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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Egypt Uprising: Mubarak Steps Down; U.S. Officials Got Now Warning; 'Egypt is Free! Egypt is Free!'; Fireworks, Music, Dancing, Cheering Fill Liberation Square as Egyptian People Celebrate the End of Mubarak's Reign; Honeymoon Moment Takes Hold As Demonstrators Celebrate Mubarak's Decision to Step Down
Aired February 11, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Live from Studio 7, I'm Suzanne Malveaux, joined by my colleague Jim Clancy of CNN International.
Unbelievable developments that we have here.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We've watched in the last 24 hours, since you and I were last together, we've seen things moving. We continue to watch them.
And we want to welcome our viewers from around the world here and give you the very latest hat we're following on developments as they unfold in Egypt.
MALVEAUX: And what we are hearing from state television, in moments, just within minutes, perhaps a statement coming from the presidential office of Hosni Mubarak. That, very critical, as you can imagine, the anticipation throughout the country, as they wait again to find out what kind of news could be coming from the leadership here.
CLANCY: And I don't think that they're waiting with the same kind of anticipation that led to so much disappointment just last night when they found out that President Mubarak was not stepping aside.
What you are looking at right now -- and I think you can see it as well as I can -- that this looks like the largest crowds that we have yet seen on the streets in Cairo. And I'm told there are millions of people around the country that have come out, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And looking at Tahrir Square, a lot of the viewers might not know this, but you and I have been to Cairo, been to Egypt -- I lived there for a while -- and this is really an unbelievable sight, because it is often busy, it is bustling. But the kinds of -- the sea of humanity that you see, just everybody, all together -- and from what we've heard, the people that we've been talking to this morning, it has remained largely peaceful.
It is like a tent city that has been set up with families, children, women of all ages, all faiths there, gathered to find out what will happen next. So many unanswered questions. CLANCY: You know, and Suzanne, there's a lot of speculation. Even some banners earlier today saying the people are furious and they were out in the streets. But you've lived there. You know the Egyptian people. They don't get furious like that.
MALVEAUX: And they're very patient people as well. I mean, when I was there some 20 years ago or so, it was one of those things where it was acceptable, especially with the upper and the middle class Egyptians, it was acceptable, that there were things they tolerated from President Hosni Mubarak.
I understand that there's a statement now.
OMAR SULEIMAN, EGYPTIAN VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): In these difficult circumstances the country is passing by, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down. President Hosni Mubarak has -- President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of Egypt, and he has decided that the higher council of the armed forces will lead the nation.
CLANCY: Taking them by surprise. Let's see the reaction.
Many thought that it might be just simply an announcement that he was going for a vacation or a rest in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that certainly is not what they just heard.
MALVEAUX: And we know that President Mubarak has already left Cairo, that he is in Sharm el-Sheikh. And we understand there's -- the statement continues. Let's listen in here.
SULEIMAN (through translator): "I, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, have decided to step down as president of Egypt and have assigned the higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country."
CLANCY: And that was it. Hosni Mubarak, for almost 30 years, the one man who ruled Egypt, has now officially stepped down. That statement coming from the office of the presidency.
Ben Wedeman, who has covered this story for not just years, but decades.
Ben, I've got to hear your thoughts right now and hear about the reaction.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you see the reaction just in front of me.
What we saw was one man was on his phone. He shouted out, "The president has resigned!' and the crowd went wild, cheering, shouting.
This is a moment that many of these protesters have been waiting for, for years. It's truly an historic moment, the first time in modern history that you have an Egyptian president voluntarily resign -- of course, voluntarily, under intense pressure from the Egyptian street. And what's amazing, Jim, is that it was only 17 days ago, January the 25th, Tuesday, when the first demonstrations broke out in Cairo that really heralded the beginning of the end for President Hosni Mubarak, who's been in power, as you said, since October, 1980.
Let's listen to the crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a reaction from this crowd.
WEDEMAN: So, what they are chanting is -- Jim, they're chanting "Mussah Hora!" (ph), which in Arabic means "Free Egypt!" And certainly that's what they are celebrating here tonight, the culmination of just 17 days of protests that have brought down what was thought to be one of the most solid, one of the strongest regimes in the Arab world.
This will send shock waves throughout the region, shock waves that began in Tunisia on January 14th, when Ben Ali, the president there, was forced out of power. But this, 17 days, resulting in the fall of what was thought to be the most stable regime in the Arab world, really is something of truly historic proportions -- Jim.
