Egypt Erupts in Jubilation as Mubarak Steps Down
|Demonstrators in Cairo rejoiced Friday upon hearing that President Hosni Mubarak had been toppled after 18 days of protests against his government.|
CAIRO — An 18-day-old revolt led by the young people of Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak on Friday, shattering three decades of political stasis here and overturning the established order of the Arab world.Shouts of “God is great” erupted from Tahrir Square at twilight as Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.
Tens of thousands who had bowed down for evening prayers leapt to their feet, bouncing and dancing in joy. “Lift your head high, you’re an Egyptian,” they cried. Revising the tense of the revolution’s rallying cry, they chanted, “The people, at last, have brought down the regime.”
“We can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom,” said Gamal Heshamt, a former independent member of Parliament. “After 30 years of absence from the world, Egypt is back.”
Mr. Mubarak, an 82-year-old former air force commander, left without comment for his home by the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheik. His departure overturns, after six decades, the Arab world’s original secular dictatorship. He was toppled by a radically new force in regional politics — a largely secular, nonviolent, youth-led democracy movement that brought Egypt’s liberal and Islamist opposition groups together for the first time under its banner.
One by one the protesters withstood each weapon in the arsenal of the Egyptian autocracy — first the heavily armed riot police, then a ruling party militia and finally the state’s powerful propaganda machine.
Mr. Mubarak’s fall removed a bulwark of American foreign policy in the region. The United States, its Arab allies and Israel are now pondering whether the Egyptian military, which has vowed to hold free elections, will give way to a new era of democratic dynamism or to a perilous lurch into instability or Islamist rule.
The upheaval comes less than a month after a sudden youth revolt in nearby Tunisia toppled another enduring Arab strongman, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. And on Friday night some of the revelers celebrating in the streets of Cairo marched under a Tunisian flag and pointed to the surviving autocracies in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen. “We are setting a role model for the dictatorships around us,” said Khalid Shaheen, 39. “Democracy is coming.”
President Obama, in a televised address, praised the Egyptian revolution. “Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day,” he said. “It was the moral force of nonviolence — not terrorism and mindless killing — that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist movement that until 18 days ago was considered Egypt’s only viable opposition, said it was merely a supporting player in the revolt.
“We participated with everyone else and did not lead this or raise Islamic slogans so that it can be the revolution of everyone,” said Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, a spokesman for the Brotherhood. “This is a revolution for all Egyptians; there is no room for a single group’s slogans, not the Brotherhood’s or anybody else.”
The Brotherhood, which was slow to follow the lead of its own youth wing into the streets, has said it will not field a candidate for president or seek a parliamentary majority in the expected elections.
The Mubarak era ended without any of the stability and predictability that were the hallmarks of his tenure. Western and Egyptian officials had expected Mr. Mubarak to leave office on Thursday and irrevocably delegate his authority to Vice President Suleiman, finishing the last six months of his term with at least his presidential title intact.
But whether because of pride or stubbornness, Mr. Mubarak instead spoke once again as the unbowed father of the nation, barely alluding to a vague “delegation” of authority.
The resulting disappointment enraged the Egyptian public, sent a million people into the streets of Cairo on Friday morning and put in motion an unceremonious retreat at the behest of the military he had commanded for so long.
“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.
It is now not clear what role Mr. Suleiman, whose credibility plummeted over the past week as he stood by Mr. Mubarak and even questioned Egypt’s readiness for democracy, will have in the new government.
The transfer of power leaves the Egyptian military in charge of this nation of 85 million, facing insistent calls for fundamental democratic change and open elections. Hours before Mr. Suleiman announced Mr. Mubarak’s exit, the military had signaled its takeover with a communiqué that appeared to declare its solidarity with the protesters.
Read on state television by an army spokesman, the communiqué declared that the military — not Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Suleiman or any other civilian authority — would ensure the amendment of the Constitution to “conduct free and fair presidential elections.”
“The armed forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people,” the statement declared, and the military promised to ensure the fulfillment of its promises “within defined time frames” until authority could be passed to a “free democratic community that the people aspire to.”
It pledged to remove the reviled “emergency law,” which allows the government to detain anyone without charges or trial, “as soon as the current circumstances are over” and further promised immunity from prosecution for the protesters, whom it called “the honest people who refused the corruption and demanded reforms.”
