The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak resigns on the 18th day of protests. A suicide bombing in Pakistan kills dozens. And Sudan’s president says he’ll accept referendum results and allow the South to secede.
- Blake Hounshell managing editor, Foreign Policy magazine.
- Michael Hirsh chief national correspondent, National Journal magazine; author of a new book, "Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street."
- Elise Labott senior State Department producer for CNN.
- Nadia Bilbassy senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Protesters in Egypt continue to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately. The military is taking a firm stance alongside the President, promising a smooth transition to democracy. And dozens of people died when a suicide bomber struck a military training camp in Pakistan. Joining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Elise Labott of CNN, Michael Hirsh of the National Journal and Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning, Diane.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHGood morning, Diane.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
REHMWhat a confusing time. Even within this hour, we've had conflicting reports of what's happening in Egypt. We hear that President Mubarak has left Cairo, has gone to Sharm el-Sheikh. We just heard another report from Al Jazeera that, in fact, President Mubarak is stepping down. Yesterday, we had all kinds of conflicting reports. What do you make of this, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, first of all, let us say that our reporter in Cairo confirmed that he left through a small airport called Al Maza and he's actually in Sharm el-Sheikh with his family. Whether he's going to stay there or not, we don't know. He might go out of Sharm el-Sheikh or stays there. But it doesn't make -- mean much because very often President Mubarak will spend time in Sharm el-Sheikh and he still conduct the Egyptian government affairs from his resort. The fact that we heard him yesterday talking, when he started talking, he appealed to the young people. He praise them.
BILBASSYHe talked about the reform. He said, I'm talking to you as a father. But yet everybody was waiting for him to say, I'm stepping down. I'm leaving and now I'm going to...
REHMAnd he didn't say it.
BILBASSY...be missing Mubarak, not prison Mubarak. And he didn't say it. The problem now, Diane, is the people in the streets, we have two million. It's not just in Cairo. We have it in Alexandria and Suez and Mansoura, all over Egypt. And they're not in the mode of compromise. They are in a mode of the revolution and a revolution means a radical change. It doesn't mean the reform. It doesn't mean changing faces. So I think that the danger now is the crowd is not going to accept Omar Suleiman.
HIRSHAnd the key, I think, here is, where is the military -- the Army going to be? They were responsible for some of the misleading reports yesterday, including exciting the crowd about the prospect that Mubarak was going to announce stepping down. They -- a couple of the top generals appeared before the crowd and said, somewhat ambiguously, that your demands will be met. We're dealing with this. And there have been other indications that they have been trying to edge him out.
HIRSHThere have been some reliable reports that there is a negotiation going on in which he will cede power to the military. It's not constitutional. It was called sort of a gentle coup. That has not happened yet, but it may still happen. The negotiations are going on. And I think part of the confusion we're having, and indeed even the crowds in Tahrir Square are having, is that you're obviously -- you have an ongoing argument going on among the upper levels of power in Egypt.
LABOTTI think, if President Mubarak were to say some of the things that he said yesterday, a week ago, I'm handing over my Presidential authorities to my vice president, Omar Suleiman. That might not have been enough for the crowd, but it might've been something for them to start thinking about. Okay, we really see he's going to do something. But what he's been doing are these kind of piece mail things to see if that's enough to mollify the crowd.
LABOTTAnd if that's enough, then he'll take another step and it's always a little too little, a little too late. And on Michael's point of the military, I think what's interesting now is the military is stepping up and saying, we're going to be a guarantor of this process. We are promising you reform. We are promising you that there are going to be elections. We're going to lift the emergency law when the situation is a little bit calmer.
LABOTTAnd because the military has so much credibility in the country, we'll see if that's enough mollify the people. I also think that if normalcy doesn't start soon and the protesters continue, it remains to be seen what the military's going to do. There have been some people that say the military is going to be like, enough, okay. Take yes for an answer. You need to get back to work. We need to have some kind of normalcy. And if we don't, that's -- we might see a little bit more agitated military.
LABOTTWe -- I think, the military, as Michael said, is key.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, Mubarak's strategy is clear. It's appeasement and attrition. He's trying to appease the crowds, throwing out bones, you know, announcing over the last couple of weeks that neither he nor his son would run, appointing Suleiman, discharging, you know, the officials of the ruling party, one by one and then yesterday's speech. Oh, we're revising the constitution. None of it has been enough. The crowds have only grown. And that's where the danger point comes now.
