A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
After a weekend of violence in which at least 83 people were killed in Cairo, Egypt’s new foreign minister has urged restraint. More than 260 people have been killed since the July 3 coup that deposed President Mohammed Morsi. Saturday’s attack came after millions took to the streets to show support for the military. Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi had called for the protests against Morsi backers who are holding sit-in camps in downtown Cairo. Meanwhile, foreign pressure is building on the military to return to a democratically-elected government. Diane and her guests discuss what’s next for Egypt and look at new Mideast peace talks.
- Nancy Youssef Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
- Samer Shehata associate professor of Middle East politics at the University of Oklahoma. Author of "Islamist Politics in the Middle East: Movements and Change"
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News Channel.
- Robin Wright analyst and joint fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. As violence in Egypt turn deadly over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said the country was at a pivotal moment since the uprising in 2011 that ousted Pres. Hosni Mubarak. Joining me in the studio to talk about what's next for Egypt and the prospect of new Middle East peace talks, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News Channel, Samer Shehata of the University of Oklahoma and joining us from Portland, Maine, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. DIANE REHMWe do invite your calls, join us on 800-433-8850, send us an email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for being here.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMThank you.
MR. SAMER SHEHATAPleasure.
REHMNancy Youssef, if I could start with you. I know you were in Cairo last week. You've just returned. Why has this become such a deadly confrontation?
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFWell, because there's so much at stake for both sides. For the Muslim Brotherhood, they're looking to hold onto some semblance of power to become something other than an underground organization again. And for the government, they're looking to reassert themselves as the legitimate military-led, if you will, or certainly military influence force in Egypt. And so both sides are really fighting for their future and their place in Egypt and how it's defined.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFThis started because Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who's the minister of defense and arguably Egypt's latest strongman, urged his supporters, the Egyptian people to come out and give him, as he put it, a mandate to carry out protecting the state. The next day, there were some confrontation between the military, the police and the Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered in Rabaa, the eastern part of the city, and it led to at least 80 killed and hundreds injured.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFAnd so this become the latest impasse, the second time we've had mass casualties of these kinds of numbers since July 3rd when Sisi announced that the Egypt's first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, was no longer president just 368 days after taking office.
REHMSamer Shehata, the military claims they are not using lethal weapons. How can this be with all of these people dead?
SHEHATAWell, it's an absurd claim, and this reminds us of the claims that was -- that were made by the Mubarak regime when it was in power. In fact, the minister of interior stated that his forces were only using teargas, and, of course, that flies in the face of the facts. In fact, Human Rights Watch did a wonderful...
SHEHATA...lengthy report with people on the ground which indicated that the victims were shot in the head and the chest with the intent to kill. Clearly, with this level of violence at the very least we can say that there was an overwhelming or disproportionate amount of force used by the security forces. I think we have to discount much of what comes out of the ministry of the interior as well the mouths of other security and military officials.
MELHEMAnd the media.
REHMYes and the media.
REHMRobin Wright, two weeks ago, we saw hundreds of thousands of people in the streets pushing for Mohammed Morsi to leave, and now, we see his supporters back in the streets. What a confusing situation.
WRIGHTIt's confusing, but it's not just the issue of who's in power in Egypt. It has a lot to do with even bigger questions. First, what is the role of Islam in a modern democratic state? Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood specifically, had one vision that was not embraced by millions of other people. Secondly, is the military above the state? Does it have the right to challenge those in authorities as it did whether it was Hosni Mubarak and saying we will not stand with you, which basically meant it had to leave power?
WRIGHTThe first round in 2011 was a military coup in the same way that the second one was in saying to the head of state you must go. The struggle really across the Middle East is as much about what is the new order and what rights do people in the old order have. And this is where you see many of those who were under the Mubarak regime making a comeback now. Eleven of the 34 members of the new Cabinet are from the Mubarak era, and they are major players in defining the next role. So this is a struggle that we may only be in the beginning stage of.
