CAIRO, Feb 11 – Egypt\’s President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders, triggering an explosion of joy on the streets.
Across Cairo, the chant went up: "We the people have overthrown the regime!"
A grim-faced and ashen Vice President Omar Suleiman announced the handover on state television after an extraordinary national outpouring of rage brought more than a million furious demonstrators onto the streets.
"President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state\’s affairs," Suleiman said.
The statement appeared to bring an end to constitutional rule in Egypt and invest power in a group of generals representing a military that has long been the power behind the throne in the Arab world\’s most populous country.
Earlier, the 82-year-old strongman had flown out of Cairo to his holiday retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, his ruling party said.
As news spread, cries of "Allahu Akbar" — God is greatest! — and howls of victory rang out in the streets of the capital, firecrackers exploded, dancing broke out and women ululated their joy.
In Tahrir Square several protesters fainted with the emotion of the moment following two weeks of protest.
The plaza has become a focal point of the revolt since it was occupied by protesters in late January, and earlier in the day had been thronged by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, who prayed and chanted abuse at Mubarak.
Nevertheless, there was not unbridled joy at his departure. Many remained concerned that Egypt still has a long way to go to shake off its six decade record of repression and autocracy. Outside Mubarak\’s fortified presidential compound, Lubna Darwish wept.
"I\’m crying because I\’m happy," the 24-year-old said. "I\’m happy, but we have much more to do. The people need to control this. We love the army, but the people made this revolution and they should control it."
Mohammed Gouda, an 18-year-old student, echoed her concern.
"We don\’t want another 1952. That was a coup, not a revolution. Has Mubarak resigned or has the army taken over? The youth should remain alert," he said, referring to Egypt\’s last military takeover.
"He has to leave the country, our demands are clear, we want the entire NDP to be dissolved and to get out because they have destroyed the country," said Magdi Sabri, a middle-aged man protesting outside state television.
Before the announcement, in a show of popular solidarity in at least the blower levels of the army, at least three Egyptian officers had shed their weapons and uniforms and joined the protesters.
An impassioned preacher addressed the military in his sermon, exhorting them to "act in a way that will be acceptable to God on judgement day," shortly before fainting and being carried away through the crowd.
On Thursday night, hundreds of thousands had crowded into Tahrir Square to hear a speech that was widely expected to be Mubarak\’s last as president.
Instead, he delegated some of his powers to his ally and Egypt\’s former intelligence supremo, Omar Suleiman, while vowing he would stay in office until September and one day die in Egypt, ruling out a flight into exile.
News of the resignation had an immediate impact on Wall Street, where Dow Jones Industrial Average moving from an early slight loss to add 0.30 percent, while the Nasdaq index rose 0.30 percent.
Israel — fearful that the uprising might open the door to a hostile Islamist regime in Cairo — said it hoped the transition of power in Egypt will be conducted "smoothly," a government official told AFP.
Tunisians danced in the street and blared their horns in celebration at the toppling of Mubarak, four weeks after their uprising resulted in the downfall of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
In Brussels, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that by standing down Mubarak, had "opened the way to faster and deeper reforms".
Mubarak had also been on a collision course with the international community, and in particular Egypt\’s key ally and donor, Washington.
In his speech on Thursday, he took a swipe at the United States and other countries that want a faster transition to democracy in the Arab world\’s most populous nation, vowing: "I have never bent to foreign diktats."
US President Barack Obama reacted with a flash of anger of his own, saying Mubarak had failed to map out "meaningful or sufficient" change, or to speak clearly enough to Egypt and the world.