. Many waved Egyptian flags or carried banners and hand-lettered signs.
"We understand, too, that a great many people have gone to Cairo to join the protests in Tahrir Square," Flintoff said.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson and Eric Westervelt in Cairo; Corey Flintoff in Alexandria; and Deborah Amos in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.