Developments in Egypt

Transcript for: 
Developments in Egypt

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:54
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Egypt's ruling military council has issued new communiqué, calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests. On the heels of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last week, thousands of state employees took to the streets of Cairo today to demand better pay and conditions. The military has dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and promised elections. But challenges remain over how to get the country back to work and who will form new political parties.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:42
Joining me in the studio, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson International Center, journalist and author Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and Samer Shehata of Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. And joining us first is Shashank Bengali of McClatchy Newspapers. He is in Cairo. Good morning to you, Shashank.

MR. SHASHANK BENGALI

10:08:21
Hi, Diane. Good to be with you.

REHM

10:08:23
Give me a sense of what it's like on the streets of Cairo today.

BENGALI

10:08:31
Well, Diane, it's day three of the post-Mubarak era. And normalcy is slowly returning. The military, today, pushed the final remaining protesters out of Tahrir Square, very calmly urging even to leave. Traffic is now flowing. Well, I shouldn't say flowing. Traffic is now moving very, very slowly, as usual, through Tahrir Square. We are seeing scattered protests by police and other public employees, demanding better pay and better working conditions in different parts of the country. But for the most part, the military has moved to try to restore normal life as quickly as possible.

REHM

10:09:18
How long do you believe that those protesters are going to stay there despite the military's calling for an end to protest?

BENGALI

10:09:31
Well, I spoke to a couple of police officers who were striking this afternoon. They plan to be back striking tomorrow as well. And, you know, they pointed out that they have grievances that have not been addressed by the military rulers. And they see their grievances as quite separate from what the protest movement that toppled President Mubarak was demanding. They are demanding better pay, better working conditions. And it seems we have quite a distinct movement in these labor strikers from the protest movement that we've all been reading and watching, you know, the last several weeks.

REHM

10:10:11
Shashank, how much nervousness do you hear in regard to the military and its not yet lifting the state of military rule?

BENGALI

10:10:27
Well, it's interesting. You know, the military has, really, very quickly seized, effectively, absolute power in Egypt, Diane. I mean, we -- from a situation, very quickly, where, you know, President Mubarak was the all-powerful leader of the country to a state now where the military has all power. They can rule by decree. They've suspended the constitution as we mentioned. They said that they will hold elections and give up power to a civilian government in about six months. But that's a long time from now. And it's not exactly clear that civilian parties can organize to contest elections in that timeframe either. So there are some speculations that that period can even be extended a bit.

BENGALI

10:11:11
Yet I really don't feel a lot of apprehension so far. I think people in Egypt have -- even opposition groups that I speak to and protest organizers -- so far they say they take the military at their word. They note that the military remained neutral during the protests. There are reports that some within the ruling structure wanted the military to act more decisively against protesters, which they did not. So among the democracy movement here, there is still a lot of trust in the army establishment.

REHM

10:11:43
What about the cabinet? I gather that has yet to be dissolved.

BENGALI

10:11:51
That's right. The Cabinet that was appointed by President Mubarak, including many people that he appointed in his final days -- sort of a 11th-hour bid to appease the protesters, including a new interior minister -- these people remain in their posts, as well as the new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. They all remain in their post. And the military said, yesterday, in their fifth communiqué that the Cabinet would remain in place until there is a new Cabinet. And that's a sort of a deliberately vague formulation, I think.

BENGALI

10:12:23
It's not clear if this new Cabinet would be formed after election or whether the army reserves the right to form a new Cabinet themselves, if they see fit. I was talking to constitutional scholars here, and they suggest that we view the military as the president at this point. And so they have a lot of power to assemble Cabinet and other posts as they see fit for the time being.

REHM

10:12:50
Of course, Robin Wright, the Cabinet was appointed by Mubarak himself. So what does that indicate?

MS. ROBIN WRIGHT

10:13:01
Well, one of the sensitive points is whether there is any room in this transition to include some of the opposition figures. And many of their demands have been met with the dissolution of parliament, suspension of the constitution. But one of their key demands was that they be part of a ruling council, be included in some of the critical decision-making process during this period. And that, of course, is one of the things that could come up and unsettle the calm that is now. I think there's a window for the military, but I don't think the window is going to last all six months or whatever the transition turns out to be.

REHM

10:13:35
Samer, how do you see it?