MALVEAUX: Ben, if you stay with us for a moment, we want to go to our own Ivan Watson, who's at the presidential palace, for the reaction there.
Ivan, if you can hear us, can you give us a sense who is on the street, who's with you, and what you are seeing, and how this crowd is feeling and responding to this incredible development?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Suzanne, moments ago, the crowd just exploded into cheering and flag- waving and chanting the word "Freedom!" And I saw two men drop to their knees and begin praying immediately in the streets.
And this scene of euphoria and celebration taking place just yards away from these white-carved walls of the presidential palace, symbol, until moments ago, of power of Hosni Mubarak, a man who had been president for almost 30 years and who has just stepped down.
Take a listen to the crowd here.
WATSON: "It's a voice of freedom." That's one man here in the crowd calling this a "voice of freedom," Suzanne, and there are more people thronging to this place right now, right in front of the presidential palace, where the army has set up concertina wire, a six- foot-high wall of concertina wire, to protect the presidential palace.
Absolute scenes of rapture. This is incredible.
MALVEAUX: Ivan, who is on the streets there? Tell us about the crowd. Who's in that crowd? WATSON: There are thousands of people here. There were a few thousand in the early afternoon.
The numbers of the crowd swelled dramatically as procession of people have marched up more than six miles from Tahrir Square on foot, a four-hour walk. And we were told by some of those people in the procession, in the demonstration, that they were calling down other people to join them from the buildings of -- apartment buildings as they marched their way up.
It's a big crowd of people waving flags. There are men, there are women, there are families here. And this is a much more upscale part of the city.
The crowd is just chanting here. Again, it's really a remarkable scene, far away from Tahrir Square, which has been the epicenter of the protest movement, the people power that has now brought down a dictator.
MALVEAUX: Ivan, do you get a sense that the crowd there, the people that you've been with, anticipated this announcement? It seemed like they were so disappointed, so downtrodden. Did they actually think that this could possibly happen?
WATSON: I think there was optimism hours ago here. One woman was chanting, "Victory! Victory!" and people felt like the tide was definitely turning in their direction. And now it's clear that they've won.
And it's probably going to be a street party all night here. There are a lot of smiling faces right now.
CLANCY: Ivan Watson, we're going to ask you to stand by.
We are witnessing what is probably the largest public popular uprising in the history of the Middle East. President Hosni Mubarak has stepped aside. He has resigned the presidency.
Let's listen as Omar Suleiman, who is vice president, delivered the message in a statement a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SULEIMAN (through translator): "I, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, have decided to step down as president of Egypt and have assigned the higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLANCY: And that was it, basically one sentence in which President Hosni Mubarak stepped aside.
The epicenter of this uprising, little doubt about that. It has been long been identified with Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo.
That's where we find our own Arwa Damon right now -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Jim, I cannot even begin to describe the atmosphere here. The crowd has gone absolutely insane, hysterical with enjoyment, chanting, "God is great!" chanting "We are all Egyptians!"
Jim, this is the unthinkable that has been accomplished here. Demonstrations that began over Facebook and Twitter taking on a life of their own, bringing down one of the best known dictators in the Middle East, a man who held onto power for 30 years, now being brought down by the people.
People around me right now cheering, waving their hands, saying goodbye to Hosni Mubarak. People cheering, strangers holding hands and shouting and chanting.
This is such a moment for Egypt, Jim. Not just for Egypt, actually, for the entire region.
CLANCY: We understand people are shouting "The people and the military are one!" They are happy that the military has taken over.
It may be too soon to be analyzing some of the long-term ramifications here, but at the same time, they've got to be thinking about the future, even tonight, in Tahrir Square.
DAMON: Well, Jim, at this point in time, I really think people are just caught up in the moment and in the reality of what they have accomplished. Too caught up in that to be thinking about the future.
However, in talking to people leading up to this moment, the majority were saying that they would absolutely accept having the military lead the country for an interim period. We have throughout this conflict seen the military, at least to a certain degree, arguably trying to take on a neutral role.
We constantly, as these demonstrations have unfolded, been hearing cheers erupting, saying, "The people and the military are one!" In fact, earlier, there was an opportunity for the protesters in front of the Ministry of Information to storm the site, and they chose not to.
MALVEAUX: Arwa, can you tell us about the military on the ground? How are they responding to this?
CLANCY: All right. We appear to have lost Arwa Damon.
Let's try to bring in Ben Wedeman once again.
Ben, more from you on the scenes you're witnessing.
WEDEMAN: I'm sorry. Say that again, Jim.
