tv NBC Nightly News NBC February 11, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
the sound of freedom. >> this is what freedom looks like. this is what freedom looks like. it's the only way i can describe it. >> it an explosion of victory. a celebration across egypt. >> this is the biggest street party that cairo may have ever seen. >> after 18 days of the people's revolution, mubarak is toppled. he is gone. and the nation celebrates. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening. tonight the people of egypt have
toppled their leader. that nation has just been through a titanic struggle. there's been bloodshed, hundreds of deaths and injuries and chaos. but in the end, it was 18 days of peaceful protests at the heart of this effort to push hosni mubarak out of cairo after 30 years in power. and it succeeded. while a major task lies ahead in governing a nation of 80 million people, the largest in the arab world, it was an electrifying moment when the egyptian vice president hastily announced the president was gone. cairo erupted. other governments sat up and took urgent notice. as president obama put it today, egypt will never be the same. cairo is still roiling with excitement and celebration where our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, again begins our coverage. richard, what a day and good evening. >> reporter: good evening. there are still people out in the streets. they are cheering.
they are saying "with our souls, with our blood, we sacrificed for egypt." and they believe with this popular uprising, that is exactly what they have done. the people have risen up and toppled a police state. it was supposed to be a day of defiance. after friday prayers, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in tahrir square. they had a message for president mubarak. no compromise. they would not accept mubarak's plan to remain in office while transferring authority to his vice president. but by mid-morning the army seemed to be backing mubarak saying it would guarantee his promises of reform would be carried out, and sending a message. the army would make sure people got democracy, but now go home. but the demonstrators didn't give up. and by the afternoon they heard their first good news of the day. mubarak had fled cairo for sharm el-sheikh in the sinai
peninsula, even as demonstrators converged on his palace. in the square word spread that an urgent and important announcement would soon be made on state television, but the protesters didn't expect much. at 6:00 p.m., vice president omar suleiman, mubarak's long-time aide and head of intelligence made a stunning announcement. just a paragraph long, so quick egyptians barely heard it. >> translator: hosni mubarak has decided to waive the office of the president of the republic. >> reporter: when they did, they realized hosni mubarak, president of egypt for 30 years, was finally stepping down, handing power to the military. cairo and all of egypt stood up at once and cheered. shouts of "egypt is free" rang across the country. >> i am so happy.
this is a day you will never forget it. >> reporter: and so began the biggest, most joyful, loudest, wildest celebration in egypt's modern history. it was a moment when egyptians said they took ownership of their country. >> why are you here? what do you feel today? >> this is ours today, this is our country. this is my egypt. >> reporter: taking it back from the secret police that have suppressed free speech and democracy for three decades. >> i think it is very clear, i'm sure the future will be waiting for us. we are the sons of egypt. not him, he's not egyptian. >> reporter: president mubarak came to power in 1981. he was sitting next to president anwar sadat when he was assassinated by islamic militants. mubarak, the air force commander and vice president, assumed office under martial law, but
mubarak never repealed that state of emergency and kept it in place to safeguard his position, enrich his family and supporters and allow the security services to silence any opposition. today, the people of egypt freed themselves, with help from the military. u.s. officials tell nbc news the egyptian military broke with mubarak after his speech last night. mubarak was expected to resign, but didn't. the 82-year-old president, in poor health, just couldn't bring himself to do it. mubarak thought the protests, which he blamed on foreign media and excitable young people, would go away. the military was furious. senior officers threatened to take off their uniforms and join the protesters. with the military and the people no longer with him, mubarak was finished. tonight the military command announced it had taken charge, but has no intention to stay in power. this council is not a
replacement for the legitimacy of the people, said a military spokesman. then a poignant salute to the 300 egyptians who died in this revolt. the army called them martyrs for freedom. egyptians celebrated into the night. but while the military stepped in, it was these people who drove this largely peaceful and determined revolution. they would accept nothing less than mubarak's resignation, and tonight, after just 18 extraordinary days, they got it. the egyptian people are free. many egyptians never thought that they would live to see this day. this is certainly a turning point in this country, and, brian, it could be a turning point for the middle east. >> richard engle along with his few closest friends there in cairo, egypt, tonight. richard, we'll get back to you in a little bit. be careful there. so what must have it have been like in that square, in
that crowd during the instant when they heard it was all over, they had toppled president mubarak from power? our own ron allen was in the square, he was there among the people, and has been reporting from there all day. ron, as we just saw, they're still going. saturday is a work day in egypt, but i guess they can be forgiven an all-nighter. >> reporter: indeed, brian. the sun is going to rise here in a few hours and there are still hundreds of thousands of people out in the street. families with little kids who are staying up all night. no one is going anywhere. they all want to be there to savor every single moment of this unprecedented moment in the history of this country. everyone there just wants to be able to say that i was there when this happened, a moment of incredible power and energy unlike any that you'll probably ever experience in your lifetime, brian. just an amazing thing to experience. >> ron, take a moment yourself and relive this. we want to show folks what it was like for you reporting live from the square when word started to break out.
