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Opposition leaders in Egypt say the government must go further. Yesterday, Egypt’s vice president and long time intelligence chief met with representatives of opposition groups including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He pledged open elections and the release of political prisoners, but did not address the fundamental sticking point, President Mubarak himself. For days now protesters in Egypt have insisted on Mubarak’s immediate resignation, and they vow to escalate their protests until their demands are met: Join us for an update on the political turmoil in Egypt and what role, if any, the U.S. can play
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Emad Shahin Egyptian scholar and associate professor of political science, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies University of Notre Dame
- Shashank Bengali Cairo correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers.
- Steven Cook Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies, Council on Foreign Relations
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Egypt's new vice president met yesterday with leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, but protesters vow to continue. Amid international outrage, an executive from Google -- who'd apparently been among the protesters and was arrested -- is expected to be released today. Joining us to talk about the fast-moving situation in Egypt, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, Abderrahim Foukara, he's Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic, by phone from Chicago, Emad Shahin is associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, by phone from Cairo, Shashank Bengali. He's Cairo correspondent for McClatchy news.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd in just a little while, we will be taking your phone calls, your e-mail, your postings on Facebook and Twitter. Good morning to all of you. And, Shashank, I'm going to start with you. Give us a recap of the talks so far, who has participated, what's been offered and what's been agreed to.
MR. SHASHANK BENGALIWell, good morning, Diane. The talks have just been started in the last couple of days. Vice President Omar Suleiman met yesterday with members of the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time, which was significant because this is Egypt's best organized opposition group, but they've effectively been banned under emergency laws. And so just the fact that Muslim Brotherhood representatives sat in the same room with the vice president was a sign that, perhaps, things are changing. But what we understand from the talks yesterday, there was no significant breakthrough.
MR. SHASHANK BENGALIThe vice president continues to offer the concessions that President Mubarak has mentioned, which is that he would step down at the end of his term. They would discuss instituting term limits for presidents going forward, but none of the major demands that the protesters have, which include Mubarak's resignation right away and repealing the emergency laws, dissolving parliament and changing or curbing the powers of the president.
REHMHow do the protesters feel about having the Muslim Brotherhood there representing their interests?
BENGALIWell, the protesters or grassroots movement today include everyone from conservatives, the Brotherhood members to liberal activists that -- who organized on Facebook and Twitter. It's a huge, broad spectrum of Egyptian society, and they claim, really, that no one group or no one person can speak for them and be -- the folks who have been in the room with the vice president, so far, have echoed that. They know that they are indirect proxies to sort of voice a segment of what the protesters want, but, really, no one can negotiate for these massive groups at this point.
REHMSo the sticking point remains the president himself?
BENGALIThat's right. He is still what the -- most of the protesters are saying he is sort of the trophy that they want -- to tap him out of power. We've seen, though, in the past couple of days, the number of protesters very gradually and just very, you know, almost imperceptibly, sort of dwindle a bit. It has to deal with some of the tougher weather that Cairo has had. It has to deal with stiffer presence of Egyptian army soldiers on the streets, making it a bit harder for folks to get into Tahrir Square where the protests have been taking place. But it also has to do, I think, with the weariness that some are beginning to feel in Cairo.
BENGALIYou can sort of feel in the air, life is slowly coming back. The city banks have reopened. The stock market is supposed to reopen next week for the first time in two weeks. There is a sense among people that they want to get their lives back just a little bit, and, I think, this is the waiting game that the government is trying to play. They're trying to peel off some of the protesters, leaving just the hardcore in the square. But they're slowly restarting, I think, to convince a few people that what the president -- what President Mubarak has offered might just be enough.
REHMShashank, as you will know, we have two other guests here in the studio with us -- Steven Cook, Abderrahim Foukara and -- in Chicago -- Emad Shahin. They, I'm sure, have questions for you. But I'd like to ask you now about this Google executive. What do we know about him? Why was he arrested? Why has he been held? And are they about to release him?