HIRSHBecause the military clearly is getting, itself, restive. It has held back until now except for a series of arrests, but, you know, you have to wonder if the crowds begin to get a little bit more violent, whether there might be a clash.
REHMThere are also a number of individuals who have simply disappeared, Nadia. What do we know?
BILBASSYOh, oh, absolutely. I mean, we -- let's talk about the number of the people who've been killed by snipers, bullets in Tahrir Square. Human rights organizations talk about 350, could be 400. There's many other people who disappear and precisely the insistence of removing the emergency law because of that. Because of the -- government has its free will, can arrest anybody. They can put them in jail, they can disappear and we don't know what happened to them.
BILBASSYAnd this is -- and as we've said, this situation that's ongoing now, but I think who's going to be accountable for this? President Mubarak, yesterday, said, I'm going to make sure that the lot of the martyrs is not going to go without punishing these people. But are you in charge or who's in charge? Is it Omar Suleiman? It is the very people that the crowd in Tahrir Square don't have any confidence in. Are they the one who's going to...
BILBASSYIncluding Suleiman, himself. And that's why I'm saying, the more we go on this process, the more -- this lack of trust with even the people that you think temporarily can bring civility to Egypt, it's not going to hold.
REHMThere's been some criticism about Leon Panetta's statement yesterday. The head of the CIA and making the statement that he -- that Mubarak was going to step down.
LABOTTLeon Panetta said a lot of things yesterday that I think he would've not wanted to have said. First of all, he said that Mubarak was going to step down. And to be fair to him and others in the U.S. government, they were pretty clear yesterday. They were told that Mubarak is going to step down. Everybody in the U.S. government, indeed a lot of people in the Egyptian government. We were speaking to officials that said, yes, he's going to step down. There were some reports that he was going to hand power over to the military.
LABOTTIt was really, you know, because we're in this 24 news hour -- 24 hour news cycle, you know, a lot of reports were -- and as we were talking about the military so I think everybody thought that they were -- he was going to step down. And even after the speech, I was getting, you know, some e-mails from officials that were, like, horrible. They just were completely surprised that he didn't step down.
REHMAll right. And we now have Blake Hounshell on the line with us. He is, let's see, with Foreign Policy magazine and he's managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Please put headphones on. Blake, are you there?
MR. BLAKE HOUNSHELLHi, Diane, how are you? I'm here.
REHMI'm fine, thank you. Tell us where you are right now and what you're seeing.
HOUNSHELLWell, I'm in Cairo. And it's just a stunning scene right now. The crowd has erupted in Tahrir Square and in the various points that -- around the city that the protesters managed to seize today. There's honking all around the city. Just an incredible out pouring of emotion. You know, this has been a real enlightening three weeks. Nobody expected that this sort of ragtag group of youth groups could organize and take down Pharaoh.
HOUNSHELLAnd they've absolutely done it. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether Mubarak is -- without Mubarak will stay. But for now, people aren't thinking about that, they're just incredibly happy and celebrating.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. There've been reports from Al Jazeera that, in fact, Mubarak is stepping down. What are you hearing?
HOUNSHELLOh, the vice president just came on state television and announced that Mubarak had resigned his post. He's not in Cairo. There are conflicting reports about whether he's left the country or whether he's at his traditional retreat at the beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. But all we know right now is that Mubarak has turned over authority to the military and, you know, which is, you know, unknown territory. We don't know if what just happened was a democratic -- the beginning of a democratic transition or a military coup.
HOUNSHELLBut for now, people are just really celebrating and it's a complete emotional roller coaster after last night. I was in Tahrir Square last night when Mubarak gave a bizarre rambling speech and didn't actually resign. He had basically -- the various branches of government had been leaking that he was planning to resign but it looked like they were trying to box him in. Instead he stubbornly clung on to...
REHMSure. Blake, are you seeing the military in the street with the people and if so, how are they intermingling?
HOUNSHELLI haven't seen that yet, but the military, all day, was, you know, very lackadaisical manning -- you know, they've been guarding state buildings and not doing a very assertive job of it. Today -- last night, I was at the state television building, very late in the evening, and a protester had camped out in front of there and blocked access and were denouncing the lying that the state television had done about the protest movement. And there were soldiers there just watching impassively.