MR. SAMER SHEHATA

10:13:38
Well, I agree completely. I mean, with regard to the Cabinet, of course, those individuals were people who were known and loyal to Mubarak, either party members or not party members. And, in fact, many people called it a war Cabinet because there were so many generals that are still in the Cabinet. The ministry of interior is a general. The prime minister is a general. The minister of defense is the same gentleman who, as before, is part of the supreme military council. So it certainly falls short of what many Egyptians wanted. And then there's still the issue of the emergency law that's still in effect. So, I think, they're going to have a short honeymoon period, but we'll see how long that lasts.

REHM

10:14:15
And, Aaron David Miller, any questions for Shashank Bengali?

MR. AARON DAVID MILLER

10:14:20
Yeah, I'd like to know -- you know, what comes up usually comes down. And the question really is, in my mind, what is the nature of the expectations gap between those who, over the past 18 days, have created transformative change in Egypt on one hand and yet the military's response is largely not going to be transformative but transactional? They're going to be in a bargaining mode. And the question is, is there a gap between what the reformists want and what the military is prepared to produce over the next several weeks and months?

REHM

10:14:55
Shashank.

BENGALI

10:14:58
It's a good question. You know, the opposition groups are just starting to get together. I'm at a meeting right now, actually, the second meeting of an umbrella group of several different opposition factions, including protesters who were in the streets and created this transformative change, as you mentioned. They are still getting their act together. And it's a very new environment that they're in. They do feel the military is ready to listen to them, but this is, you know, day three, as we said. The honeymoon period is still really going on. I know that there is a great deal of disagreement among the protesters about what exactly to be met -- do they contest the elections, how do they negotiate with the military, who do they want to appoint, you know, as representatives to the constitutional committee?

BENGALI

10:15:44
These are major questions. And, I think, we will see within the next days and weeks some differences emerge among the protesters. And with the military now in absolute control, they are in the position to really exert, you know, their desire for the status quo and for normalcy. And, you know, we don't know whether the protesters, you know, can retain any influence over that.

REHM

10:16:09
And, Shashank, finally, what are you hearing about President Mubarak? We heard a statement this morning to the effect that he's not well. His location is unclear. What are you hearing?

BENGALI

10:16:27
Well, there's a great deal of speculation, as you can imagine, about this, Diane. I saw, I believe, the same reports you did. There are -- there's a lot of scuttlebutt around Cairo that the president was in grave health, even when he made his final speech the night before his vice president went on the air to announce his resignation. Of course, Mubarak gave that rambling, odd speech where he appeared to be clinging to power. And people noticed a number of jump cuts in that speech, where it appeared that the camera cut and then, you know, was restarted. And people speculated that, perhaps, Mubarak had an episode or something during those cuts that had to be edited out.

BENGALI

10:17:08
You know, these are all the kinds of questions we're hearing. But, clearly, the man, at nearly 83 years old, has had a number of serious operations over the past several years. And, of course, you know the stress he's been through in the past several weeks cannot have helped his condition. So we're all waiting to see what happens with him. Folks in Cairo, though, are quite eager to move on with their lives, that they view Mubarak as something of a figure in the past at this point.

REHM

10:17:36
Is there going to be, in your view, Samer, any effort to try to punish President Mubarak in any way?

SHEHATA

10:17:47
Oh, yes. There's a great deal of feeling across the country that there needs to be some accountability for the last two weeks of violence and death and killing, certainly, but also for 29 years of mismanagement and corruption. So this idea that Mubarak has tremendous wealth, you know, between $3 and $70 billion has also outraged people. And they're calling for those funds to be seized. They're calling for a trial against Mubarak and other regime officials. And that's interesting because there are a lot of people across the country who are part of the ruling party as editors of newspapers, heads of institutions. I think they're going to be held accountable in the coming weeks.

REHM

10:18:27
Samer Shehata of Georgetown University and Shashank Bengali of McClatchy Newspapers. Shashank, thank you so much for joining us.

BENGALI

10:18:40
My pleasure.

REHM

10:18:41
And short break. We'll be right back.

REHM

10:20:03
Welcome back. We are talking about events in Egypt after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak last week and, in addition, what that could mean for other countries in the region. But, Robin Wright, President Obama said, clearly, there are going to be difficult days ahead. Many questions remain. What are the biggest challenges facing Egypt?

WRIGHT

10:20:34
There are so many, but one of the things we haven't talked about is the economic challenge. And the fact is more than a million tourists fled Egypt, and this is an important source of income. And many of them are not going to be going back immediately. It's going to be hard to jumpstart that process. In the meantime, you have labor unrest. And, I think, one of the critical -- one of the decisive junctures in the 18-day uprising was when, on the Wednesday before the Friday resignation, many of the laborers started striking.