>> reporter: this is what freedom looks like. this is what freedom looks like. it's the only way i can describe it. the noise is absolutely deafening and in such sharp contrast to what happened here last night. it's hard to put in words. it's just an amazing thing. >> i need to tell you president mubarak, you have ugly place, i don't like to see you again. >> freedom! >> reporter: i have rarely seen such joy and such relief. this is an amazing thing to witness. you can see people atop a tank on this side of the square. soldiers are joining in. it's freedom, that's all you can say. >> i can't believe it finally after all these years. i'm speechless. >> reporter: there are people here, so many in their 20s and 30s, who feel like their lives are just now going to be so profoundly different. college students who feel like their degrees are now worth something. young professionals who feel like all the work they put in will now amount to so mue. parents who think that their kids will now have such a better
life. >> why are people putting their children up on the tank? >> oh, it's a big day. everyone wanted to have a memory here. >> reporter: this night is something that so many people here never dared dream might happen in their lifetime. >> i don't know what's going to happen next. i'm happy, but i'm scared. >> reporter: looking at the prospects of a society that has been fundamentally changed. it's called liberation square for a reason, and you really understand that now. >> and ron allen, what a day for you to witness down there. >> reporter: so many incredible acts of courage and determination, brian. it was really, truly inspiring. for so long people said liberation square was the only place they felt free in this country. now that feeling is sweeping this entire ancient land. >> ron allen, after a great day of reporting. stay loose. we may ask you to go rescue richard engle from that crowd. ron, thanks. at the obama white house last night and today, the ongoing effort, don't forget to try to play this right, and then
get the reaction to mubarak's departure right. our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd, was there for all of it. chuck, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. well, the president was in a meeting with some other senior advisers when he was interrupted and told about the mubarak resignation. he then did what so many of us did and just went outside to a television and watched all of those scenes unfold that we've seen ron and richard experience. in fact you could tell the scenes of what he was watching influenced what he told the country later this afternoon. >> this is the power of human dignity. and it can never be denied. egyptians have inspired us, and they have done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence. egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years. but over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace.
the egyptian people demanded their universal rights. >> reporter: it was significant what the president didn't say. he didn't use this speech today, brian, to talk about a new middle eastern policy having to do with saudi arabia or jordan or protecting israel, saying things like that. he chose today, and the administration said today is about egypt, today is about their day, their freedom and they wanted to let that be what everybody talked about and what the president talked about, brian. >> chuck todd, what a day this was at the white house, thanks. like him or not, police state or not, hosni mubarak was a u.s. ally for 30 years, roughly the last five u.s. presidents. and now for the u.s., the question of what egypt will become and how to deal with it. more on that from white house correspondent savannah guthrie in washington. hey, savannah, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian, you said it. mubarak was so central to u.s. policy in the middle east some said the administration was unprepared for a post-mubarak era, but that era is now here, ready or not.
the two presidents in cairo in 2009. >> i'm very much looking forward in the months and years to come to continue to consult with the president. >> reporter: for years hosni mubarak was the bedrock of american policy in the middle east. u.s. presidents came and went. he didn't. as they celebrated in queens, new york, little egypt today, across washington a collective question. what now? u.s. officials' biggest worry, chaos, a power vacuum that could allow extremists to flood across the border. >> the problem will lie if the egyptian revolution gets hijacked and taken over by a much more radical element. >> reporter: u.s. officials are counting on the egyptian military to hold the country together until elections can be held. but remembering the 2006 vote in gaza that brought radical group hamas to power, u.s. officials worry about moving too fast. moderate political factions were never allowed to flourish under
mubarak's iron fist. >> there's much work to be done. this is the beginning of that process, not the end of it. >> reporter: the u.s. also must now reassure allies. israel worries a new radical regime could throw out the 1979 peace agreement. egypt sits amidst a region full of autocratic leaders wondering what's next for them. the u.s. hopes the egypt example will encourage them to make democratic reforms, not crack down harder. and perhaps sensing an opportunity, the administration today made a point to encourage iran's protest movement. >> let your people speak. release your people from jail. let them have a voice. >> reporter: some arab allies have expressed anger with the administration for not standing more firmly behind a long-time ally. the president will be spending time on the phone doing more diplomacy in the coming days and weeks, brian. >> savannah guthrie in our d.c. newsroom, thanks. now to a big angle of this. imagine how other countries
throughout the middle east are watching this. put it this way, the largest arab nation in the world just changed hands, so how does that now affect the balance of power? we go to our veteran in the region, correspondent martin fletcher in tel aviv tonight. martin, good evening. >> reporter: hi, brian. well, the balance of power is changing. for anybody who really wants democracy in the middle east, it's party time here tonight. throughout the region arabs were in the streets dancing, singing. they spoke of the winds of change bringing democracy, freedom, and it was almost as if they were there in cairo themselves. across the region people were saying the message, we've done it, we've done it, brought down a dictator through peaceful people power. of course there was a distant reaction among the leaders. their reaction mostly was who's next? there's almost complete silence from other governments in the region tonight, except for iran. iran, which put down its own revolt two years ago quite brutally, iran's president tonight said the new middle east will break free, quote, of
american interference and doom israel. of course israel is rattled tonight. on the one hand supporting democracy, on the other worried what kind of government will come to power in egypt now. will they continue to support the peace treaty with israel? change in the region is already working against israel. turkey, which was a strong ally, is moving away from israel now towards iran, towards syria, and now the most powerful arab country in the region, egypt, is in place. very worried israeli leaders in jerusalem today looking with great concern at their southern neighbor, brian. >> it will be interesting to see what monday morning brings. martin fletcher in tel aviv, martin, thanks. we'll take a break in our coverage. we've been able to relocate richard engle in that crowd. we'll talk to him some more in just a moment.