HOUNSHELLBut I heard today that there was some more defections from the military. People had, you know, gone into the square and announced that they had -- were siding with the protesters. So I expect there's going to be a lot of hugging and kissing of soldiers here in Cairo tonight.
REHMAll right. We got to take a very short break here. Blake, I hope you can stay on the line with us. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back. The AP is reporting that Egypt's Vice President Suleiman says that Hosni Mubarak has resigned as president and handed control to the military. Car horns are being heard around Cairo in celebration after the vice president made the announcement on national television on Friday. He also went on to say, in these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the Armed Forces Council to direct the issues of the state. Now, tell me, Blake, whether what you're seeing from wherever you are looks peaceful.
HOUNSHELLAbsolutely. I mean, the -- for the vast, you know, amount of time that these protests have gone on, they've been peaceful and the protestors have been very careful to urge others to act peacefully. The violence of the (word?) has been directed by the government and government-hired thugs. So these protests -- there are huge numbers of people and yet, you know, they're just ordinary people that want freedom. People come up to you and unambiguously say -- you ask them what they want and they say freedom. That's the first thing they say. And it's absolutely an inspiring scene right now.
REHMWell, I want to see whether Elise Labott would like to ask a question.
LABOTTYeah, Blake, I was wondering if when they said that he's -- when the president is going to hand powers over to the military, what that means in terms of the vice president, what his duties would be, who has ultimate authority. Because my understanding of the constitution -- because this is an extra constitutional move -- that the vice president might not even have any authorities given what's happening. So what is the role of the military in terms of really governing the affairs of the state now? Did the vice president give any indication of that?
HOUNSHELLNot that I heard. I think we're kind of in unchartered waters here. But it may -- if the army's intentions are good here, it may actually be a good thing because they can scrap the existing constitution which, you know, Mohammed El Baradei and his coalition have urged, and to start fresh. The constitution that Egypt has been governed under is an enormously repressive document and it's basically engineered to allow electoral thought and repression.
HOUNSHELLSo if the army is intending to really act as a guardian of democracy than that's a really positive sign. On the other hand if the army just, you know, executed a military coup and wants to govern the country, which I doubt, then we're in for another round of instability I think.
BILBASSYI think it's very interesting just listening to President Mubarak yesterday. When he finished speaking, or maybe halfway through his speaking, the crowd were rejecting everything that he said. They were mad. They were angry and I think he was wounded fatally last night. The question was whether the army is going to side with him at any expense, or they decided that time is now to let him go and cut him loose. And I think they took that decision last night to let him go.
BILBASSYAnd there is the friction among the army, not on a lower level -- not on a high level but on the lower level. They're siding with the people, they've taken off their uniform, they're handing over their gun and they said the army and the people are one. And I think it will be really interesting now to see how we're going to go forward. There is a proposal about the council of wise men, that they wanted to have a national unity government that includes everybody and have transition. But we cannot have a fair and free election under the current constitution. President Mubarak talked about amendment in five or six articles but I think the talks now is how can we abolish the whole constitution, how we can dissolve the parliament, and then we can hold free and fair election.
REHMBlake, what are you hearing about that?
HOUNSHELLWell, you know, I would be cautious about what the council of the wise has been calling for because some members of this council of elders were actually urging the protestors to go home, you know, earlier this week. So, you know, it's not clear to me what their intentions really are. I would look for what the protest leaders themselves in Tahrir are advocating and what Mohammed El Baradei is saying because he's really been a steadfast advocate for just wiping the regime out altogether and starting over.
HIRSHYeah, Blake, one expert said something interesting to me, which is that the strategy of the military could be to concede the dictator to the crowds but not the dictatorship, which is to say that they will try, over the coming months, even if these reports are true and Mubarak is gone from the scene, to retain what they can of the old system. This is, after all, a country that's been effectively ruled by the military, at least its three leaders since '52 have been provided by the military. What do you think about that and are the crowds still suspicious, do you think, that this is what's going to ensue, particularly with Suleiman, Mubarak's hand-picked successor in place?
HOUNSHELLYou know, I think that's an excellent question and certainly one that I'm worried about. I think ordinary Egyptians have great respect for the army and, you know, they'll probably feel like the army played an important role in liberating them from Hosni Mubarak. I think the activist community is suspicious of the army's intentions. There were reports this week that certain units of the army, whether they were taking orders from the top or not, were involved in detaining and torturing people. So, you know, it's not actually very clear what the army's intentions really are. Last night what they said really disappointed a lot of people and people didn't really take much credence in their promises to, you know, address all of the demands of the people in Tahrir Square.
