Russia launches another round of airstrikes in Syria. In Afghanistan, fighting with the Taliban continues in Kunduz. And a Palestinian flag flies at the U.N. for the first time. A panel of journalists joins guest host Melissa Block for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
In the second week of upheaval in Egypt, pro-government groups have begun to clash with protesters. This raises fears that a largely peaceful movement to oust President Mubarak could turn violent. Mubarak announced yesterday that he will not run for re-election. But for many anti-government protesters, Mubarak’s concession is too little, too late. The uprising in Egypt follows mass protests in Tunisia which brought down the government there. Growing calls for reform in other Arab nations have leaders on edge. Yesterday Jordan’s King Abdullah dismissed his government. What’s next for Egypt and the Arab world.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- Shashank Bengali Cairo correspondent, McClathchy Newspapers.
- David Makovsky senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-author with Dennis Ross of "Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East."
- Samer Shehata assistant professor of Arab politics, Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spoke to his nation yesterday for the second time since the uprising began. America's chief Arab ally announced on television he will not run for re-election in September. It seemed to further anger protesters who've called for Mubarak's immediate resignation. The situation became even more volatile today as pro-Mubarak groups clashed with anti-government protesters. Elsewhere in the Middle East, demands for reform have jolted Arab leaders.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio to talk about Egypt and the region, David Makovsky of The Washington Institute of Near East Policy, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers and Samer Shehata of Georgetown University. And, before we begin our conversation with our guests here in the studio, joining us now from Cairo is Shashank Bengali. He's Cairo correspondent for McClatchy newspapers. Good morning to you, Shashank. Tell us where you are and what you're seeing.
MR. SHASHANK BENGALIGood morning, Diane. I'm in the Hilton Hotel right off of Tahrir Square, overlooking the main site of the protest here in Cairo for the past eight days. The situation has escalated today. Tens of thousands of supporters of President Mubarak poured in to the square this afternoon. And for the last three or four hours, they've been engaged in -- they're running battles with the anti-government forces that have been gathered in the square since the 25th of January.
REHMHave you been able to talk with any of these pro-government supporters?
BENGALII was actually in the square this afternoon and saw the crowd rush in. It was amazing. They had massed for several hours along the Nile River Cornish. And, at about 1 p.m., there was a thin line of Egyptian army soldiers guarding the square. And about 1 p.m., the line sort of fell away, and this mob began to run in, waving flags, chanting pro-Mubarak slogans. I was able to stop a couple of them as they rushed in. And I said, you know, what are you doing here? And they said, we love our president. We heard him speak last night. We don't want him to leave office right away. And then they set upon attacking the pro-democracy group.
BENGALII saw one group chase after two women and a young man who had been trying to leave the square. This mob of about three or four dozen people started yelling at them, (speaks foreign language), you know, get back, get out. And they chased them down a side street. And the three of them pounded on the door of a hotel, and, finally, they were led inside. And the group was screaming at them and pounding on the doors for several minutes before they finally left.
REHMThere were some reports this morning that they were actually hurling stones at each other.
BENGALIThat's right. I got out of there pretty quickly after that because I had a couple of people try to take my camera out of my hands and had kind of hostile looks in their faces. I left. And then as I've watched from my balcony, I have seen rocks being thrown. I've seen plumes of smoke, which colleagues of mine who are watching from the other side of the square say are tear gas. I'm not clear where it's coming from, but only the Egyptian police have tear gas. And, of course, it's not clear if the police are actually in the square or if these are pro-Mubarak demonstrators in plain clothes who might themselves be police officers. There are reports that some of the Mubarak group have police ID on them.
BENGALIAnd, of course, that would be just another example to many Egyptians of the way in which the police forces have sided with Mubarak throughout all of this, at first, clashing with the demonstrators last week and then melting away very quickly and allowing leaders and vandals to kind of lay siege to Egypt in the days afterwards.
REHMBut now, what about the demonstrators themselves? Do you believe that there is a great enough number to totally disrupt the protesters, the anti-government protesters?
BENGALII think it's possible. They certainly arrived in much bigger numbers today than we have ever seen since this began yesterday. As you probably know, you know, a few hundred thousand anti-Mubarak protesters had gathered. It was the biggest show of support that that group had seen since this all began. They -- most of them left by this morning because yesterday was the big rallying point. So after the square was mostly emptied of people, there were maybe a few hundred -- perhaps no more than a couple of thousand -- pro-democracy protesters still in the square.
