Mubarak exit caps emotional day

February 11, 2011 12:00 am

, CAIRO, Feb 11 – Stolid determination gave way to waves of elation on Friday as hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters drove Hosni Mubarak from power after rapping at the doors of his tottering 30-year regime.

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers had thronged Cairo\’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18-day revolt, where they called on the army to assist with Mubarak\’s overthrow a day after he vowed to stay on until September.

"The greatest revolution of the world is unfolding here. The army must immediately take the decision to overthrow Mubarak, even by force," Mohammed, 60, said as he stood next to the tanks guarding Egypt\’s famed national museum.

Elsewhere in the crowd, a small girl sitting on her father\’s soldiers led dozens of curious protesters in chants against Mubarak\’s son Gamal, once seen as his likely successor: "Hey Gamal, tell your father the Egyptians hate him."

Later, as the crowds held Friday Muslim prayers, a bearded sheikh addressed the army in his sermon, calling on it to "act in a way that will be acceptable to God on judgment day" before fainting in the balmy afternoon heat.

Several people squinted to hold back tears as they stood in the square with hands outstretched, the Koranic verses echoing across the surrounding buildings as other fainters were carried through the crowd to a medics\’ station.

But as soon as the solemn service honouring the "martyrs" of the revolt came to an end the prayers turned to thunderous chants of "Leave, leave, leave!"

More than a million people marched to demand Mubarak\’s overthrow in cities across Egypt, and in Cairo the protesters in Tahrir marched to the presidential palace and the state television building under the gaze of troops and tanks.

Thousands of demonstrators who massed at Mubarak\’s heavily guarded residence seethed when an army colonel came out and announced that the military would support his stated plan of stepping down in September following reforms.

As the crowds chanted slogans calling for Mubarak to leave the country, one protester snatched the microphone from the colonel\’s hand, saying: "You have disappointed us, all our hopes rested in you."

The scene was more triumphant at the state television headquarters on the east bank of the Nile, where protesters made their way through two army checkpoints and massed in front of a line of barbed wire.

"You are all liars!" they chanted at the soaring tower, which was surrounded by tanks and armoured personnel carriers with heavy guns mounted on them.

"Egyptian television is entirely corrupt and against the people," said Gamal Ibrahim, who had come with his wife and two children, one of whom sat on his shoulders.

"They have been saying we are terrorists, so we came here to speak to them ourselves," he said, referring to state TV\’s early efforts to dismiss the protests as the work of foreign provocateurs.

After a few hours the mood lightened along the sunny corniche, as soldiers walked up to the barbed wire and chatted with the protesters, everyone smiling and laughing.

But as news of Mubarak\’s departure spread, the protesters sharpened their demands, saying the entire regime had to go.

They spoke of the corruption they said was endemic to government ministries and Mubarak\’s National Democratic Party (NDP), demanding that officials be held accountable in court and stripped of their ill-gotten gains.

"Our demands are clear. We want the entire NDP to be dissolved and to leave, because they ruined the country," said Magdi Sabri, a smartly dressed doctor with the protesters at the television building.

A few minutes later the joyful chanting resumed with new lyrics: "Oh army, we are done! Hosni is not our president."


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