HOUNSHELLSo I think the army has to tread very carefully here because, you know, now that the street movements have, you know, flexed their muscles, they know they can take to the streets again if, you know, the army goes back to the old ways. So, you know, it's certainly an open question but I'm optimistic that politics have changed here forever.
LABOTTI think that this is the best possible outcome for all the act -- will remain to be seen what the people will say about this and how this goes forward, as Blake said, with the people in the country. But I think if you look at the International Community I think there's a big sigh of relief right now in Israel, in the United States. Although there are questions about how the military will rule going forward, I think one of the main issues that you've seen over these mixed messages coming from the United States right now, coming from the International Community is on one hand they want to be on the right side of history. They want to support the yearnings of the protestors and all these calls for reform and ending corruption and social and economic reforms that we've been hearing about.
LABOTTBut at the same time there's been this enormous concern about what would come next in Egypt. Would there be chaos? Would the worst case scenario fears of the worst things people think about the Muslim Brotherhood, would there be some kind of Islamic element that takes over Cairo? I think there's a big sigh of relief right now in Washington and in Israel.
BILBASSYActually, I'm on the optimistic side. I always believed that Egypt is not going to descend into chaos. There is so many institution. It has history. These young people in Tahrir Square have surprised everybody. I was amazed, Diane, of watching pictures on television of like a state within a state. These two million people providing services (unintelligible) the streets.
REHMCreating a city.
BILBASSYThey're creating a city, providing food. Today just before we came on air there was a team of doctors outside the presidential palace setting up a mobile clinic just in case there is some emergencies and they have to deal with people. I was amazed by this organization. These Arab people make me proud. For the first time for so long I was amazed by this. And if these people lead in Egypt, we have faith.
HIRSHBut at the same time, this is costing Egypt an enormous amount of money. It's tourist trade number one (unintelligible) ...
HIRSH...European Bank (unintelligible) just came out with an estimate that this is costing about $310 million a day to Egypt's economy, more than $3 billion in total since the protests began. And they revised down its GDP estimates for 2011 from over 5 percent down to 3.7 I think it was. So everyone -- and this is very telling to the people in the streets. I mean, these are shopkeepers, these are business people, obviously the educated class. I think that's going to be a factor in perhaps starting to disperse the crowds.
LABOTTAnd now these people have to get to work. They have to roll up their sleeves and meet with the people that are going to be in the remaining part of the government and really sit down and talk about what kind of constitution do we want. What kind of country do we want? What kind of election process should we have? What kind of government do we see taking place for a democratic Egypt? I mean, this now is going to be the hardest part. The protestors, their yearnings, they've got what they wanted. But now they really have to put -- the opposition has to really come together and talk about the realities of governing.
BILBASSYWell, the only thing, they're not going to go to the streets after securing a fundamental change it couldn't been possibly happening. And I think the fact that they found their voices and it's very loud and they lost their fear, it's the little man standing to the Pharaoh and I think they're going to be in the street until all the demands are met, or most of them at least.
REHMAnd I want to thank you, Blake Hounshell, Foreign Policy magazine, for joining us this morning. I know you'll keep reporting. Thanks so much.
HOUNSHELLThank you all.
REHMAll right. And now we're going to go to the phones and see if we can take a caller in Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Joe, you're on the air.
JOEYeah, good morning. I just want to say that I hope that the optimism really is infectious. I think that these protestors have really set new ground by being peaceful for so long under these conditions. And that I hope that Israel and the United States and these other countries that, you know, aspire to have democracy, really give them the benefit of the doubt and really promote that idea and not worry about, you know, what may happen if it's not peaceful or free or whatever. But, I mean, the restraint that these protestors have shown by being nonviolent in every way has really got to inspire --
HIRSHYeah, I think a key point here, Diane, is that despite the fact that we're all caught up in the headlines moment by moment, the real test of this revolt, revolution, whatever you want to call it is going to be months or even years down the line. The great danger of revolutions like this going back to the 1952 coup in Egypt to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 is that they get hijacked by forces that are not even necessarily foreseeable. I mean, certainly that is the fear about the Muslim Brotherhood. Many say it's an overstated fear but it is, for now, probably the most organized political force in the country. And that's the fear of Israel and some of the neighboring countries.
