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Egypt Uprising: Mubarak Steps Down; U.S. Pitfalls Going Forward; Professor Ajami: "Freedom is in the DNA of the Arabs"; Egyptians Admit Work to Be Done, But Today is the Day to Celebrate; Egyptian Stock Market to Open For Three Hours on Sunday

Aired February 11, 2011 - 14:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to CNN's special coverage, "Revolution in Egypt."

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Anderson Cooper in New York.

It is 9:00 p.m. in Egypt, where 18 days of anti-government demonstrations have ended 30 years of a dictatorship. The revolution culminated just about three hours ago with a single sentence from Egypt's vice president on state TV.


OMAR SULEIMAN, EGYPTIAN VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): "I, President Mohammed 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.


COOPER: And with that, three decades of fear and anger and discontent exploded in joy and relief, which has not abated to this moment.

Let's listen.


GORANI: Well, from all indications, President Hosni Mubarak had left the presidential palace in Cairo some time before that announcement was made. We believe he's in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. That's150 miles from these scenes of jubilation in Cairo.

BLITZER: And we're expecting to hear from President Obama here in Washington in about an hour.

Last night he was quick to dismiss Mubarak's long-awaited announcement that he was turning over most but not necessarily all of his presidential powers and staying in office until September. Protesters rejected that as well, swelling in number, converging on the presidential palace, as well as state TV, until word came that their ultimate demand had been met.

COOPER: The question, of course, what happens now? The military is in charge, publicly, saluting both the departure of Mubarak and the martyrs, their term, for those who have given their lives in this 18- day revolt.

BLITZER: A dramatic situation unfolding, history unfolding.

CNN's Ivan Watson is outside the presidential palace in Cairo right now.

What's happening, Ivan, where you are?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've started moving downtown. I'm stuck on a highway, walking in gridlock traffic, because the highway is just clogged up with people.

Families in their cars honking horns and waving flags and playing music and just celebrating. It's all smiles here, an incredible scene of celebration here.

I understand we have some video that we filmed moments after the announcement was made that Hosni Mubarak was going to resign. We filmed it right by the presidential palace.

Let's take a look at this and the reaction from the crowd then.


WATSON: Scenes of euphoria and celebration. Just moments ago the news came out that Hosni Mubarak is stepping down. And now they're chanting, "We're here! We're here! The Egyptians are here!"


BLITZER: You can see these live pictures from Tahrir Square, those flames there. Those are flares.

People are celebrating, they're dancing, they're singing on the streets. It's just after 9:00 p.m. there. They're only beginning to taste freedom right now, real freedom.

They're not worried about secret police. They're not worried about security services. They're going about. They're just thrilled that the Egyptian president, now the former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, is gone.

We're not exactly sure where he is. He might be in Sharm el- Sheikh, that resort town in southern Sinai right now, but he's gone. And we've received official word from the government of Switzerland that Mubarak's funds and his family's funds that may or may not be in any banks, if they are in banks in Switzerland, all of those funds are frozen -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, Frederik Pleitgen is overlooking Tahrir Square.

We've been over the last few weeks, Frederik, looking those scenes from up above. Of course, we've been within the crowd as well. But tell me a little bit more about what you're seeing as this night of celebration continues to unfold in Cairo right now, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala, it continues to unfold and it continues to get bigger.

From our vantage point here, if you want to take a look, as you can see, of course, Tahrir Square and that highway thoroughfare that we've been talking about that goes right through central Cairo here. The crowd is getting bigger and bigger. We're seeing more cars, more cars stuck, actually. More people on the streets.

They've turned this place into just one big party ground, if you will. So it certainly is an amazing scene that we're able to witness up here.

And there's just so many people who are just trying to take in this moment, this moment that many people say they've won their freedom. There's people down there who have come here on motorcycles, a lot of people also walking around. It seems --

GORANI: All right. I believe we've lost the signal there with Fred Pleitgen, overlooking Tahrir Square. This is a ground level view of what's happening there in Tahrir Square.

Usually Tahrir Square is full of cars and traffic, and it's almost impossible to cross the street. For the last two-and-a-half weeks it's been a rallying point for these demonstrators. And they seem to be having a bit of fun with the fire there. I'd be a little more careful, I think, if I were them.

But tonight is a night of celebration. There are many questions that need to be answered over the coming weeks and months. And opposition parties, how they will be organized, when elections will take place.