WRIGHT

10:21:05
And this became the same kind of threat as it was to the shah, when you no longer have a viable or tenable economy. And that is decisive. So the one thing the outside world can probably do is offer aid to Egypt in some form so that you don't see this democracy uprising turn into something else that is radicalized because of economic priorities or needs and because of labor unrest.

REHM

10:21:35
And, Samer, what effects are the events in Egypt having on other countries in the region?

SHEHATA

10:21:44
Oh, well, it's -- I don't want to say it's tsunami, but it's certainly an earthquake. You know, first Tunisia spill over effects all over the Arab world, now, Egypt. Certainly, it's produced protests in Bahrain, produced more protests in Algeria, more protests in Jordan. And I expect other countries as well. I mean, people have...

REHM

10:22:04
Yemen. Yemen as well.

SHEHATA

10:22:06
People have realized that they can actually take on autocratic regimes and produce change. And that's something that hasn't been believed to be possible in the past in the Arab world.

REHM

10:22:16
And one of the most concerned countries right now is Israel, Aaron.

MILLER

10:22:21
It's true. But just before we get to the Israelis, I think this revolution or popular uprising -- whether it's a revolution that can be secured and fundamentally changes the nature of the system in the way other revolutions have -- remains an open question. But, I think, it sends two profound signals, regional signals, before we get to the Israelis. Number one is the notion that change can happen without adherence to radical ideology and/or violence, whether it's secular or religious, number one.

MILLER

10:22:49
And that's a profoundly different message than what al-Qaida and its acolytes have been trying to send. And, second, it sends a profound message to the other autocrats and authoritarians. And the message, it seems to me, is very clear. Look in the mirror and make the necessary adjustments, or you'll be looking in the rearview mirror because there are going to be footsteps coming in the way they came in Cairo. And...

REHM

10:23:14
And isn't that precisely what Secretary of State Clinton warned in her speech when she told leaders of the Arab world that you must think about reform or you will sink in the sand?

MILLER

10:23:34
I think that's right, but we have to be careful while we lecture others. I mean, we've cut the devil's bargain for 30 years with a number of autocratic regimes. And the bargain was quite simple. You help us in our war and peacemaking initiatives, and we'll give you a pass on governance. And, by and large, with the exception of issuing annual human rights reports in the case of Egypt, which documented torture and arbitrary arrest, with the exception of the Bush administration that, for a brief period of time, took reform seriously, but then also succumbed to the real politique that has motivated other administrations.

MILLER

10:24:06
We're trapped now. We're stuck with the devil's bargain. And we're going to have a very difficult time promoting and encouraging this kind of change which supports our values on one hand, while our "interests" on the other also need to be aligned. So that gap -- and there is a gap -- make no mistake -- on some critically important issues -- is going to be the biggest challenge for our policy.

REHM

10:24:32
Stuck with the devil's bargain, Robin?

WRIGHT

10:24:35
Well, I actually think that the change that we've seen in Tunisia and Egypt has actually already begun to spread in a way that we've seen a transformation. The revolution is not just in two countries. It is the acceptance of the fact that governments must be held accountable. And in one week alone, in the region, you saw the president of Yemen announce -- who has ruled since 1978 -- announce that he would not run again, slash income taxes by half, raise the income of all soldiers and civil servants. The prime minister of Iraq announced he was not going to run again after last year, holding out for nine months, because he came in second in the election, but he wanted to hold on to his job.

WRIGHT

10:25:17
He's calling for constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms of a prime minister to two, and he cut his salary in half. Algeria announced that it was going to lift emergency or martial law that had been in place for two decades, one day after saying it needed to be extended because of the fight for terrorism. The king of Jordan fired his Cabinet and reorganized the government. You had the Palestinian authority announce it was going to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.

WRIGHT

10:25:46
The emir of Kuwait announced $3,700 to every family. The emir of Bahrain announced $2,700 to every family. That -- there is -- even the president of Syria came out and said that the Middle East was entering a new era that had to accommodate its people, including its youth. Now, many of those pledges may not be followed through on quickly. But the mere fact that, in one week, all of that happened in the last block of countries to hold out against the Democratic tide is truly stunning.

