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Demonstrations that began with quiet determination on the Internet more than three weeks ago erupted into riotous jubilation Friday evening, moments after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he would step aside. ending his 30-year-reign.
His downfall was as swift as it was unexpected. Mr. Mubarak had inherited and shaped a system of patronage, nepotism and brutality that seemed beyond challenge.
Egyptian armed forces will take over the leadership of the country, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced today.
Crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square erupted into loud cheers, chanting "Egypt is free, Egypt is free," as the historic announcement was made.
Protesters swarmed army tanks that had been deployed to keep order, banged drums, blew whistles and frantically waved the Egyptian flag in celebration. They danced in circles and chanted.
Two men dropped to their knees and began to pray as soon as the news was announced.
"Freedom!" crowds chanted outside the white carved walls of the presidential palace.
"God is great," they shouted in Tahrir Square.
The reaction was quick to pour in across some of the same social networking sites that Egyptians used to help organize the historic protest
Mubarak's resignation comes 18 days since the beginning of protests that have left 300 dead, according to the United Nations, and rocked the region.
Men, women and children alike -- many with tears in their eyes -- flooded into Cairo's streets as the atmosphere turned from one of determination to pure ecstasy.
As protesters in Cairo's streets celebrated with joy, some demanded that Mubarak be tried.
The news has significant implications for the world and the United States. Egypt is one of the United States' closest allies in the region, a key economic partner and only one of two Arab states that recognize Israel.
Mr Mubarak survived at least six assassination attempts. The narrowest escape was in 1995 when his limousine came under attack in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where he was attending an African summit.
Members of the largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, were frequently put in jail, where torture was common.
The intelligence services were pervasive and Egyptians felt stripped of dignity.
Criticism from human rights groups was routine.
Mr Mubarak presided over a period of domestic stability and economic development that meant most of his fellow countrymen accepted his monopolisation of power in Egypt.
Egypt became one of the top recipients of U.S. aid. The billions of American dollars helped enrich a new elite as the country moved away from socialism to an economy that is somewhat more capitalist but led by state-sanctioned monopolies.
But little of that wealth filtered down to the country's poor majority, and some of the grievances that mounted against his regime took on an anti-American tone.
Mr. Mubarak was neither charismatic nor communicative. He made little effort to explain his policies to his people and avoided the bold maneuvers favored by his predecessors.
Instead, his genius lay in maintaining Egypt's status quo in the face of at-times daunting pressures from within and without. That strategy did him well much of his career.
But he ignored calls for political opening and significant economic change, ultimately allowing stability—the hallmark of so much of his reign—to degrade into stagnation that bred frustration among younger Egyptians.
It was a system based not on ideology or leadership qualities, Aladdin Elaasar wrote in his book "The Last Pharaoh," but on "a mixture of fear and rewards to his collaborators." In other words, he wrote, "a neo-sultanic regime."
Mr. Mubarak's rule allowed modest freedoms but was characterized by sporadic periods of brutal repression. His police beat and tortured suspects and sent thousands to prison for long terms.
He survived many previous threats to his hold on power. He successfully crushed a bloody insurrection by violent Islamists in the 1990s and a growing prodemocracy protest movement that gained steam in 2003 to 2005.
His victory in Egypt's first multicandidate presidential election, in 2005, was marred by what independent monitors called massive fraud. His chief rival was jailed after the vote.
Mr. Mubarak parried Washington's attempt to force substantive democratic reforms on Egypt, made most forcefully during the years of the George W. Bush administration.