What will be the role of the Interior Ministry and the secret police, that has intimidated and harassed Egyptians over the last several decades? Will that be dismantled? How will the military transition the country into a democratic state? Will they succeed in doing that?

All those questions, of course, perhaps left for the coming hours. Right now, though, flame throwers in Tahrir Square -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's like a carnival, a circus, a celebration. We saw the fireworks, we're hearing the music, we're seeing the dancing, the flame throwers. It's a party. Let them enjoy. This is a moment.

Wow, they've got to be careful, though, with those flames, if I were there. But you can see them waving that towel and they're dancing. It's an exciting, exciting moment.

Let's bring in Jamie Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state who served during the Clinton administration. He's joining us right now.

Amidst all of this celebration, Jamie, there are pitfalls, especially for the United States. What do you think the U.S. pitfalls are right now? What should the U.S. be doing and what shouldn't the U.S. be doing?

JAMIE RUBIN, FMR. ASSIST. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I don't think there are huge pitfalls. This is one of the great things about the change in this part of the world that is occurring on President Obama's watch, in much the same way that change has occurred in Eastern Europe during President Bush Sr.'s watch.

These are things that, you need to be careful, you need to be cautious, not take too much credit. But I don't think we should expand our expectations.

The two countries where this happened, Tunisia and Egypt, are countries where there has been always a certain degree of tolerance, where the military essentially wouldn't fire on its people. Unfortunately, that's not true in Iran, in Libya, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia. So I think we should be careful not to draw grand conclusions.

In the near term, however, the most important signal is what the military does about emergency powers. If this party continues, I would expect, for a couple of days, and people finally return to normalcy, the military better move quickly, I would suspect, to lift the emergency powers, because that will be the signal that things really are going to change.

And what will happen is you've seen the people on the streets essentially use their power to assemble as a grand negotiating leverage. Every time Mubarak took a step in the right direction and it wasn't enough, the people reassembled in bigger numbers and he moved further and further and further.

And so if the military doesn't take that first step, or something like it, to lift emergency powers, then you're going to have people assemble again. How many? It's hard to say.

So there's going to be a back-and-forth between the people who generated this revolution based on tolerance and real true democratic values, and the military, on the other hand, which is a respected institution but, let's face it, is not a democratic institution.

BLITZER: In about 50 minutes we'll be hearing from the president of the United States. I assume they're putting the finishing touches on his statement that he's going to be making from the grand foyer over at the White House right now.

I assume every word is being carefully weighed for potential pitfalls, potential dangers out there. Saying the right thing, having the right tone is critical right now.

Should he say more, or should he say less?

RUBIN: I think less is better. This is happening. The joy there is happening. The freedom, the liberation in Liberation Square is happening without the United States in the driver's seat.

We haven't been in the driver's seat all week. It's sort of ironic that the idea of democracy in the Middle East is something that was initially pushed hardest by President Bush, George W. Bush. And President Obama and other Democrats resisted this formulation of how hard we should push democracy in the Middle East. And it's ironic that on President Obama's watch is when this real dramatic revolution should take place.

So I think it would be a mistake to claim credit. It would be a mistake to do anything other than to celebrate the Egyptian people's victory in this revolution, and to make clear that we would be on the side of democratic change, and using whatever authority we have, or persuasion, or suggestions we have to keep down that path towards this ultimate goal of free and fair elections. We shouldn't expect it to happen quickly, and we should signal to the Egyptian military, perhaps more privately than publicly, that we are going to be watching that carefully, and hoping and expecting -- I think the key word is "expect" here -- them to do what's necessary to allow a broad dialogue, to allow a discussion of all the relevant constituencies, so that when and if this election happens, that it was free and fair.

That's starting with TV, free and fair television, freedom to assemble, parties. All this stuff is going to have to be done, and it's never been done before in Egypt.

BLITZER: Jamie Rubin is the executive editor of "The Bloomberg View."

We heard earlier from Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Egyptian who's been among those protesting, that he thinks it could take a year to properly make all of the arrangements for free and fair elections in Egypt.

Jamie, thanks very much.

We're counting down. About 45 minutes, a little bit more than 45 minutes from now, we'll be hearing from President Obama at the White House. We'll of course carry his remarks live.

