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Mubarak exit sets off celebrations across Mideast

By Zeina Karam

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 12 2011 12:10 a.m. MST

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Revelers swept joyously into the streets across the Middle East on Friday after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt's president. From Beirut to Gaza, tens of thousands handed out candy, set off fireworks and unleashed celebratory gunfire, and the governments of Jordan, Iraq and Sudan sent their blessings.

Even in Israel, which had watched Egypt's 18-day uprising against Mubarak with some trepidation, 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 and spoke to him just a day earlier, told Israel TV's Channel 10.

The boisterous street celebrations erupted within moments of the dramatic announcement by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that Mubarak had stepped down. The success of Egypt's protesters in ousting a longtime ruler came less than a month after a pro-democracy movement in Tunisia pushed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

The breakneck speed of developments, after decades of authoritarian rule in many Arab countries, left some of those celebrating Friday wondering where regime change might come next.

"We are very happy today that we were able to overcome the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Tomorrow will be the turn of the dictators in the entire Arab world," said Issam Allawi, an Egyptian celebrating with dozens outside the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut.

Two of Egypt's neighbors — Israel and the Palestinians — followed the historic moment particularly closely.

Israel's greatest concern in the past two weeks has been that its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt might not survive under a new government, particularly if Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — the largest and most organized opposition group — gains influence. The Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, the Islamic militant Hamas, seized control of the Gaza Strip, on Israel's doorstep, in 2007.

Israel's government did not comment Friday. However, Israel's former U.N. representative, Dan Gillerman, told Fox News that "if the radicals prevail (in Egypt) then we will have Hamas in Gaza, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which would be devastating not just for Israel but for the stability of the whole region."

Egypt's uprising was led by young secular Egyptians, with the Brotherhood largely remaining in the background.

In Gaza, hopes were rising that a nearly four-year-old blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory might be coming to an end. Egypt had helped Israel enforce the blockade, which has kept some 1.5 million people confined to the tiny territory.

Across Gaza, many thousands rushed into the streets late Friday. Gunmen fired in the air and women distributed 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 those handing out sweets.

Hamas leaders called on the new Egypt to open the borders with Gaza. "Egypt wrote today a new chapter in the history of the Arab nations and I can see the blockade on Gaza shaking right now," Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told reporters.

Hamas security sent reinforcements to the Gaza-Egypt border to prevent any possible chaos there, including attempts to break through the blockade. In a Hamas-engineered border breach in 2008, hundreds of thousands of Gazans had briefly spilled into Egypt.

The governments of Jordan, Iraq and Sudan said Friday they respect the will of the Egyptian people. "The resignation of Hosni Mubarak is a step in the right direction," said a statement by Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

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