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Egypt to remain committed to all treaties: army

Egypt government to remain in place for now: army

Egypt will remain committed to all its regional and international treaties, its ruling military council said on Saturday, impliciting confirming the nation's peace deal with Israel would remain intact.

"The Arab republic of Egypt will remain committed to all its regional and international treaties," the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces said in a televised address.

The announcement was part of "Communique Number 4," issued a day after veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak handed power to the military.

The military also vowed that it would oversee a peaceful transition towards an elected civilian government.

On the ground, military began removing the barricades around Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular revolt, and shortened curfew hours to between midnight and 6:00 a.m.

As tanks lurched to the sides of some of the main roads leading into the square, civilian volunteers helped the soldiers to remove the metal barriers and barbed wire while cranes hauled away the torched shells of vehicles.

They also dismantled barriers around the nearby national museum, home to a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities, where there had been fierce clashes last week after an attack by pro-Mubarak supporters.

The curfew, in effect since January 28 in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, had run on previous nights from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) unti 6:00 am.

The protesters' self-organised groups continued to sweep the square and remove rubbish, as well as cheerfully inspect the identity cards of people entering.

But the demonstrators were divided over the future of their massive, loosely defined movement, with some heading home victorious while others vowed to continue until the transition to civilian rule was complete.

"There are different camps. Some people are saying we should stay. Some are saying we have done our jobs, we should go home," said Dr. Essam Shabana, who works in the United Arab Emirates.

"Some are saying we can go, but if anything happens we can come back again. We are forming a Facebook group to keep in touch, and we'll certainly be coming back and meeting here every year on January 25."

Many of the mostly young people gathered in the square had described the announcement that Mubarak had stepped down as the best moment of their lives, and the streets were flooded with revellers throughout the night.

Thousands of Egyptians remained in the square and were still singing and waving flags when dawn broke after the 18-day revolt.

Mubarak's handing over of power to the military in the face of the Tunisia-style revolt ended a three-decade-long autocratic reign.

The military said it would respect the will of the people -- many of whom have called for dissolving the old regime and holding free and fair elections -- but has yet to put forth concrete plans for the transition.

Some are saying we can go, but if anything happens we can come back again. We are forming a Facebook group to keep in touch, and we'll certainly be coming back and meeting here every year on January 25

Dr. Essam Shabana

Eighteen days of rallies on Cairo's Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, resisting police assaults and a last-ditch charge by hardliners on camels, brought undreamt of success.

"We are finally going to get a government we choose," said 29-year-old call-centre worker Rasha Abu Omar. "Perhaps we will finally get to have the better country we always dreamed of."

Hours after word flashed out that Mubarak was stepping down and handing over to the army, it was not just Tahrir Square but, it seemed, every street and neighborhood in Cairo, Alexandria and cities and towns across the country that were packed full.

Through the night, fireworks cracked, cars honked under swathes of red, white and black Egyptian flags, people hoisted their children above their heads. Some took souvenir snaps with smiling soldiers on their tanks on city streets.

People power

Journalists long used to the sullen quiet of the police states that make up much of the Middle East felt the surging joy of the population around them as a palpable, physical sensation.

Relayed by satellite television channels and on Internet social networking sites, the euphoria in Egypt flashed around a region where autocrats hold sway from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

It was just eight weeks to the day since a young Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself alight outside a local government building in the provincial city of Sidi Bouzid, protesting in this way at his ill-treatment by police, who had taken away his livelihood, and at venal, oppressive government.

Four weeks later, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had been forced to flee the country when his generals told him they were not prepared to defend him against protesters.

Now Mubarak, an 82-year-old who when this year began seemed ready to establish a new dynasty on the Nile by handing over to his businessman son, sits, impotent, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and his generals hold power in Cairo.

"It's broken a psychological barrier not just for North Africa but across the Middle East. I think you could see some contagion in terms of protests; Morocco, perhaps Jordan, Yemen," said Anthony Skinner of political risk consultancy Maplecroft.

Beyond the Arab world, China -- wary of any foreign upheavals that could reflect badly on its own authoritarian controls -- gave its first reaction in the official China Daily.

"Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end," the English-language newspaper said.

It's broken a psychological barrier not just for North Africa but across the Middle East. I think you could see some contagion in terms of protests; Morocco, perhaps Jordan, Yemen

Anthony Skinner

The end

Mubarak's end was, finally, swift, coming less than a day after he had stunned protesters by insisting he would not step down despite widespread expectations that he was about to do so.

Not long after his three-decade-long rule ended messages of congratulation to the Egyptian people begin flooding in.

World leaders were quick to hail the toppling of Mubarak as a historic victory for people power that paves the way for democracy.

In the United States, Mubarak's long-time sponsor, President Barack Obama said: "The people of Egypt have spoken." He stressed to the U.S.-aided Egyptian army that "nothing less than genuine democracy" would satisfy people's hunger for change.

He also acknowledged: "This is not the end of Egypt's transition. It's a beginning. I'm sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered."

Washington has pursued a sometimes meandering line since the protests began on Jan. 25, apparently reluctant to lose a bulwark against militant Islam in the Middle East but also anxious to endorse calls for political freedom.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon praised Mubarak for bowing to the will of the people and taking a "difficult decision, taken in the wider interests of the Egyptian people."

A note of caution

Egyptians in their millions danced and partied through the night on Saturday, celebrating the fall of the man who ruled like a pharaoh for 30 years and hoping their army will grant them democracy now Mubarak is gone.

But behind the celebrations, there was a note of caution over how far the armed forces under Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's veteran defense minister, were ready to permit democracy, especially since the hitherto banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is one of the best organized movements.

"This is just the end of the beginning," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Egypt isn't moving toward democracy, it's moved into martial law and where it goes is now subject to debate."

U.S. officials familiar with the Egyptian military say Tantawi, 75, has long seemed resistant to change.

Suleiman, a 74-year-old former spy chief, annoyed some this week by questioning whether Egyptians were ready for democracy.

Al Arabiya television said the army would soon dismiss the cabinet and suspend parliament. The head of the Constitutional Court would join the leadership with the military council.

The best deterrent to any attempt to maintain military rule could be the street power of protesters who showed Mubarak they could render Egypt ungovernable without their consent.

But as continued turmoil in Tunisia shows a month after the overthrow of the strongman there inspired young Egyptians to act, any government will face huge social and economic problems

It remains to be seen how the Egyptian army will create democracy for the first time in a nation that traces its history back 7,000 years.

Suleiman said a military council would run the country of 80 million for now. The council gave few details of what it said would be a "transitional phase" and gave no timetable for presidential or parliamentary elections. It said it wanted to "achieve the hopes of our great people".

Egypt isn't moving toward democracy, it's moved into martial law and where it goes is now subject to debate

Jon Alterman