Egyptians ignored the communiqué, as they have most official pronouncements of the Mubarak government, until the president’s resignation was announced. Then they hugged, kissed and cheered the soldiers, lifting children on tanks to get their pictures taken. “The people and the army are one hand,” they chanted.
Standing guard near the presidential palace, soldiers passed photographs of “martyrs” killed during the revolution through barbed wire to attach them to their tanks. At Tahrir Square, some slipped out of position to join the roaring crowds flooding the streets.
Whether the military will subordinate itself to a civilian democracy or install a new military dictator will be impossible to know for months. Military leaders will inevitably face pressure to deliver the genuine transition that protesters did not trust Mr. Mubarak to give them.
Yet it may also seek to protect the enormous political and economic privileges it accumulated during Mr. Mubarak’s reign. And the army has itself been infused for years with the notion that Egypt’s survival depends on fighting threats, real and imagined, from foreign enemies, Islamists, Iran and the frustrations of its own people.
Throughout the revolt, the army stood passively on the sidelines — its soldiers literally standing behind the iron fence of the Egyptian Museum — as the police or armed Mubarak loyalists fought the protesters centered in Tahrir Square.
But Western diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were violating confidences, said that top army officials had told them that their troops would never use force against civilians, depriving Mr. Mubarak of a decisive tool to suppress the dissent.
It has been “increasingly clear,” a Western diplomat said Friday, that “the army will not go down with Mubarak.”
Now the military, which owns vast commercial interests here but has not fought in decades, must defuse demonstrations, quell widespread labor unrest and rebuild a shattered economy and security forces. Its top official, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 75, served for decades as a top official of Mr. Mubarak’s government. And its top uniformed official, Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, has not spoken publicly.
Egypt’s opposition has said for weeks that it welcomed a military role in securing the country, ideally under a two- to five-member presidential council with only one military member. And the initial reaction to the military takeover was ecstatic.
“Welcome back,” said Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who administered the Facebook group that helped start the revolt.
Mr. Ghonim, who was detained for 12 days in blindfolded isolation by the Mubarak government as it tried to stamp out the revolt, helped protesters turn the tide in a propaganda war against the state media earlier this week, when he described his captivity in an emotional interview on a satellite television station.
“Egypt is going to be a democratic state,” he declared Friday, in another interview. “You will be impressed.”
Dr. Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, 32, a transplant surgeon who was among the small group of organizers who guided the revolution, said the leaders had decided to let the protests unwind on their own. “We are not going to ask the people to stay in the square or leave — it is their choice,” he said. “Even if they leave, any government will know that we can get them to the streets again in a minute.”
“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,” Dr. Harb said.
Amr Ezz, 27, another of revolt’s young leaders, said that calling the revolution a military coup understated its achievement. “It is the people who took down the president and the regime and can take down anyone else,” he said. “Now the role of the regular people has ended and the role of the politicians begins. Now we can begin negotiations with the military in order to plan the coming phase.”
The opposition groups participating in the protest movement had previously settled on a committee led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former diplomat and Nobel laureate, to negotiate with the army if Mr. Mubarak resigned.
Mr. ElBaradei could not be reached for comment on Friday, but in a television interview he indicated that he expected the talks with the military to begin within days.
“I’d like to see that started tomorrow so we can have a sharing of power, the civilian and the military, and tell them what our demands are, what they need to do,” he said.
By evening, Egyptian politicians were beginning to position themselves to run for office. Amr Moussa, one of the country’s most popular public figures, resigned his position as secretary general of the Arab League, and an aide, Hesham Youssef, confirmed that Mr. Moussa was considering seeking office.
In Switzerland, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had frozen possible assets of “the former Egyptian president” and his associates.
In the military’s final communiqué of the day, its spokesman thanked Mr. Mubarak for his service and saluted the “martyrs” of the revolution.
In Tahrir Square, protesters said they were not quite ready to disband the little republic they had built up during their two-week occupation, setting up makeshift clinics, soundstages, a detention center and security teams to protect the barricades.
Many have boasted that their encampment was a rare example of community spirit here, and after Mr. Mubarak’s resignation the organizers called on the thousands who protested here to return once again on Saturday morning to help clean it up.
Sources: New York Times