BENGALIThis is when this massive mob of Mubarak supporters rushed in. It seemed like it was very well-timed. They had been massing for several hours. And it seemed like they certainly -- at least for now -- have the advantage in numbers. And we've seen them kind of march right up to the line where the pro-democracy group is, and they've been clashing back and forth for about three hours now.
REHMShashank, can you stay on with us for just a few moments?
REHMAll right. And turning to you, Samer Shehata, who do you believe -- or what is happening here?
MR. SAMER SHEHATASure. Well, this is a deliberate strategy and a tried and true tactic and method that the regime has used in the past, using paid thugs, using security forces who are in civilian clothing to attack protesters, demonstrations. During elections, it's used regularly. So the regime is attempting to do this. They're attempting to disrupt the peaceful protesters. I saw in Al Jazeera moments ago some of these people on roofs of buildings, throwing stones at the protesters down below, eight, seven stories below -- I mean, you know, deadly things.
MR. SAMER SHEHATAThe attempt to rush the peaceful protesters and attack them, this is clearly a regime tactic to disrupt the protests to cause chaos. And, I think, it has to be clear to the world, to the American public and to the U.S. administration, the character of this regime and what they are willing to do, unfortunately. It's a war that Mr. Mubarak is waging against the Egyptian people, unfortunately.
REHMShashank, you mentioned the police, but what about the Egyptian army? Do you see them visibly trying to bring an end to these clashes?
BENGALIIt's very curious, Diane. The Egyptian army has said throughout these protests that they would not fire on the demonstrators. It's the force that seems to be quite close to the Egyptian people. It's a conscript force. Everyone in Egypt knows somebody in the army in their family. And yet, today, what we saw was a very light army presence, essentially allowing the pro-Mubarak forces to advance on the demonstrators, to throw rocks at them, to chase them down streets. We saw -- I saw, personally, soldiers standing by, watching this and making a very light attempt to kind of corral people.
BENGALIEarlier today, the army said that they wanted the demonstrators, who are against the government, to stand down. They said, we believe your demands have been heard. And so it's not clear if it's the change in tactics by the army, if they decided to ally themselves more closely with the government and allow these battles, these violent clashes that take place or exactly is going on here. But it's certainly very, very chaotic.
REHMSo, at this point, the clashes continue, and we don't know exactly where this is headed. Do you believe that the anti-government protesters are outnumbered simply because they did not come back to the square as they had been yesterday?
BENGALIThey -- it's hard to tell exactly which side is larger, but the sense is that the force that continues to arrive and the force that's louder and more violent at this point is definitely the pro-Mubarak force. The army has been blocking people from entering many of the entrances to the square today. And we should need to point out that these clashes have also occurred in other cities today in Egypt. Pro-Mubarak forces also arrived in Alexandria in the north, in Suez, a port city to the east of Cairo.
BENGALIDefinitely, I would have to agree with your panelist, that it certainly seems like a deliberate strategy today to take advantage of the aftermath of what the pro-Democracy group has achieved yesterday.
REHMYour colleague, Nancy Youssef, has a question for you.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi, Shashank. I wanted to ask you what people are saying today about Mubarak's speech yesterday. Did they empathize with him at all when he talked about his nationalism? Did that resonate at all? Are people -- also, are people talking about any fears about what would happen if he left? Are we hearing any of that from these pro-Mubarak demonstrators?
BENGALIWhat I heard is he -- from the Mubarak group today, one man said, you know, what we heard from him last night is what we wanted to hear. He's an Egyptian. He's going to die on Egyptian soil. We should let him finish out his term. There is a sense of sympathy for what he has gone through. This is a man who, you know, rose through the ranks of the Egyptian military. And there is a lot of sympathy for him in the country. However, you know, it's very difficult to separate the genuine Mubarak supporters in this crowd -- of which I'm sure there are very many -- hard to separate those from the outright thugs who have been setting upon the peaceful pro-Democracy group. That's the problem that this demonstration today is -- it has put perception, right now, which group is actually leading the charge here.
