Egypt's Military Takes Charge as Caretaker after Mubarak's Exit

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With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation Feb. 11, 2011, the military is in charge, responsible for answering the protesters' calls for democracy. The generals say they will amend the constitution to allow free elections in September.
CBS

CAIRO - Less than 24 hours after refusing to step down, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak threw in the towel Friday. His 30-year rule came to an end after 18 days of protest.

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Mubarak's fate was sealed yesterday when a handful of top military leaders convened a Supreme Council meeting and didn't invite the president, CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy reports.

(Scroll down to watch a video of this report)

"We saw this meeting, and all of us said, 'That's it,'" retired Gen. Mahmoud Khalaf said.

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Even before Mubarak announced he was stepping down, the Supreme Council was issuing communiqués promising to lift the three-decade-long state of emergency imposed by the former president and saying they would not detain protesters.

As the protests grew larger this week and spread across the country, paralyzing the economy, the military was forced to choose. Either it had to ditch the president it ushered into power back in 1981 or shoot protesters in the streets. The protesters won.

The moment the news broke in Cairo was unforgettable. There was jubilation in Tahrir Square. Fireworks flew. Egyptians danced and hugged.

Mubarak reportedly flew with his family Friday to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt's military is now in charge -- in a caretaker role -- and promises to transition to democracy.

With 468,000 members, the Egyptian military is the largest in the Arab world. It controls an estimated one-third of the Egyptian economy but is highly respected by the people. In the past week, soldiers have earned more goodwill by effectively protecting the protesters in Tahrir Square against pro-Mubarak mobs.

"They are great," said Dr. Ahmed Abd el-Raouf. "They did a magnificent job keeping peace, keeping stability."

Protesters tossed food and water to the army during the demonstrations, and when Mubarak left, they gave the soldiers flowers and danced on their tanks.

It was the street protests which drove Mubarak from power, but everyone here knows it couldn't have happened without at least the tolerance of the military.

Now that the old president is gone, the military is in charge, responsible for answering the protesters' calls for democracy. The generals say they will amend the constitution to allow free elections in September.

"You will see the army gradually decrease," Khalaf said.

As for how long that process will take, Khalaf said it could be "maybe less" than a year.

But the military will also come under scrutiny for its role in the economy.

"The spotlight will be on the military, and the military are part and parcel of the old regime," said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "They were brought into the crony capitalism of this state."

For now, the protesters are largely happy that the military has taken power in what effectively was a silent coup. But they also want the military to hand power back to civilian control soon or else the protests will start all over.