What a difference 24 hours makes.
Last night I was in Tahrir Square watching a people deflate. Tens of thousands who had gathered for what they thought would be President Hosni Mubarak's farewell address were stunned and saddened when what they heard was an opaque and often rambling message that lacked the words so many Egyptians wanted to hear: "Goodbye."
Tonight, Egyptians heard it, though not from Mubarak himself. He decamped to Sharm El Sheikh, the Red Sea resort town, and left his ashen-faced vice president Omar Suleiman to announce the end of his era. I watched on CNN, and the translator could barely contain himself. When Suleiman said Mubarak was stepping down, the translator's voice jumped an octave.
The streets immediately erupted into a cacophony of car horns, screams, songs and cheers that hasn't stopped for nine hours, and may not stop for days.
After I returned from the square and was working on this story, I called Ahmed Salah, who was among those who organized the first day of protests on Jan. 25. I met Ahmed just a few weeks before the uprising, when he told me, "Something is in the works." I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was skeptical -- how many protests had been quashed by Egyptian security forces before, how many demonstrations where there were more police than demonstrators?
Obviously, I had no idea how big it would be. And Ahmed had no idea either. By the time we saw each other again, in Tahrir Square several days into the revolt, he said that the whole thing had surpassed his wildest expectations.
He suffered a broken nose and received a rubber bullet to the skull during the police crackdown on protesters Jan. 28. He was left with a big bandage on his nose, which made it difficult for him to travel to and from the square. The bandage identified himself as someone involved in the protests, a target for pro-Mubarak thugs or security forces. He stopped coming to Tahrir every day.
He was there Thursday night when many thought Mubarak was leaving. He'd taken the bandage off, and he warned that even if Mubarak were to leave it would be far from over. "We want a transition to a new type of state -- a parliamentary republic," he said.
When I finally reached him Friday night, after we'd both returned from Tahrir, Ahmed was in tears. I could bear to interview him for only a minute. Finally I told him, "Mabrouk." Congratulations. He and millions of Egyptians will wake up tomorrow in a new country, one that they created.
Assuming they go to sleep.
Update: Here's my account of covering the Egyptian uprising, for Playboy magazine.