BENGALIWell, as we've been talking, Diane, I've been following the situation on Twitter, primarily, which is -- turned out to be a great way to follow this particular piece of the story. And we understand -- it's unconfirmed, but we understand that Wael Ghonim was just released within the last, about, 10 or 15 minutes. Yesterday, the Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told state media that they would release this man. He is Google's marketing executive in this region.
BENGALIAnd it's believed that he was involved with creating and maintaining the Facebook page that helped to galvanize many of the protesters who showed up for the first time in the streets on Jan. 25. And he was arrested shortly after the protest began. He left a very ominous note on his Twitter feed saying he fears what the police are about to do. He fears crimes by the security forces. And then he went missing. And he -- up until his release was just reported, he was the longest missing known protester. But we understand that he's just been released and may, in fact, be on his way to Tahrir Square.
REHMI'm glad to hear that. Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations has a question.
MR. STEVEN COOKShashank, thanks very much. A lot of the media attention has been focused on Tahrir Square. But what I'm hearing from friends in Cairo is that there continues to be pressure from the police and the military police and intelligence services on people and activists outside of Tahrir Square, people being pulled from their cars, people continuing to be arrested. What do you know about that situation, if anything?
BENGALIIt's tough to know for sure, Steven. We have heard stories, especially in Alexandria, which is the second largest city in Egypt. It has a large (unintelligible) of the Muslim Brotherhood members living there, and it's where a couple of the activists who have helped to spark this protest movement in recent months were also based. It's difficult to get reliable information. What we know from human rights groups and others who are tracking this out of Cairo and Alexandria is scores of journalists, scores of protesters and activists have been arrested. From what we can tell, though, most of these arrests and most of the detentions are short-term. You know, Wael Ghonim is a rare case where detention lasted several days.
BENGALIMost of them seem to be, you know, within 24 hours. They're arrested and released. And it seems to part of a campaign to intimidate these people. They keep tabs on them to know where they are. My colleague's a foreign journalist as well who's been detained and harassed but have all been released, you know, within 24 hours or so. And so we're hearing, you know, unconfirmed reports, but for the most part so far not long-term detentions as of yet.
REHMProf. Shahin, a question.
PROF. EMAD SHAHINYes, I have a question about the role of the military. The role of the military has raised some questions. Where does the military stand now? And are there any plans of a possible military encroachment into the Tahrir Square?
BENGALIThe military role has changed a little bit in recent days. We -- in the beginning, they came into the streets for the first time in more than two decades in Egypt when the police melted away following the first day of protest. So the military has been on the streets now for two weeks, and for the most part, they've -- in the early days at least, they were really just sort of keeping a watch on things. Now, the military is better liked, certainly by the average Egyptian than the police services because this is a conscript force. Almost every Egyptian knows someone, you know, a son or a relative in the military, and so they have that sort of broad base of appeal.
BENGALIHowever, in the last couple of days, they came under fire first last week for -- they were accused of standing by while the heavy clashes erupted between pro-Mubarak supporters and the protesters in the square. And then in the last couple of days, we've seen them slowly try to push the protesters back. There have been confrontations at a couple of the entrances between protesters and the military, the military trying to recapture a semblance of normal life, getting the streets up and functioning again. But the protesters are really very doggedly holding on to the land that they've seized and trying to resist what the military is doing.
REHMAll right. And Abderrahim Foukara.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAShashank, hi. Just a quick point. Amb. Wisner made that baffling statement a couple of days ago that the -- that President Mubarak should stay until the constitutional process is finished. What I found more baffling than that is the second part of his statement, which is he should be given time to actually write his legacy. How did the Egyptians in Tahrir Square receive that part of the statement, write his legacy?
REHMWe have about 30 seconds, Shashank.
BENGALIWell, I think most of the Egyptians in the square would say that he had 30 years to write his legacy, and he's already done that. I think, at this point, for the hardcore who are left, you know, nothing short of him leaving power will suffice, and that's been their -- that's been what they've said since the very beginning.
REHMShashank Bengali, Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, thank you so much for joining us.
REHMAnd we'll take a short break. Right back.