CLANCY: Ben, what are the scenes you're witnessing now?
WEDEMAN: Well, what we're seeing is that -- what you're seeing is this huge crowd in front of a tank here on the Corniche chanting various things, "Allahu Akbar!" "God is great!" Basically, the joy is really overwhelming.
Now, if we can move our camera over up the street, I mean, what we're seeing up there is that people are basically climbing over the army tanks that have been deployed since the 28th of January in front of state TV, just climbing out. All of them, obviously, probably going to go to Tahrir Square, where I think there will be a massive celebration tonight and well into tomorrow morning as a result of this one line of news that appeared on state TV at almost approximately 6:00 p.m. local time.
And as you see, just more and more people who have been demonstrating all day long now celebrating, now that they have achieved what they also passionately wanted.
Let's listen in.
MALVEAUX: Ben, can you tell us what they're saying, what you're hearing from the crowds?
WEDEMAN: You know, it's so loud, I can barely hear myself think in these situations. So, I tell you, I cannot tell you. But, I mean, just the emotion in the voices tells you just about everything you want to know. It sort of transcends translation in this case.
Seeing more and more people heading in the direction of Tahrir Square. I think everybody is in shock, in a sense.
Seventeen days is not a long time when it comes to bringing down a regime that, in fact, has been in power since July of 1952, when the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown. This is something probably no Egyptian alive could have ever have imagined was going to happen so quickly, so dramatically and, as we saw this evening, so decisively. There was a lot of uncertainty last night after President Mubarak gave his speech, but that uncertainty has all but disappeared.
MALVEAUX: And Ben, we saw a picture of a tank that was on the ground there, and we've heard from folks -- I spoke to someone earlier who said that the demonstrators were sitting at the wheels of those tanks, in front of those tanks, for the last several days.
Do we know if the military is participating in these celebrations? How are they responding to the scene? Is it one voice?
WEDEMAN: Well, what we're seeing is the that the soldiers are just sort of on -- they're standing on tap of that tank and watching. But obviously, they are considered, you know, the heroes of the moment, because they, in the past two weeks -- because it was last -- two Fridays ago when the army deployed in the streets and the police pulled out of the city. And, of course, the people were celebrating the arrival of the army, because, of course, the army is seen as something of an arbiter in Egyptian affairs, an apolitical organization that is -- that defends Egypt, rather than the political structure of the state.
So, as far as we can tell, the soldiers, at least the ones in front of us, are just watching passively as all this goes on, but obviously they are, as I said, the heroes of the moment.
CLANCY: Ben, is there any way to determine -- I know it's already dark there, and you've already got thousands -- tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in the streets. But does it appear that people might be coming out of their homes, perhaps for the first time, to take to the streets and mark this historic day?
WEDEMAN: Many Egyptians have been sitting on the fence as these protests have been going on, uncertain about why all of this was going on. A little bit afraid because of the violence we saw last week between pro-and-anti-Mubarak protesters.
A lot of people had stayed away from Tahrir, away from the center of town, for exactly for those reasons. So we can expect all -- many of the people who sat on the fence wondering which way the wind was going to blow to come out now and join in this massive celebration throughout Cairo, and certainly throughout the entire country of more than 80 million people.
MALVEAUX: And I want to bring in our own Wolf Blitzer out of Washington, D.C., anchor Wolf Blitzer, to weigh in on what we are seeing.
Wolf, clearly, a historic occasion. I mean, you just can't even describe the kind of monumental change that is taking place in the Middle East now. The people have gained what the they believe is freedom here after 30 years of this autocrat who was in power.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It took 18 days, basically. There was some violence, but it was largely peaceful. And they managed to do in these 18 days what few thought that they could do -- remove Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt.
He is now gone. We believe he's in Sharm el-Sheikh, the southernmost tip of Sinai, that resort town. How long he stays there, it's anyone's guess.
But you heard the vice president say very, very firmly, Mubarak is no longer the president. And the Egyptian military, which is highly respected, basically across the board, will take charge.
Now, there's a lot of details that have to be fleshed out right now. How do they do that? How long does the military take charge? What's the process leading towards free and fair elections?
Those are the details these folks really want to get to. But right now, this a moment of celebration for the hundreds of thousands, the millions, in fact, who really were protesting.
They were inspired by what they saw in Tunisia, when, after decades of ironclad rule in Tunisia, they removed a president peacefully. The Tunisian president fled. He's now living abroad.