dog but a chicken as well, a rooster there in their arms. they have not only brought their family out. you can't celebrate without the rooster. wow. >> you don't see richard engle smiling from ear to ear much, but then again he doesn't cover many stories that allow that as our chief foreign correspondent spending so much time in places like iraq and afghanistan. richard is back with us live from the crowd there in cairo. richard, such a night of celebration, yet almost like new year's eve. the sun comes up tomorrow, the bills come payable. who's running the place? are there police on the streets? will the airport authority keep running? what governs egypt tonight and going forward? >> reporter: well, right now nothing is governing this country. they are expecting a statement
from the military. oh, my, everyone got silent all of a sudden. they are expecting a statement to call on people to return to their jobs, to return to their normal lives. egypt desperately needs to regain its economic credibility. it needs tourists to start returning. so in the next 48 hours or so, i think we're going to hear a series of statements from the military and try and allow this country to get back on its feet, brian. >> in the seconds we have left here, and then what happens? do they schedule a special election? >> reporter: what we're expected to see is a military, once this dies down, will cancel the emergency law, that martial law. once that law is lifted, political parties here can organize and political parties can then prepare for a new election. >> amazing. what a day and what an end at least to this period of the 16 days you've spent on the ground there. richard engle with the crowd there in cairo. we'll take another break. we're back in a moment with some of the day's other news.
a look at some other news here. we just tonight learned elizabeth taylor is in the hospital. she has been, apparently, for a few days. the 78-year-old actress is at cedars-sinai in l.a. being treated for symptoms connected with congestive heart failure, an ongoing condition for her. a gas pipeline erupted and exploded into a huge fireball
last night in eastern ohio near the pennsylvania border. no one was hurt, no major property damage, but it's remarkable considering the blast was heard miles away. the explosion happened, by the way, just 24 hours after another pipeline blew in pennsylvania, killing five. this was among the busier days at the obama white house, and yet this was the last day on the job for press secretary robert gibbs. for the occasion, the president showed up in the west wing briefing room and brought a gift, the tie he borrowed from gibbs to deliver the keynote speech at the '04 democratic convention back in boston because mr. obama wasn't even a u.s. senator back then, thought it looked better than any of the ones he brought for the occasion. gibbs had considered the tie long gone and was steamed about the event before he got it back today, albeit under glass. another break. when we come back, why they're calling this the 18 days that changed the world.
this was a genuine people's uprising, a revolution, make no mistake. the largest, biggest of the new media age of blanket media coverage and social media, and so we got to watch and listen as an entire nation went through a massive struggle. something enormously important is happening half a world away from us tonight. >> i said freedom today, i said freedom today. >> there is now nothing less than chaos in the center of cairo. >> waves of thousands of protesters rushed riot police who drove them back with water cannons and, more often, tear gas. mubarak imposed a curfew. called in the army. they seemed to take no action against the demonstrators. >> we've been afraid for 30 years and no one is afraid now. >> this is what a civilian resistance looks like. >> the young people and the internet, they started this revolution.
>> mubarak announced he would not seek re-election in september. >> the atmosphere suddenly turned sour and toxic. >> you just saw someone hit by a molotov cocktail and is trying to put himself out. >> the sun can't come up fast enough for cairo. >> it could take ages, but we're very optimistic. that's the spirit of the revolution. >> mubarak is still calling himself the president of egypt. >> till when, mubarak, are you going to provoke us? till when? >> translator: president hosni mubarak as decided to step down from the presidency. >> this is the moment so many people in this country have dreamed of, have waited for. >> this is ours today, this is our country. this is my egypt. >> and so on behalf of our extraordinary team of co-workers on the ground in cairo, that's our broadcast for this friday night and for this momentous week.
thank you for being here with us for all of it. i'm brian williams. lester holt will be here with you this weekend. we, of course, hope to see you right back here on monday night. in the meantime, have a good weekend. good night. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com thanks for joining us on this friday evening. i'm diane