Jubilant crowds remain as Egypt looks toward future




-- For the first time in nearly three decades, Hosni Mubarak was no longer president when dawn broke in Egypt on Saturday.

The iron-fisted leader's rule ended when he stepped down and handed over power to the country's military Friday. Fireworks shot out over Tahrir Square. Revelers waving Egyptian flags flooded the streets of Cairo.

A large crowd remained in Tahrir Square on Saturday morning, euphoric over the power of 18 days of largely peaceful protests to topple the country's longstanding government.

A front-page headline in the state-run Al Ahram newspaper, previously a mouthpiece for Mubarak, heralded the change Saturday: "The people have brought down the regime."

Crews collected garbage and towed away burned cars that had been used as barricades as clean-up efforts began in the area in and around the square.

But some demonstrators remained, pledging to continue to protest "until Egypt is ruled by a civil government, not a military one."

Analysts cautioned that the protest movement's biggest challenges lie in the days ahead as the thrill of revolution dies down and the reality of rebuilding a country sets in.

One key question is how the country's military will handle its role at the helm.

Throughout the uprising, the military both responded to the protesters and defended Mubarak's regime.

Friday, the military issued a communique stating that Egypt's emergency laws, used by Mubarak throughout his tenure as president to rule with an iron hand, would be lifted, but only when conditions allowed.

After Mubarak stepped down, a military spokesman appeared on state television, expressing appreciation to the former president and saluting the "martyrs," an apparent reference to those who died in the protests.

Many protesters had been calling for Egypt's army, which is respected within the country, to take over as interim caretaker. Friday night, they voiced optimism that the military would pave the way for free and fair elections.

In a somber, one-minute announcement on state television, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak's resignation and said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will "run the affairs of the country."

The details of elections have not been established, and it is unclear how long the military will remain in power.

Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, 75, heads the military council.

Tantawi has a controversial reputation among the armed forces and had been derided by mid-level officers as "Mubarak's poodle" for his fawning over the now-ousted president, according to U.S. diplomatic cables sent from the Cairo embassy in 2008 and published by WikiLeaks.

Mubarak's imposition of military rule broke with Egypt's 1971 constitution.

The constitution allows for only two scenarios for a president to relinquish power. The first stipulates that if the president has to step aside temporarily, the vice president steps into the top role. That is what the regime briefly orchestrated Thursday.

The constitution states further that, if the office of the president is vacated or the president becomes permanently disabled, the parliamentary speaker is to assume the role until new elections can be held. Those elections, in turn, must occur within 60 days.

In opting for a third way, which put all power in the hands of the military, the regime in effect rendered the constitution inoperable.

A high-ranking Egyptian military official said the army's command was discussing whether to dismiss Mubarak's government and parliament and when the next election would be held.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised the Egyptian military for acting responsibly and said it now needs to help ensure a credible transition.

Among other things, Egyptian authorities need to set about "protecting the rights of Egypt's citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free," Obama said Friday.

But some analysts were sounding the alarm over the takeover by the military, which has suddenly become accountable for the nation.

"Suleiman's statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi," analysts with Stratfor, a global intelligence company, said in a statement.

"Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers," the statement said. "The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts."

Amnesty International warned that Mubarak's departure did not mean an end to the police state.

"The repressive system that Egyptians have suffered under for three decades has not gone away and the state of emergency remains in place," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general. "Those in power must grasp this opportunity to consign the systematic abuses of the past to history. Human rights reform must begin now."

Amre Moussa, the Egyptian secretary-general of the Arab League, told CNN that the country should focus on instituting reforms and establishing democracy. Asked how long it would take for the government to lift the 30-year-old state-of-emergency laws, he said, "The sooner the better ... six, seven months."

But even as officials hash out the details of Egypt's political future, ripples of the country's revolution are being felt around the world, said Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister.

"The only thing I want to tell you here is that the winds of change are sweeping the Middle East," he said. "How it would move and what direction, when, where, I'm not in a position to judge very well what the extent will be. But it is, in my opinion, the winds of change have started."