REHMYou've just heard from Shashank Bengali, Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Now, we'll turn to our other three analysts, Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations, Emad Shahin, Egyptian scholar -- he's associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame -- and Abderrahim Foukara, he's Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. We will be taking your calls shortly, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Prof. Shahin, the former head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog committee, Mohamed ElBaradei, seems to have become the most prominent opposition voice. Is that an accurate assessment?
SHAHINWell, to a large extent, this is true. Over the past -- as you know, the Egyptians have been struggling for a -- putting forth a list of demands for political reform and for meaning change for the past, at least, eight years. They have also managed to formulate a clear vision about what they are seeking and what they are asking for -- primarily, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, rule of law, independent judiciary, effective and meaningful constitution and so on and so forth. What was missing, actually, in this list of demands was the vehicle, the instrument by which these demands could be affected on the ground.
SHAHINThis is where I see Mohamed ElBaradei's role as so crucial. Mohamed ElBaradei has emerged as a voice, as the voice that can articulate these demands and also can bring a -- or stir up a movement of -- for change in order to achieve a meaningful democratic transition. ElBaradei as -- unfortunately, here in the West, he has always been portrayed as lacking in roots. He is a political tourist, as some people, you know, call him. But this is not really true because, if you look at the structure of the Youth Movement that actually planned and organized the uprising on Jan. 25. It consists of four main groups. One of them, actually, is a group that -- it's the committee or the youth committee for support of ElBaradei as a candidate in the future.
SHAHINSo ElBaradei -- and this is, of course, a core body, an organ in the -- these whole demonstrations and actually, in this moment, are for change. He is also a well-seasoned diplomat. He has the experience. And, I think, he -- one of the things that really act to his credit is that he has -- he's been out of the system. He's not an old face. He is not like an (word?), a born-again reformist. No. He has not been tainted by the system and has been outside the system.
REHMNow, considering what you've just said, what did you make of Frank Wisner's comments?
SHAHINThis is really sad because, you know -- actually, if you look at the -- it affects negatively, of course, on the U.S. administration and its position regarding the whole situation. If you look at the U.S. position, it has really shifted immensely from an initial position of confusion, taken by surprise. And then you have some contradiction on the statements that were coming out from the White House and those that were coming from the State Department until it took the whole administration a week to galvanize, to formulate some kind of a consistent and coherent position that the transition must happen, the transition must happen now and that the transition has to be orderly and smooth and so on.
SHAHINNow, this is really sad because it reflects on -- also on the poor choice of an envoy to send to Mubarak. This is someone that -- who's supposed, as everybody expected, to deliver a firm message to the Egyptian regime, and particularly to Mubarak. And we expected or speculated that he would ask Mubarak to leave and leave now. And then, instead, he comes out, and he comes back and he makes such a statement, that Mubarak should be given a chance to write his legacy. He -- Mubarak has had 30 years to write a legacy. So it's really, really sad because this was, of course, taken by the demonstrators and protesters that there is some kind of confusion or a -- some kind of a design on the United States, actually, to backtrack in its support of the democratic change in Egypt.
REHMSteven Cook, how did you read Frank Wisner's statements? And what do you think of ElBaradei?
COOKWell, first, on Amb. Wisner, there is a certain logic to sending someone like Frank Wisner out to see President Mubarak because they're known to be personally close. And so the sense was that perhaps Amb. Wisner could get through to President Mubarak, who clearly was digging in his heels. You have a good friend go out there and say, listen, time is up. But there's always the risk that in good friendship and close contact after all these years that the message doesn't get through or that President Mubarak makes some arguments back to Amb. Wisner that makes sense to himself.
COOKThere is some evidence that the administration may have been close aligned with Wisner, given what -- given the kinds of things that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been saying. But, again, you know, it is a risk when you send someone out who's known to be personally close with Mubarak. Virtually anything can happen. On this question of ElBaradei, I certainly think that he's an important figure. When he returned to Cairo last February and March, he -- one of the most important things he did was complicate the alleged succession of Gamal Mubarak to become Egypt's next president. Gamal Mubarak had set himself out as an avatar of reform and change.
