Breaking News: Mubarak Steps Down As Egypt's President

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has announced that he was stepping down. Hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets of Cairo celebrated as word of the president's resignation spread. The historic move came followed a speech by Mubarak last night, insisting he would stay in office until September. For reaction to the news, host Michel Martin speaks with NPR senior producer J.J. Sutherland and Egyptian student protester Yassmine El-Sayed Hany, both in Cairo.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Before he entered politics, the mayor of Los Angeles was an organizer for the teachers' union in that city, but now he's calling for an end to teacher tenure. We'll talk to the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and to the head of the American Federation of Teachers. That's coming up later in the program.

But first we go to Egypt, where NPR senior producer JJ Sutherland is on the line from Cairo. JJ, what's the latest?

JJ SUTHERLAND: Hi, Michel. Well, Vice President Omar Suleiman, who was appointed by President Mubarak recently, went on television, in a very short statement said that President Mubarak has resigned the office of the presidency and has turned power over to the military to run the country. This is what the the protesters (technical difficulties) for the past 18 days. And it seems that they have achieved at least part of their goal.

MARTIN: How is this news being received?

SUTHERLAND: There are screaming and cheering crowds in Tahrir Square, waving flags up and down. I mean, this, I cannot tell you, the passion that I've spoken with - that I've heard from protesters when I've spoken with them in Tahrir Square, that this is something that have yearned for and worked for. And Mubarak has been the absolute (technical difficulties) for 30 years. And it's incredible that a citizens' movement like this, completely nonviolently, has removed one of the longstanding autocrats in the Middle East from power.

MARTIN: Well, not completely nonviolently. As we've seen, the demonstrations over the past days have been violent as some pro-Mubarak demonstrators have moved in to try to intimidate the pro-democracy forces there. There had been rumors all day yesterday that Mubarak was about to step down. What was the mood going in to today, JJ?

SUTHERLAND: Today - because last night, President Mubarak was expected to step down, as you just said, and he didn't. He gave a very dense, legalistic speech that most people didn't even really understand what he was saying. But - so today, when I spoke with protesters, they were despondent, depressed and angry, but undeterred. And they, you know, vowed to continue this fight.

And then today there were - I've never seen crowds (technical difficulties) in Tahrir Square. The only thing I can think to compare it to is Times Square on New Year's Eve. It was wall-to-wall people.

There were also - we have a team up in Alexandria who called me and said on the Corniche, on their waterfront in Alexandra (technical difficulties) the city, there was massive demonstrations. There were also reports from cities along the Suez Canal, and in the oasis cities in Egypt, of continuing demonstrations. Almost across the country, you hear of demonstrations against the Mubarak regime.

MARTIN: We have on the line with us a young woman who has been one of those demonstrators, who has been out there every day since the demonstrations began. But before we go to her, JJ, I did want to ask what role the military is going to play going forward, and what role Vice President Suleiman is going to play going forward. Do we know?

SUTHERLAND: Well, we don't know. The only thing we have at the moment is a very short statement by Vice President Suleiman, saying that President Mubarak had turned his powers over to the (technical difficulties) military - so their version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What, exactly, that means, how power is going to operate, whether Vice President Suleiman will still be in office - all of these things are very unclear.

The protesters I've spoken with said they really do want a very concrete (technical difficulties) forward transition to democracy, and free and fair elections, and that they're not totally - they are very - the Egyptian army is an important part of Egyptian society, but they're not totally trusting of their motives.

MARTIN: JJ, I'm going to ask you to stand by, if you would. That's NPR's senior producer JJ Sutherland, who is in Cairo, who's been covering these demonstrations. He's just brought us news that President Hosni Mubarak has agreed to step down.

We go now to Yasmeen Al Said Haney(Ph). She is a pro-democracy protester. She's a student, and she's been at the demonstrations throughout. Yasmeen, are you with us?

MARTIN: Yes.

MARTIN: What is your reaction right now at this news?

MARTIN: Actually, it's a celebration. It's a national celebration by all the word's meanings. It's a celebration that we are gaining back our freedom and the right to assemble, to express our demands and our needs. And it's a very historical moment for Egypt and for Egyptians. And we are very lucky as a generation to witness this historical moment that is shaping Egypt for the (technical difficulties) and for the centuries and for the time - all the time ahead. It's a historical moment, and we're celebrating it.