They said to themselves, the Egyptians, if a small country like Tunisia could do it, why not a proud, distinguished nation like Egypt, with thousands of years of history --
CLANCY: OK. Wolf, stand by --
CLANCY: -- because we want to find out, what is the reaction?
Ivan Watson is at the presidential palace, where this statement was issued, whether it was a tape recording -- it came through state- run television.
Ivan, if you can, hold up your telephone. Give us an idea of what the crowd reaction is where you are at the presidential palace.
WATSON: Jim, take a listen.
WATSON: The crowd is cheering, Jim. It's just a few yards from the walls of the presidential palace, which, up until a few minutes ago, were a sign of -- were a symbol of power for Hosni Mubarak. And now they are gathered in front of the barbed wire, the six-foot-high wall of concertina wire that the soldiers have roped off here, the road in front of the palace.
Now the soldiers, they've got a loudspeaker here, and they're playing a message to the crowd. Everybody trying to quiet down to hear it.
And just scenes of rapture. You know, when the statement first went out, I saw two men drop to their knees in the street immediately in prayer. This is an Arab revolution.
CLANCY: Ivan, stand by right there.
As we're looking at scenes playing out on the streets of Cairo, we've got more news coming in -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Just getting this. Obviously, the world is watching the developments out of Egypt, as well as President Obama. Just got an e-mail from the White House, saying that the president was informed of President Mubarak's decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office this morning.
He then watched television coverage. As we are watching these pictures unfold, these developments unfold on television, President Obama was doing the same this morning, looking at the scene that has unfolded in Cairo, that he was there watching for several minutes, just outside the Oval Office, watching the coverage, as we are watching extraordinary developments take place.
We have also been told now that President Obama will make an on- camera statement later today about what we are seeing that is taking place here throughout the country of Egypt. Clearly, a very significant development.
The Obama administration, in many ways, Jim, as you know -- we've discussed this before -- really playing catch-up to the pace of this revolt, this revolution that has taken place in Egypt. At the same time, having parallel discussions. One, back channels, trying to convince President Hosni Mubarak to leave quickly and orderly. And then publicly, the president trying to stand back, if you will, to show the Egyptian people and the rest of the people in the Middle East that the U.S. is trying to balance, not be accused of meddling in their affairs.
It's been a difficult job, I think, for this administration and for this White House, really, to try to understand what has been taking place on the ground and the pace of change that those thousands and thousands of Egyptians demanded, as we saw, which started some 17, 18 days ago.
CLANCY: You know, I asked a few people on Twitter to give me their reactions as they were watching this. They were following the show. They were following our reporting and seeing this surprise announcement coming from the presidential palace.
How did they react? One says, "Satisfaction for and admiration of the Egyptian people." Another says just one word, "Jubilation."
Another one-word tweet from LoveforTennessee, "Relief." Another says, "Tears in my eyes."
So, the jubilation on the streets of Cairo is really being shared by people around the world who, for the past more than two weeks, have been following this almost nonstop, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And Jim, we're just getting more information now about President Obama reacting to what we're seeing on the streets there.
At 1:30, we are told President Obama will come out before the cameras, and he will make a statement, an on-camera statement, about what is unfolding, what is taking place here. And you can bet, Jim, there are a lot of people who are scratching their heads and ripping up the playbooks to figure out, what is the next step in Egypt, as well as the rest of the Middle East?
Who is going to be in power? Who are the people that they are going to be able to trust for information? How is the military's role going to impact who they speak to?
Clearly, we know that Secretary Gates has been on the phone, in contact with his counterpart, the military leader there in Egypt. But who are they going to be able to rely on?
CLANCY: Well, they talked about the Supreme Council. You know, they talked about the Supreme Council. He's passing it off to them. Does that include Omar Suleiman, the vice president? He is a military man in the past, but it's not entirely clear to me that he is on that council.
We're going to try to get answers to that question, and so many more, about what lies ahead for Egypt.
You know, go back in history, also on this date, 32 years ago, there was another revolution, the Iranian Revolution. This is the date.
MALVEAUX: And that is a very important question, because there are a lot of people who look at the energy and the passion of the people in Egypt, and they wonder, what kind of government, what kind of power will emerge? Will it be the kind of government, a democracy, as so many are asking, demanding for, or will it be something that perhaps the United States, perhaps United States' close ally, Israel, would make them nervous?
CLANCY: Well, you know, I think that most people have at this point agreed that only unless things go terribly, terribly wrong, would you end up with something like the Islamic Republic. Most Egyptians, the vast majority of them, want a constitutional democracy. They want to see perhaps a strong presidency, a parliamentary system, much like the democracy that they have had in the past, but, you know, in such a way that the people that are down in the streets now can feel that they have a share in the political process itself, in the decision-making itself.