REHMCould what's happened in Egypt move to other parts of the Arab world, Elise?
LABOTTI think the fact that it happened in Egypt absolutely means it could happen in other places. When we saw what happened in Tunisia, you know, that was the ignition that lit the -- it ignited what happened in the region. You've seen similar protests in Jordan and Yemen. Basically for the main ideas that are -- it's a very common thread, economic reform, social reform, political reform. And to some extent in various countries they were stronger and the protests were longer.
LABOTTBut the fact that it happened in Egypt, the fact that Hosni Mubarak, this lynchpin of the Middle East, the Arab -- Egypt is really the heart and the soul of the Arab world. The fact that it did it in Egypt and the fact that you've seen everything happen really on Social media, Facebook and Twitter, everyone around the region is saying, if the people in Egypt can do it, I can do it too.
REHMElise Labott of CNN and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones now to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning. How are you?
REHMI'm fine thank you, sir. Go right ahead.
MARKWell, I just wanted to say all this trepidation about Egypt withstanding the economic downturn from this revolution, I think, is way overstated. I mean, the exhilaration that this country is feeling now, ridding itself of such a despotic regime, these people will carry any economic hardships that they have on their shoulders and they will brush it aside. To have this kind of freedom and to have this kind of exhilaration as a country that has been yearning for it for so long, people will withstand this and it will be something that will be very easily withstood by the people of Egypt. So I just want to say that I believe that all of the economic hardship problems that are being brought up here are overstated.
BILBASSYI agree with the caller. If you think that half of the Egyptians live under poverty line, $2 a day for most Egyptians, why would they care about how much the economy is losing every day because the money doesn't go to them. It goes to the beneficiaries around the regime and this is a very important point. I mean, if alone, Diane, the Egyptians manage to get 15 million people who live in this so called shantytown outside of the Citadel in Egypt among graves, that's good enough number just to show that this -- satisfaction with this regime. So I agree with him entirely.
REHMNow there had been talk that if Mubarak stepped down, if he left the country, he was going to leave with something between 25 and $50 billion. Is there some indication here that perhaps money was the overriding reason, Michael Hirsh?
HIRSHI don't see any immediate indication of that. This is a guy who's been in power for 30 years. He probably has more Swiss bank accounts than we can count. I don't think he's going to have any money wherever he ends up. But let's remind ourselves, this is a guy who recently as last night in his speech identified himself as a devoted son of Egypt who would never leave, who at this point has only gone to his palace in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is still in Egypt. So this has yet to play out in terms of a guy who, like dictators of the past may end up on the French Riviera enjoying, you know, his waning years. We don't know that's going to be happen yet.
REHMTo Daniel in Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
DANIELHey, Diane. I just want to say I'm a huge fan, but I was wondering if there's any way that the panel could project about how long this military rule could last. And I understand it's brand new and you guys have just as many questions as I do. But is there any way or any predictions that you have timeline wise?
LABOTTI think it's certainly going to last through the election, And we don't know when the election is going to be right now. I mean, the elections were scheduled for September. There's been -- you know, President Mubarak himself had talked about moving it up. There's been talk about some kind of decree that would move the elections up. I think it really remains to be seen whether the protestors are going to dissipate, whether they're going to get back to work, what the situation is going to be on the ground, what happens in terms of this emergency law and how the military is going to respond. I think certainly it's going to -- and then we have to see who is elected, how they work with the government.
LABOTTAnd I think you can look at an example like Turkey. The military was involved in some sort of way for a long time even after it wasn't involved in Marshall Law. And it kind of worked with the ruling party, the AKP to make sure that democracy was flourishing before it wasn't a military (word?) .
REHMWael Ziada, the head of Egypt Research at Mideast Investment Bank EFG-Hermes says, Mubarak's decision to resign, hand control to the military will help restore order. But he cautions, questions remain until the world gets a clear picture of how the political situation will develop and how the military will rule in the next period.
REHMAnd we have an e-mail from Katherine in Cincinnati expressing what I'm sure an awful lot of people feel. She says, "I'm in tears. Gandhi would be so proud. What a wonderful day for freedom and justice achieved with no war. My heart is joyful for the Egyptian people, a perfect example to expel the myth in this country about the need for people to bear arms for protection against this state. Peaceful revolutions can occur."
