Egypt erupts in joy as Mubarak steps down after 30 years
Tens of thousands of Egyptians danced and cheered in joy as Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president Friday, the 18th day of intense protests against his 30-year uninterrupted rule. The octogenarian leader handed over power to the country's armed forces, a day after he said he won't be quitting.
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 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. A protester tweeted: "This marks a new front in our struggle against this illegitimate regime."
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.
Protesters responded by cheering, waving flags, embracing and sounding car horns.
"The people have brought down the regime," they said.
US President Barack Obama said he was notified of Mubarak's decision Friday and was closely watching the extraordinary developments unfold in Egypt, a key US ally.
On Thursday, CIA Director Leon Panetta told the US Congress that there is a strong likelihood that the Egyptian embattled president will step down Thursday night. He was proved wrong. But a day later, his words rang true.
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".