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15 Şubat 2011 Salı
Hosni Mubarak resigns – and Egypt celebrates a new dawn
When it finally came, the end was swift. After 18 days of mass protest, it took just over 30 seconds for Egypt's vice-president, Omar Suleiman, to announce that President Hosni Mubarak was standing down and handing power to the military.
"In the name of Allah the most gracious the most merciful," Suleiman read. "My fellow citizens, in the difficult circumstances our country is experiencing, President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to give up the office of the president of the republic and instructed the supreme council of the armed forces to manage the affairs of the country. May God guide our steps."
Moments later a deafening roar swept central Cairo. Protesters fell to their knees and prayed, wept and chanted. Hundreds of thousands of people packed into Tahrir Square, the centre of the demonstrations, waving flags, holding up hastily written signs declaring victory, and embracing soldiers.
"We have brought down the regime, we have brought down the regime," chanted the crowd.
Mohammed Abdul Ghedi, a lifeguard who had come from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to which the ex-president and his family flew yesterday, held up a sign in English saying: "Mubarak you are nothing, you are heartless, without mind, just youkel, worthless, fuck off."
"This is my first day here, and he is gone. Mubarak is a liar. When he promised to leave in three or six months we don't believe him. We only believe him when he is gone," he said. "Now Egyptians are free. All of Egypt is liberated. Now we will choose our leaders, and if we don't like them, they will go."
Another protester, Karim Medhat Ennarah, said with tears in his eyes: "For 18 days we have withstood teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, thugs on horseback, the scepticism and fear of our loved ones, and the worst sort of ambivalence from an international community that claims to care about democracy.
"But we held our ground. We did it."
There were similar celebrations from Alexandria to Suez, among protesters who were often too young to have known any other leader than Mubarak.
While the demonstrators were giving little immediate thought to what military rule might mean, some of the protest organisers said the success of the street turnouts meant that any future administration would be held to account.
For now, Egypt will be governed by a military council led by the defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who is not a known reformer.
But the military council said it would not act as a substitute for a "legitimate" government. A spokesman said on TV that the armed forces would be announcing steps and arrangements to introduce the changes Egyptians wanted. He also praised Mubarak for his contribution to the country.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who on Thursday called for a military takeover, described the change as the liberation of the Egyptian people. "We have a lot of daunting tasks ahead of us. Our priority to make sure the country is restored; socially cohesive, economically vibrant, politically democratic," he said. "My message to the Egyptian people is, you have gained your liberty, the right to catch up with the rest of the world. Make the best use of it."
US president Barack Obama, who had supported Mubarak remaining in power until a stable transitional administration was in place, called on the new military leaders to take concrete steps towards democratic change.
"The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people. That means protecting the rights of Egypt's citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free," he said.
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, has been in regular contact with Tantawi and spoke to him hours before the military takeover.
In Britain, David Cameron called on the new administration to ensure a move to civilian and democratic rule. The EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, said: "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."
Switzerland immediately froze the assets of the former president.
Mubarak's resignation came after a turbulent 24 hours in which a televised address to the nation that was intended to defuse the crisis only further infuriated the protesters and prompted the largest demonstrations to date.
On Thursday evening, after a day in which members of the president's party and cabinet said they expected him to resign, Mubarak announced that he was handing his powers to Suleiman. That in effect left Mubarak as president in name only, a move he appears to have believed would be enough to satisfy the protesters' demands for his resignation.
But on the streets of Cairo the announcement was interpreted as the regime's leaders shuffling authority among themselves, and the crisis deepened.
The army appears to have expected more from him, possibly including his complete resignation or the transfer of powers to the military, not Suleiman. Clearly alarmed at the popular reaction, it sought to reassure the protesters with a declaration that the promise of free elections would be fulfilled. But that too failed to ease the demonstrations, as many in the opposition saw the statement as backing the status quo, although it could also be read as offering an assurance to Egyptians that the military was prepared to ensure Mubarak stood by his commitments.
As the protests built up during the day, a determined crowd marched on the state television building, a target of particular ire because of its stream of propaganda and false accusations against the protesters.
The station all but went off air as it was obliged to cancel live programmes because it could not get guests into the building. Several hours later the station was conducting interviews again – with protesters and victims of the regime.
The protesters fanned out to other parts of the city and began a march on Mubarak's presidential palace. Meanwhile, the military's supreme council held an emergency session to decide how to clearly confront the crisis, and concluded that Mubarak had to go once and for all.
By lunchtime he was on a plane with his family to Sharm el-Sheikh, where he also has a palace which he periodically lends to Tony Blair.
A few hours later came the announcement that had Egypt celebrating in to the night.