BILBASSYAbsolutely. I have to say that I share with the caller the feeling. And I myself was in tears many times and just to see the success of nonviolent revolutions. And actually there is statistics about it. For every violent conflict, the terms of success is 26 to 53. We have seen it in the Philippines. We have seen it -- it took seven years for student movements in Belgrade to get rid of Milosevic, but they did it through a nonviolent mean. We've seen it in Egypt.
BILBASSYWhat's unique about the Arab World is not the image that we know about. We've seen the violence, the killing, the military coup d'état, the guns, the non state actors that's always trying to find some way through the support of violent means. And all of a sudden, we have two million Egyptians under the extreme of all circumstances there standing in that square despite the intimidation, the thugs, the sniper bullets. They're still there, did not result once...
REHMThe camels riding over them.
BILBASSY...the camels, everything, did not result once to a violent incident.
HIRSHYeah, another great irony, Diane, is here at long last I think is the model that George W. Bush and his administration had so badly wanted to impose and did at the pointy end of a trillion dollar war that had less impact I think that these very spontaneous uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. I think that should teach us a little bit of lesson about how democracy does have to rise, you know, from the...
LABOTTCondoleezza Rice had said in 2006 during the war in Lebanon, she called this the birth pangs of the Middle East. These are the real birth pangs of the Middle East. I think as Nadia said, this really brings out what people that have a lot of Arab friends and spend a lot of time in the region know about the real heart of the Arab people. And they really showed it on the streets. And the fundamental earthquake that has happened in the region right now I think can't be underestimated in terms of what's happened of this lie and of the region for 30 years stepping down.
REHMHere's another e-mail from Jonathan, "Can other countries allow there to be a true democracy in the Arab World? And what might democracy look like in Egypt? Would it be parliamentary? Will the public reject the Israeli peace treaty? Does this change Israeli Palestinian negotiations? Elise.
LABOTTI think it remains to be seen who in the government is gonna take over. I think if you see someone like Mohamed El Baradei who might be the initial face of it, but might not win in the elections, I think there are various points of view. And I think it's certainly going to affect it. It's going to paralyze the peace process for some time to come, but I do think that while -- I think it's gonna cause a lot more pressure on Israel. In one sense, Hosni Mubarak was kind of the guarantor of the peace process, but wasn't able -- you know, he understood the security implications. You might get someone now who's gonna be bending more to the demands of the people and be a little bit more impatient with Israel than we've seen.
REHMAnd Mohamed El Baradei had a piece in The New York Times today. Michael.
HIRSHRight. And he, you know, anticipated a good deal of what's happening right now. He called for dissolution of the constitution. Mubarak made a big deal about saying they had to adhere to it, but after all, this is just a piece of paper that's kept his regime in power. And hopefully this will be the course that they follow. We don't know what the new face of Egypt is gonna be. Is it gonna Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who helped to ferment this? Is it going to be some types from the Muslim Brotherhood? that's where I think U.S. and European pressure -- continual pressure over the coming months and years is really gonna be critical. The leveraging of the substantial amount of U.S. aid. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
REHMBut, you know what, maybe the U.S. needs to keep hands off for a little while.
BILBASSYYes. Let me just go back to what Elise said and I agree with her. I think the peace with the Egypt -- between Egypt and Israel in 1979 is gonna hold, no matter -- that's my prediction, no matter which government's gonna come, maybe short of the Muslim Brotherhood, because this is an international commitment. Egypt depends on foreign aid. But you're not gonna have, after the Mubarak regime, a government that's so friendly with Israel. The new government will be more sympathetic with the Palestinian. They're not gonna see a blockade impose in Gaza and they will be standing there. They're not gonna build walls.
REHMGaza is the big question.
BILBASSYGaza is a very big question.
REHMAll right. To Washington, D.C. and to Gary, good morning.
GARYGood morning. I wanna know about this military counsel. Is it really -- who's on this? Is it more of a military junta? And do you think the -- do you think the people in -- who are protesting are likely to stop until the state of emergency is lifted? Thank you.
BILBASSYWell, we know that the military is in charge of Egypt, as Michael and Elise said, since the revolution of 1952. And Egypt lived under military rules, four of them so far. And the emergency law has been imposed in Egypt ever since the revolution except for 18 month. So we know also that even the governors that govern Egypt, most of them are the current or previous military. So the military is an establishment in Egypt. It's just like its career military officers who take over the country. The current one, we know that everybody, the defense minister, the vice president, all of these people in charge of this transitional period come from the military. So we don't know...
