Cairo erupts in joy after Mubarak resigns

“He resigned!” a young man joyously called out in a street a few blocks from where a few thousand people gathered to protest in front of President Hosni Mubarak’s Presidential Palace in Heliopolis. His right arm was raised while his left clutched a cell phone to his ear. Someone on the end of the line had informed him that Mubarak resigned.

The street, out of view of the protests taking place nearby, erupted in cheers as passersby embraced each other amid cries of jubilation and fluttering hand-held Egyptian flags. Cars honked their horns and as people opened windows of their vehicles to partake in the spontaneous celebration.

Throughout the day, protesters had gradually trickled to the Presidential Palace from Tahrir Square, located an hour away on foot. They had demonstrated in front of barbed wire and army tanks that blocked streets surrounding the palace.

After the announcement, some groups of protesters hurried back to Tahrir Square, intent on joining the larger crowds that celebrated there. A common slogan heard during the protests that began on January 25, “The people want the regime to fall,” abruptly transformed to “The people, finally, fell the regime,” among groups of passing youths.

Not everyone was happy. One man worked quietly in his pizza shop nearby, his face sullen with suppressed anger. “What’s to be happy about?” He asked. “Mubarak gave us jobs,” he said, almost teary-eyed, as he rung up at his cash register a bottle of mineral water .

On the metro heading to Tahrir, another man, a 55-year-old salesman, defended the regime in front of a group of youths. “Over his thirty-years of rule, there was some good!” he said. The atmosphere’s cheerfulness turned suddenly into fuming indignation.

“Great, then you can go join him!” one young man called out, among competing voices that attempted to be heard in waves of arguments, directed by the young men against the man, that followed. He pointed to outside the train. Indeed, the older man left the train at the next station, and the young men burst into cheers as the doors closed behind him.

“God is great!” They chanted in mirthful rupture once the train had departed the station.

An older woman, who had been seated next to older man, abandoned her seat and relocated to the opposite end of the train’s car. “Shame on you!” she called to the youths as she passed, expressing her disapproval of how they had treated the older man.

A young man suggested that Mubarak metro station, an important transit stop on the way to Tahrir, needed a name change. One suggested “Martyrs’ Station.” Another countered with “Facebook Station.” Facebook is largely credited with helping to bring about Mubarak’s departure because it enabled youths across Egypt to coordinate protest activities despite attempts by the regime to block access to the site.

Meantime, Tahrir Square witnessed some of its most animated moments since the protests first started on 25 January. People pushed to make their way into the center of square as some tried to exit and yet others tried to pray. Creating space around emerging columns of worshippers, some people tried to prevent the crowds from inching in front of worshippers–as it is sacrilege in Islam for people to stand directly in front of Muslims as they pray.

“People will fall down!” a woman cautioned in an accusatory tone, as people attempted to maneuver within the mobs.

In the center of the square, fireworks were set off as crowds sang the national anthem. “Raise your head, you’re Egyptian!” people chanted. The slogan indicated a renewed sense of pride among a nation that had for decades witnessed deteriorating living conditions amid authoritarian repression.

In keeping with Egypt’s oft-noted tradition of using humor in both good times and bad, one young man proclaimed his own preferred slogan. “Raise your head, you will marry!” he said, expressing optimism that now with Mubarak gone, the country’s economic situation would improve. Due to high unemployment and increasing poverty in Egypt, young Egyptian men often complain that they do not have sufficient financial resources to marry.

Another man protested that he already had a wife. “Fine! Then you can marry a second,” the first man countered, playing with the fact that under Islam and Egyptian law, men are permitted to have up to four wives simultaneously.

Despite the festive atmosphere, some Egyptians privately confessed that despite their joy following Mubarak’s departure, they feared more for the future of the country now that he was gone.

“See all these people,” said Ahmed, 24, who works in convenience store near the square. “Today, they’re united in the euphoria of having achieved their single minded mission.” The mission to which he was referring was Mubarak’s departure.

“Tomorrow, they’ll be at each other’s throats as each tries to impose his own idea of what the country should do now.”