That's what they have not had. And those are some of the big questions that are going to have to be asked as this military transition begins to take over.
MALVEAUX: And that is the question, the path towards democracy. How is that going to happen?
I mean, clearly, there are many institutions in Egypt that are sound, that are solid. You have a middle class, an upper class. You have businesspeople, very prosperous. But at the same time, what is that going to look like? How are they going to get to the democracy that they are demanding?
I want to bring in our own Wolf Blitzer to talk a little bit more about this.
Wolf, I mean, you're looking at this sea of humanity and emotion and determination by a people. And yet, what will tomorrow look like?
BLITZER: You know, those are excellent questions, and I don't think people are focusing in on that yet. Right now they're savoring in this moment, this truly historic moment, Suzanne, Jim, that Mubarak is gone.
Now, whether he stays in Egypt, in the resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh, or whether he goes to some other country, right now that's not important. What's important is he's gone. And this institution, namely the Egyptian military, is taking charge for what I'm sure these people hope will be an interim period. They want to get their lives back into shape, and they want to be able to go back to work. They want to have some tourism, which is a huge source of income in Egypt. They want commerce, the Suez Canal. They want everything to go back and be productive so they can all put food and enjoy life a little bit. But at the same time, they've tasted freedom now, and they want to see free and fair elections in the not-too-distant future.
Scheduled elections were for September. But you've often heard Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the former head of the nuclear watchdog the IAEA, say it's going to take a year to really get free and fair elections, because you have to establish political parties, you have to break the apparatus of the old world, if you will, and that's going to take some time.
So it could take a year for international observers to gather, to be prepared for an election that will involve -- look, this is a huge country, 80 million people.
CLANCY: And like you say, Wolf, I mean, you've got 80-plus million people, and tonight they are caught up in the moment. Perhaps few are pausing with a bit of a nod, a salute to Hosni Mubarak.
He stepped aside peacefully. It could have ended much, much differently.
He was already moving towards reforms. Some of the framework for transition was already in place. But tonight, I wonder -- and let's find out.
Arwa Damon, again, at the epicenter of it all in Tahrir Square.
Arwa, are the crowds there growing?
DAMON: (INAUDIBLE) -- a group of people that I can't even tell if they are growing around us, as more people have come around to celebrate.
I can tell you the celebrations going on around us are really just an expression of how happy people are that finally their demands have been met. This comes after more than two weeks of demonstrations that have been bloody on so many occasions, so much blood has been spilled.
And the people here really realizing that they've achieved something that was unthinkable before all of this began. Demonstrations that were initiated over the internet, Facebook and Twitter, have resulted in the downfall of one of the Middle East's strongest dictators, Hosni Mubarak, in power in Egypt for 30 years.
And people are running around laughing, dancing, hugging one another, shouting anti-Mubarak chants. They're also calling him a thief. That's one of the many things we're hearing here.
People also saying they do want to still be able to hold him accountable. They say he's accountable for the billions of dollars of wealth that he's amassed. He's accountable for all of the deaths that have taken place here.
There's no one really thinking that much about (INAUDIBLE). They are really living what is truly a historic moment. Not just for Egypt, Jim, but for the entire region.
MALVEAUX: Arwa, tell us about -- explain to us this emotional roller coaster that these people have been under. I mean, you have been there during the highest points, the lowest points. How are people feeling?
DAMON: It's been an unspeakable emotional roller coaster for everybody involved here going back to when these demonstrations first began, the violence that broke out after the police tried to quell the demonstrators using tear gas, rubber bullets, in some cases live ammunition.
These demonstrators have seen their friends fall, they've seen their friends be wounded. They have spent day after day after day sleeping out here in the freezing cold. They have had moments of great hope when they thought that the president might be stepping down yesterday, for example, followed by moments of fear and utter despair and disappointment.
But through all of this, what's important to note is that none of these emotions have ever brought these demonstrations to a (AUDIO GAP). No matter what the people here and across the country have been going through, they have been able (ph) to stand firm, despite everything that was thrown against them.
You can just hear the cheers, the whistles all around me right now.
CLANCY: Let's bring in, if we can -- Arwa, I'm going to ask you to stay there. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League joins us on the line.
Amr Moussa, I just first have to listen to your reaction to the events that we have witnessed unfolding in the last 30 minutes.