But meantime, the partying continues in Cairo, elsewhere in Egypt. I suspect throughout the region a lot of folks are celebrating right now.

We're going to go back to the streets of Cairo. We're going to get reaction from around the world.

Much more of our special coverage coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: And we have seen these crowds now for several hours, but the joy is not diminished, neither for them, nor for all of us watching around the world.

I'm joined by Professor Fouad Ajami, whose knowledge and love of Egypt, and knowledge of history and understanding of history, has shepherded our coverage through some of the most darkest hours of the last 18 days.

Professor, last night you said on my program -- you said, "The angels of the Arab world and the demons of the Arab world are locked in battle." It seems at this hour that the angels have won.

PROF. FOUAD AJAMI, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The angels have won, Anderson. And I think we have to perhaps -- since you have become what I call "evanbeled" (ph), a son of the land, since you've really dipped into the Nile and came back, and really became hooked on this story, we should say congratulations to you as well, congratulations to us all in a way who have been on the side of the story.

It just occurred to me watching this that this is it the kind of story you can watch on mute. You don't need analysts' words. You just need to listen to the Egyptians and watch the Egyptians.

This man, Hosni Mubarak, dared them, he defied them. He finally dared him, and then they answered his challenge and they have prevailed. It's an amazing moment for them, and an amazing moment for the Arab world, because let's remember, many, many Arabs had begun to question whether freedom was in the DNA of the Arabs.

Well, the news is out. Freedom is in the DNA of the Arabs.

COOPER: I should point out Fouad Ajami is professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He's also at the Hoover Institution.

Mubarak and, I think, his vice president, were two men who came to believe, it seems to me, that they were Egypt. And it seems to me the message from these protestors all along from day one, and the message especially of the millions that we are seeing now, is that they are not Egypt, we are Egypt. These people are Egypt.


COOPER: This is Egypt. This is it the future of Egypt. And this is what Egypt needs to be.

AJAMI: Well, Anderson, the truth of this country, in a way, the truth of Egypt, is that there's a fault line. There are people who have the memory of democratic politics. They remember when Egypt had a parliament. They remember when Egypt had actually prime ministers who stepped aside, and there was a circulation of power and an alternation of power.

These people, they have a memory of Egypt before the Free Officer regime of 1952. And then there are these Egyptians who came into their own, or who were born under the autocrats, the three autocrats, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. And then there were those who were born under the third of these autocrats, the worst of them.

The argument could be made that perhaps Hosni Mubarak is one of the worst rulers Egypt has had in a very long time. So, yes, I think the people wanted to retrieve their country from him, from his dynasty, and from the people around him, and from his cronies.

COOPER: There was a moment -- I never said this at the time, but there was a moment when I came to believe that these protestors were going to win. I wasn't sure, but I came to believe it.


COOPER: The night that they were attacked by thousands of pro- Mubarak thugs and mobs, and they took corrugated steel barricades -- corrugated steel sheets from a nearby construction site, formed barricades, and all night long they manned the barricades. And in between charges from their attackers, they would bang metal pipes and sticks and rocks on those barricades, and it made this haunting sound, like a drumbeat. And it's a beat that's been used by warriors throughout the ages, but to me it was a message to the attackers, one that I heard all night long. And that message was, we are still strong, we are still brave, and you cannot defeat us.

Was there a moment that you felt that these guys are going to win?

AJAMI: Well, I don't know. To quote a friend and a great reporter, "Fear has been defeated." Fear was defeated. And, in fact, it was always this roller-coaster of a ride.

It was always just kind of a guess. Will the regime crack down? Will the people lose their heart? Will they be scared again?

And I must admit I decided early on -- and I think you bear witness to this -- that I wouldn't run ahead of the story. We would just see it on day to day. And we held our hearts, if you will, to use an Arabic metaphor, in our hands as we watched these people stand up to the state that had terrified them, bullied them, exploited them, scared them, took away from them their sense of respect, and then they regained their self-respect and they regained their spirit.

And they were reminded of the love of Egypt, that this is their country. And if they have to rescue it, they have to go out and do it on their own.

They couldn't wait for anyone. No one was coming to the rescue of the Egyptians. No one was coming to tell Mubarak that it's time to call off this despotism.

So they did it the way it should be done. They did it on their own.

COOPER: And now do you still fear looking too far ahead to this, or do you think -- do you have confidence that the military is in place, that the next few steps are clearer? Or is it not clear?