REHM

10:26:16
Robin Wright, she's with the U.S. Institute of Peace. She is also an author and journalist. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Samer, David Kirkpatrick and David Sanger had a piece in The New York Times, talking about a new force in the Arab world, a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy. How serious do you believe that to be?

SHEHATA

10:27:01
Well, I think that, you know, before we speak about a pan-Arab youth movement, I think what -- really, what we're seeing is that there is an Arab world, and the Arab world is a regional system with a public sphere that is viewed from Morocco to Iraq with relations between people and between governments. I don't know -- I don't necessarily believe that there is a pan-Arab youth movement. But, certainly, the Arab world is a regional system. So what happens in Tunisia matters in Yemen, what happens in Palestine matters in Morocco, and, certainly, certainly, the winds of change -- as Robin so eloquently said -- cannot be stopped. It's just a question of what impact in different countries and so on.

REHM

10:27:44
But how many of these protesters and who, within this group, will have the power to influence what happens next, Robin?

WRIGHT

10:27:56
Well, the demographics alone tell you a lot about the future. You have 100 million Arabs, one-third of the entire Arab world population, between the ages of 15 and 29. And we all act as if these people came out of nowhere, just a few Facebook pages, when, in fact, many of them have been trying for up to five years to mobilize, to figure out how to activate, really, a lethargic political system, how to redefine the debate and use the new tools. And what you had was a confluence of factors ignited by a young street vendor in Tunisia who lit himself on fire, created a new model so that the agents of change were no longer the suicide bombers but people who were shaming their own governments.

WRIGHT

10:28:47
And that changed the whole political debate, and it will continue to. Now, in Egypt, many of the youth movements have coalesced into a new coalition, and whether that evolves into a political party is yet to be seen. They will have rival visions. Some of them may end up running against each other. But it is now clear that the old guard, the autocrats, the septuagenarians and octogenarians who have dominated politics for decades, are now truly passing into history.

REHM

10:29:16
Aaron.

MILLER

10:29:17
I don't want to trivialize the transformative nature of what has occurred here. I mean, anybody looking at this broken, angry and dysfunctional region over the course of the last two-and-a-half weeks would have to be inspired beyond belief by what is happening. And the fact that this didn't come in response to external actors -- Israel or the United States -- makes it even more consequential. But in the end, the transformation needs to be reconciled with something else.

MILLER

10:29:44
I call it the transaction, the bargaining phase that will lead to the realities of governance. At some point in Egypt, a new contract is going to have to be struck between a praetorian state in which the military has dominated all aspects of life and a rising civil and political reformist movement that isn't going to settle for that. And that issue, for example, is going to be one of the most critical questions as this transition proceeds.

REHM

10:30:18
Samer.

SHEHATA

10:30:19
Aaron is completely correct. But, I think, it is easy to envision a future for Egypt in which the military retains its privileges and perks, its subsidized holiday resorts and apartments for military officers at reduced prices and so on. But, nevertheless, the political system is significantly more democratic than it is today. The military has been removed from domestic politics with -- except with regard to security, for years now. In the '50s, in the '60s, it was a militarized society with officers at high levels of all institutions.

SHEHATA

10:30:56
There has been a civilianization of politics in Egypt. So I completely agree that there's going to be -- there is going to be a negotiation between the military and the broad range of opposition. But I can see an Egypt in which the military is removed from politics, and then the real negotiation, the messy stuff of politics takes place between all of the very different groups -- labor, Islamists, youth, the old political faces and so on.

REHM

10:31:24
And lots of people are wondering what role the Muslim Brotherhood is going to play, Robin.

WRIGHT

10:31:32
That's really Samer's specialty, but I don't share the kind of fears that have defined the debate about the future of Egypt. The Brotherhood has evolved significantly, particularly since the '70s, renouncing violence. And al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood are serious rivals at the moment. They don't like each other in some ways more than we don't like them. But on the subject of change, one of the things we have to realize is that the upheaval may have taken 18 days, but when you look at how long it takes to engage in change, two decades after the end of the Soviet Union, you still have a former communist in power in Moscow. And a generation after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the majority of blacks are worse off economically than they were in, you know, under white minority rule.

WRIGHT

10:32:23
So change takes a long time. But there is a kind of model in terms of the balance of democratic forces in the military. It's not exact. But Turkey has gone through this same question of, how do you balance democracy and the military? And one of the interesting things is, in many ways, they are a generation ahead because the military is now taking a backseat to democratic forces.

