Thirty years of dictatorship and 18 days of massive protests sweeping Egypt, in which more than 300 died and thousands were injured, finally culminated last night with the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The announcement was made by vice president Omar Suleiman who claimed that due to the “difficult circumstances” the country was experiencing, Mubarak had decided to step down and hand in the affairs of Egypt to the armed forces, a move that was greatly applauded by the masses gathered in Cairo. The atmosphere in Tahrir Square is said to have been flamboyant at the time of this declaration, following the great number of disappointments endured by the Egyptian people throughout the past couple of weeks and the violence which briefly managed to disrupt the peaceful protests. Celebrations continued throughout the night in Cairo, but also in a number of other cities such as Alexandria which has been the scene of bloody clashes between anti-Mubarak demonstrators and police forces that led to the death of more than 50 people and injured hundreds.
Hosni Mubarak and his family are said to have left Cairo early in the day to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh but the likelihood of him dying “on the soil of Egypt” seems low, following extensive documentation carried out by a number of NGOs which provides further evidence into the deaths and abuses that occurred during the 18 days of protests. Those allegations could lead to his prosecution for crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the wealth accumulated in the long years of rule by Mubarak and his family, recently estimated at 43 billion pounds as a result of investments in British and Swiss bank and in real estate in the West, has been the subject of much scrutiny and has ultimately prompted Switzerland into freezing all his assets. Bank of England has yet to take similar action against the former president and his family, but sources quoted by The Guardian state that if higher authorities such as the European Union, the United Nations or Egypt’s new government demanded for such procedures to take place, the bank would respond according to those request. These issues put Mubarak in a difficult position which might not permit him to remain in his homeland as he had expressed in his speeches, but a coalition of powers including Saudi figures, US officials and representatives of UAE are discussing a possible relocation to Dubai due to concerns over his immunity if he is faced with prosecution over the manner in which he handled the protests.
It is difficult to predict how Egypt will treat its former dictator. There is a long-standing tradition for Arab leaders to either die whilst still in office or be assassinated, with very few exceptions, but a closer look at the situation of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali might provide some insight into what is in store for Mubarak and his cronies. This morning Egyptian airport representatives have issued a statement saying that former officials from Mubarak’s government were not permitted to travel without permission from either the state prosecutor or the army. It remains unclear however if there is any intention on behalf of the new authority to take legal action against those that were formerly associated with the regime, although recent reports suggest that Anas El-Fekky, information minister and a close ally of president Mubarak, has been placed under house arrest.
So far it appears that the future of Egypt is as uncertain as that of Mubarak and his allies. The main opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei who supported the military takeover, discussed the “daunting tasks ahead” which pose serious issues for the greatly needed reforms. The new government will have to tackle the problematic transition of power at the same time as ensuring that the protesters’ demand are met, organize free elections that will pave the way for a new era of reforms and democracy and devise a good strategy that leads to the stabilization of the economy, which has been severely affected by the political turmoil.
World leaders have expressed their support for the military takeover and have widely commended the peaceful demonstrations of the past 18 days. President Obama spoke today of an Egypt that “will never be the same” and praised the efforts of the Egyptian people to achieve democracy, whilst maintaining that Mubarak’s ousting was merely the beginning of a long and arduous process. His words of encouragement and support come as an attempt to make up for the reserved position America has claimed in view of the uprisings, and hopefully it will not be too late for the administration to form new healthier relationships with the Egyptian people and its new leaders.
The success rate of the Egyptian revolution and the goals it eventually achieves or fails to meet will shape the Arab world in an unprecedented manner and evidence of that has emerged strongly in the last weeks. Last night’s triumph has already created a wave of uprisings in a previously asymptomatic Arab population that has long been diseased by inequality, poverty, corruption and the abusive rule of authoritarian regimes coupled with the turning of a blind-eye of the West, and in particular the United States.