COOKAnd here was ElBaradei, a Nobel Laureate, someone who had gravitas, someone who is not tainted by the system -- as Emad said -- and he was calling out this regime for its talk about reform but, actually, its continuation of an authoritarian system and, in fact, narrowing the political system. So, I think, ElBaradei was important in that way. Whether he can lead this movement is another question. He returned last Wednesday to try to give this movement coherence and leadership.
COOKAnd, to this point, he has been very good on the American media. He has -- his National Association for Change has been at the leading edge of this. But there's no real evidence that everybody has agreed upon him. And this is the sad thing about the Egyptian opposition. It tends to be quite divided and weak, and it provides an opportunity for the Egyptian State to manipulate it. And that's my concern going forward.
REHMAnd, Abderrahim, hasn't ElBaradei simply said, I will help in any way I can, I will serve as a transition figure? But does he truly have ambitions to be president of Egypt?
FOUKARAI mean, all the signs have been issued from his camp -- not just over the last two weeks, but ever since he actually went back to Egypt from Vienna -- that he does have the intention to be seen as a credible presidential candidate. And, I think, what has happened over the last two weeks, in a way, reinforces that impression. But, having said that, the dynamics of the situation in Egypt have not played out in full yet. And we don't know, at the end of the day, what candidate actually will emerge out of this.
FOUKARAI just want to quickly say something about Mubarak stepping down. I have a feeling that there is a missing link that we don't know. There is clearly something that is holding Mubarak on to his chair to -- so to speak, as president. Yes. There's all this talk that other leaders in the Arab world are putting pressure on the Obama administration not to jettison Mubarak in a way that's not dignified and so on. But I think there's something at play much more...
REHMWhat could that be?
FOUKARA...much more compelling than that. I don't know. What we do know is that the Mubarak regime is connected not just into the army and into the various political circles. He is also connected into the business circles in Egypt. There was that article in the Guardian the other day, talking about his family's wealth being somewhere between $40 and $70 billion. And I think that, looking ahead, him being so perseverant in asking to stay until those six months are over, it just makes me somehow feel that there are certain things, that there is business that needs to be...
REHMWhat about -- go ahead, Prof. Shahin. But I wanted to inject into that. What about the risks that the protesters fear could occur within this six-month period that, somehow -- if he is allowed to stay -- all of the negativity associated with him will recur?
SHAHINExcellent. Abderrahim actually raised an excellent point, why Mubarak's system has not fallen until now. I would like to take it, you know, one, at the personal level -- Mubarak himself -- and also at the structural level and then address the issue of the risk. We have -- ought to recall that Mubarak is a pilot by training and by education and by instincts, and, I think, he's now driving by his pilot instincts, meaning that pilots dodge, pilots maneuver, outmaneuver, and they think they can land safely at the end. That's exactly what -- how Mubarak is thinking. And that's why he's not heeding the advice of so many people around him from within his close circle as well as from, you know, Arab leaders and even the international community.
SHAHINThis is one thing. He is trying -- and that explains why he unleashed his subs and that lead us to the structural issue. Yes. There are people, of course, who have vested interest in the continuation of Mubarak as a person. And they feel, if Mubarak falls, so many heads will roll after him -- members of the NDP -- the National Democratic Party, the state party -- businessmen, as Abderrahim mentioned, also former members of the security services that did badly and they are now being chased and followed for investigation about their role in this. So all this combined, of course, I think, is making Mubarak actually kind of stubborn and not leave.
SHAHINLook, Diane. What we are facing or what we are seeing now is actually a struggle between two wills, two sovereignties. One is that of the state, of an authoritarian regime, an autocratic leader on the one hand and, on the other hand, the will of the people. And that's why we are still -- people who would like to have a meaningful reform in Egypt, an overhaul reform, and that's why we have this major standoff.