REHM

10:32:44
Robin Wright, journalist and author of "The Iran Primer." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers, but I want to ask you about the Obama administration's response to all of what has happened in the last 18, 19 days. There have been critics on the right one. A very strong conservative critic characterized what was coming out of the administration as the Tower of Babel. Aaron.

MILLER

10:33:27
You know, having been in government for a quarter of a century and worked for half a dozen secretaries of state, it's quite clear that our response to crises usually leaves much to be desired. In large part, we don't have access to the right information. There's a sense of panic and confusion. On balance, I would argue, given the limited leverage and influence that we had during the course of the last 18 months, the president was caught between two sorts of trends. On one hand, those who argued for a much more aggressive response, critical of the fact, over the last two years, we'd done very little to preempt this sort of thing by pushing change. They wanted a much more active critical aspect...

REHM

10:34:10
What would that have meant?

MILLER

10:34:12
Well, that would have meant a much earlier criticism of the slowness of Mubarak's response to this. It may even have involved a call for his ouster, in other words, to "get on the right side of history." Others argued, and I think the -- both The New York Times and Washington Post have written about this -- they argued that others, including the vice-president, the secretary of state and secretary of defense were much more cautious in their response. And the reality is, I think, we tried to essentially juggle three balls -- number one, identify with what was happening on the streets as an extraordinary event, number two, not make America the central part of the story, which we didn't with the exception of sending Amb. Frank Wisner, and, finally, push, but not call for Mubarak's departure for a number of different reasons.

MILLER

10:35:03
And we tried to square that proverbial circle. By and large, it had a Hollywood ending, and we were lucky.

REHM

10:35:11
Samer.

SHEHATA

10:35:12
Well, I agree to some extent. I think that, if we look a little further back in history, from President Obama's first day in office, he gave a magnificent inaugural speech, and he actually had a line that all of us in Egypt and the Arab world remember about he will deal with autocrats if they open their hands or the fist of power -- something like that -- but if they don't, you know? But, unfortunately, after that speech, we saw nothing. We saw no consistent criticism of systematic human rights abuses, rigged elections in Egypt and other places. So that was a slow, terrible start really. The Jan. 25 statement by Secretary Clinton about believing that Egypt was a stable government and it was working to address the grievances of its people also -- you know, absurd, really.

SHEHATA

10:35:54
Then, of course, there was significant movement and progress in the discourse about the necessity of the regime not using coercion and violence and so on. And it improved. And then President Obama actually gave a very moving and, I think, successful and well-received speech last Friday in which he spoke Arabic and which many Egyptians, I think, appreciated.

REHM

10:36:18
Robin.

WRIGHT

10:36:19
Well, Republican and Democratic administrations, for 60 years, have put stability above our own values. When it comes to that part of the world, we've been inconsistent. President Bush gave, actually, a very good speech in 2003, naming Egypt and Saudi Arabia as two countries that needed to open up, but also didn't do anything. And the problem has been we've had a lot of nice words but absolutely no actions to encourage these regimes. And, late in the day, it was very hard to turn to Mubarak and say, you've got to go, when we hadn't done that up until now, and that a lot of our allies in that region, which people were counting on, whether it's on counterterrorism or on the Arab-Israeli peace (word?) suddenly felt, wait a minute, we've gone to bat for the United States.

WRIGHT

10:37:04
And they're going to walk away from anybody who has, you know, a few thousand protesters turned out on the street. And they all began to feel vulnerable. So what the United States did had an enormous impact on our broader relationship, but it is true that we have failed the people for six decades.

REHM

10:37:21
Robin Wright, Aaron David Miller, Samer Shehata. When we come back, we're going to open the phones but also talk about what's happening in Iran's Revolution Square between security forces and opposition protesters. Lots going on in the world. Stay with us.

REHM

10:40:03
And welcome back. One final question before we go to the phones and that has to do with Amb. Frank Wisner's comments when he returned from Egypt after speaking to President Mubarak. Would you call those mixed messages, Samer?

SHEHATA

10:40:26
Well, I would actually say his comment in Munich, that Mubarak should stay until September and, you know, write his own legacy, I would say that that was disastrous, not mixed message, actually. Disastrous because it certainly made many people think that maybe the administration actually wants Mubarak to stay until September when, in fact, I don't think that was necessarily the case. Of course, Amb. Wisner was sent to Egypt because he had close personal ties to Mubarak and that President Mubarak trusted him. But I think he also had personal interests, possibly, that might have clouded his judgment. So it was disastrous, and it was not a very good moment for American diplomacy.

