Nightly News | February 11, 2011
>>> good evening. tonight the people of egypt have toppled their leader. that nation has just been through a titanic struggle. there's been bloodshed, hundreds of deaths and injuries and chaos. but in the end, it was 18 days of peaceful protests at the heart of this effort to push hosni mubarak out of cairo after 30 years in power. and it succeeded. while a major task lies ahead in governing a nation of 80 million people, the largest in the arab world , it was an electrifying moment when the egyptian vice president hastily announced the president was gone. cairo erupted. other governments sat up and took urgent notice. as president obama put it today, egypt will never be the same. cairo is still roiling with excitement and celebration where richard engle again begins our coverage. richard , what a day and good evening.
>> reporter: good evening. there are still people out in the streets. they are cheering. they are saying can "with our souls, with our blood, we sacrificed for egypt ." and they believe with this uprising that is what they have done. the people have risen up and toppled a police state . it was supposed to be a day of defiance. after friday prayers, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in tahrir square. they had a message for president mubarak . no compromise. they would not accept mubarak 's plan to remain in office while transferring authority to his vice president. but by mid-morning the army seemed to be backing mubarak saying it would guarantee his promises of reform would be carried out, and sending a message. the army would make sure people got democracy, but now go home. but the demonstrators didn't give up. and by the afternoon they heard their first good news of the day. mubarak had fled cairo for the sinai peninsula , even as demonstrators converged on his palace. in the square word spread that an urgent and important announcement would soon be made on state television , but the protesters didn't expect much. at 6:00 p.m ., vice president omar suleiman , mubarak 's long-time aide and head of intelligence made a stunning announceme announcement. just a paragraph long, so quick egyptians barely heard it.
>> translator: mubarak has decided to waive the office of the president of the republic .
>> reporter: when they did, they realized hosni mubarak , president of egypt for 30 years, was finally stepping down, handing power to the military. cairo and all of egypt stood up at once and cheered. shouts of " egypt is free" rang across the country.
>> i am so happy. this is a day you will never forget it.
>> reporter: and so began the biggest, most joyful, loudest, wildest celebration in egypt 's modern history . it was a moment when egyptians said they took ownership of their country.
>> why are you here? what do you feel today?
>> this is ours today, this is our country. this is my egypt .
>> reporter: taking it back from the secret police that have suppressed free speech and democracy for three decades.
>> i think it is very clear, i'm sure the future will be waiting for us. we are the sons of egypt .
>> reporter: president mubarak came to power in 1981 . he was sitting next to president anwar sadat when he was assassinated by islamic militants . mubarak , the air force commander and vice president assumed office under martial law , but mubarak never repealed that state of emergency and kept it in place to safeguard his position, enrich his family and supporters and allow the security services to silence any opposition. today, the people of egypt freed themselves, with help from the military. u.s. officials tell nbc news the egyptian military broke with mubarak after his speech last night. mubarak was expected to resign, but didn't. the 82-year-old president, in poor health, just couldn't bring himself to do it. mubarak thought the protests, which he blamed on foreign media and excitable young people , would go away. the military was furious. senior officers threatened to take off their uniforms and join the protesters. with the military and the people no longer with him, mubarak was finished. tonight the military command announced it had taken charge, but has no intention to stay in power. this council is not a replacement for the legitimacy of the people, said a military spokesman. then a poignant salute to the 300 egyptians who died in this revolt. the army called them martyrs for freedom. egyptians celebrated into the night . but while the military stepped in, it was these people who drove this largely peaceful and determined revolution. they would accept nothing less than mubarak 's resignation, and tonight, after just 18 extraordinary days, they got it. the egyptian people are free. many egyptians never thought that they would live to see this day. this is certainly a turning point in this country, and, brian, it could be a turning point for the middle east .
>> richard engle along with his few closest friends there in cairo , egypt , tonight. richard , we'll get back to you in a little bit. be careful there.