Egypt’s embattled President Hosni Mubarak abruptly stepped down as president, ending his 30-year-reign, and Egyptian armed forces will take over the leadership of the country, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced today.
“In the name of God the merciful, the most gracious, due to the events that our country is going through, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down and ordered the Supreme Military Council to run state affairs,” Suleiman said. “May God help everybody.”
The announcement, delivered during evening prayers in Cairo, set off a frenzy of celebration, with protesters shouting “Egypt is free!” The announcement comes after 18 days of sustained protests in Cairo and other towns across the country.
Men, women and children alike – many with tears in their eyes – flooded into Cairo’s streets as the atmosphere turned from one of determination to pure ecastasy. “This is the greatest day of my life,” Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said. “The country has been liberated.”
The news came less than 24 hours after Mubarak went on state television, making concessions to the demands of the protesters and passing his powers to Suleiman, but refusing to leave office, sparking anger from protesters who were expecting an announcement that Mubarak would be stepping down after three decades of authoritarian rule.
An announcement from the presidency had been expected throughout the afternoon of February 11, following reports that Mubarak left the presidential palace in Cairo for his residence in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort on the Red Sea coast.
Unlike the previous day, the pending announcement did not bring a state of expectation to the crowds gathered in Egypt’s major cities, according to witness reports from the country. Cheers erupted once Suleiman made his announcement, which sparked “immediate and riotous celebration in Tahrir Square”, the BBC said.
“Independece!” cried an old man in Arabic, as he ran out of his house and into the street to join the celebrations. Many people climbed over army tanks as walls of people tried to get to Tahrir Square. Soldiers sitting on tanks watched passively as the crowds erupted around them.
The news has significant implications for the world and the United States. Egypt is one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, a key economic partner and only one of two Arab states that recognize Israel.
“I am happy, very happy, 30 years is enough,” said Mubarak Muhammad, grinning over the counter of his small restaurant in downtown Cairo. “Tonight I will take my children and flag and celebrate, I will go in my car, beep beep!”
37-year-old Hubert, a Lebanese Christian who owns a shop in downtown Cairo, said: “Of course we’re happy but we don’t know what will happen next.”
Suleiman’s office will also be voided, but instead of the speaker of parliament becoming interim head of state, control would pass to the armed forces, raising questions whether the military forced out Mubarak in a bloodless coup.
The armed forces council was expected to make an announcement later in the day to provide the details of its next steps as it oversees transition. Earlier in the day, the council said that it would safeguard transition and promised to end the state of emergency, in effect for the past three decades, at an unspecified later date.
Though the White House has distanced itself from Mubarak’s administration over recent weeks, Mubarak was a close partner to the U.S., helping broker peace deals between Israel and Palestine and supporting the U.S. in its wars against Iraq.
President Barack Obama was informed of Mubarak’s decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office, and he watched TV coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes in the outer Oval office. He is scheduled to make a statement on camera at 1:30 p.m. ET. [via BBC, CBS News, USA Today and ABC News]