February 12, 2011 2:17:33 am
A 30-second announcement Friday ended the 30-year autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak,setting off a wave of celebration at Tahrir Square and all of Egypt,the roar unsettling regimes across the Middle East.
Hours after his defiant speech on state television enraged tens of thousands demanding his ouster,Mubarak finally ceded power to the military and left Cairo with wife Suzanne for his retreat in Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea coast.
Official confirmation of his departure came at 9.30 pm India time when an ashen-faced Omar Suleiman,Vice President and longtime intelligence chief,in a statement on state-run Nile TV,said: My fellow citizens,in view of these hard circumstances that the country is facing,President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as President of the Republic and has asked the higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country.
The Egyptian military moved in quickly to take control,promising quick transition to democracy and speedy removal of a dreaded emergency law that governs the country.
Millions glued to TV sets across the country erupted in joy as the announcement was made. Cars honked in unison on the streets of Cairo,fireworks lit up the night sky and gunshots rang out in celebration.
The loudest cheer came from Tahrir Square,the centre of the 18-day protest that toppled one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.
The hundreds of thousands who had turned up at Tahrir chanted Free,Free,Egypt is Free as Suleiman appeared on television. The people have brought down the regime, they shouted.
Earlier in the day,enraged by Mubaraks refusal to step down,protesters called for a march by two million in Cairo. By evening,hundreds of thousands converged even beyond Tahrir outside parliament,TV station,even the presidential palace. TV channels then put out promos that an important announcement was imminent.
When the announcement finally came,people across Cairo took to the streets,cheering,shouting,crying. Young men and women waved the national flag,sitting atop cars in processions across the city. Even soldiers,standing guard for more than two weeks,were seen joining the celebrations.
Google executive Wael Ghonim,who became a prominent face of the youth movement,tweeted after the address,Welcome back Egypt.