SHEHATAYes. I mean, I heard directly yesterday from Egypt in the evening, after his speech, that one of the concerns that protesters have, and regular Egyptians have, is that if he is allowed to continue as president until September, there could be significant retribution, targeting of protesters and protest organizers, collective punishment, as it were, against the Egyptian people for what's happened. And the key point -- for the protest and for opposing him. And the key point is that there's no credibility. He has no credibility. No one believes that he is going to fulfill his promises after being in power for so many years.
REHMSamer Shehata, Georgetown University. Short break.
REHMAnd welcome back to our discussion about what's going on not only in Egypt, but throughout the Arab world. Here in the studio, Samer Shehata. He is at Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Nancy Youssef is Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. David Makovsky is at the Project on Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and on the line with us from Cairo is Shashank Bengali. He is Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. We are going to take your calls shortly, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. In President Mubarak's speech yesterday, he said that the protesters were being manipulated by political forces. Samer Shehata, what was he referring to?
SHEHATAWell, again, he has attempted to scare Western governments, Western publics and part of the Egyptian population. Whether it was a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, whether it was a reference to -- as he's done in the past -- Iranian agents and infiltration having some influence on groups and so on, as well as the charge that, for example -- absurd -- that Mohamed ElBaradei is a foreign agent because he's been abroad for so long and so on, I think there is no truth in any of that.
REHMNo truth in any of that. Nancy Youssef.
YOUSSEFI also think he's trying to paint this as a battle between chaos and order. One -- if you listen to his speech -- both of them -- the word he kept using was chaos, fauda in Arabic. I mean, I counted five times in the first speech and three the second. And he's really trying to say, I represent order, and these opposition groups represent chaos. And by choosing those opposition groups, you're choosing economic instability, security instability. That is how he was trying to paint himself vis-à-vis these protesters.
REHMAnd, David Makovsky, you say by saying that he was going to stay on until September elections, he's put the army in an impossible situation.
MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYYes. This is something, as Americans, I think, we should be very nervous about because, for us, a lot of our relationships with the Egyptian government is really with the military. They've trained with us for 30 years. And I think, so far, they've passed with flying colors, that they have not fired on the protesters, whether it was their own choice, whether they're messages coming from here, whether it's a combination of both. And what Mubarak has done, I think, by saying he's going to stay on to September, is that he's put them in an impossible situation in the middle between Mubarak and his people.
MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYAnd are they really going to be able to kind of be above the fray for the next eight months? As we're seeing this morning, this confrontation could be heating up. It's not necessarily cooling off. So it's crucial that the army maintain its special status with the Egyptian people, and I think that President Mubarak has now made that far more difficult. And it's also hard for them to go to their commander-in-chief and tell him, it's time to go.
REHMBut, of course, then, in a second statement or third statement, you heard President Obama say, the time for change is now. Does that send a sufficiently direct message, Samer?
SHEHATAI would hope so. But, I think, Mr. Mubarak has interpreted that as simply the announcement that he is not going to run again and these promises, empty promises that he's made. I think the key point that was made by Nancy is this choice that he's given the Egyptian people in the world -- chaos or stability and security. We have to realize that he is the one who created the chaos. The regime emptied the prisons. The regime sent the plainclothes security people out there to cause havoc and so on. And David's point is completely correct. The army is important. However, it gets at a bigger issue. The U.S. needs to have a relationship with the Egyptian people, with Egyptian civil society institutions, with all parts of the Egyptian political spectrum and so on, and not just the army, not just one man, Mr. Mubarak.
REHMI'm interested, Shashank Bengali, to what extent you've talked with those protesters in the street about their attitude toward the United States at this point.
BENGALIWell, it's quite negative, Diane, in that, you know, everyone sees the, you know -- the Obama administration after all the rhetoric of his speech in Cairo two years ago having basically told the same line. The previous American administration has been supporting this regime. There's a lot of anti-American, and even some anti-Obama, messages scrawled in the square even today. And so people really believe that Mubarak stays on only with the support and the sort of implicit understanding of the American administration.
YOUSSEFI want to get back to the army because, as Shashank pointed out in his fantastic reporting, you know, the police are seen by the Egyptians as an extension of the Mubarak regime. The army is seen as the extension of Egyptian nationalism. I know that's a point that's been brought on the show before, but it's worth reiterating. And the Egyptian army is trying to thread a very thin line. You know, if you're a general in the Egyptian army, you've either tacitly or explicitly supported the Mubarak regime in some way. If -- but you've also got a conscript force made up of people who joined because they feel a sense of nationalism, because they need to make money, because they need to support themselves. And so you have an army trying to thread those two almost seemingly contradictory worlds at times.