REHMAnd to you, Hisham Melhem, do you see this as a prelude to a major crackdown on those who are in the streets protesting?
MELHEMAbsolutely. The military is waging a war on the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that the record of the Muslim Brotherhood in government was atrocious, undemocratic and oppressive. It is also true that the record of the military after they kicked Mubarak out was undemocratic and atrocious. This is part of the dilemma of Egypt today. The third party, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood are the two most important powers in Egypt.
MELHEMThe third party, which is the loose coalition of secularists, leftists, you name it, the un-Islamists are unable to govern, and they would be unable to govern in the foreseeable future. Egypt has entered a long journey into the night. For six, seven months, I've been saying Egypt is on its way to become an ungovernable country. Egypt today is an ungovernable country, not withstanding what Sisi thinks.
MELHEMSo this is a struggle for the soul of Egypt. The polarization in Egypt is so deep. I haven't seen it in my lifetime, and I haven't seen it in the last two or three century. And there will be blood in the immediate future of Egypt whether we like it or not. This is really the most serious crisis in the modern history of Egypt.
REHMNancy Youssef, would you agree?
YOUSSEFAbsolutely. I can tell you as someone who lives there it's an Egypt I've never seen. I'm Egyptian by blood, and I've been traveling there my whole life, and I've never seen this kind of divisiveness and really fear in the streets. One of the reasons that people had demanded that Morsi stepped down there was a desperate desire for stability, both economic and political, and that clearly isn't going to happen.
YOUSSEFThat said, I think the majority right now at least support the military intervention, the removal of Mohammed Morsi from power because they would say that and prescribed that he was the one that really instigated this divisive nature. He had an opportunity to be a national leader, and they would argue he squandered it within weeks of taking of office. And so you do get a sense of fear and that things are going to get worse.
YOUSSEFAnd I -- and just looking at the numbers in terms of those killed and the numbers of times we've had these kind of clashes, they're happening more frequently, and they're happening more violently. So there's no expectation in Egypt that this is going to subside anytime soon, unless this is all being used in someway to create negotiations, that sort of the latest murmur happening in Cairo right now, but whether that will actually happen I think the majority will say that probably not that both sides are going to dig in deep for the next weeks and months ahead because so much is at stake.
REHMWhat do you think about that murmur, Samer?
SHEHATAWell, I think that's true. We've already seen international diplomats from the European Union and so on try to mediate. We've also seen Egyptian figures like Mohamed Selim el-Awa who was a failed presidential candidate and Tareq Bishri who was one of the, you know, learned jurists and so on try to propose ways forward, resolution to this crisis. I mean as Nancy and Hisham said, there is a negotiation taking place.
SHEHATAAnd one way to think about this is that the negotiation is taking place on the streets, there are no political institutions that function, on the streets through how many people you can mobilize and unfortunately through how much blood is spilled. And the negotiation is over as was said previously the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the future is just going to be reversion to the 1950s where the organization was banned completely and made illegal, and their leadership is put in prison and their funds confiscated and a repressive campaign against them, or is some other outcome going to be the result of this negotiation on the street.
WRIGHTI'm not sure I think of this in any way as a negotiation. The fact is there's no significant conversation going on. We know that there was an attempt a couple of weeks ago in the very early stages. But the fact is I think the initial fear that both sides had of each other has now devolved into a hatred and that the prospect for some kind of brokered negotiation seemed pretty slim right now.
WRIGHTCatherine Ashton, who is the foreign secretary of the European Union, has arrived in Cairo and has pledged to talk to the government and some of the brotherhood. But the reality is that the military has no appetite or has shown no indication of a willingness to talk to the Islamists and has even threatened this week to break up the sit-ins that have happened every single day. In Nasr City, thousands are trying to demand that Morsi be reinstalled and that their rights be recognized and to be returned to the results of the democratic election.
REHMAnd, Nancy Youssef, I know you have to leave us at the break. When you talk with people in Cairo, what do they want? Are those who support one side or the other, the ones in the street and others are hiding in their homes?
