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Egyptian New Yorkers Rejoice As Mubarak Steps Down

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There was celebration in the streets of Brooklyn and Queens Friday, after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt's leader following 18 days of historic pro-democracy protests throughout the country.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement of the 82-year-old president's resignation on a state-run television station just after nightfall there.

"President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of Egypt and has assigned the higher counsel of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country," said Suleiman.

There were conflicting reports Friday about whether any government officials, including Suleiman, still have any power.

The Egyptian military's chief of staff says the armed forces will guide the country to greater democracy. He also suggested elections originally scheduled for September could be moved to an earlier date.

Speaking in the East Room of the White House on Friday, President Barack Obama pledged U.S. support for Egypt as the country undergoes an irreversible transition, and said that the protesters in the country will accept "nothing less than genuine democracy."

"I'm sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remained unanswered, but I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully," said Obama.

He also praised the young protesters using "creativity, talent and technology" to demand a democratic government in a peaceful manner.

"This is the power of human dignity and it could never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us and they have done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence," said Obama.

The White House and the Pentagon said they were not given any advance notice that Mubarak would resign.

After the Egyptian leader's resignation, crowds made their way to the presidential palace in downtown Cairo to celebrate their victory.

Inspired by similar revolts in Tunisia, anti-government protests began 18 days ago and garnered worldwide attention. In the revolutionary epicenter of Tahrir Square, named for the Arabic word for "liberation," protesters called Friday a wedding, the feast ending Ramadan and winning a huge soccer game rolled into one.

"The future is a very bright one, we hope, as long as this revolution does not get manipulated by people with real political agendas, as long as the military stands to [its] word and gives the power to their people," said one demonstrator.

Mubarak, who came to power in 1981 after President Anwar El Sadat was killed, reportedly went to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, about 250 miles from the capital city of Cairo.

One of the leaders of the opposition, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Friday was the greatest day of his life.

Egypt has been under authoritarian rule since 1952, when a military coup d'etat toppled the Egyptian king.

In the United States, observers were concerned over who will rule Egypt next. Whatever his deep faults, Mubarak had been an ally who observed a three-decade old peace with Israel.

"When you look at revolutions and uprisings that have occurred in the Middle East, they haven't led to democratic governments. Egypt may be different," said Senator Charles Schumer on Friday.

Some noted with alarm it all came on the day Iranians marked 32 years since their revolution. To others, that association was off-base, noting that the 1979 revolution in Iran was religiously driven.

"This is a very amorphous group of people [in Egypt]. It's very democratic, and the Muslim Brotherhood came late to this protest movement," said Hani Sabra of The Eurasia Group.

The expectation is the U.S. Defense Department will subtly tap its close ties with Cairo to orient it toward democracy, while retaining some of Mubarak's foreign policy.

Observers were still uncertain Friday whether other authoritarian regimes would topple.

Egyptian New Yorkers Mark Historic Day

Celebrations also erupted in the streets of New York City on Friday, with pro-democracy crowds chanting "Egypt is free! Egypt is free!"

In Little Egypt in Astoria, Queens, people were dancing and cheering in the streets as drivers honked their horns.

"I feel so proud. I'm proud to be Egyptian. I'm proud of those protesters," said one local. "They did a good job. They did a very nice job, peacefully, nice, no blood. I'm very happy."

"We can't even tell you, describe it how it is, because we've been suffering for like 30 years so far, and now we're finally free," said another.

Egyptian-Americans were also celebrating in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where crowds of worshippers spilled out onto the snow in front of mosques.

After the prayers, the community waved flags and sang Egyptian songs.

Leaders of the Egyptian-American community in the city gathered at Egypt's Mission to the United Nations on Friday to express how proud they are of the peaceful transition of power back home.

They said they are especially proud that the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak was done peacefully, and now they are optimistic their country will become a democracy.

"Today it will be written in stone that what people want, when they have a will, they have a way," said Khalid Lamada of the Society for Egyptian Americans. "Today the Egyptian people in [Cairo's] Tahrir Square, they presented themselves as the most peaceful jubilation in the world."

"Today we stand as one unit with the Egyptian people. Young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian, as one hand. Together, we will take the next step to build Egypt as it was envisioned," said Hesham el-Meligy of the Staten Island Egyptian community.

"I hope that the Egyptian military of the 21st century would not be the same as the Egyptian military in the mid-20th century. And I trust they will in honor hand over the authorities to a civilian government freely elected by the people," said Ahmed Fathi of the Egyptian American Alliance.

A celebration is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday outside the United Nations.

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