I'm sorry, do we have him on the line?
MALVEAUX: Let me explain to our viewers while we are waiting for Amr Moussa the pictures that you're watching here.
You can see Tahrir Square, the people. That is -- I believe that's the picture on the left. Is that correct? I believe that's the picture on the left.
And on the right, State Television that is actually showing you some of the jubilation and the demonstrators that have been out there. Very significant when you think about that, because State TV has -- as we've learned, has not been broadcasting those kinds of images largely. They have been hiding what we have seen over the last 17 days.
CLANCY: Just look at these crowds surging, Suzanne, as, you know, we witness all of this and you witness what is the upheaval in the largest Arab country on the face of the Earth, a country that truly leads the Arab world. A country where people said this kind of a popular uprising was an impossibility, whether it was because of the military, whether it was because the duration and the strength of Hosni Mubarak's rule, for so many reasons, people thought that this movement really didn't have much of a chance. And tonight, they are proved absolutely wrong.
MALVEAUX: And, Jim, there's been so much patience among many of the people there in Egypt, as they will tell you time and time again, having gotten to know so many there when I was there for a time.
And those people, you know, they have complained for years, for decades, about the kind of oppression from President Hosni Mubarak, but it really was a part of life. It was something that people accepted because they knew that there were trade-offs. That obviously there was aid, more than a billion dollars of aid coming from the United States, and there was stability.
And a lot of people feared that if you -- if President Hosni m Mubarak was not in power, that it would be a country that would erupt in chaos. What we can see on the streets now, this is sheer elation, this is defying what so many had been afraid of for so long.
CLANCY: You know, it's -- once again I'm looking over some of the tweets that I've been sent. People saying, "The resignation is a step in the right direction, but I pray power doesn't fall into the wrong hands." That from Ray (ph).
And Barassi (ph) writes in, "After Tunisia, now Egypt. Which will be the next Arab country? Maybe Algeria."
People are wondering already what is going to happen here. But they're also trying to reflect, if you will, a little bit on the experience of all those Egyptians down in the square that are waving flags, that are cheering tonight. Says one, "I do hope that the victorious Egyptians are aware of their responsibility of peaceful change in their country. I admire their spirit." That from Begita (ph) in Portland.
All right, Amr Moussa, former foreign minister for Egypt, the secretary-general of the Arab League, but tonight, first and foremost, an Egyptian. What are your thoughts?
AMR MOUSSA, SECRETARY-GENERAL, ARAB LEAGUE (via telephone): Well, a major event of historic proportions. The people have decided the president step down, to look to the future, and to establish from this moment a national consensus about the road to the future.
This is our country now. We have achieved what the people wanted. And now it is our duty to build up the new Egypt with two goals, democracy and reform. And both of them should be based on the unity of the Egyptian people.
I am optimistic that we will choose the right path for Egypt and the Egyptian people. CLANCY: You know, as we look at these scenes, I have to ask you about the brief comment -- I don't know.
Can we play out the comment that was read out by Vice President Omar Suleiman about 37 minutes ago? Let's play that out, if we can.
Amr Moussa, stay there. I want to just play this, again, for our audience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAR SULEIMAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): I, Hosni Mubarak -- President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of Egypt and has assigned the Higher Council of the Armed Forces to run the affairs of the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLANCY: That was it. That was it, the short announcement that was made as President Hosni Mubarak's vice president said he was stepping down as president.
But Amr Moussa, help us understand here, when he said he's passing power to the Higher Council of the Armed Forces, does that include Mr. Suleiman?
MOUSSA: That's exactly it, that he passes the power to the higher council of the military forces. That was read by the vice president. Very short, but really monumental.
CLANCY: But it would seem -- if he's passing it to a vice president, are there constitutional problems with that as well, or is all of that -- has all of that been settled by the way that this has been carried out?
MOUSSA: No, Jim. There are certain details that had to be tied to that. That has worked out. And this would be done, I assume, in the next few hours.
But as of for now, the president has stepped down. The higher council, the military council, is in charge, and we'll see what kind of procedures and other steps that will be taken.
But what I want to assure you is that all of us here in Egypt, old and young, north and south, women and men, everybody, is looking forward to a future, a better future. We will try to do everything we can in order to do things in the right way.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Moussa, this is Suzanne Malveaux.
If you can help us understand, to clarify, if you will, who is now in power? Would it be the armed forces, the military now that is running this country? Or is it the vice president?
MOUSSA: According to the short statement read by the vice president, it is the higher council. But as I told -- as I said now, there are a lot of details that have to be worked out. Not all the information is available.
