Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and handed control to the military, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations.
A massive crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded into joy, waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million after Vice-President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national television just after nightfall on Friday.
“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” a grim-looking Suleiman said.
“He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state.”
A ruling party official said that Mubarak and his family had left Cairo for the glitzy Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where there is a presidential residence.
Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his powers to Suleiman while keeping his title in a television announcement on Thursday night.
But the fury of the protestors rejecting the move appears to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely.
Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state television building as soldiers stood by.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organisers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press news agency: “This is the greatest day of my life.”
“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said, adding that he expected a “beautiful” transition of power.
Mubarak had promised only that he would not stand for re-election in September and that he would preside over reforms until then.
This was not enough for the many hundreds of thousands of mistrustful protesters who rallied in cities across the Arab world’s most populous and influential country on Friday, fed up with high unemployment, a corrupt elite and police repression.
The escalating confrontation has raised fear of uncontrolled violence in Egypt, a key ally of the United States in an oil-rich region where the chance of chaos spreading to other stable but repressive states troubles the West.