AJAMI: Well, you know, when we spoke last night, it seems like just an eternity -- many, many, many months away -- I told you I don't like military communiques, number one. They remind me of all the wreck that befell the Arabs, the soldiers, under tanks, coming and conquering power, breaking down ancient and proud societies, whether in Iraq or Syria or Egypt or Libya.

So I don't like the military in politics, but we have to take the world as it comes. And if the military is the transitional force that will take the Egyptians from this sordid autocracy, the sordid autocracy of Mubarak, the house of Mubarak to a democratic possibility, fine. So be it.

I'm encouraged by one thing. I'm encouraged by this -- that the military have watched the spectacle and they have seen the courage of the Egyptians, the rebelliousness of the Egyptians, the patriotism of the Egyptians, and that the military will simply, when the time comes, will step out of the way.

They know the dilemmas of Egypt. They're huge, titanic economic, cultural, political dilemmas. And I don't think the military is eager to claim the power for itself.

COOPER: I found it telling -- and I may have been wrong of who exactly they were talking to -- but when we did hear from the military spokesman a short time ago, he said he was saluting not just Mubarak, but also the martyrs. And I assumed he was talking about the martyrs that the Egyptians -- which is what Egyptians are calling the people who have died in the last 18 days, the people whose pictures right now are being carried in that square.

The fact that the head of the military would talk about those who had been killed in this, that was something we never heard from Mubarak and from Suleiman.

AJAMI: Exactly. Mubarak, at the end, made a kind of -- he barely made a mention of the people who fell in this democratic struggle. But you're exactly right, when the head of the armed forces or a military commander, one of the generals, when he speaks of the people who perished in this noble struggle as martyrs, it tells us that the military read this protest, they understand the depth of this protest, and they have respect for the kind of spectacle that we have been watching in the last 18 or 19 days.

COOPER: And that same fear has been defeated. There's no turning back. It's something I heard repeatedly, protesters saying in one form or another in that square.

It started off I think 18 days as a hope. It became a belief and a conviction. And I think tonight it is a fact. Fear has been defeated and there is no turning back.

Let's toss it to Wolf now in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks. And thanks to Fouad as well. I just want to repeat what that military officer said on Egyptian television. He said, "The Higher Military Council is expressing all of its appreciation for the life of the martyrs, those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and security of their nations, and for all the people of our nation. And God be in their help, peace be upon you."

Let's go to Arwa Damon. She's on the streets of Cairo right now, where the partying, the celebration continues.


The celebrations here most certainly do continue. As I'm speaking to you, there are fireworks erupting on top of Tahrir Square.

The people here forgetting about the fact that they're exhausted, that they've been keeping this up for more than two weeks. Now just relishing in the fact that, truly, they are making history not just in Egypt, but around the entire region.

This is Dina (ph) joining me right now.

Dina (ph), what are your thoughts?

DINA (ph), PROTESTER: I am very happy now. And always the people of Egypt are very happy because Mubarak is going out. And all the people in Egypt to change his life to be better. We need a reason. We need change to everyone.

DAMON: All right. Thank you, Dina (ph).

And sir, come forward, please. And your thoughts today, right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think that we have changed the history of not only that of Egypt, but all over the world.

Many persons will be changed, and even the Egyptian itself, it will change. Now they will contribute strongly in the political life in Egypt, and we will rebuild Egypt. I repeat, we will rebuild Egypt.

DAMON: What is the most important thing for Egypt moving forward after today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. From now on, we will concentrate on building, first of all, a political -- so it can be build on political -- we can build a strong economy and we can make all the dreams of the young people come true.

DAMON: And do you have faith that the military will be able to lead this interim government?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think our military is very intelligent to know that this is not a revolution of the military. It's the revolution of the people. So I don't think they will stay for a long time in the regime. DAMON: And did you ever imagine that this would be happening in Egypt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never. One month ago I would never imagine. And for me, I'm a young man, and I always believed that my generation will never make history of Egypt.

DAMON: Thank you very much.

And there you have it. You can see the crowds here still very, very active, very much out there relishing this moment. But, of course, realizing that the future is still going to be a challenge. This country does need to be rebuilt, but everyone believing that it is going to be rebuilt in a better path, in a better way.