But what is sure is that the president has stepped down and passed the power to run the country to the higher council. The higher council will work out the details of that and who will assume the power, the executive power, themselves.
MALVEAUX: Thank you very much for joining us.
I want to bring in our colleagues Wolf Blitzer as well as Anderson Cooper.
Anderson, you were down on the ground for days there watching and feeling the events unfold. What do you make of what's happening now on the streets?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I've just been listening to all of our words over the last 30 or so minutes, and, I mean, all words fail. I mean, all the words really, frankly, that we could use fail when you just hear the cries, the exuberance of the people in the crowd there.
This is a square, Liberation Square, which was really officially became Liberation Square after the last Egyptian revolution back in the '50s. And the amount of blood that has been spilled in that square, it has become hallowed ground in a way.
And it is just an extraordinary series of events to witness, and we're privileged, frankly, to be able to witness this as we are.
I'm joined also, Wolf Blitzer is with us. I mean, Wolf, we've seen a lot of dictators fall over the years. This is an extraordinary development that is going to have repercussions that we cannot predict throughout the Middle East, in the Arab world.
BLITZER: It's absolutely true, Anderson, cause first Tunisia and that was really only a month or a month and a half or so ago, Tunisia a dictator removed within a matter of days because people demanded it, and now Egypt 18 days it took basically, a dictator removed in a huge country like Egypt.
So, I think that one of the key questions for the region right now is which country is next. And I suspect there are a lot of nervous dictators out there right now watching what's going on --
BLITZER: -- wondering what they need to do to get one step ahead of the crowd, if you will. If Mubarak would have done a week ago or two weeks ago, what he did yesterday, things would have -- things would have changed dramatically.
But there's no doubt that, you know, his timing was awful, and now for all practical purposes he's gone. I don't know if he's going to stay in Sharm el-Sheikh or whether he'll go to another location. COOPER: Yes.
BLITZER: But for all practical purposes is gone.
I know, Anderson, you and I and our viewers want to hear from Hala Gorani as well, she is joining us, she was there together with you, watching this.
What goes through your mind, Hala, as you see what is going?
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: To be quite honest, I didn't think I would live to see this, an Arab autocrat, a dictator taken down by the power of peaceful protesters, largely a peaceful movement, save for those tragic deaths.
But I just had to take a breath. I have to step back and take the moment in.
Ivan Watson is there, near the presidential palace, I understand.
Ivan, tell us about what you're seeing and what you're hearing right now among the demonstrators who for the last 18 days have fought hard for this particular moment?
WATSON: I think one man summed it up very well, Hala, he said, we did it.
And the crowd, you know, these streets were empty this afternoon. The rest of Cairo outside of Tahrir Square, looked like a ghost town, and now the streets are starting to fill up now that the sun has set both on the Egyptian capital and on Hosni Mubarak's presidency, with cars, people driving in processions, waving flags and honking horns right now.
Just a minute ago I saw a woman doing prayers on her knee. She was using an Egyptian flag as a prayer carpet. People chanting, "freedom" and cheering in the streets. There are bands that we've walked past banging drums in the streets. I imagine that this street party is going to last all night.
GORANI: And do they -- Ivan, are people telling you there telling you that they trust the military to transition the country into a pluralistic democracy? I mean, do they trust that the military is going to lead them to Democratic elections in September at this point?
WATSON: I don't think people think -- oh, my gosh, there are fireworks going off right now, right near the presidential palace.
I don't think people are thinking about steps right now. It's just the unbelievably empowering moment of being able to through force of will of people force the (AUDIO GAP) to leave. And that for the moment, I think, is all people are going to care about right now. It's just the immediate honeymoon of the moment when a president has been forced out of office.
I don't know if you can hear the horns here.
GORANI: Yes. It's just unbelievable scenes.
Just to remind our viewers and, Wolf and Anderson, are there as well, and I know we've been following this story from the beginning. Just watching these scene in Tahrir Square as people erupt in just manifestations of joy as this dictator has been in power for 30 years, is stepping aside, forced out by a revolution -- Anderson.
COOPER: Hala, we had for a moment Wael Ghonim on the phone, we're trying to get him back on the phone. He has already been twittering and putting comments on Facebook.
He, of course, the Google executive who is on leave from Google, who was held captive for 14 or so days. And his release earlier this week and his appearance on television and in the crowds, at Liberation Square, really helped reignite and reinforce this protest movement, a protest movement which many people had written off last weekend, going into early next -- or early this week.