REHM

10:41:07
Aaron, what was the administration's reaction?

MILLER

10:41:11
Look, I'm very wary about personalizing this with respect to Frank Wisner. I've known him for a long time, and I don't think it has anything to do with his personal interests. I think that Frank Wisner perceived...

REHM

10:41:21
He is, however, a lobbyist.

MILLER

10:41:23
Well, you know, he worked for AIG. I mean, he works for Patton Boggs now. I don't know. My only point is, I think, Frank Wisner believed that the perception of his mission was to push Mubarak out. And that was not Frank's judgment about what was called for at the moment. And, I think, he felt compelled to correct the record, and he did. And it created an enormous confusion for an administration that was already vacillating in regard to its own policy.

REHM

10:41:54
All right. Let's to go Andy in Dallas, Texas. Good morning. Andy, are you there?

ANDY

10:42:02
Yes, ma'am.

REHM

10:42:03
Go right ahead, sir.

ANDY

10:42:05
Egypt has about 80 million people now. And rulers of Egypt, in the last 50 years, saw the population grow from 20 million to 80 million. For no apparent reason, Egypt can accommodate about 10 million people at most. So what to do with the other 70 million now?

REHM

10:42:25
Samer.

SHEHATA

10:42:27
Well, I mean, you know, I disagree with the caller. I mean, unfortunately, there has been this discourse in Egypt and in Western academic circles and policy circles that population is the major problem in Egypt. And I think that, you know, the previous regime looked at the Egyptian population as a burden, looked at the Egyptian population as -- with contempt, and, of course, that doesn't have to be the case. I mean, there's tremendous human capital, tremendous potential to have that kind of a labor force. And, of course, there has been expansion outside of the Nile Valley in Egypt -- some smart, some not so smart. But I don't there's a question that, you know, Egypt can accommodate only 10 people, that's not -- 10 million, that's not correct.

REHM

10:43:09
All right. To Frederick, Md., Murad, you're on the air.

MURAD

10:43:14
Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:43:16
Surely.

MURAD

10:43:17
My question is, I was always wondering why nobody's talking about the effect of the peace process between Egypt and Israel, so-called peace process. It seems to me that there is more benefit to the Israeli. They are benefiting more. I'm from Israel myself, and I'm Arab-Israeli. But all that big ratio of the Egyptian people, all the gas that Israel benefits -- about 40 percent of the gas that Israel consume comes from Egypt. It seems to me that only the elite Egyptians -- that they are benefiting from this peace when the peace, really -- it's not between the Egyptian people and the Israeli people. It's only between the leadership of Egypt or the old leadership of Egypt and the Israelis.

REHM

10:44:12
Aaron.

MILLER

10:44:13
Look, we've never had peace between the Arabs and Israel. We don't have it now in any -- in terms that you and I would understand it. And it's going to be really tough to produce for the foreseeable future. But the reality is this agreement has served the needs of both Israel and Egypt since 1979. To the degree that it has provided trickle-down benefits, that's an arguable proposition to most Egyptians. But billions of dollars of economic and military assistance, getting the Israelis and the Egyptians off the confrontation line, all of these on balance, it seems to me, have served the interest of both of these countries and probably will continue to serve the interest of both these countries.

MILLER

10:44:50
So, you know, agreements and treaties last when they serve the interest of both sides. Now that the Egyptian political system is open and will reflect both the sentiments of secular nationalists and Islamists, it will be an interesting test. I have no doubt that the peace treaty will continue. But whether or not the Egyptian-Israeli relationship retains a status quo character or declines further will be a fascinating question to us.

REHM

10:45:18
But why do we keep seeing reports that the Israeli government is very concerned about what's happened in Egypt?

MILLER

10:45:28
Because Israelis, by and large, worry for a living and because they're dark -- the dark dimension of Jewish history impels them to and so does their current security predicament. I think most Israelis now believe that the treaty is not going to be violated -- let alone renounced -- that Egypt is not going to take over the canal, that the Iran Islamist is not going to control the country.

REHM

10:45:53
And what about Gaza?

MILLER

10:45:55
Gaza is another concern. And, I think, there is concern already that the new Egyptian polity will not be as acquiescent or as supportive of Israeli policies when it comes to Hamas and the blockade of Egyptian government. Whereas...