YOUSSEFAnd so, I think, what they tried to by saying we weren't going to attack or lash out on the protesters was to reach out to the people and to hold their status as the guarantor, if you will, of Egyptian pride. And, now, by coming out and saying, people, go home, you've got sort of the other side of the pendulum swinging towards the generals. To me, the critical piece in all this are those majors and colonels, those people in the middle who are leaders in the Egyptian army, but not necessarily overtly with the government and still have ties with the people. Remember, this is a -- this is not a professional army. It's a professionally-led conscript army, and that's a very important part in all this.
MAKOVSKYI was just going to say it's not just the army which is walking a thin line here. It's also Obama. Because, on one hand, he gets on, you know -- right after Mubarak gets on, within an hour, he's out there, and he says, the transition begins now. Now, you can look at that as a Mona Lisa moment, looking -- what angle you're looking at this picture. The transition begins now, meaning you have to leave, that, you know, you're not part of the transition, or Mubarak says he's going to make a transition to when he leaves in September.
MAKOVSKYThe thin line, I think, President Obama is trying to walk is, on one hand, identifying American values with the Egyptian people who are pouring out on the streets, at the same time wanting to cool down other Arab leaders in the Middle East that are listening for every single word the American president says as a signal to them. And so Obama doesn't say, Mubarak must go, but he's saying things very close to that, like there has to be an orderly transition -- that's what Hillary Clinton said this weekend -- and then he said, it should begin now. So he's trying to go up to the line to identify with the Egyptian people on one hand, but also to tell the Egyptian -- tell the Arab leaders, I'm not pushing Mubarak over a cliff.
REHMI want to ask you, Shashank, about the restoration of Internet access. To what extent has that actually occurred? And how is it affecting what you're seeing in the streets?
BENGALIWell, the Internet, apparently, was back on this morning. I'm still having difficultly in my hotel getting on, but I know that BlackBerry service is back. I'm seeing more, you know, Twitter activity from people that I follow who are in Cairo. So, certainly, that's picked up. However, it's worth noting. I mean, there was this blackout of Internet here for the last eight days, and phone service -- cell phone service was really quite widely disrupted as well as a tactic to kind of keep the protesters from massing. But there was really no shortage of information about Egypt. You know, there were lots of foreign press with satellite dishes. There was a huge amount of effort by companies like Google and Twitter to allow the Egyptians to call in their tweets and messages. There were still, you know, other ways of getting around it.
BENGALISo there is a young radio journalist I talked to yesterday who works for an Internet radio station. He's been going around Tahrir Square for the last eight days, gathering, he said, you know, more than 3,000 pictures, 100 hours of interviews. And he hasn't been able to send any of that to his server abroad. And so I think he would have a pretty busy time of it when things do get back up. But, for the most part, information has been getting out pretty well.
REHMSamer Shehata, is there any likelihood that the army -- as David Makovsky says -- squeezed between Mubarak and the people, that it would be they who would force Mubarak out?
SHEHATAWell, certainly, that is one of the possibilities, and, I think, if the military -- if senior generals who have relationships with counterparts in the United States, they're being reached out to by the administration, and if they hear and learn and understand that the relationship is fundamentally threatened, that military assistance could be cut off and so on, that the army standing would be imperiled, they could potentially move against Mr. Mubarak and solve part of the problem, not the whole problem.
REHMBecause they're getting $4.1 billion a year?
SHEHATARight. $1.3 billion a year in military assistance -- no problem.
REHMSorry, $1.3. Forgive me.
SHEHATAOne point -- and they realize the importance of the relationship with the United States that goes beyond even the military assistance. So if they realize that -- I mean, the army had -- there are tremendous risks involved with regard to this, right? If the army were to take a more active stance against the protesters, they would list -- risk their standing, that Nancy has talked about, among the Egyptian population. If the army was given the orders to shoot on protesters, and that order was not executed at different places, it risks the integrity of the institution of the army, which is based on the idea of orders from above executed from below. So the army risks a tremendous amount here. But, Diane, you're completely correct.
SHEHATAI think this is a situation where things like coups are very much a possibility. But, of course, regimes have made all kinds of efforts to try to coup-proof themselves as well.