BLITZER: Arwa, I love hearing from the folks there with you, some of the people. If you've got some more opportunity, go ahead. Let's get some more reaction from these Egyptians who are so happy right now.

Go ahead.

DAMON: Absolutely.

So, tell me, you're a student.


DAMON: What is your reaction today? How are you feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am feeling that freedom is now born. Now. And all these people came here to (INAUDIBLE). And I want to say (INAUDIBLE), come back to Egypt. Now Egypt is being saved (ph) now.

DAMON: "Come back to Egypt," we've been hearing that a lot. People want tourism back, they want business back.

Ma'am, what do you have to say? How are you feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't describe my feeling. I'm very happy. And I think that with this victory in Egypt, we'll lead a hard (ph) life filled with operation and --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Now freedom. Now freedom.

But I'm very happy, along with Egypt. Thank you.

DAMON: And what is your emotions right now on this night, and what are your worries for the future? What direction does the country need to go in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will be a very good future. And the country will be a developed country, and there will be good education and good health, and everything in Egypt will be very, very good.

And old people also will be -- lovely. And I'm very happy. I'm very happy. I can't tell you about my feeling.

I'm very happy. Thank you.

DAMON: Thank you very much.


DAMON: That chant that's -- if you can actually hear me, it means "Keep your head held high, you are Egyptian."

CROWD: Egypt! Egypt! Egypt!


DAMON: "Hold your head up high, you're an Egyptian." That's what they are chanting all around.

CROWD: Egypt! Egypt!

BLITZER: Arwa, if you can hear me, it's Wolf. Arwa, you can speak to some of these people in Arabic. If they don't speak English, speak to them in Arabic and translate for our viewers. That's fine, too.


He's saying he's very happy. He says they have made the dream of the --

GORANI: Some young men and some young women are so eager to come to the camera live to share their joy with the world.

He's saying, "The people are very proud."

DAMON: He said, "They've been able to accomplish all of this, been able to bring down the entire government and hopefully, God willing -- "


DAMON: "-- we are hoping that in the future the power will be able to hold the country together. Long live Egypt. Long live Egypt."


DAMON: He's congratulating the free youth of Egypt. The youth that freed themselves and then freed all of Egypt. Were it not for the youth of Egypt, Egypt would not have been able to change. The youth who freed them are from their own blood.


DAMON: Today something new has been started. That is freedom and it is freedom for the youth.

GORANI: Arwa, we're just going to leave it there for a minute. We're hearing about freedom, pride, about the people of Egypt being proud with the will of God, Insha'Allah, as they say, will lead to a new government, a new leadership, that will lead to democracy.

Fareed Zakaria is standing by there.

As we look forward to what might unfold in this country, in this crucial and essential country in the Arab world, what -- I mean, what are the chances that the military, this institution in Egypt, will lead the country to democracy?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": I think right now you have to be hopeful because the power that this Tahrir Square has shown, the power that the Egyptian people have shown, is so dramatic, is so strong that I think it would be very difficult for a general to be sitting there watching this and think about subverting it, think about blocking it, think about obstacles to it.

And you just look at these people. For 18 days, they have been able to do this. They have brought this extraordinary people power -- you know, an irresistible force hit the immoveable object of Hosni Mubarak and destroyed him. In that context, it seems to me very difficult to imagine the military trying to subvert things.

There will be international pressure. There will be the pressure of the international media. But most importantly there will be those people that you are watching, these crowds, these hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who have finally reclaimed their country. And I think it will be very hard for the military at this point to try to do something that subverts it.

It's a long story, and it may go in various -- in many different ways, but right now, you have to be hopeful, just looking at the energy of this crowd and the power of this crowd. You know, we talked about people power. When Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in the Philippines -- there was nothing compared to this. This is one of the oldest entrenched autocratic systems in the world. This is the pharaoh's government and it has just been overturned.

GORANI: And when we look at this opposition and these pro- democracy activists, something that's been said very often over the last few weeks is that they don't really have organized opposition political parties. How do you turn this people power into a pluralistic democracy by September?

ZAKARIA: By September, it will be hard. There are some groups, but you're right, most of the -- most of the organized opposition movements other than the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned, most of the legal ones, are phony, quite frankly, or are very, very fragile. Many of them were created as almost official opposition parties, this opposition to run against Mubarak's main party.