REHM

10:46:10
Samer.

SHEHATA

10:46:10
Well, I mean, nor should it be. I mean, if that means enforcing an illegal blockade where Gaza has made into a 1.5 million person open air prison then, of course, I don't think that that policy should be enforced. But I have a different perspective, and that is that I view this as an opportunity, I mean, to move forward on serious Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli peace. I mean, the major problem has been, over the last decades -- if not longer -- this tremendously asymmetrical power relationship between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arabs, more generally, where Israel didn't have to make "concessions," didn't really have to negotiate in good faith.

SHEHATA

10:46:49
But this provides a tremendous incentive, I think, to make compromises, to negotiate with Palestinians and Arabs in good faith and to solve these basic issues once and for all. And many of us know what the solutions are. The solutions aren't rocket science. We know what they are. But Israelis haven't had to make the negotiations because they've been in an incredibly strong position with U.S. support for decades, and the Arabs have been weak, divided, dysfunctional, led by autocrats and so on.

REHM

10:47:17
And, certainly, Israel has been concerned about Iran as well. This morning the AP is reporting clashes had -- that have erupted in Revolution Square between security forces, opposition protesters, chanting, death to the dictator, referring to the country's hard-line president, Iran's opposition called for a demonstration Monday, in sympathy with what's gone on in Egypt, tear gas used to disperse protesters.

WRIGHT

10:47:59
Iran will be one of the most interesting countries to monitor over the next few weeks and months because this is a regime that has claimed credit for the kind of transformation we've seen in both Egypt and Tunisia, at the same time that it's own opposition in calling for protest in sympathy with the Egyptian and Tunisians were turned down from having a legal permit. There's a real clash taking place, and the irony is that many of my friends in Egypt were actually inspired by the people power demonstrations in 2009 after millions took to the streets in Tehran and other Iranian cities to protest a disputed presidential election.

WRIGHT

10:48:38
That lasted six months, and the government, in the end, quashed the uprising. But the irony is that you see Iranians now being inspired by their Egyptian counterparts and saying, people power can work. And it's no accident that they -- that you see this ripple effect now in Tehran.

REHM

10:48:58
All right. To Dublin, N.H. Good morning, Russell.

RUSSELL

10:49:02
Good morning. My question is, what does this do to the U.S. military? The military has been depending on a billion and a half dollars a year of sales in equipment to Egypt, and they're going to lose that. And they're probably going to lose those sales in other countries as well.

REHM

10:49:18
Samer.

SHEHATA

10:49:19
Well, I don't know if they're going to lose sales or good relations with militaries throughout the region. I mean, there's been no indication of that. I think that people in the Pentagon have been speaking regularly with their counterparts in the Egyptian military. I don't think it's necessarily in Egyptian military's interest to sever those relations -- actually, quite the opposite. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there was increased assistance, not only military, but other, in the coming period.

MILLER

10:49:46
I think that's right. I mean, $1.3 billion and hundreds of millions additional dollars in excess defense articles, as well as training. I think, in fact, Samer may be right. The relationship may actually be more cohesive. It may improve.

REHM

10:50:02
Aaron David Miller, Samer Shehata, Robin Wright. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Marta in Miami, Fla. Good morning. You're on the air, Marta. All right...

MARTA

10:50:23
Yes...

REHM

10:50:25
Sorry, I lost you. Martha in Cincinnati, are you there?

MARTA

10:50:30
Yes, I am.

REHM

10:50:31
Go right ahead, please.

MARTA

10:50:33
My remark goes back to the gentleman who spoke about being -- doing the devil's work or something like that. And it seems to me that the problem with our help anywhere is the dichotomy between the values that we say we speak about -- democracy, freedom, liberty for all people -- but yet the money that we have goes to support the opposite of that in these foreign countries. And, I think, holding up regimes like Mubarak and also all the support we give to Israel goes against the very things that we say we're for. And I think there's a comparison here between the fact that our congress people -- no matter what their party -- say they're for this, that and the other thing. But basically what they end up doing is what the money people behind them tell them to do.

REHM

10:51:27
Aaron.

MILLER

10:51:29
A lot in that question -- we could spend the next weekend talking about it. I mean, yes. There is a contradiction between our values and their interest. There always have been. We deal with the Russians. We deal with the Chinese. These are -- even in the case of the former Soviet Union, there's been sliding back in the issue of democratization, and yet we deal with these states. I think that essential contradiction will always be there in international life. Perhaps we can do a better job of bringing those values and interests together. But there's one basic reality. We don't control the world. We don't manage history. And while what we do and what we don't do can often prove determinative, it's really not up to us to reshape the political context in these societies.