REHMAnd, David Makovsky, Israel is very worried in this situation.
MAKOVSKYExtremely worried. I mean, there's no doubt that they, you know -- they can identify with people's aspiration for a more democratic life. And they hope that this is Berlin 1989, that it's a liberal revolution. Their fear is that it's Tehran 1979, even though it doesn't start that way. But they -- the Iranian Revolution also started with many liberals at the forefront, and those people were pushed out. Banisadr, the president, and then Khomeini becomes commander-in-chief much later. And, for 30 years, since the liberals were pushed out of the Iranian Revolution, we've been living with the theocratic state in Iran.
MAKOVSKYAnd then in Beirut, in 2005, there was hope of what they called the Cedar Revolution. And we saw the pictures on satellite television, and it was heartwarming. I mean, everyone was cheering for them. And then who's running Lebanon today? Is -- Hezbollah is more and more in control. So their fear is not from the liberals on the street. Their hope is that these guys prevail, but their fear is that the more ardent, hardened people are the Muslim Brotherhood that will come to the fore later on, not immediately.
REHMDavid Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about the Muslim Brotherhood? That name comes up almost in every conversation we had about what's happening there. Are they to be feared at the current moment? Are they to -- is their presence to be welcomed, Samer?
SHEHATAI think it's to be welcomed. They're not to be feared. They're not to be feared for a number of different reasons. As all of us know, they were not the ones who were originally behind the Jan. 25 protest. In fact, they didn't -- they declared that they weren't going to protest in those days. Then they went out onto the streets on Friday with hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of other Egyptians, and it continued to be out there. Several days ago, they said that they support Mohamed ElBaradei as an interim leader for Egypt. And they have had relations with Mohamed ElBaradei in his National Association for Change for some time. So this is not a new cooperative relationship.
SHEHATAThe opposition, so far, has been united in their basic demands of the immediate resignation of Mr. Mubarak -- the Muslim Brotherhood as well as all the secular groups. The Muslim Brotherhood also, only possibly, numbers between 750,000 and a million people. And, yesterday, they said that they would respect all existing international treaties that Egypt is committed to. They realize what's at stake here. They're not to be feared. And there's another thing. The Muslim Brotherhood is not Ayatollah Khomeini. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a clerically-led organization. They are not a radical movement. They're a moderate Islamist movement. They're made up of middle class professionals. They don't share all of my views, certainly, but they're not to be feared.
REHMShashank, have you seen the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood? Have you talked with members thereof?
BENGALIWell, certainly, Diane. They've been out in the square, like every other type of Egyptian. You know, they were -- especially in the recent days, they've been out in full force, and we see them. And their demands are roughly the same. The ones I've chatted with briefly, you know, they say that they want more democracy. They -- in 2005, when -- under pressure from the Bush administration, Mubarak allowed -- probably the previous elections of his presidency, the Brotherhood took a big chunk of parliamentary seats.
BENGALIAnd that probably led to the gradual crackdown that we saw culminating in the November elections last year. It's a parliament where 97 percent of the seats went to Mubarak's party. So the Brotherhood is the most organized. They, you know, benefit by a bit of cache because they're outlawed in the country, and they have bases of support around the country. But they're just one of the groups, you know, that are out there.
REHMAnd protesting against the government; is that correct?
BENGALIThat's right, yes. I should have said that.
BENGALIThey are definitely in the anti-Mubarak movement.
REHMAll right. David Makovsky, you do have some concerns.
MAKOVSKYYeah, yes. Here is where Samer and I might have some differences, and I hope he's right. But I'm just saying, this is not what -- everything we know until now is not really the best laboratory to predict the future because their political space has been greatly constrained by the Egyptian security state. So they could not be for violence. They'd be crushed. So I don't think it's a good judge to say, well, because they weren't in the forefront of these demonstrations, therefore, we could assume A, B, C, D. I think they've tactically been lying low. It seems to me, you know, the Hamas is the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. They have made numerous statements against the peace treaty with Israel in the past -- I have a whole list of them -- and very supportive of Hamas and others.
