Egypt’s President Resigns, Acknowledges Power of Youth

Well, as of 11:04 a.m. EST on Friday, February 11, Egypt’s president Mubarak is officially no longer in power.  He resigned by way of a speech given by his vice president, Omar Suleiman.  The brief statement, read on state television, went like this:

“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”

This is coming on the heels of the largest protests yet in Egypt’s streets.  The protesters' fury intensified last night following a speech by Mubarak, in which he failed to announce his expected resignation.  Since then, the youth-led crowds in Cairo have continued to swell, prompting the immediate power shift.  (Check out Obama's speech in response to Mubarak’s address last night.)

Interestingly, in yesterday's speech, Mubarak tried to appeal to Egypt’s youth, saying, “I am proud of you as the new Egyptian generation calling for a change to the better, dreaming and making the future.”  He also said, “I am telling you that as a president I find no shame in listening to my country's youth and interacting with them."  These remarks, coming after weeks of taking a relatively hard line against the protests, symbolize an acknowledgement of the power of Egypt’s activist youth.  This is a pretty remarkable thing, and for those of us who are fans of peaceful democratic action, it's pretty inspiring.

With that said, Mubarak also tried to distance himself from the violence against protesters carried out by the President's security forces and pro-establishment activists. He said, “I am telling you that the blood of your martyrs and injured will not go in vain. I assure you that I will not relent in harshly punishing those responsible. I will hold those who persecuted our youth accountable with the maximum deterrent sentences.”  This claim drew an indignant reaction from the crowds, who generally blame Mubarak and his regime for the violence.

Now that Mubarak has stepped down, the country’s leadership rests with the military. In theory, the military is a popularly respected institution in Egypt, although during the protests its members have been accused of the kidnapping and torture of peaceful members of the opposition. For that reason and others, in the coming days, weeks and months, the position of the country will be a bit precarious.  The future of the region looks uncertain, too – despite its troubles, Egypt has generally been a stabilizing force in the Middle East.

We’ll keep you posted as things progress.  For now, we’re all taking a minute to catch our breath.  However it turns out, this is a BFD: a youth movement that’s successfully taken power out of the hands of a thirty-year incumbent.

By the way, we’d recommend following the New York Times’ The Lede blog for moment-to-moment updates.

*Note: President Barack Obama is slated to speak on the situation around 1:30 p.m. ET.  It will stream live from the White House here.