YOUSSEFThat's a good question. I would argue that what people really want more than anything is stability and some sort of clear path forward. In the past year, Egypt has suffered an incredible economic decline of 15 percent inflation just in the last few months. And this is a country where the average salary is $200 a month. And so such changes are really dramatic for everyday Egyptians. I think they want to return to prosperity. I think they want to see the fruits of all these protests and uprisings and demands for democratic reforms come to pass in some sort of real substantive way rather than this constant state of instability.
REHMNancy Youssef, she's Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy News. Thank you for joining us.
REHMAnd in this hour, we're talking about the ongoing violence in Egypt. Supporters of the military -- supporters of the ousted President Mohamed Morsi are all in the streets. Three hundred people have been killed in the process. Today, there are people in the streets, but there are more expected even tomorrow. Hisham.
MELHEMYou know, outside parties like the EU and even the United States have very limited influence on what's happening today in Egypt. Robin correctly talked about hatred, but there is something more than that. There is a demonization process taking place between the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and the military and their supporters on the other hand. It's demonization that I've never seen anything like it in the modern Egyptian history.
MELHEMToday, the Christian Science Monitor has a heart wrenching story on Egypt about the ambivalence of many, many Egyptians over the death of scores of people. And I'm going to read, if you allow me, just two lines, a quote from a reasonable man, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. His name is Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and he says, "People of Egypt, political parties, where are you? How can it be that there is no reaction condemning this massacre and mourning the people who died? I don't know what is wrong with the Egyptians." And this is a proud Egyptian saying this.
MELHEMThis is not the Egypt I've known in my youth.
PROF. SAMER SHEHATAWell, Hisham is completely correct, and it is quite sad and troubling. There has been a dehumanization of the other. And we are seeing -- and this is what allows the violence to take place and people not to be moved. There is a kind of othering process where there are really two Egypts now. One Egypt, those who support the June 30 demonstrations and the ouster of Morsi see the world in one way. And anything that happens to the Brotherhood is their fault and their supporters and so on.
PROF. SAMER SHEHATAAnd then the Brotherhood supporters and Morsi supporters see the world in a completely different way. And there is no common humanity. There is no also ability to look at things objectively or dispassionately, unfortunately. And as Hisham said at the beginning, the Egyptian media is -- plays a significant role in this. I can no longer watch it. It has become propaganda, really, a psychological warfare largely against the supporters of Morsi. Now they're speaking of a language of a war on terrorism.
REHMRobin, Hisham spoke of the lack of ability of foreign entities to haven an influence. Secretary of State Kerry condemned the violence. They still -- the administration still has not acknowledged a coup. Is the U.S. foreign aid to Egypt going to continue in the face of this violence?
WRIGHTWell, so far, it has with a little bit of a caveat. But the administration, over the weekend, engaged in diplomacy with their counterparts in Egypt. Secretary Kerry called the Vice President for Foreign Affairs, Mohamed ElBaradei, as well as the new Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Gen. Al-Sisi and tried to urge them to engage with all parties. Secretary Kerry put out a statement saying that Egyptians should be assured the right of free assembly and free speech. And -- but it was a mild collection of words...
WRIGHT...that didn't amount to very much at this of the game. And it's clear that the United States doesn't have much have influence right now on the situation in Egypt nor does the European Union. This is really a battle within Egypt for the heart and soul and future. The great danger is that if there isn't some form of inclusion of all parties that we will see a disintegration as we saw in Algeria 21 years ago. And I'll never forget. I was in Algiers for what was to be the first democratic election of a government.
WRIGHTAnd on the eve of the last round of voting, I remember the tanks rolling through Algiers, and there was a coup by the military of the reformist president because it looked like the Islamists were going to win the parliamentary election and the military wanted to prevent that from happening. And they arrested the leaders of the Islamist parties. And as a result, because there was no role for Islamists, a group of radicals emerged and began a process that led to a decade-long civil war and the death of over 200,000 people.