SHAHINThe protesters, of course, are scared that, if Mubarak persists, he would, of course, turn back and, of course, crack down harshly on them. And that's exactly what they are trying to do. Drag it on, talk to the opposition, try to divide or create a wedge between the opposition -- the former opposition and the protesters, the youth, and just leave them in Tahrir Square until they rot.
SHAHINAnd then they will almost be...
SHAHINDeprive them from any kind of popular support.
COOKThanks, Diane. I think what this situation suggests, in Mubarak's ability to hang on, indicates that the military is, in fact, the remaining pillar of the regime that Mubarak can rely upon. There has been no fracture in the unity of command, and they are supporting him until he finds a graceful exit.
REHMSteven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers. We'll open the phones now. Let's go first to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Abdullah, you're on the air.
ABDULLAHYes, ma'am. Thank you for your show and taking my voice from the Middle East. Hello?
REHMYes. Glad to have you with us, sir.
ABDULLAHYes. I was just saying, since 9/11, the Western media have been blaming the Middle East thinkers and educators and academia of not doing enough of paying attention to the young people of the Middle East and teaching them about Western values and democracy and to reject terrorism and extremism. And here we go in Egypt. The people who are demonstrating there are students, the unemployed, young people, Muslims, Christians, boys, girls to get rid of a tyrant. And nobody is helping them.
ABDULLAHThe Western countries are saying Mubarak needed for another six months. He just needs more time to go and arrest them and put them in jail and gather his police apparatus again. And if we don't help them -- and this is a major chance for the West to help these people because if we don't do it this time, then nobody should be blamed if these people turn to, like, Bin Laden and terrorism and extremists.
REHMFairly pessimistic view, Steven Cook.
COOKWell, I couldn't agree with the caller more in his initial statement. When I was in Tahrir Square the first night this began on Jan. 25 and then again on the 26th, these predominantly young people in their 30s and 20s were calling for democracy and change. This was a liberal and leftist-inspired uprising. This was not an Islamist uprising. These were people who had clearly embraced kind of Western ideas about democracy and freedom, and I think that they deserve our help and our assistance. For too long, the United States has enabled authoritarian political systems in the region, much to our detriment and mostly to the detriment of the people in the region. And these young people won't have it anymore.
FOUKARAI would just add that, obviously, this whole situation in Egypt is fraught with danger for Egyptians, for Israelis, for Americans, for everybody. But, I think, what we have seen in Tahrir Square, the flipside of what we're seeing in -- or the upside of what we're seeing in Tahrir Square -- Steve talked about the Christians of Egypt. We saw Mass being held in Tahrir Square. We saw young people getting married in Tahrir Square, right in the eye of the storm. And, I think, the United States has, obviously, some strategic interests in that part of the world, and Mubarak has served those strategic interests for 30 years.
FOUKARABut, I think, what the United States really need to get plugged into is that spirit that we are seeing in Tahrir Square. The spirit of young people -- that is the future. That is the future of Egypt, and that should be the future of United States' influence in the region. By the way, just today, we are beginning to hear, in Tahrir Square, something that we have not heard -- anti-American slogans. And, I think, the situation is, unfortunately, shifting and shifting very quickly.
FOUKARAAnd the Obama administration needs to take -- to factor that in.
FOUKARAWell, because of all these conflicting signals that the Obama administration has been sending in. I mean, to a lot of young people in Tahrir Square, they do not understand why Mubarak is still sitting there.
COOKJust quickly, I -- you know, the Obama administration is taking it on the chin. But it's important to recognize that our leverage with Egypt, and particularly with President Mubarak, is limited to say the most here. This is existential for President Mubarak. As Emad Shahin pointed out, he is trying to land this plane any way he can and hang on to survive. And I think that no matter what President Obama says to him -- now, peaceful, meaningful transition -- these are all very good words from President Obama.
COOKBut as long as Mubarak and the people around him consider this to be an existential issue, their survival is at stake. No matter what we say or what we do with our aid package -- which isn't that big any longer -- they're going to make decisions based on their own interests.