MAKOVSKYAnd it's -- if you look at the Pew polls that have come out in December -- and I think we usually think of the Pew polls as, you know, pretty good polls. In December -- meaning, you know, just six weeks ago -- you look at the numbers, and when they say, if there's a clash between Islam and modernity, most Egyptians want to focus on Islam. And there's many other examples of it. So I don't think we know for sure they're going to be horrific. But I think there's enough reason to fear. And the Egyptian security state has constrained them, so we really don't know for sure that they're going to be okay.
REHMDavid Makovsky, Nancy Youssef, Samer Shehata.
REHMAnd we've just had a Twitter post from P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman. He said, "The U.S. was concerned about the tensions and attacks on news media in Egypt." He goes on to say, "The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press." All right, we'll go to the phones now. We have on the line with us from Cairo, Shashank Bengali. He's Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. First to Cleveland, Ohio, and to Muhammad. Good morning, you're on the air.
MUHAMMADGood morning. How are you doing?
REHMI'm fine. Thanks, sir. Go right ahead.
MUHAMMADOkay. Thank you. My question is actually, you know, to my age -- I'm just 27 years old. Mubarak regime is almost three years older than me. But, as far as I know, he was a very good ally to the United States, as well as Israel. And, as we also know, Israel has a lot of enemies around, like Hezbollah, Hamas. And, if Mubarak go, does the United States have consigned who is going to be the next in charge? Will it be our friend or our enemy?
SHEHATAYes. Well, I think that the longer the current crisis continues and the longer President Mubarak is president and the more Egyptians are killed in this coming period, the worse the relationship is going to be between the Egyptian people and the United States. That's the first point. So we have an interest in the departure of Mr. Mubarak as soon as possible. The second point is, I don't think, by any means -- and the polling data says this, David -- that the Egyptian people are somehow anti-American. No.
SHEHATAAll of the polling data -- whether it's the Zogby polls, Shibley Telhami polls, Gallup, Pew and so on-- shows not only in Egypt but other places, people in the Arab and Muslim world have a great deal of admiration for America, American culture, American educational institutions. They don't like specific policies that the U.S. government follows with regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with regards to the Iraq War and so on. So I don't -- I'm not fearful for the U.S.-Egyptian relationship in the future, and I'm also not fearful for the Egyptian-Israeli relationship.
SHEHATAEgyptians have suffered tremendously as a result of wars over the last 50 or 60 years. Every single Egyptian family has someone who has died. You're seeing the people on the streets. They're not concerned about Israel right now. They're concerned about their lives and their freedoms and so on. And the Muslim Brotherhood has said previously, much before all of this -- their stance is that we would put the Camp David Peace Treaty to a referendum. That was before this. But they are not also primarily concerned about this. They're a domestic group focused on Egypt's problems.
REHMAll right. I want to, for a moment, go back to Shashank Bengali because some of the journalists covering the protests in Cairo, including CNN's Anderson Cooper and two Associated Press correspondents, have been roughed up in the crowd. Anderson Cooper said he and his crew were attacked by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday. CNN later said no one was seriously hurt. Shashank, have you witnessed this? Or have you, yourself, had similar experiences?
BENGALIWell, there is a night and day difference, Diane, between yesterday and today. Yesterday, I was out in Tahrir Square for the pro-democracy demonstrations and sort of a carnival-like atmosphere, people kind of milling about, chatting, you know, very -- singing songs, very sort of upbeat. And I was, you know, having -- doing interviews with people in Arabic with my translator next to me, and people would come up to me -- Egyptians would come up to me and begin translating alongside my translator just to make sure that I was getting the message. It was very friendly.
BENGALIToday, as the pro-Mubarak group kind of descended on the square, I had people trying to grab the camera out of my hand. I had people sort of shouting at me. I didn't get roughed up. I left, I think, before things really got out of hand. But, clearly, it's a much, much different group of people with a different attitude today.
REHMIs there a fair mix of men and women? Or is it mostly men, Shashank?
BENGALIToday, I've seen mostly men. I've seen either women and men -- not quite equal numbers yesterday -- but a large number of women in the pro-democracy demonstrations, and, today, the group that came in, I would say, maybe 75 percent male.
REHMAll right. Let's go back to the phones, to Pleasantville, N.J. Good morning, Violet. You're on the air.
VIOLETGood morning. I was calling to say that I think the people coming out to support Mubarak, some of them must be genuine people who are concerned. And if he has given concessions, and they're saying, why not let him stay until the end of his term -- but nobody is covering them. Nobody is interviewing them, and I think that's why we're having a one-sided view of the situation over there. We've got all the protestors who are against the government, but none will come out today saying, I'm for the government.
