Yemenis hold a flag of Egypt as they celebrate Mubarak's departure… (Yahya Arhab, EPA )
Reporting from Cairo — The announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's exit Friday was too much for Amr Nassef, an Egyptian who anchors the news on Al Manar TV, which is operated by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"Allahu akbar, the pharaoh is dead," Nassef said on the air, his voice rising with emotion. "Am I dreaming? I'm afraid to be dreaming."
Across the Middle East, the euphoria was contagious. Young men waved flags through the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank, spontaneous rallies broke out at the Egyptian Embassy in Jordan, and people across the region ripped through the contact lists on their cellphones to share an empowering sense of incredulity, followed by possibility, that accompanied the news.
"Egypt has a special place in the hearts of … all Arabs," said Mohammed Abu Rumman, a columnist and professor at the University of Jordan. "People are calling each other, visiting, some people are so happy they are crying."
The public protests in Tunisia that eventually unseated longtime President Zine el Abidine ben Ali in Tunisia in January were one thing; this was Egypt, the historic epicenter of the Arab world, a country as large and slow as the Nile and long thought impervious to the desert winds of social unrest.
A generation ago, it was teachers from Egypt who educated the schoolchildren of Syria and the Gulf. Arabs were weaned on Egyptian cinema, and it was the dashing military general who seized power in Egypt in 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who transformed decades of political thought across the Middle East with the dream — elusive, it turned out — of Arab nationalism.
Ben Ali is gone, Saddam Hussein is gone, and now, Egypt has had a revolution.
Can any of the regimes still holding on to power and riches by way of their massive police apparatuses hope to avoid a similar fate?
"This is the first time in my life and in the lives of many people that we witnessed a real revolution toward democracy, and I think also a historic moment — Arabs revolting for democracy, human rights and basic freedom," Abu Rumman said. "This is an important turning point in the political life, the political thought and culture of the region."
Even before Mubarak's resignation, governments in Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and Yemen were moving ahead with reforms in an attempt to head off dissent. Even so, anti-government rallies are scheduled over the coming days in Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Morocco.
Few expect major upsets in those countries: Algeria has struggled with instability for years; Libya and Iran have histories of cruelly crushing upstart democratic activists.
Yet the drama of Egypt's political earthquake is underscored by the fact that it was so unpredictable. Protesters in Tahrir Square repeatedly expressed wonder at their own numbers and at their perception of themselves as a population too numb and too poor to rise in revolt.
"They lied to us. Told us Egypt died 30 years ago, but millions of Egyptians decided to search, and they found their country in 18 days," activist Wael Ghonim wrote on Twitter.
In Iran, where pro-democracy rallies two years ago led to bloodshed and disappointment, there was a sense of wistfulness among some of those involved in the movements.
"The protests in the Arab world followed our protests two years ago, but the protesters in Egypt and Tunis are united, and we in Iran were not," said Hasan, a 26-year-old law student in Tehran. "That is why we lost and they have won."
Religious leaders offered congratulations from the Iranian capital.
"We congratulate the Iranian and Egyptian nations," Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi, Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said in a sermon. "The Iranian nation for its Islamic Revolution 32 years ago, and the Egyptians for their enlightenment, for taking inspiration from the Iranian Islamic revolution."
Official Iran was less charitable. Riders on public transit in Tehran this week were treated to an effigy of President Obama bearing Mubarak on his bosom, with the word "na-mubarak" below it — "cursed."
It also did not pass unnoticed in any corner of the Middle East that the leader of one of the only two nations in the Arab world that made peace with Israel has been driven out.
With a virtual certainty that the Muslim Brotherhood will have a healthy bloc of seats in any new Egyptian parliament, many are expecting not an abrogation of the peace treaty but a tougher line on Israel and its relations with Palestinians on Egypt's border.
"The revolution of Jan. 25 in Egypt will bring an end to the Israeli era that began with [the 1978 Israel-Egypt peace negotiations at] Camp David," Lebanese lawmaker Mohammad Qabbani, a member of the dominant Future bloc, said in a statement.
"This is going to have a great impact on our situation,'' independent Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said. "The Egyptian people want to have more solidarity with Palestinians and are against normalization of relations with Israel until first giving Palestinians their freedom. With democracy in Egypt, the will of the people will have to be respected."
Times staff writer Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem; Maher Abukhater in Ramallah; Ahmed Aldabba, Meris Lutz and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut; and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.