“Welcome announcement from Cairo!” wrote Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on his Twitter account shortly after Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had handed over power to a group of military leaders.
“Now the big and critically important question is what is coming next,” Bildt tweeted further.
Word that the 82-year-old autocrat had finally ceded power in the face of unwavering anti-government protests came less than 24 hours after Mubarak delivered a defiant speech vowing to remain at his post until presidential elections, currently scheduled for September.
But Mubarak’s Thursday evening speech only further galvanized the opposition’s resolve to keep pressure on the embattled Egyptian leader, whose position has been uncertain since demonstrators first took to the streets in Cairo and other cities 18 days ago.
“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Suleiman said in a televised statement.
Crowds in Tahrir Square erupted in jubilation upon hearing the announcement.
“Egypt is free!” they shouted, according to the New York Times newspaper.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called Mubarak’s resignation “a triumph, not only for the Egyptian people and the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, but also for those who believe and fight for democratic values”.
“The people’s protests for openness, freedom, and democracy in Egypt have yielded results,” Reinfeldt said in a statement.
“Much work still remains and it’s important to start a broad and serious dialogue with the opposition which can pave the way for free and democratic elections.”
Social Democratic leader Mona Sahlin also welcomed the news, expressing hope for what a change in political leadership may bring to Egypt.
“The people of Egypt demand freedom, democracy, and human dignity. That can only be achieved with new, democratically elected political leadership in the country,” she said in a statement.
“I hope that Egypt now moves forward with free and fair democratic elections and that they occur without violence.”
Speaking with the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper, former Social Democratic foreign minister and career diplomat Jan Eliasson emphasised that the Egyptian people must view the shift in power as credible, adding that the country needs to implement key reforms quickly to move toward democracy.
He considerd Mubarak’s transfer of power to the military as vital to avoiding a bloodbath amid mounting tensions following the president’s speech on Thursday night.
“There were lots of demonstrators who were going to march to government buildings and the presidential palace. If the military hadn’t decided to do what they have now done, you never know what might have happened. I was very worried this morning,” he told the newspaper.
While sober in his assessment about the hard work that lay ahead for Egypt, Bildt couldn’t help but express his hope about what Mubarak’s exit may mean for the future.
“Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new renaissance for Egypt and the Arab world!” he tweeted.
He added that it was “time for Europe to engage deeply with Egypt” to assist with the transition to a democratic society.
Writing on his blog, Bildt explained that, according to Egypt’s current constitution, new elections are to be held within two months, but he added it was “doubtful” that such a timetable could be met.
“The changes that are required for a genuine free and fair election are far-reaching,” he wrote, adding that Egypt must now engage in a national dialogue to unify around a path toward free elections.