One can imagine the scene in which Hosni Mubarak's generals, gesturing to television screens showing undiminished hordes of citizens baying for the president's departure, convinced him that the game was up.
Out of site of cameras, the president and his wife flew discreetly to his favorite beach house, in the resort of Sharm el Sheikh. It is believed that as part of the army's agreement with the fallen president, he is likely to be shielded in retirement from prosecution, and die on Egyptian soil.
Egypt's military rulers are expected soon to issue more communiques, outlining transitional steps to a permanent new order. For the time being, the head of the new command is likely to be the acting minister of defense, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi. But Tantawi, now 78 years old, is believed to be ailing and soon to retire.
The figure many expect to emerge to prominence is the army's chief of staff, Sami Anan, a professional soldier who is widely respected in the army. Reassuringly for Egypt's Western allies, Anan has cordial relations with the American military, the result of a close relationship built on three decades of generous U.S. military aid.
The last time Egypt's army took over, in 1952, it abolished pluralist democracy and installed the strongman system that Mubarak inherited. But Egypt's people, immensely bolstered by the success of their revolution, with its stunning exercise of peaceful power by great masses of citizens, appear broadly confident that this experience will not be repeated. What they expect, and appear determined to fight for, is a proper democracy.