YOUSSEFYou know, Violet raises an interesting point. And that is we don't really know who the people are -- it's 85 million people. Who do the pro-democracy represent? Who do the anti-Mubarak regimes -- we don't know. It's funny. I have family throughout Egypt, and I've been talking to them everyday, amongst them on the phone. So I don't know if they really believe it or not, but they're saying that they want this to end, that they were moved emotionally by Mubarak's speech yesterday, that they fear what would come in place after he left, that they were -- that they accepted his claims that he would leave in September.
YOUSSEFThat is, this is a question about whether this is a revolt or a revolution. If it's a revolt for some people, then Mubarak leaving is an acceptable outcome. If it's a -- and -- but that also means a return in the weight of the status quo. If it's a revolution, then people want fundamental change. So in the terms of the scales -- how much is wanting a revolt, how much is wanting a revolution, how much is wanting neither -- I just think it's dangerous to treat the Egyptian people as monolithic. I think Violet is right. There's a wide spectrum. The problem is you just don't know where people fall in each one.
SHEHATAWell, of course, there's some diversity, but I think that the demonstrations yesterday -- millions of people all across Egypt, more than a million in Cairo, in Alexandria and other cities, one of the largest demonstrations in the 20th century anywhere in the world -- despite the blocking of information access, despite the stopping of the railways so people couldn't come in to the cities and so on, is a firm -- is a clear demonstration, the extent to which most -- the overwhelming majority are united at least around one thing, that Mubarak has to end.
SHEHATAI will say, Nancy, you're completely right about the divisions and the disagreements among people about what Egypt's future should be. There's no question about that. But I have no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of Egyptians believe that Mr. Mubarak has to go, have no faith in his credibility, and Egypt would be much better off if that were the case.
REHMTo Gainesville, Fla. Good morning, David.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
DAVIDOkay. I wanted to make three quick points. Number one, the so-called -- I heard one of your guests talking about the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators. But I remember the first three or four days on the news when these so-called peaceful demonstrators were burning police vehicles, throwing Molotov cocktails. One police officer had to exit the vehicle. He was on fire. They attacked government buildings, but yet they're supposed to be so peaceful.
DAVIDAnd the same soldiers that are accused of allowing the pro-Mubarak forces to come in to these people without opposition were the same soldiers that allowed these so-called peaceful demonstrators basically free reign in the city. And my third and final point is, how come pro-Mubarak forces are called thugs, and yet these other pro-democracy forces that have burned police vehicles and burned government buildings are called peaceful? Thank you.
REHMInteresting question. Shashank, could you hear all of those?
BENGALII heard most of it. I think he's right, you know. I think it raises the point of the chaos that's going on. It's really very difficult to know, you know -- as many of your panelists have pointed out -- who is in these groups. You know, what I can say is, having seen yesterday's demonstrations and today's, the town, again, is markedly different. On the day that the major unrest began, on Friday, there was certainly -- the party headquarters of Mubarak was set on fire. There was police vehicles that were burned.
BENGALIBut, for my knowledge, people themselves were not physically attacked. The people who set the vehicles on fire waited for the vehicles to be emptied. Police, in many cases, retreated, at which point the vehicles were burned and taken over. There was certainly violence and unrest on that first day. What I have not seen before and what is quite shocking to see today is the way in which a peaceful demonstration in a public square in the middle of Cairo -- next to the Egyptian Museum, you know, the most -- arguably the greatest treasure this country has, all the antiquities and things. This square is now, totally, a scene of mayhem. That's the big difference, I think, between the pro-democracy group and the group we're seeing today.
REHMAll right. To Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Good morning, Ramoud. You're on the air.
RAMOUDGood morning. How are you doing, Diane? This is -- I'm somebody who's -- a guy who has got his roots in Somalia, a British national who has got the concerns of the Western world. My first thing -- what is happening in Egypt is actually celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as a change. Nobody in the Arab world, or anywhere else, hates America. America is our big brother. We want it to have the leadership, but not to be a bully. We disagree with certain, you know, policies of the United States, but we love America. And my speech now is the speech of President Kennedy. We want Obama to look to the will of the people of Egypt and help that this country is stabilized.
