Bowing to 17 days of ceaseless pro-democracy protests, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's President for 30 years, appears set to step down, handing over the reins of power to the military, which asserted itself on Thursday.
A statement by The Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces read over state television said measures would be taken “to maintain the homeland and the achievements and the aspirations of the great people of Egypt.” All their “legitimate demands” would also be met.
Mr. Mubarak is expected to appear on national television, a signal that he is preparing to go. Some Egyptian media reports suggest that the President would hand over power to Vice-President Omar Suleiman.
But with the military asserting itself so directly, it was unclear whether the Vice-President, if at all, would be empowered to exercise unrivalled power.
The military statement titled, ‘Communique Number One,' did not clarify arrangements for the imminent transfer of power. It said Thursday's meeting would be followed by similar sessions which would be held “on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people.” The military's assertion is in tune with its traditional role, begun with Gamal Abdel Nasser, modern Egypt's founder, of steering the country's destiny in times of crisis.
Indications of Mr. Mubarak's departure from the political centre stage, and a monumental power shift that was taking place in Cairo, had begun to appear earlier in the day. Hasan al-Roweni, an army commander, visited pro-democracy protesters at the Tahrir Square, the icon of the uprising which began on January 25. There he told protesters that “everything you want will be realised.” The military's chief of staff, Sami Anan, also visited the Square, where he was cheered by thousands of protesters when he announced that people's demands would be met.
At the Tahrir Square, activists who had held fast despite the regime's cunning, including vicious state-sponsored attacks, interpreted the military's announcement as a sign of victory for their difficult campaign. Wael Ghonim, Google executive and pro-democracy campaigner, who sparked the uprising with his cyber activism, wrote on his Twitter account: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.” In the riot of overflowing emotions, some chanted “Allahu Akbar [God is Great],” while others flashed the victory sign.