Fox Chicago News: Chicagoans Elated as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Steps Down 2/11/11

Chicago - In Cairo, Egypt, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Friday after hearing that Hosni Mubarak resigned after three decades of rule. Fireworks, car horns and celebratory gunshots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million.

Mubarak had sought to hold on to power, handing some of his authorities to his Vice President Omar Suleiman while keeping his title in a speech Thursday that angered protestors. An explosion of protests across the country forced the military to intervene and assume control of the country.

Ahmed Rehab, a Chicago activist who has been in Cairo during the protests, said that the country was “absolutely ecstatic” at the news.

“We have marched from Tahrir Square, where I have been every day since the revolution broke out. and went all the way to the presidential palace, which is over 20 miles. We were there for about 15 minutes when we heard,” Rehab said.

Rehab praised the peaceful nature of the protests, saying that only when police were violent to protestors did they defend themselves. When that happened, Rehab said people created ad hoc neighborhood watch groups and volunteer security teams to keep the situation under control.

“We only believed in ourselves, we believed in the people’s will. This was a wonderful revolution in that it was peaceful from the beginning,” Rehab said. “The only weapon the people had was nonviolence and perseverance and that’s what they brought out.”

Rehab also said the protests have inspired the world.

“This is a revolution without leadership and without elite, and that is why it is an inspiration,” Rehab said. “We’ve toppled a corrupt regime and now the onus is on the people to create a democracy”

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin also praised the events in Egypt, saying that the largest Arab nation in the world pushing for a democratic revolution is ”virtually unheard of in history.”

Durbin also said he was amazed at how people spoke out using the Internet, Twitter and the instruments available to them to speaking directly and with very little violence.

Durbin said he hopes democratic process will allow many voices to come forward, although it is a transition that is not easy. He said there will be growing pains, but the U.S. knows Egypt is moving in the right direction.

“The only time I’ve ever met Hosni Mubarak was when I was begging him to release a political prisoner,” Durbin said. “If they move to democracy in the Middle East, that will make a big difference.”

Durbin also expressed concern of how the revolution will affect Egypt’s relationship with Israel, and said those are “life and death” issues.

DePaul Assistant Professor Scott Hibbard, who has lived in Egypt, said if you had asked him a year ago if such a revolution could happen, he never would have thought it could. To him, the fact the protest came on so quickly and strongly showed that the regime was weak and didn’t have the support it appeared to have.

Though there has been concern that Egypt will become a second Iran and a fundamentalist Muslim group could come to power, Hibbard said that is unlikely.

According to Hibbard, an Islamist takeover was crushed in the 90s, and the Muslim Brotherhood is an aging organization while the protest is very young. Protestors not calling for islamist state, calling for bread and butter issues, democracy.

At an Islamic prayer service in Bridgeview, Chicago-area Muslims praised the news and said it was a victory for Egyptians and those who believe in democracy.