by Joe Shea
February 11, 2011
IN LIBERATION SQUARE, EGYPTIANS CHEER FREEDOM AT LAST
FEB. 11, 2011 -- Vast, cheering throngs jammed Tahrir Square in Cairo today to celebrate the liberation of their country from the autocratic, corruption-ridden and deadly rule of President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of peaceful demonstrations forced the Egyptian Army to remove him.
Where just a week ago the streets erupted with Molotov cocktails and tear gas, mass arrests of journalists and cold-blooded murder of unarmed protestors, today's post-prayer rallies brought millions to Cairo's jam-packed streets waving flags and banners, crying, cheering and waving their arms wildly in the air, praising God and shooting fireworks into the night sky. Tonight they overwhelmed anyone that wielded a television camera and told the world in Arabic and broken English of their joy at the departure of a 30-year dictator said to have stolen tens of billions from his country and who led it to political paralysis and economic ruin.
Just a few days ago, the same demonstrators had sometimes driven the same cameras out of their neighborhoods when members of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's political arm, identified them as American invaders who would burst into their bedrooms.
The Muslim Brotherhood, tirelessly demonized by FoxNews as secret agents behind the Egyptian Revolution, was nowhere in evidence, although some of their members were certainly somewhere on the scene at Cairo's central square.
But with the Egypotian Army firmly in control, there was no indication of an Islamic religious revolt taking place; in fact, some demonstrators waved signs showing the Coptic Christian cross and the Islamic crescent-and-star joined in a unified statement of support for Egypt's liberation.
During a brief address over state television Friday afternoon, an Egyptian general paused at the end of his brief statement to commend the souls of the martyrs who fought for today's achievement, and in a moment of stunning poignancy, lifted his hand in salute. The NBC anchor appearing on MSNBC didn't even take notice until NBC Correspondent Richard Engle - for American viewers, the brilliant star of this televised revolution - called his attention to the powerful, moving and once-unimaginable gesture.
The announcement, as some at the American Reporter last night privately predicted it would, came within less than 24 hours after military leaders, following a special meeting with Mubarak absent, had told the world Mubarak would resign in a televised speech he would give last night. Rumors spread that he had actually taped the statement at his broadcast studio in the Presidential Palace Wednesday night.
But if so, the 82-year-old president balked at announcing his exit and apparently wrote a new speech himself, calling his countrymen his sons and daughters, posed himself as the country's father, and said he was ceding most presidential powers under Egypt's bulky, much-amended constitution to his hand-picked successor, the new Vice President and former spy chief - an alleged torturer of thousands - Omar Suleiman.
Suleiman then went on the air 30 minutes later to confirm Mubarak's statement. The Egyptian Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C., then initiated a call to CNN - before calling the U.S. State Department - to "clarify" the meaning of the statements. He told a startled Anderson Cooper that Mubarak would remain the "de jure" (legal) head of government, but had ceded all his powers under the constitution to Suleiman, who was now the "de facto" president of Egyot.
A huge crowd - the largest to date - that with joyous expectation had awaited Mubarak's resignation Thursday night roared its furious disapproval. While some immediately began to march on the state-owned Egyptian Television and Presidential Palace, it quickly becamse clear that after prayers on Friday the vast crowd of Thursday would be enhanced by hundreds of thousands, if not millions more Egyptians, and that a confrontation over Mubarak's rule would undoubtedly occur.
That would have forced the Egyptian military to choose between its historic role of protectors of the Egyptian people and its less-honored one as defenders of state institutions. A 50,000-man presidential guard, however, may not have felt a special allegiance to the people, and when the millions and the presidential guard would meet, bloodshed was virtually certain.
Before that could happen, a special meeting of the country's military leaders decided support for the Mubarak regime was exhausted and the aging, wealthy president should go. Suleiman made the statement during Friday prayers, and the rest was history.
"There are few moments when we are privileged to witness history" in the making, President Barack Obama said shortly after 3 p.m.. "This is one of them." He praised the courage and ingenuity of the young revolutionaries whose mastery of social media - from Facebook to Twitter, from YouTube to text messaging - accomplished the 18-day revolution.
"Egyptians have inspired us today," the American President said.