Egyptians celebrate into the night after Mubarak departure

Saturday, February 12, 2011

CAIRO - Tens of thousands of Egyptians waved Egyptian flags, honked car horns and launched fireworks well into the early hours of Saturday, still stunned and cheering over the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

As night fell, the mood lifted to one of celebration and parents took their children to witness the historic gatherings at Tahrir Square that brought down Mubarak’s 30 years of authoritarian presidency.

The country’s fate now lies in the hands of the military after Mubarak turned over power to the Armed Forces Supreme Council of top generals, headed by Defence Minister Field Marshal Muhammad Hossein Tantawi.

A wave of relief washed over the country and the international community Friday that Egypt was spared the violence anticipated after Mubarak held on to power until as late as Thursday evening.

The military made clear from the beginning of the 18-day-long protests that it would not aggress the people, and most demonstrators expressed confidence in television interviews that it would continue to act in their interest.

An unidentified military spokesman promised on state television that the army would not act as a substitute for government and saluted those killed during the protests that led to the president’s downfall, a death toll estimated at 300 by Human Rights Watch. One person was killed Friday.

The uprising, largely organized over the internet, produced no clear leaders, giving rise to speculation about Egypt’s political future. US President Barack Obama saluted the Egyptian military for its patriotic and responsible work as “caretaker to the state”, but warned of “difficult days ahead”.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, called on the military to hand over power to a civilian-led government soon.

Wael Ghonim, the Google employee whose Facebook posting is credited with helping to kickstart the protests, told CNN that “no one was leading this”.

“Anyone who was feeling he was one of the leaders is not telling … the truth,” he said. “This was a revolution 2.0. The real heroes are the (thousands) in the street.”

High-profile Egyptians such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei and the head of the Arab League Amr Moussa have been frequently mentioned as important figures in Egypt’s future.

Across the Middle East, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank greeted Mubarak’s departure, as did the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah. The Jordanian government said it “deeply respects” the free choice of the Egyptian people. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted “a new Middle East in which there would neither be a place for the United States nor the Zionist regime (Israel).”

Israel, for whom Egypt has been a mainstay and often lone friend in the Arab world, maintained an official silence Friday.

Euphoria over the success of Egypt’s popular uprising inspired an Algerian umbrella protest group to go ahead with a banned demonstration Saturday in Algiers, despite a massive police mobilization described as “armed to the teeth” by El Watan Arabic-language daily.

Police quashed a spontaneous demonstration late Friday by the Algerian opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD,) injuring at least 10 protestors, two of them seriously. Activists protested the heavy-handed government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has enforced 19 years of a state of emergency.

Mubarak’s departure was greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called it a “historic moment of change”. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it offered the country a “really precious moment of opportunity”.

Switzerland said it would freeze any bank accounts held by Mubarak or his family. Mubarak’s private accounts have been estimated at $40 billion.

Mubarak left the presidential palace in Cairo via helicopter for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh late Friday, leaving his deputy, Vice President Omar Suleiman, to announce the president’s resignation.

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