REHMWho have been trained...
REHM...many of them here in this country.
BILBASSYVery much so. And they have very strong ties with the United States.
BILBASSYThe officers come here every year. Their families come here every year. So I think the new generation of officers have probably more little bit leaning more towards the United States. And therefore I think their interest is link and we might not see a radical change here.
REHMAll right. Here's an e-mail from Kelly in Indianapolis. "Please comment on religious freedom in Egypt in light of this revolution," she says, "I've heard conflicting reports. Some say that Coptic Christians are part of the revolution. Others have said Coptic Christians are fearful that the fall of Mubarak could bring about increased religious persecution such as the massive church bombing a few months ago."
BILBASSYThe young people, Christians and Muslims, were together in Tahrir Square. We have scenes of a crescent and a cross together. There was a mass held on Sunday -- last Sunday in Tahrir Square after the Friday prayers. So we have seen these young people getting together. The only reaction that we heard that was pro government came from Baba Shenouda which is the Coptic Pope who kind of indicated that he wanted stability. But he the established voice of the Coptic community and not really surprising there. But I think in general that any democracy will be good for everybody. It will be good for minorities. It will be good for women. It will be good for farmers, for trade unions, for politicians, for young people, for everyone, so a new Egypt will usher a new dawn where minorities will be treated with respect and an equal bar just like the rest of Western Europe.
REHMAll right. To McKinney, Texas, good morning, Willie.
WILLIEHi, good morning, Diane.
WILLIEDo Western journalists keep making this issue -- is it a fight for freedom or political? My own view (unintelligible) this is more of an economic struggle really. That what it is. You know, it's not a political thing, religious freedom just as a last question that was asked. That's not an issue. It's all pure economics.
LABOTTI would say it's a combination of that. And that's what you've seen in the region. And if you remember Secretary of State Clinton made the speech that we've talked about on this show about warning these leaders in the region that if they didn't offer economic reform, political reform and social reform that the people were looking for, their regimes would sink in the sane. And it was a dire prediction, if you will, that certainly seems to be coming true. I think that these economic issues as the caller suggests in the region are very prevalent. The International Monetary Fund has said that, I think you need to create 18 million jobs in the next 10 years to deal with the kind of poverty that we're talking about in the region. So certainly there is a large economic component.
LABOTTBut there also is a huge...
REHMSure. All right.
LABOTT...political component because most of these people in these region, the leaders are not elected.
REHMTo Boca Raton, Fla., good morning, Stephen.
STEPHENGood morning. I think the comment I just wanted to make was for us to maybe focus or think a little bit about the importance that the U.S. played here in helping this to in fact be a peaceful end to this crisis that I'm sure the behind the scenes diplomacy of the administration and the links that we have military to military went a long way to keeping any kind of violent crackdown from happening. And it's worth maybe thinking of how important it is that a free strong nation like the United States and also countries around the world 'cause of world opinion, how important it is that that's there to help a popular uprising like this end up the way this one happened to wind up.
REHMI think that's an important point. Michael.
HIRSHYeah, no question about it. I mean, in answer to your earlier point about, you know, maybe the U.S. should stay out, I frankly think it's a little too late for that. I mean, Barack Obama got in with both feet, so did Hillary Clinton, so did Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, in terms of contacts, with the Egyptian military. We just made the point that many of their military are bonded to our own. They've been trained here. This is not really something that, you know, you can sort of separate out. And subtle but effective U.S. pressure is gonna be critical here. And frankly I think we should say at this point assuming that these reports are all true that this is something of a victory for Barack Obama, for his administration, in terms of applying measured pressured during the recent weeks.
LABOTTI think you also need to look, though, that U.S. allies in the region, particularly in the Gulf, United Arab Emirate, Saudi Arabia, were not happy with the way that the United States handled this. Of course you need to make sure that human rights are respected, that there's no violence, that there's no crackdown on journalists, but at the same time, they were very upset with the U.S. and told President Obama and Secretary Clinton, how can you cut an ally of 30 years to the curb like that and throw him under a bus? What does it mean to be a friend to America nowadays? You want our help on the Israel Palestinian peace process. You want our help on Iran. You're not going to get anything.
