Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Resigns
Embattled president bows to intense pressure from protesters
by Beth Rowen
On Feb. 11, 2011, embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation and handed power of the country over to the Supreme Military Council. Upon hearing Mubarak's speech, Cairo erupted in joyous celebration, with crowds chanting, "Egypt is free!" His resignation followed nearly three weeks of unprecedented anti-government protests in Cairo and ended 30 years of autocratic rule.
After assuming control of the country, the military dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. It then presented a roadmap for a six-month transition to civilian rule. Plans included drafting constitutional amendments, a referendum to vote on them, and elections. Military leaders met with opposition leaders Wael Ghonim and Amr Salama to discuss the plan.
Protests in Tunisia Spark Demonstrations Throughout the Region
Unrest spread throughout the Middle East in January 2011. First, Tunisia's president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down amid widespread protests against corruption, unemployment, and the repressive police state. Demonstrations followed in Yemen and Algeria. In Egypt, opposition groups and activists calling for reform began their protests on January 25—what they called "a day of rage," which coincided with Police Day. The movement, organized using cell phones and social media sites, spread, and protesters took to the streets in several cities, including Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, demanding the resignation of Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years. The aging president had taken steps for his son, Gamal, to succeed him in upcoming elections.
The protests continued and grew in size and intensity over the next several days, with protesters and police engaged in violent battles. On January 28, Mubarak ordered his government to resign and reshuffled his cabinet, which had no effect on the protests. Mubarak, however, remained in office, and in an apparent move to cement the support of the military, he appointed military intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as vice president. He deployed the military to help police quell the protests, but days later—in a blow to Mubarak—the military said it would not use force against the protesters. On February 1, hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel laureate and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Egypt and emerged as the leader of the opposition. He urged Muburak to resign and allow the formation of a "national unity government." Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian executive at Google, was a leading force in organizing the protests; he used an anonymous Facebook page and YouTube videos to rally support for the movement. He was jailed for 12 days, and became an unwitting hero of the movement when he acknowledged his role in an emotional television interview after his release.
Mubarak's Supporters Launch Counter-Protests
On Feb. 1, Mubarak announced that he will serve out the remainder of his term but not run for reelection in September. In response, President Barack Obama said an "orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now." A day later, however, the situation in Cairo deteriorated abruptly as counter-protests broke out and supporters and opponents of Mubarak faced off in and around Tahrir Square, hurling rocks and wielding sticks. Many observers suspected Mubarak organized and encouraged his supporters to take to the streets in an attempt to further destabilize the country, allowing him to cling to power.
The opposition remained undaunted by the violent counter-protests and continued their demonstrations. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest and most influential opposition movement, had been largely absent from the protest movement until it issued a statement on Feb. 4 calling for the resignation of Mubarak. In response to the continued unrest, the government made a series of conciliatory gestures: it announced that Suleiman would oversee the planning of upcoming elections and the attendant transition, promised a 15% pay increase for government employees, and proposed constitutional reforms. The opposition dismissed the gesture as wildly inadequate, and Mubarak's stubborn insistence on remaining in office emboldened the opposition. Finally, facing mounting pressure from within Egypt and from international leaders, Mubarak ultimately gave in to the uprising. As many as 300 people died during the political unrest.
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