But I think you might be surprised at how much democratic energy there is in Egypt. This is a society with a very rich set of civic institutions -- lawyers guilds, trade unions, things like that -- and perhaps they can be revived. I think it would be better if there were more time to do this, but, you know, there's also an energy here that you do want to tap.

Right now, I think what people are doing is just drinking in the energy of being in this place. I think everyone who is at Tahrir Square will tell their children that they were at Tahrir Square on this day. That's the energy of this crowd right now.

GORANI: I think many of us will remember where we were on this day. It's such an important historic event. Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" -- thanks very much.

We're going to take a quick break here on CNN. We'll continue to follow the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath and the joy on the streets of Cairo after this.


COOPER: Eighteen days of protests, Mubarak is gone. The last Egyptian leader pushed out was King Farouk in 1952. Tahrir Square tonight, unbelievable celebration, fireworks, victory, cheers, you name it.

What's going on outside the square. Let's talk to student, award-winning author and blogger, Ethar El-Katatney. She joins me now via Skype.

First, Ethar El-Katatney, last night, you said the Mubarak speech made you feel punked. How do you feel now?

ETHAR EL-KATATNEY, STAFF WRITER, "EGYPT TODAY": I feel the opposite way now, maybe kind of we punked him. Yes, I don't know, and everything like things so fast, so quickly. You know, in 24 hours and now, things have changed 180 degrees again. And tomorrow, they could change again.

So, I'm guessing right now, you know, all people are let's just celebrate tonight and then, tomorrow, we'll wake up and think of what this all really means and if this is actually a good thing or this is not a good thing. So, we'll see. We'll see tomorrow.

COOPER: Do you worry about that?

EL-KATATNEY: Do I what, sorry?

COOPER: Do you worry about that? I mean, do you worry about what happens next? We just saw a short time ago, probably an hour or so ago, representative of the military making a statement. I wonder if you heard what he said, what you thought of it.

EL-KATATNEY: The fact that a military person is making a statement, that's in and of itself is kind of worrying. But, you know, he gave a salute to the people who died. I don't think that's ever happened before. Their -- the statements they've been giving out throughout the day are very -- or if not reassuring but they know -- you look at the past two weeks, the idea that the military is with the people, that we're here to protect the people is kind of the dominant theme. But again, you also have to remember they moved in quickly to establish control even though parliament will be suspended, cabinet sacked, the last time we had military takeover in Egypt, you had Abdel Nasser and then you had Sadat and then you had Mubarak.

So, the military move towards democracy has not exactly been very good for us. But we're all -- everyone -- maybe tonight, everyone is just a little too optimistic, a little to hopeful. But, you know, I feel people really deserve it just tonight.

What we've proved so far is that, you know, we're not going backward. You know, the wheel of democracy isn't going to go backward. We set a path, the Egyptian youth have spoken.

We are the ones who are setting their role. They're the ones in charge. They're the ones who are speaking. And if it doesn't work out, they're going to -- it's become normal, a protest of a million, let's just go.

So, yes -- so, everyone's really optimistic. It's not the best, you know, even people who -- I think they were so caught up in the fact that he said he was leaving, no one -- not a lot of people concentrated or they didn't want to concentrate on the fact that he didn't just say he was leaving. He said he was leaving and giving the rule to the military.

So, that will be -- it will be -- there's a lot more -- you know, you won the battle, not the war yet. There's still a lot to do, but it's an incredible milestone, you know, unprecedented. This is -- yes, it still hasn't sunk in.


COOPER: Is it clear to you what role, if any, Vice President Suleiman still has? I talked to Mohamed ElBaradei, he said his understanding, his thought was that Suleiman has no role, the military is now in charge. Is that your viewpoint?

EL-KATATNEY: You know, the thing is -- the thing is I actually have the feeling that if President Mubarak hadn't appointed, you know, Vice President Suleiman, he could have had a very good chance of being president. But it's kind of now, you know, it took 30 years for Egyptians to direct their rage towards the president, they've done that towards the vice president in like the three or four days.

So far, the statement is, as far as I understand it, is that no, the military is now -- it's not, the vice president doesn't have any more. Which also kind of puts you in a quandary because if the military is and the vice president doesn't have any power and we don't really have a political system, and anyone who's really qualified, if you look at long term, in the future, well, who's really going to have -- OK, so, we have ElBaradei, we have (INAUDIBLE), you have the Muslim Brotherhood, but all of these are just entities, you know, which -- are they really qualified? Are these who we really want?

