Hassene Dridi, AP Photo
LONDON — Fireworks and celebratory gunfire rang out in Tunisia and Lebanon, South Africans recalled Nelson Mandela's euphoric release from prison, and two words — "Congrats Egypt" — dominated social media sites as the world cheered the ouster of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
U.S. and European officials on Friday saluted the resilience of the demonstrators in Cairo — who mobbed the capital for 18 days to demand their rights, despite attacks from pro-government thugs — and pledged assistance to help Egypt make the transition to democracy.
"In their eyes, you can see what power freedom can have," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the protesters, adding that, by stepping down, Mubarak had rendered "a last service to the Egyptian people." Merkel herself had lived under another autocratic regime, growing up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
President Barack Obama — whose administration has walked a fine line between backing the protesters' demands and supporting Mubarak, a long-term U.S. ally — welcomed the wave of peaceful change washing across the country.
"The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard. And Egypt will never be the same," he declared. And while he noted that many important questions remain unresolved, Obama said: "I'm confident the people of Egypt can find the answers."
But mixed with the messages of hope was concern for the future of a critical partner in the Middle East peace process, lingering fear of violent unrest — and guilt over the close partnership that many Western countries shared with Mubarak's regime.
"Mubarak's tyranny was typical across the region, and it is Europe's shame that we sustained them," said Edward McMillan-Scott, the European Parliament's vice president for democracy and human rights.
Merkel expressed hope that whoever comes to power works to "uphold peace in the Middle East and respect the treaties concluded with Israel," while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said reforms are needed quickly so Egypt "can keep its place in the world at the service of peace."
Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado warned that "we will face a very dangerous situation" if the transition isn't completed soon. Peru's foreign minister said he feared a rise in the price of oil amid continued instability.
Whatever the uncertainty, euphoria ruled the streets. In Tunisia, whose people-powered revolution pushed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile just last month and sparked the Egyptian protests, cries of joy and a thunderous honking of horns greeted the news.
In Beirut, fireworks and celebratory gunfire erupted over the capital only moments after Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had handed power over to the military. In the West African nation of Mauritania, pedestrians and cars filled Nouakchott, the capital, to celebrate. Across the world, Egyptian expatriates celebrated in boisterous rallies at their country's embassies and consulates.
In South Africa, officials noted that Mubarak's resignation took place exactly 21 years to the day after Mandela's historic release from prison.
"One can't escape the symbolic importance of this day and the release of Mandela and how that ushered in a new process for South Africa," said Ayanda Ntsaluba, director general of South Africa's foreign affairs department. "Let's hope this happy coincidence will also one day make the Egyptian people look back and say this indeed was the beginning of better times in Egypt."
Tunisia's caretaker government, put in place after the nation's leader fled the country, praised the Egyptian people for forcing Mubarak out of office and expressed hope that it will lead to the "triumph of Arab causes."
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