REHMAll right. Thank you for your call. David Makovsky.
MAKOVSKYNo. I just think that, guiding this transition -- and we all -- I think the three of us, we all want this revolution to be successful as a -- you know, to democratize Egypt. I think that the army, given its special stature, is well positioned to convene that national dialogue. And that's why I'm so focused on it, that its reputation is not sullied with the Mubarak statement. And I fear that the longer this stretches out, its ability to convene this national dialogue is going to be undermined.
REHMAnd he talked about the rest of the Arab world. Gregory in Tampa, Fla. has a question. You're on the air.
GREGORYThank you, Diane. Yes. I'm wondering about the impact of the situation in Egypt on King Abdullah in Jordan. Now, I think he is U.S.-educated. I think he has an American wife, Queen Noor -- correct me if I'm wrong. And I'd like to know what -- how we feel about King Abdullah and how his people feel about him.
REHMAll right. Gregory -- one correction -- Queen Noor was married to the previous king of Jordan. The current queen is Rania. And he's quite right, that King Abdullah has, what, dissolved his entire...
MAKOVSKYBut he's had -- over 90 years, they've had 72 governments. And, often in Jordan, a safety valve -- whenever there's public dissatisfaction with the king -- this King Abdullah, his father, King Hussein, his great grandfather, King Abdullah -- they dissolve governments and appoint a new one. I happened to be with the Jordanian foreign minister last week wondering how it would impact them. I think that, right now, the turmoil is not directed at the king, like it is in Egypt, where it's been focused so -- almost exclusively on Mubarak.
MAKOVSKYIt's a -- there's a lot of the economic issues about rising of prices. But, you know, people could say there's always underneath that, concerns about corruption, how strong is the parliament. So while, you know, the -- it's not focused on him. It's interesting. I would also say the new Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit -- who was prime minister before in Jordan -- is someone who -- is someone who's personally considered to be very clean.
REHMDavid Makovsky, and you're listening the "The Diane Rehm Show." Samer.
SHEHATAWell, I mean, David is correct. I mean, you know, we have to remember that there's a major difference between monarchies and republics. Monarchs can stand above the body politic, to some extent, and there is also the possibility of monarchies -- for them to become constitutional monarchies. So the protests in Jordan, over the last couple of weeks, have been demanding the resignation of the previous prime minister and have been demanding economic issues and so on against inflation, and also political opening. I mean, there are real issues of limitations of political freedoms in Jordan. So that's a very serious issue. But no one is really calling for the end of the Hashemite rule or King Abdullah to depart the country. It's a very different situation, so...
YOUSSEFThat is -- I just want to add to that. What we're seeing in -- what sparked -- what Tunisia sparked in the whole Middle East -- it has sparked, as you mentioned, this need for reform. But every country is different. So, just because every country is reacting, every country's reaction will be different. We saw in Yemen, for example, the president there saying he wouldn't run for election again in 2013 and that his son wouldn't. That may be enough. We'll see. To appease opponents there -- they are more divided there about what they want. We're seeing a day of rage in Syria. Their demands are very different. So, as we watch what's happening in the region, you're going to see every country adjusting and trying to pacify their people in different ways.
REHMHmm. Interesting. And, finally, to Chris who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning. You're on the air
CHRISGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to find out -- some of your analysts were talking about how the army stepped in or let the pro-Mubarak supporters -- they let the pro-Mubarak supporters attack the pro-democracy supporters.
CHRISAnd, I mean, this has been going on for nine or 10 days, and we really haven't seen the army take any sides. And I think it's unfair to categorize it that way. And the second thing I just wanted to...
REHMI'm sorry. We are out time. The army, in fact, has remained pretty neutral up to now. But what are we likely to see, Samer?
SHEHATAWell, you're completely correct, Diane. And one of the -- and the reputation of the army's at stake. And one of the things that people are worried about, of course, is, in a situation in which you have tens and -- if not hundreds of thousands -- of people on the streets and the army there and so on and crowd control issues, accidents could happen. I mean, you could have -- and we saw several instances of army soldiers almost having to fire on civilians, simply because of the crowds, unintentionally. If that were to occur, this could become incredibly bloody and get out of control.
REHMWe shall all continue to watch, Samer Shehata of Georgetown University, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, David Makovsky at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Shashank Bengali, Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, thank you all for joining us. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.
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