We know what we want. These are the rights, this is the democracy. You know, high rate of corruption, unemployment. But who are the people who are going to be qualified to actually do this?

You know, you have the NDP, everyone resigned or was fired, the ministers. Our system never gave anyone really the chance. Even the constitution was amended in such a way to make it near-impossible that it would only be someone from the NDP who could run.

So, what's our future going to look like? Who's going to be in charge? I doubt it will be Wael Ghonim. But what are we looking for? What are we working toward?

These are all questions that will have to be worked on and really, you know, flushed out because it's kind of like you're starting from scratch, which is a really great opportunity. And we just have to make sure that we don't mess it up, or that we don't -- you know, you have the revolution, and in the revolution, you know, a lot of promises are made. And then once people relented and said, all right, things just went right back and you had people imprisoned and everything happened.

So, we have to make sure that it just keeps moving forward and that this will be, you know, a step forward to the future, to our people. You know, today is also the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. That's also -- I don't know, I feel it's a good sign.

COOPER: It's also the anniversary -- also the anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela. So, you can look at it two ways, optimistically or not.

EL-KATATNEY: Yes, of course.

COOPER: When I talked to ElBaradei, he said he thought Egypt needed at least a year before it could move to actually have free and fair elections, that because Mubarak has systematically eliminated any opposition, has eliminated any real democratic institutions of the country, that those need to be built up in order to have real free and fair elections. Do you agree with that?

EL-KATATNEY: Well, in a sense I do. But also, you know, a lot of things have been said and you really don't know what you're capable of until you're put in it. You know, you have the vice president said a couple of days ago that he didn't even feel that Egyptians were ready for democracy. So, this is again, you know, speculation.

But it all depends on how people -- if people will be able to create committees, to create the demands and create people who will be able to set up these policies and to create -- I don't think -- I don't know. I'm really -- I'm leaning more towards it, but I don't know, it will take us time to actually -- you know, something no one was expecting, no one was preparing for it, no one was even practicing for it, if you can put it that way. It was all kind of, you know, a done deal in people's minds and there was this kind of acceptance and lethargy and political apathy towards it. So, it will take time. But, you know, I feel in the past three weeks, Egyptians have changed so much in terms of, you know, we want to seize our future. We really -- they really do want to play an active role in making our countries better --


EL-KATATNEY: -- even if it comes to something like -- you know, there was a report that the average public employee works for an official 12 minutes a day. That's the productivity.

And I feel that all these things -- not all of them, but that things will really move to better. Even economically with all the country has lost in the last three weeks that we now we will rebuild, we will restructure and that people will take an act active role in building.

So it could take a year and it could take less.

COOPER: I've got to go, Ethar. But I just want to ask you, are you aware there's like the largest party ever happening outside in your streets?

EL-KATATNEY: Of course. I'm just waiting to finish with you and then I'm going to head out there. And look, I've got my flag already. Everybody is going to party. Today is the day to party.

COOPER: OK, I feel bad that we're keeping you inside when the largest party you're ever going to have is going on.

EL-KATATNEY: There was I read a tweet I just read awhile ago and it was saying that, you know, Ben Wedeman and Anderson Cooper should now get the Egyptian nationality because of all the work that they've been doing the last while.

So, yes, today is time to party and tomorrow we'll work on making things better.

COOPER: We have an extraordinary team on the ground and a lot of folks from a lot of different organizations have worked very hard to continue following this story.

Ethar, appreciate all you've done and talking with us. Go have fun. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

EL-KATATNEY: All right. Bye.

COOPER: Our coverage continues. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.


COOPER: Looking at live pictures of Tahrir Square, a huge party underway right now. The celebration continuing. They are thrilled.

It was only a few hours ago that the vice president, Omar Suleiman, went on State Television and he made this dramatic announcement.


OMAR SULEIMAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): I, 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.


COOPER: A short, one sentence, that was it. Mubarak steps down. He's now the former president. We believe he's in Sharm el-Sheikh, that resort town in the southern part of Sinai. We're not 100 percent sure, but that's the reporting we're getting right now.

But he is no longer the president of Egypt, the Egyptian military, specifically the High Council of the Egyptian military, is now in charge, leading up to what everyone hopes will be democracy, free and fair elections.