REHM

10:52:08
How do you see the U.S. position now? What should the U.S. be doing now?

SHEHATA

10:52:17
Well, you know, the U.S. position, of course, is one in which it supported this regime for many decades, and I don't think people are going to forget that. But at the same time, it is an -- there is an opportunity, certainly, and the opportunity has to be taken advantage of to forge relations with a broad array of Egyptians -- the Egyptian people as opposed to one individual at the top. And I think it's also wise for Americans and for the government not to dictate anything, to understand that they are dealing with highly sophisticated, well-educated, politically conscious people in Egypt and elsewhere.

SHEHATA

10:52:49
And so they have to be careful how they engage, I think. There can't be any condescension. There can't be, we're going to show you how to be democratic or how to hold elections and so on. But the assistance has to be offered where it is needed.

REHM

10:53:03
Here's a message from Facebook from John, who says, "Egypt has no oil, and now all the tourists are scared away. What kind of economy can they have that can support the population?" Robin.

WRIGHT

10:53:22
Well, this is where it will depend on tourists coming back. It will depend on, in the interim, some kind of assistance from the outside world. This is a role the United States can play in a constructive way. On the broader point about the U.S. role, the fact is, throughout the Middle East, the United States is widely viewed, in conspiratorial ways, as trying to dictate who leads governments or the direction of policy. This plays out -- no matter what kind of political system -- be it a socialist regime, a military-backed government or an Islamic theocracy.

WRIGHT

10:53:55
And the challenge for us, particularly after Frank Wisner's Remarks, is to be seen not to be saying who should be in power for how long, and to really let -- take a deep breath and let the process play out. Democracy is messy. It's going to be tough. It's not going to always be something that we like to see happen. But it needs to be legitimate and credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people in order to move forward on a lot of issues we care about, including the peace process.

REHM

10:54:22
Aaron, what do you see coming up next?

MILLER

10:54:27
Next? You know, over the last 16 years, our policies in peacemaking and war making have essentially been failures. We -- and in a region in which we have vital national interest.

REHM

10:54:43
Peacemaking and war making.

MILLER

10:54:45
And war making. We failed. We are a great power, and yet we have failed miserably in both endeavors, trying to project our military power, even before the abort of Camp David -- effort to get an agreement in Camp David in July of 2000. And it has led to a situation in which we are neither admired, feared, nor respected, to the degree that we need to be in a region that's critically important to our national interest. Everybody, without exception -- and the last one was Mubarak -- says no to the United States without much cost or consequence.

MILLER

10:55:18
Well, in Mubarak's case, the Egyptian people imposed a cost and consequence. But Hamid Karzai says no, Maliki says no, Ahmadinejad says no, Benjamin Netanyahu says no, the Saudis say no, the Palestinians say no. Everybody seems not to take us seriously. And the question really becomes for us, how to readjust our policies in a way to make them more successful because we are not succeeding in this region. We are not.

REHM

10:55:47
Why, with all our money...

MILLER

10:55:49
There are so many reasons...

REHM

10:55:51
...with all our influence...

MILLER

10:55:52
Diane, there's so many reasons for that. I would argue the point of departure, though, is one that we need to understand, and that is this -- this region is littered with the remains of great powers who believed wrongly that they could impose their will on smaller powers, many of whom have tribal characteristics. And that problem, that we understand what is best for the rest of the world, their values and our interests are right, have been prosecuted in ways, it seems to me, that have not reflected our interest and have not been successful.

REHM

10:56:32
Robin.

WRIGHT

10:56:34
One of the challenges we face is not just the democracy within Egypt, but the democratization of the world in which we will have less influence and less say. And we will have to let others have a growing role in deciding their own fate.

REHM

10:56:47
Samer, last word.

SHEHATA

10:56:49
Well, it's the policy, right? That's what's unpopular. Whether it's the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, whether it's support for authoritarian regimes, whether it's the Iraq war, and we could go on -- those are the reasons why we've got problems in the Middle East.

REHM

10:57:00
Samer Shehata, Robin Wright, Aaron David Miller, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

10:57:09
"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. Our e-mail address is drshow@wamu.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.

Our address has changed!

The Diane Rehm Show is produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.