REHMSteven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic and Emad Shahin of the University of Notre Dame. We'll be back after a short break with more of your calls, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd here is our first e-mail from Conchita, who says, "It has just come out that the U.S. special envoy, Frank Wisner, to Egypt who was sent to talk with Egyptian President Mubarak has ties to a law firm that has big business deals with Mubarak. Also, as someone who voted for Obama and seeing how young people here use social media for him, I am very disappointed in the reactions of the administration, the statements and the negative nuances." Abderrahim.
FOUKARAWell, I mean, just to go back to what Steve was saying a little earlier, that the Obama administration's choice could have settled on somebody else as an envoy to Mubarak -- and, I think, that's correct.
REHMSomeone who is not as close personally...
FOUKARAExactly, exactly. Someone of a -- some -- just of a different orientation, a different caliber.
REHMAnd yet that's precisely why, apparently, they chose him.
FOUKARAWell, they could have chosen somebody who knew Mubarak and how to communicate with him, but not necessarily Wisner. But, look, it doesn't matter which way you skin this cat because to -- Egyptians seem to have -- at least in Tahrir Square, they seem to have made up their mind. Despite the rebuttal or the distancing of the Obama administration itself from Wisner, they have made up their mind that this -- the Obama administration is up to something they don't like. And what we heard from them yesterday is that we don't -- from the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, that is -- we don't care what Wisner says. We don't care what President Obama says. We don't care what Hillary Clinton says. What we care about is that this guy...
FOUKARA...President Mubarak, has got to go. The dangerous situation now is that these guys have been demonstrating for two weeks. The dynamics, one day, they're in their favor, another day, they're not in their favor. And, now, you're beginning to hear things about civil disobedience. You're beginning to hear about, how about we march to the presidential palace? And you don't want -- the risk in that is that there could be confrontation with the presidential guard.
REHMIndeed. All right. To Dave, who is in Toronto, Canada. Good morning to you.
DAVEGood morning. I'm just a little confused. By the way, I'm a telecommunications consultant, and I'm in and out of the region on a regular basis. And the thing that kind of confuses me about American interest is that I can understand America being concerned about things like the Suez Canal. I personally don't think that's going to get shut down, and I don't believe that it's going to harbor any kind of terrorism aspirations with al-Qaida. I can't see that happening with this revolution.
DAVEBut I do think if America defines its interest, as far as Israel goes, I think you might have problems. Because I think that as Israel expands its territory in the West Bank and so on, for these young people, I don't see how you can ask these young people to support the peace process and the treaty with Israel when it seems -- when they -- when it looks, to them, that Israel just blatantly does what it wants to do.
COOKWell, I think, to some extent, there is -- what the caller is talking about is the sense in Egypt that the separate peace between Egypt and Israel has emasculated Egyptian power in the region and freed the Israelis to pursue their interests without having to worry about an Arab war option. I think that Israel -- you know, regardless of how this whole thing shakes out, I think the Israelis have reason to be concerned. The peace with them is not a popular one.
REHMAnd to Raleigh, N.C. Adila, (sp?) you're on the air.
ADILAYes. Thank you. My question is, why does media -- why is there such a fear factor regarding the Muslim Brotherhood? I'm not for or against them. But it seems that the media's first obligation is to report on what is the Muslim Brotherhood rather than just put the name out there, Muslim Brotherhood, as though you're having Muslim attached to it that is automatically some radical organization. So, first, give people the information about what the organization is and know that there are many other organizations and groups in Egypt besides the Muslim Brotherhood that are calling for Mubarak to step down entirely.
REHMThank you for calling. Prof. Shahin.
SHAHINYes. I would like to just set the fact that this is not about Islam, nor about the U.S. or Israel. What we're seeing now in Egypt -- actually about neither of these things. It's actually about bread. It's about dignity. It's about freedom. It's about social justice. When it comes to the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, I always -- or once these things started to take place and events unfold, the first thing that came to my mind was that these Facebook kids did in eight days what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt failed to do in eight years and which is to galvanize and to present a mainstream agenda on which it could mobilize the entire Egyptian population. They brought to Tahrir Square two million asking for freedom, asking for meaningful change and asking for democracy.
