Mubarak exit sets off celebrations across Mideast

Friday, February 11, 2011 | 12:09 p.m. CST

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Celebrations erupted across the Middle East on Friday after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt's president. From Beirut to Gaza, people rushed into the streets, handing out candy, setting off fireworks and shooting in the air.

Even in Israel, where residents had watched the Egyptian protesters' uprising against Mubarak with concern, a former Cabinet minister said Mubarak did the right thing. "The street won. There was nothing that could be done. It's good that he did what he did," former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who knew Mubarak well, told Israel TV's Channel 10.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and there are fears the 1979 accord could now be challenged.

Moments after Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement of Mubarak's resignation, fireworks lit up the sky over Beirut. Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Shiite-dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.

On Al-Manar TV, the station run by the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah faction, Egyptian anchor Amr Nassef, who was once imprisoned in Egypt for alleged ties to Islamists, cried emotionally on the air and said: "Allahu Akbar (God is great), the Pharaoh is dead. Am I dreaming? I'm afraid to be dreaming."

In Tunisia, where a successful uprising expelled a longtime leader only weeks earlier, cries of joy and the thundering honking of horns greeted the announcement. "God delivered our Egyptian brothers from this dictator," said Yacoub Youssef, one of those celebrating in the capital of Tunis.

Tunisia inspired pro-democracy protest movements across the Arab world after a month of deadly demonstrations pushed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

There was no immediate official reaction from Tunisia's caretaker government.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas, thousands rushed into the streets in jubilation. Gunmen fired into the air and women handed out candy. "God bless Egypt, it's a day of joy and God-willing all corrupt leaders in the world will fall," said Radwa Abu Ali, 55, one of the women distributing sweets.

Egypt, along with Israel, had enforced a border blockade on Gaza after the territory was seized by Hamas in 2007. There were some expectations that under a new Egyptian regime, the blockade would be eased.

"This is a victory for the will of the people and a turning point in the future of the region," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.

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