Sighs of relief as Egyptian leader resigns

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – EU figureheads on Friday (11 February) welcomed the resignation of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down after weeks of street protests and handed over power to the military ahead of elections due this fall.

The news was broken late Friday afternoon by Mr Mubarak’s vice-president, himself formerly in charge of the country’s intelligence service, renowned for its cruel treatment of suspects, but condoned by the US government due to his “help” with interrogating radical Islamists.

“In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency,” Mr Suleiman said on national TV.

“He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state.”

The end of the 30-year long Mubarak regime has not come about easily. More than 300 people are believed to have died in street clashes with police since the beginning of the anti-government demonstrations, on 25 January.

The EU, at the beginning cautious in supporting the popular movement, has since grown gradually critical of Mr Mubarak – as Washington had also taken a cautious stance due to Israel’s concerns that a regime change may usher in radical Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Reacting to the news, EU Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek however called this “a historic day of peaceful, lasting and democratic change. I fully support the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” he said in a press statement.

But he also urged to “carefully cherish and protect the flowers of freedom obtained,” especially in regards to the military taking over the reigns of power ahead of general elections due this fall.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton took a less enthusiastic line. “The EU respects President Mubarak’s decision today,” she said in a press statement.

“By standing down, he has listened to the voices of the Egyptian people and has opened the way to faster and deeper reforms,” she added, while also saluting the “courage” of Egyptians demonstrating peacefully for democracy.

Ms Ashton repeated calls for an “orderly and irreversible transition towards democracy”, urging for the general elections to be free and fair.