I'm staying currently, at this moment, in my home. However, I have participated in the demonstrations for days and days since it started, and people in the streets here are celebrating, are doing the Egyptian, famous way of celebrating by like, producing a special sound from their mouths, you know. When people celebrate generally, we are in a feast - the democracy feast and the freedom feast for Egypt.

MARTIN: Yasmeen, when you first started going to the demonstrations, did you think that this day would come?

MARTIN: Actually, the first day I demonstrated was on January 29th. What happened is that when we have all received the invitation to go to demonstrate on January 25th, we were a bit reluctant because, you know, the demonstration is a new culture. It's not a common thing - a common idea about Egyptians. We are not, I mean, we have never practiced or exercised this right before. So we're a bit reluctant to know the extent that this demonstration will impose the say and the demands of the Egyptians, and stuff like that. So...

MARTIN: So I know what you're saying. So why did you go?

MARTIN: Actually, I went because I thought it to change my mind after that. Because I saw on the TV screens the thousands of Egyptians in my age and in my position - regardless of their educational level, economic level, political level or anything - they went down the streets to protest and to demonstrate their - and to decide their freedom. I thought that, actually, to change my mind because this was like, a shock for all Egyptians.

The rest of Egyptians - that those brave people went down to streets. They ignored all fears and all worries, and just went down to streets. And we started to understand, and we started to debate among us in the family and in the work and in the neighbors, that it's the time. So we said it bluntly, it's now or never. So we admittedly put ourselves in the (unintelligible) that we would - or we should go down to streets for one main and essential demand, which is first for Mubarak to step down - and it happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And by the time the regime was making concessions about the president - for instance, appointed vice president, all that political concessions were like the energy that we are absorbed - in our souls, and that make our voices go loud and loud, and started to feel that we are the power. And there is a very big difference between the power, the rights and the violence and force - power when all of that will absolutely defeat force and violence.

MARTIN: What do you want to happen now? Initially, it was not clear what role the military would play. It seemed that they were - they had been committed to maintaining President Mubarak in power through elections in September. But now, that seems to have changed. What role do you think you want them to play now? And what role do you want Vice President Suleiman to play now?

MARTIN: Well, actually, there are two points here. The first one is the role of the military. Apparently, they were reluctant to like, to leave President Mubarak because I guess it's the kind of personal sincerity and personal reality for him as a military figure, an Egyptian military figure. So yeah, they did everything that they can to protect him and to guarantee him a kind and a good way to leave Egypt afterwards.

But they saw that the demonstrations were again, becoming stronger and stronger second by second. So they, yes, they went into an internal debate, and they saw that by the end to get the side of the people and do the essential - their main role, which is to protect their people and not to protect the regime. And that's why...

MARTIN: That's what they did. Yasmeen...

MARTIN: And they changed their mind.

MARTIN: Yasmeen, we thank you so much for joining us. I'm going to go back to JJ Sutherland for just a minute. Before we let you go, what are you going to do the rest of the day, Yasmeen? Are you going to go back out?

MARTIN: Yes. I guess so. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. All right. JJ Sutherland, a final thought from you. What are the next steps here to look for; what is going on now?

SUTHERLAND: Well, what's going on now is a jubilant celebration by these protesters who have brought down President Mubarak. What happens next is unclear - how the military will govern the country; how they will set up a transitional government that needs to make some constitutional reforms to allow free and fair elections here; what the timeline will be for those elections. There are a lot of details regarding exactly how Egypt will move through this very dramatic change.

MARTIN: And what is just, from what you can see, is the mood - has taken over everyone? I mean, the people at the hotel, the people all in the streets? Does there seem to be...

SUTHERLAND: That's - no, it's not everyone. I mean, certainly the protesters are very dramatic and on the streets, but there is an element within Egyptian society that was once supportive of President Mubarak in a very honest way. Mainly people (technical difficulties) instability who feared that instability would deter tourists coming - tourism is a massive industry here, obviously - and would affect them economically.

MARTIN: JJ Sutherland is NPR's senior producer. He's on the scene in Cairo. We reached him by phone there. Yasmeen Al Said Haney is a pro-democracy protester. She is celebrating right now, and we reached her at her home in Cairo. Thank you both so much for joining us.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

SUTHERLAND: You're welcome.

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