CAIRO: Millions of Egyptians broke out into a cacophony of joy upon Friday’s fateful exit of Hosni Mubarak, which was one of the biggest gains of the largely peaceful White Revolution that erupted 18 days before.
Fireworks exploded in Tahrir Square, the nerve centre of the protest movement, as men danced on the street, women ululated and old men and children embraced each other in delight.
Crowds of people waved flags and youths beat drums to celebrate a new chapter in their country’s history. Streams of congratulatory messages were sent over mobile phone networks, hailing the victory for people power.
The scenes adequately compensated for the previous night’s bitter disappointment when, contrary to popular indications, Mubarak announced that though he would transfer some of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman he would continue to serve out the rest of his presidential term.
The next evening, however, the vice president made a dour-sounding announcement: “…During these very difficult circumstances …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.” His statement, for all its sobriety, made hundreds of thousands of Egyptians leap for joy.
From the euphoric scenes it seemed few in Tahrir Square gave a second thought to the implications of the vice president’s statement which suggested that the military had pulled a coup led by Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. To those who understood that, the Nile Revolution is far from over – even though a free and fair presidential election has been promised for September.
Analysts say it is not clear whether VP Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. However, one thing is clear though: Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers.
In the 18 days that shook Egypt – and the Arab world by extension – a dictator was unseated, the ruling National Democratic Party’s leaders were blacklisted and sent packing, constitutional amendments were taken up and a drive against political corruption was embarked – all in response to the mass demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities and towns. The protesters took their inspiration from the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia that ended President Zine Abdin Ali’s rule a week before.
Mubarak, the second Arab leader to be overthrown by a popular uprising in a month, has since flown with his family from Cairo to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, a ruling party official said.
Questions remain over the extent that the military under Tantawi is ready to permit a democracy – especially since the hitherto outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is one of the best organised forces.
“This is just the end of the beginning,” said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Egypt isn’t moving toward democracy, it’s moved into martial law and where it goes is now subject to debate.”
The Muslim Brotherhood said Egyptians had achieved the main goal of their popular uprising. “I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people. The main goal of the revolution has been achieved,” said Mohamed el-Katatni, a former leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei counted Day 18 as the greatest day of his life, welcoming a period of sharing of power between the army and the people. Running for president is clearly not on his mind. “This nation has been born again, these people have been born again, and this is a new Egypt,” said Ayman Nour, who dared to challenge Mubarak in Egypt’s only multi-candidate presidential election. He came a distant second. With input from the news wires
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2011.