The president of the United States is getting ready to address the American people, indeed, the world, specifically also the Egyptian people. You're looking at live pictures from the Grand Foyer over at the White House. In ten minutes, we're told, the president will make a statement on what has happened in Egypt today. We'll, of course, have live coverage here on CNN and CNN International.

Hala, what a day this has been. I know they are thrilled at the White House, elsewhere here in Washington, but they know there are huge, huge pitfalls down the road.

GORANI: Well, this might be the hardest -- the hardest might be yet to come, Wolf, for the Egyptian people because the dictator is gone, now it's a question of transitioning to something different, to reshaping Egyptian leadership, to sort of leading the country, hoping that the military will lead the country to a true democracy.

And we saw a little bit earlier protestors converge on the TV building as an emblem of this regime wanting to sort of surround it, demonstrate by the presidential palace and the TV building.

Well, Shahira Amin famously resigned from her job on Nile TV, the state-run television, about a week, ten days ago because she was tired of telling the regime's lies on air. She joins me now live from Cairo.

Shahira, I've got to ask you for your thoughts right now. Where were you when the vice president announced that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down?


I've spent the last 48 hours in Tahrir Square, but I got a bit tired and I decided to go home for a while. We didn't think that there would be any announcement soon because yesterday I was there in Tahrir when President Mubarak gave his speech, and it was a letdown. It was for everyone there. It was a huge disappointment.

And the minute he finished, there was this outburst of anger, of people waving their shoes and hurling insults at him. Everyone was stunned that he was -- that he had not announced that he would be stepping down. But that added to their resolve and they vowed to continue their revolt until he decides to step down.

So it was a very tiring night for all of us. I felt really down. I went back home for a while and I was back in Tahrir Square again this morning. We weren't expecting anything major. We just wanted to keep the pressure on this regime.

And I joined the protestors in front of the television building. They had Friday prayers in front of the building and, again, there was this outburst of anger. But I really thought that it would be a day of violence, and thank god that didn't happen. They were able to restrain their anger.

And when I heard that there would be a statement from the presidency, you know, nobody knew what to expect. This was really unimaginable --

GORANI: Right. Because we had heard so many times before, Shahira --


GORANI: -- that the president would make statements and then those statements would be huge letdowns for protestors who wanted him to step down. In this case, it was the vice president, Suleiman saying, that's it, it's over. However, there are challenges ahead for your country.

Do you think that the military is going to be able to lead Egypt, this country of 80 million, to democracy?

AMIN: We're hoping that this will be a transitional phase. It's been one military regime after the other here in Egypt, and Egyptians are really looking forward to a secular, civil state, a democratic state. So we're hoping that this will just be a transitional phase until free and fair elections are held. And then the Egyptians will get to choose for themselves who their next leader will be, Hala.

GORANI: All right, Shahira Amin is in Cairo there. She resigned from her job as an anchor on the Nile TV -- English version of Nile TV. Thanks very much, an important and historic day for you, for all of your compatriots as well.

We're hearing, by the way, that the Egyptian stock market, which has been closed for several days, is going to open on Sunday for three hours. And this is important because it's a measure of the confidence that outside investors and also Egyptian investors have in their own economy and in whether or not this economy will be able to recover from several weeks really of having been crippled with tourists leaving the country and other businesses and corporations unable to operate normally. So there you have it, Wolf and Anderson.

BLITZER: We're getting ready, by the way, Hala, within five minutes we expect to hear from the president of the United States. He'll be speaking to the American people from the Grand Foyer over at the White House. We'll get his reaction to what's going on. We're going to have extensive coverage and analysis of that as well.

Anderson, this is one of the days as all of us like to say we'll never forget.

COOPER: Yes. And also remember where we were when we first heard the news, as I'm sure every Egyptian will be doing as well.

And last night we heard from President Obama from a statement from the White House. They seemed blindsided by President Mubarak's refusal at that point to step down. It will be very interesting to see, as we learn more in the days ahead, of exactly what transpired in Egypt, in the Mubarak statehouse, that -- what made the difference between then and now.

Was this a coup? I mean, is it correct to say that this was a military coup? We really don't know the backstory on it. That's something, Wolf, we'll be trying to figure out in the days ahead.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's take a very short break and stand by to hear from the president of the United States as we watch these crowds continuing to celebrate in Cairo.