Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman has announced on state TV that President Hosni Mubarak is stepping down, setting off celebrations by the hundreds of thousands of protesters who brought about a largely bloodless revolution in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Suleiman said that Mubarak has handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the armed forces, roughly equivalent of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Supreme Council issued a communiqué on Thursday vowing that the people’s voices would be heard.
An Al Jazeera English reporter from Tahrir Square said: “This is what freedom sounds like.” The network, which along with its sister Arabic channel played a major role in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, said at one point there was little point in its anchors trying to speak “over the roar of Egyptians celebrating” as the streets of Cairo were “transformed into a parade of honking horns waving flags.” In Alexandria, people stood on top of their cars and sang the national anthem.
President Obama will give a statement at 1.30 p.m. today.
Al Arabiya reported that the army will suspend the upper and lower house of Egypt’s parliament. The army is also expected to announce that the head of the constitutional court will lead the transition with military council. Addressing constitutional problems with the transfer of power, particularly if Suleiman is involved, Arab League secretary general Amre Moussa told CNN, “There are certainly things that have to be worked out, and this will be done I assume in the next few hours. For now, the president has stepped down … We will see what kind of procedures and other steps can be taken.”
Update: In Kentucky, Joe Biden talked about the United States’ set of core principles and how they pertained to Egypt: “The first is that violence and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators is totally, thoroughly unacceptable. Secondly, that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected and their aspiration must be met. And thirdly, that the transition that’s taking place must be an irreversible change and a negotiated path toward democracy.” Biden also said it was remarkable that this whole thing started “with a man and a fruit cart in Tunisia,” tracing the revolutionary tsunami back to the protests in Tunis.
CNN is saying that protesters felt that Mubarak was trying to goad them into violence. But they knew that if they remained peaceful, their cause would be heard.
Update: Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Laureate and opposition leader who often served as a representative during the protests told CNN that he hoped the Egyptian army would understand that “we put our trust in them, but they need to live up to our expectations. When Wolf Blitzer asked whether Egyptians should press for the redistribution of Mubarak’s wealth, which Blitzer estimated at $20 billion to $70 billion, ElBaradei said, “Wolf, absolutely. This is money that they owe to Egypt. The first thing — if we are not going for a trial [against Mubarak], definitely we are going for the money … This is a dictatorship we have suffered for thirty years. They have got away from murder. But at least the money that we need for development should come back to the Egyptian people.”
ElBaradei also added that he was hoping to hear President Obama offer his support. “I want to hear him loud and clear that he is with the Egyptian people. That he will make a commitment that he will never support an authoritarian system under Egypt in any circumstances.”
*Stay tuned for Obama’s address to the nation.