The last 24 hours, to say the least, have been a roller coaster ride for the Arab world. Mubarak said he will step down. Then he said he won’t; and he didn’t. The reaction in Egypt was fury as they waved their shoes (a huge insult) toward his image on the television screen set up in Tahrir Square. We in the rest of the Levant were also furious. But more than anger, we felt a deep sympathy and compassion for the Egyptian people, many of whom have lived their entire lives under this iron-fisted tyrant. Every conversation was inevitably peppered with the question “what now?”
Even as we asked the question, the answer came to us from Al Jazeera, God bless ‘em. The protesters had decided to form groups and march on the state television station and the presidential palace. No one was allowed in or out of the TV station as the 10,000 plus Egyptians stood guard round it. The crowds at the presidential palace grew and then grew some more. Everyone knew that the Presidential Guard were standing watch at the fence and in and around the palace. We were all concerned that the appearance of the protesters would evoke gunfire from the Guard. Thankfully, it didn’t happen.
All night the protesters continued standing, marching, chanting in Tahrir Square, at the TV station and at the palace. As the night wore on the crowds in all three places swelled into the tens of thousands as Egyptians came out of their homes and joined them. As the sun began his ascent into the sky a high ranking officer of the Presidential Guard appeared at the fence. He suddenly lobbed something into the crowd! It was a bottle of water. He followed that with a packet of biscuits. I’m not sure how much water and food went over the fence, but in my mind at least the tension reduced just a bit. The Guard were sympathetic with the citizens! During the morning at least three helicopters landed at the palace. It is believed, at least by this writer that one of those choppers whisked him off to Sharm al Sheik to hide in his palatial villa beside the Red Sea.
Al Jazeera reported that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces were meeting with Mubarak and Suleiman among others throughout the night. Suddenly we got news that the President would be making a statement to the nation “shortly”. Everyone in the Middle East waited for more than one hour, barely daring to breathe as we waited for the statement. At 1801 (GMT +2) Omar Suleiman appeared on state television and delivered a 30 second speech announcing Mubarak has relinquished the presidency. As I watched him deliver those few words I saw something in his face. He seemed petulant. Like a child from whom you have taken a favorite toy. In my mind I could imagine him thinking “I was this damned close to being president and he snatched it away!”
The reaction all round Egypt was one of jubilation. Everywhere people were smiling as the tears of joy streamed down their cheeks. All round the Arab world the cheers went up. Thousands of people from here in Amman converged on the Egyptian embassy in Amman to celebrate the end of a long and bad dream. In Tahrir Square and Alexandria, in Suez and all parts of Egypt every citizen of Egypt was dancing with joy and looking forward to a new and shiny future for their beloved Egypt.
Meanwhile, the assets Mubarak had stashed away in a Swiss bank were frozen. Likewise several Ministers’ assets have also been frozen and they have been forbidden to leave the country. At least one I’ve heard about tried to leave anyway only to be turned back.
What does the future hold for Egypt? Of course it’s an unanswerable question at this point. But all signs point to a proud new and more prosperous nation. After seeing what they can do, I doubt another dictator can put these magnificent people under his thumb again.
May God be with them.