Egypt's youthful uprising has prevailed, after taking on for 18 days the full might of the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, President for 30 years.
Soon after evening prayers were said, a grim faced Vice-President Omar Suleiman, a long-serving regime loyalist, announced on state television that Mr. Mubarak had resigned. He read out a statement: “President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of President of the republic and has charged the High Council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country.”
Earlier during the day, Mr. Mubarak and his family left for the Red Sea resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh, bringing the curtains down on an authoritarian era, which began when he assumed power in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat during a military parade.
Mr. Suleiman's words broadcast for less than 30 seconds were electrifying, causing the bottled up emotions of anxiety, defiance, courage and hope among the youthful protesters to explode. Some fainted with emotion at the Tahrir Square, which became an arena of unending celebrations; the sound of firecrackers was often drowned by the overhang of a deafening roar, which emerged from the joyous flag-waving masses.
“It is the beginning of a new Egypt which seems to have been cleansed and reborn,” a man at the square said. Others said they were experiencing a new sense of pride in being Egyptian. “I feel I am again empowered and in control of my destiny,” said Amira, an engineer and regular visitor to the square.
The deserved euphoria notwithstanding, some said the “revolution” was incomplete, expressing fears that the military might yet block the political space the pro-democracy movement, led by a new cyber-active generation, now wishes to occupy.
Analysts say that after the military's assertion, the country is returning to a model defined by Gamal Abdel Nasser, modern Egypt's founder, of running the state by an army officers' council. Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi has emerged as the new strongman and will remain so till the time the political transition is complete.
In a day of tumultuous developments, protesters, angered by Mr. Mubarak's Thursday night announcement that he was not immediately stepping down, decided to target more symbols of the regime. For the first time since the January 25 revolt began, protesters decided to directly take on the President by marching towards the heavily guarded presidential palace. A stand-off with the military had begun there but it melted into scenes of joy in the face of Mr. Mubarak's announced exit from the presidency.
Protesters also gathered in large numbers in Alexandria, outside yet another palace belonging to the former President. Besides, several hundred people surrounded the state television building, from where Mr. Mubarak's address was broadcast. Disregarding the extra layers of razor wire and heavy military presence, the protesters successfully blocked people from entering the building.
But as night thickened over Cairo, pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei poignantly said on his Twitter page: “Today, my dream has come true. Egypt has been going down the drain for the last few weeks and we need to get it back to where it should be… We need a democratic country based on social justice.”