One Egyptian kissed the ground. Another rolled in ecstasy in the grass outside a presidential palace.
People wept, jumped, screamed and hugged each other. Cairo erupted in a cacophony of celebration – fireworks and car horns and gunshots in the air after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the armed forces.
“The people have toppled the regime,” chanted protesters, whose 18 days of swelling protests tipped Egypt into a crisis that the authorities could not undo.
“This is the happiest day in my generation,” said Ali al-Tayab, a demonstrator who paid tribute to those who died in clashes. “To the martyrs, this is your day.”
At the presidential palace in Cairo, where demonstrators had gathered in the thousands, people flashed the V-for-victory sign and shouted, “Be happy, Egyptians, today is a feast” and “He stepped down”.
Many prayed and declared: “God is great.”
Crowds packed Tahrir Square, the scene of massive protests against Mr Mubarak that began on January 25.
“Egypt is free,” shouted Mahmoud Elhetta, a protest organiser. “We are a great people and we did something great. This is the expected end for every dictator.”
Some warned that Egypt still faces many challenges, including what they hope will be a peaceful transition to free elections and a full democracy.
“We still have a long way to go to fix things,” said protester Hala Abdel-Razek. “What has been ruined by the Mubarak regime has to be fixed and we have to start rebuilding with the help of the young people.”
A speaker on a podium said demonstrators would not immediately abandon the square because there was “more to do”.
On Thursday, an exultant crowd gathered on the square for what they expected would be the president’s televised announcement that he would resign. Instead they were shocked to hear him say he would transfer power to his deputy, but keep the title. Angry and disappointed, thousands of protesters fanned out across the city yesterday.
Vice President Omar Suleiman then announced that his boss had resigned.
In Tahrir Square, protesters heard the announcement on mobile phones and radios that they passed back and forth. They broke into cheers, then lifted soldiers stationed there onto their shoulders. Some formed a conga line, winding through the packed area.
“Goodbye, Goodbye,” demonstrators shouted. They beat drums and waved national flags.
“Finally, we are free,” said one protester Safwan Abou Stat. “From now on, anyone who is going to rule will know that these people are great.”
In some neighbourhoods, women on balconies sang using tongue-trilling used to mark weddings and births. Others sang the national anthem.
State television, a bastion of support for the Mubarak regime, began reporting the celebrations across the nation. It had been trying to portray the demonstrators as a minority.
The president’s departure, said the station’s reporter outside his Cairo palace, “showed that the Egyptians are capable of making their own history. They are able to move the water that has been still for 30 years.
“At this moment, Egyptians are breathing freedom,” said the presenter.
Last night celebrations erupted across the Middle East
Fireworks lit up the sky over Beirut. Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Shiite-dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.
In Tunisia, where an uprising expelled a long-time leader only weeks ago, cries of joy and the thundering honking of horns greeted the announcement.
In the Gaza Strip, thousands rushed into the streets in jubilation.