CAIRO: Mr Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt with an iron hand for over three decades, stepped down as the President Friday and handed over power to the army capitulating under mass protests sweeping the country’s streets for the last 18 days.
President, Mr Mubarak resigned and handed over power to the military, announced the recently appointed Vice President, Mr Omar Sulaiman on state television.
Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the anti-government protests, erupted in joy with tens of thousands of people shouting “Egypt is free.”
The end of a despotic regime in most populous Arab nation came one week after the protestors set a deadline of ‘Departure Friday’ for 82-year-old Mr Mubarak to step down as the President.
Mr Mubarak is the second leader to quit after protests broke out across Arab streets in what is called the ‘Jasmine Revolution.’ A fortnight ago, Tunisian President Mr Ben Ali fled the country after protests rocked his nation.
“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as President of Egypt and has assigned the higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country,” Mr Suleiman said in a brief televised address.
Mr Mubarak and his wife left their presidential palace in Cairo Friday and international media reported that he had fled to the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, his favourite holiday destination.
Mr Suleiman’s statement was greeted with uproar by the lakhs of people gathered at the Tahrir Square as flag-carrying youth danced in joy and hugged each other. Earlier, protestors marched to the President’s Palace and to the state television headquarters, seen as symbols of the state authority, angered by Mr Mubarak’s refusal to quit and the army’s statement declaring support to him.
Thursday night, Mr Mubarak had told the nation that he would remain in office but cede some powers to his hand-picked Vice President, Mr Suleiman. In response, throngs of people gathered in cities across the country, their anger and frustration mounting. Earlier Friday, Egypt’s military chiefs pledged to back Mr Mubarak’s decision to remain in office and hand over some powers to Mr Suleiman. The supreme military council said it would guarantee “free and honest” elections after Mr Mubarak’s term expires, and a lifting of Egypt’s 30-year-old state of emergency once calm returned to the streets.
The military chiefs asked the protestors to go home, saying there is a need to “return to normal life.” Instead, the protests that have raged here for 18 days only stepped up, with repeated signs that the soldiers posted on the streets to watch over the demonstrations supported their efforts. The protests were held throughout the country with workers unions, journalists and clerics too joining in. Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, 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,” he said. “May God help everybody.”
Mr Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader, hailed the moment as being the “greatest day of my life.” “The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said. The US President, Mr Obama said he was informed of the Egyptian President’s decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office. Mr Obama then watched TV coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes.
Meanwhile, India Friday welcomed Mr Mubarak’s decision to step down and the commitment of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure a peaceful transition of power in a time-bound manner. “We welcome the decision of President Mubarak to step down in deference to the wishes of the people of Egypt,” External Affairs Minister, Mr S M Krishna said in a statement while reacting to the development in Egypt. “We also welcome the commitment of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure a peaceful transition of power in a time-bound manner to establish and open a democratic framework of governance,” he said.