But the huge numbers that poured out into the square on Monday and the numbers that we saw on Tuesday and the spreading of the strikes throughout the country reenergized and gave signs around the world and to the White House and into the palace in Egypt, in Cairo, that this was not a fading revolution, that this, in fact, was growing and was unstoppable.
Let's just listen in, if we could, without talking for a while, let's just listen in to what pure joy sounds like in Cairo tonight.
Hala, you were there in that crowd, you know it well. When you're in that crowd, everybody has a story that they want to tell, that after 30 years they are bursting to tell in terms of corruption that they have experienced firsthand, in terms of insults that they have faced at the hands of the police, uniformed or the secret police, the fear that people have lived under for 30 years. This is an explosion of just so many different emotions.
But what we heard while we were there, Hala, over and over again, people saying I am no longer afraid. Fear has been defeated, and there is no turning back, they kept saying. And that's something that's really stayed certainly with me.
And I think we see and we have seen every single day, no matter what the state, no matter what this authoritarian dictatorship did to try to stop it's people -- first they tried to stop them with tear gas and with rubber bullets and then real bullets and with clubs from their riot police, and when that didn't work, they then turned to try to create a crisis and shut down the internet and shut down the banks and get the Egyptian people themselves to turn on these protesters, and that didn't work. And then they hired thugs and encouraged their supporters to go out and attack them, attack those protesters, those peaceful protesters. And we watched for two days, a full-on battle in which the future of this revolution hung in the balance every single minute, and yet the protesters in that square resisted frontal assaults from all sides while the Egyptian military stood by and watched, and they were not defeated, and each day they grew in power and the bravery of the Egyptian people -- Wael Ghonim is on the phone with us.
Wael, how do you feel? Are you there?
We just lost him again. We'll try to get another phone in with him.
But this is a people who they tried, the state tried everything they could, every playbook they had, as the Dr. Fouad Ajami, professor from Johns Hopkins, said on my program many times, they used the playbook of Saddam, and they tried all the tricks in the book, and it didn't work. And this message is now loud and clear about what the people in Egypt want for their future. The question, of course, Hala, is what happens next.
GORANI: Yes. And what's interesting is a lot has been said, Anderson, about who these protesters are. And when you were in the square and I was in the square I was struck by the diversity the crowds. It's not just the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, not. This was led and organized by middle class internet-savvy young people. Lower-income people were represented, economically frustrated Egyptians.
But also those middle and upper class Egyptians that benefited economically perhaps from the growth in Egypt -- it wasn't low, it was at 7 percent before this all began -- but they believe that they deserved an open democracy. They, through satellite news channels, through the internet, saw how the rest of the world operates and with the Tunisian example decided, we deserve this. We and our parents have suffered long enough under these dictatorships.
And that's what has struck me the most is how representative it is of the Egyptian population as a whole, this movement, Anderson.
Nic Robertson, I believe, can join us now.
Nic, where are you? What are you seeing?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hala, I'm right in Tahrir Square. The atmosphere down here close up to everything -- if Joe Duran (ph) will pan down for us just now and take a look -- but this atmosphere is absolutely electric. Flags are flying everywhere. There's a combination of joy, of relief, of surprise, of excitement.
And so many happy faces down there. Everyone smiling, everyone happy. Everyone who talked to us as we walked in here just now patting us on the back, giving us a thumbs up. This sort of -- the level of -- the level of happiness here is really hard to imagine, but when you're down there in the crowd, it feels absolutely electric. Everyone is coming in here. There's people coming in one direction and another. And I don't know if Joe is able to pan in around a little bit in the other direction, as well. What you see down there you see some tanks, you see flags, we've seen people walking up to the soldiers on the tanks, shaking their hands. I've seen young boys with the Egyptian flag painted across their face coming up pulling soldiers by their arm, making them bend down and kissing them on the cheek. Absolute euphoria.
But I don't know if Joe is able to pan around in the other direction to look at the center of Tahrir Square which is behind me at the moment. It is absolutely thronged with people at the moment. Tens upon tens of thousands of people celebrating in the area as we've just been talking about.
It's been the scene of pitch battles, of people being badly wounded, of desperate situations. Now it couldn't be further from that. Scenes of joyous rapture. People pouring in from all angles, tens upon tens of thousands of people -- Hala.
GORANI: Nic Robertson is there --
COOPER: Nic, this is Anderson Cooper. We have Wael Ghonim on the phone. I just want to get him because we've lost him twice on the phone.