SHAHINThey managed to create a mainstream platform. This is something that the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do over the past eight years, and these kids did it in eight days. This is one thing. The other thing is, of course, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, as we know, has been taken by surprise like so many other political analysts and political activists in Egypt and so on. And throughout the demonstrations and these events, they have maintained a low profile. They have maintained because they realize that the Egyptian political spectrum is very diverse these days.
SHAHINIt's not like what it used to be. And there's no single actor can actually exercise a monopoly over the decision-making process in the future. They are one among many key players and key actors that -- as you know, the social and political map of Egypt is highly diverse. There are 10 million cops. There are secular parties. There are liberal parties. And, amongst all, there is the military institution that's still loyal to Mubarak's regime and loyal to Mubarak and loyal to the state in general whether Mubarak goes or not. So these are all...
SHAHIN...can work as checks and balances over the Muslim Brotherhood.
REHMWhat about -- excuse me.
REHMWhat about the relationship between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, Prof. Shahin?
SHAHINYes, ma'am. We know that, since the 1952 revolution, and especially after two years -- 1954 -- the relationship has been very sour. It has been oscillating between crackdown, confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood and intermittent phases of cooperation or co-optation or toleration for the -- since 2005 when the Muslim Brotherhood managed to run as independent and garnered 20 percent of the seats in the parliament -- 88 seats. The relationship between the Egyptian state, in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been very, very tense.
SHAHINThey were subjected to a major crackdown on their -- not only political structures, but also on their economic structures, the companies and the economic concern that they run in the country. So it has been, really, very tense over the past few years.
REHMAbderrahim, does the Muslim Brotherhood stand for the same things that the protesters themselves want?
FOUKARAWell, there are clearly overlaps. But, I think, what we have been hearing from the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, up until yesterday -- when the Muslim Brotherhood was engaged in dialogue with Omar Suleiman, the vice- president -- is that nobody represents us, the Muslim Brotherhood, nobody else. This is not about trade union work. This is a revolution. And so it was a clear distancing from the Muslim Brotherhood or the other opposition parties that are engaged in the dialogue.
REHMSo, if that is the case, why did the vice president not invite some of the protesters themselves, Steven Cook?
COOKWell, I think it's clear by Omar Suleiman's reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood -- Omar Suleiman, who's been deeply involved in repressing the Muslim Brotherhood -- that this is an effort on the part of the state and the remnants of the regime to split the Brotherhood away from this broad coalition of groups. The Brotherhood who -- which does, as Emad Shahin pointed out -- does have a history of accommodating the regime for fear of being totally destroyed. And it was the opening move on the part of Omar Suleiman in an effort to divide this opposition, which, until this point, has been pretty unified on the question of Mubarak. Now, when we're getting to the details, it'll be an effort, as I said, to split and divide the opposition.
REHMAll right. To Kathleen in Dayton, Ohio. Good morning to you.
KATHLEENGood morning. And, boy, I just -- the Egyptian protesters have just been an inspiration as far as their peaceful strategies, even though it got stirred up there for a while. But in the blogosphere, there are a lot of Egyptian protesters talking about this interim period between if Mubarak stays in control or Suleiman takes his -- takes his position, you know, in the role that Suleiman has played with the rendition and torture programs, that some of them are very fearful about their own safety in this interim period and will Suleiman and the Egyptian government come for them in the middle of the night.
KATHLEENAnd then I also want to ask about -- there seems to be a lot of undermining of ElBaradei in our mainstream media by, say, Richard Engel, Andrea Mitchell. I've also heard Jamie Rubin undermine ElBaradei. So if you could just discuss ElBeradai today.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. What about Suleiman and his history and the projections that are being made?
COOKWell, Omar Suleiman is the longtime right-hand man of President Mubarak. He's the...
REHMFormer head of the...