LABOTTAnd so I think that even as the U.S. works to protect the human rights and democratic reforms, it's really gonna need to reach out to leaders in the region to say we are not abandoning you, this is an issue of human rights.
BILBASSYI think this descending and conflicting -- not conflicting, but descending of point of views. I mean, I agree with what you said, but on the other hand, if you listen to the people in Tahrir Square, they did not think the United States was supporting them. They thought the opposite. The messages coming from the Obama administration was so confusing. It was mix messages.
LABOTTIt was mixed messages. It was very much mixed messages.
HIRSHIt was a (unintelligible)
BILBASSYExactly. And people were really upset. What? So they cannot claim victory. I mean, I disagree that the administration -- maybe -- I mean, we don't know what's happening behind the scene, but what I'm telling you at least publicly, people thought that President Obama was not true to this speech in Cairo and he did not come to support these demonstrators in Tahrir Square.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for Middle East Broadcast Centre. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Dayton, Ohio. Good morning, Charles, thanks for joining us.
CHARLESOh, thanks. I'm glad you were able to take me. What I wanted to say is that I hear a lot of talk about the Egyptian Israeli peace pact and it's a farce. It's been a farce ever since it started. The West Bank is a quiet state of Egypt. And it would be the best thing if a new government gets in and recognizes the true plight of the Palestinian people. If you think the Egyptian people are upset, the Palestinian people have been subjugated for years. And Egypt has been complacent in that fact.
BILBASSYWell, let me say something, that the treaty in 1979 is true that it's prevented a conventional war, but it was a cold war. Israelis never secure in Egypt. I mean, it's very often the ambassador will be called and an Israeli tourist does not feel at home. There's always a threat. There's hostility. Egyptians don't go to Israel. That's why they have a treaty because of the occupation of Palestinian land. There's also another point that very often people criticize Egypt for holding the so-called negotiation between Fatah and Hamas as a card to tell the Americans we are the good guys who are trying to do something in the peace process. Well, you cannot dispose with us. And therefore they prolong this argument -- this negotiation that never came to any concrete results.
REHMAnd one more call from Mobile, Ala. Good morning, Steve, you're on the air.
STEVEThank you, Diane. I wonder if you guys would discuss how Mubarak may in fact be the first casualty of the WikiLeaks situation. From what I understand, and it could be wrong here, that the releases from the Tunisian ambassadors and their descriptions of the style of life and how basically they were -- their leadership was stealing the country raw was one of the impetus for the revolution there which, of course, spread into Egypt.
HIRSHThat's actually quite correct I believe. And it's, again, another great irony that a release of cables that the U.S. government tried to stop, condemned, probably had more to do with what we're seeing now in terms of the advent of democracy than all of these very expensive efforts over the last decade.
LABOTTBut at the same time I think it's really easy to overestimate and give a little bit more -- too much importance to these WikiLeak cables. These problems in Tunisia, these problems in Egypt have been boiling for a very long time. And there -- we've been talking to people in the region that say, well, it just proved what we knew all along. But I think what really is an important factor is this whole advent of the internet and social media and people in Tunisia tweeting their best practices on how to launch a revolution in Egypt or how to spread it throughout. And there are bloggers. We just had a story about bloggers in this one room planning their kind of blogging war room. So I think, yes, the WikiLeak cables kind of proved what we all knew, but I don't think that was really the kind of ignition that people have said it is.
HIRSHBut the spread of that information was part...
HIRSH...of that very phenomena.
BILBASSYYes, I agree. I agree. I think it is the catalyst. It was an important factor. It's fine to know about the corruption of a ruling party, but when you have detailed description of a daughter of an Arab ruler ordering caviar from France to go to Miami, that will show the excesses that people said like, enough, we cannot take it anymore. I think it did play a role.
LABOTTAbsolutely. But how much did you really -- I mean, how much did you really see in the media? There was, like, some mention of it, but I don't think necessarily that I didn't particularly hear all that much about, oh, the WikiLeak cables show. I just think, yes, obviously it was very important. It was talked about, but I think it's more about the spread on these social networks than it is about the cables themselves.
REHMAnd one final comment from David who sends an e-mail saying, "The 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace must go to the people of Egypt." Quite a comment. Thank you all so much.
REHMElise Labott of CNN, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre and Michael Hirsh, chief national correspondent of National Journal magazine. Have a great weekend everybody. 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. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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