As it turned out, the biggest crowd President Hosni Mubarak drew in 18 days of unprecedented popular demonstrations against his rule was the one for his goodbye.
"Egypt is free!" a young man screamed Friday night from his perch on the open window of a car speeding across a Nile River bridge. All around him fireworks popped, horns honked and Egyptians streamed to central Cairo's Tahrir Square for a massive national celebration.
It was the watchword being shouted around the city, after Vice President Omar Sulieman appeared on state television to announce, tersely, that Egypt's president for the last three decades had ceded power, surrendering to what had been growing demonstrations in much of Egypt.
Cairo's residents tumbled down the stairs of their apartment buildings and poured into the streets at the news, then headed for Tahrir, the heart of the demonstrations.
For Egyptians young and old, Mubarak's resignation, and the two and a half weeks of struggle leading up to it, wasn't just a political matter. It was personal. Asked their thoughts on a historic day and night, many Egyptians reflexively stated their age, marking how much of their lives had passed under Mubarak.
"I'm 33 years old, and I don't know but one president for all of my life,'' said Iman Saad, heading to Tahrir Square with friends. "I want somebody different."
Said Ala'a, another of those moving with the crowds toward the square, was 35, he volunteered. "This is the start of a new history for my country. This is the start of a new history for me," Ala'a said.
Some of the people celebrating had been doubters in the revolution that unfolded so rapidly in Egypt. On Friday night, the numbers celebrating in much of Cairo far exceeded that of those who turned out for the protests – sparked by December's popular overthrow of Tunisian President Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali – that started in late January against Mubarak's military-secured rule.
For Dina Hamid, a 29-year-old walking with Ala'a, it was an admission by Mubarak's own government which finally made her side with the revolution. When the government leveled corruption allegations against ministers it had newly dismissed--an apparent bid to sacrifice a few officials to the public anger--some Egyptians were shocked by the revelations of the officials' alleged public theft. "That convinced me."
Mubarak's resignation left countless uncertainties for the people of the Arab world's most populous nation, and left military commanders apparently in charge of the country. Some Egyptians spoke out against military rule. Many expressed worry about the possible ascent of the country's Muslim Brotherhood.
But all day Friday, the people spoke of what they believed Mubarak's rule had taken from them. And what they wanted to take back: Freedom to discuss and debate who would lead them. Dignity. The greater prosperity that they feel Egypt once enjoyed.
"I wanted to let them know how much I hated them," Rashaa Ali, a 22-year-old customer service agent in head scarf and vibrant orange blouse. She spoke after she walked up to a line of army tanks to thrust a staff with Egypt's flag up at the blank windows of the country's state TV headquarters. The curved building of state TV – an institution disliked by protesters for its characterization of their demonstrations as foreign-controlled – became one of the targets of protests in Cairo during the day Friday, after protests broke out of Tahrir Square on Thursday night.
"They did nothing for us for 30 years. Nothing," Ali said. "And they did nothing for Egypt."
Like Ali, Huda Hisham, who noted that at 40 she had spent all but 10 years of her life under Mubarak, spewed anger Friday afternoon at the first demonstration she had ever attended. "I hate Mubarak. I hate his son. I hate his wife," Hisham said.
Hisham, a history teacher in public school, said that in recent days she had started teaching her pupils about something she never could before.
"I'm teaching them about freedom," she said, hours before news of Mubarak's resignation came. "I'm teaching them that there must be change."