COOKHe just recently -- he left his position, longtime position, as the director of the General Intelligence Service, which both has foreign intelligence functions as well as domestic intelligence functions. And he has had some of the most important foreign policy portfolios for the Egyptian government but also deeply involved in maintaining the stability of the country. So, I think, the concerns in the part of Egyptians in the blogosphere are quite valid. They have -- Omar Suleiman has not given up. And there's clearly, while at the same time there is at least the appearance of negotiation going on, Suleiman and others are overseeing an effort to intimidate and undermine and even repress people who'd like to live in a more open and democratic society.
FOUKARATwo quick points. One on a light side of what's going on in Tahrir Square is these events in Tahrir Square have, in some ways, really brought out the best in Egyptians -- not just festivities but also sense of humor. Some of the slogans that we've said -- one of them, for example, yesterday said, Mubarak, go, go. My wife is pregnant, and I don't want the baby to see you when it comes out. On the Omar Suleiman side -- remember, this thing started in Tunisia. That was the spark. And we are now almost two months from the time when the president of Tunisia actually fled the country.
FOUKARATunisia continues to be run by remnants of the old regime. The Prime Minister, for example, Mohammed Ghannouchi was prime minister under Ben Ali. And what I'm trying to say is, Egypt, the regime is even much more entrenched than it was, actually, in Tunisia. And it seems, to me, that Omar Suleiman or no Omar Suleiman, the regime will continue to pull some significant strings, even if this whole situation sorts itself out.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to add to that, Prof. Shahin?
SHAHINSure. I think, you know, that the corner issue here is the two approaches. We have two approaches here. One is to effect change within the regime itself, which means Omar Suleiman stays and continues with some of the old policies, you know, like more of the same with some, of course, changes here and there. Or you are asking for another approach which is regime change, an entire overhauling of the regime. Based on what the unfolding of events over the past few days, I think there is a great deal of distrust and lack of confidence in this government, in the whole regime and the whole executive system.
SHAHINIf you remember, when Mubarak was, you know -- came out to calm people down, and he said that he would -- he'd finish his term and so on, the following day, the next day, he unleashed his thugs and so on. Also, when the prime minister came out on television and the vice president tried to calm people down and to give the impression that they are willing to give concessions, they arrested journalists, they closed down human rights officers and advocates, and even they arrested some of the protesters. So there is a huge deal of distrust here between the protesters on the one hand and the regime.
SHAHINSuleiman, of course, unfortunately, he's portrayed here as highly respected. I don't know where they got these reports from. Suleiman, to the protesters, and as they say -- and they come out and say, he's the Israel man in Egypt. He's pro-Israeli. He's pro-American. And he has -- as the listener said, he has been involved in rendition and even torturing people physically. That's some of the reports alleged, some of the reports alleged. So this is -- of course, there is a fear that the position under Omar Suleiman would not give any guarantees for a meaningful change and a true democratic transition.
REHMTell me if you can, Abderrahim, what does history tell us about prospects for building a democracy after a dictatorship, especially looking at what's happening in Tunisia?
FOUKARAWell, certainly, in the region, it's a new thing. Egypt, or any other country in the region, hasn't had a proper democratic experience or experiment for some time -- certainly, in the case of Egypt, for over 50 years. Tunisia, I think -- there were hopes that -- there are still hopes that, ultimately, Tunisia would be the laboratory because the prime minister, for example, is now saying that after the democratic process is concluded in a few months, that will be the end of his political career. And, I think, all revolutions -- I think there was a very interesting article in The Washington Post yesterday, saying that all revolutions have, in some way, to deal incrementally with the remnants of the regime that ruled before the revolution. And I think the Arab world would be no exception.
COOKWell, I'm concerned that the remnants of the old regime will continue to stick around. And what we'll see is some taking up account from demands from below while essentially holding on to this authoritarian regime. That's not to say that democracy can't emerge in Egypt. Of all the countries in the region, Egypt has some experience with proto-democratic institutions. In the '20s and '30s and '40s, they actually had a parliament that functioned.
REHMSteven Cook, the Council on Foreign Relations, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic and Emad Shahin of Notre Dame University. Earlier in the hour, you heard from Shashank Bengali, Cairo correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you, all.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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