WRIGHTAnd the danger with Egypt right now, while it doesn't have the same ingredients, the same -- yet, there is the danger that if there isn't something that is inclusive, that the reform elements within the Muslim Brotherhood that want to deal with their secular counterparts will be marginalized. And it will be the hardliners who say, there is no space for us. Democracy can't and will not include us because secular and liberal forces have clamped down on us.
WRIGHTAnd that means the only way for us is to go back to whether it's jihad or, you know, underground activism and so forth. And that would be the worst case scenario not only for Egypt, not only for the 22 nations of the Arab World, but for the one point, you know, five billion Muslims in the world. Egypt is such a trendsetter that you can't underestimate the importance of what's happening in this very important strategic country.
REHMAnd memories are very, very important. Here's a caller in San Antonio, Texas. Hello, Lily. You're on the air.
LILYHi. Good morning, Diane. I'm just trying to respond to the earlier comment that it's ridiculous that live arms has not been used by the military. Of course, I wouldn't know if that has been used or not. But one reminds people of Iranian Revolution 1979 when -- first of all, before the revolution was successful, they were sort of promoting all these, you know, show claiming martyrs and dead and victimhood and stuff.
LILYAnd Khomeini came to power. And also, they burned the movie theater with people in it. They locked the door, burned the movie theater in -- it's called Rex in Abadan and -- which was, you know, wanted to be investigated. They -- it was never investigated after the revolution, and they put it, you know, they quieted it down and released the perpetrators.
REHMSuch a poignant and powerful memory and one that reminds us of the possibilities or the prospects of extensive and extended violence if this does not get under some kind of control. Secretary of State Kerry is making an announcement today about the start of Middle East peace talks. Martin Indyk, former Ambassador to Israel, will be apparently the U.S. Representative. Could those peace talks, if they get underway, have some effect on what's happening in Egypt?
WRIGHTI doubt it. I think there's a great deal of skepticism about this peace process. The reality is we don't know very much about what they're talking about. This has been held very close by the secretary. We know that the talks will begin tonight at -- after an Iftar dinner to end the fast of Ramadan, and it will include both Israeli and Palestinian officials. But this is really talks about the talks, and we're at the very opening stage.
WRIGHTThe polls indicate that the majority -- simple majority of Egyptian -- of Israelis and Palestinians are still interested in a peace process. But there are still the same old thorny issues that have bedeviled talks in the past, whether it's the issue of how to divide up Jerusalem or whether Jerusalem is only under Israeli control, the right of return of Palestinians. The list goes on and on there.
REHMSo very little to do with Egypt.
WRIGHTI suspect so, and the -- I mean, what an irony that no one would have thought a year ago that there'd be hope for the peace process and no hope for the transition in Egypt, which was a just then beginning its first democratic election. You know, and remember that Hamas is a -- in control of Gaza. It is an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. And that the end of the day, there are only two of the three parties who are involved in governing the Palestinian and Israeli territory countries involved in these peace talks.
WRIGHTYou have the West Bank leadership of President Abbas represented in Israel, but you don't have the leadership of Hamas. And so it spills over in an indirect way into what happening -- is happening in Egypt.
REHMSamer, are you surprised at the extraordinarily hard line taken by both sides in this struggle?
SHEHATAI am. I mean, it is interesting to think a few months ago there wasn't the same kind of hostility and dehumanization and othering and so on that we are seeing now in Egypt. I mean, there was criticism of Mr. Morsi. There was criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. But it's interesting to remember that a few months ago, the opposition was talking about elections taking place in the fall and whether they were going to participate in the elections or boycott the elections and so on.
SHEHATAAnd there has been this incredible transformation where, now, there is this demonization and othering and so on. I also think that, you know, there are no -- very likely to be no happy ending here with regard to Egypt. I don't think that Egypt is going to suffer the fate of Algeria with hundreds of thousands of dead over a span of a decade and so on.
SHEHATAAnd I think that if we look at the region, some states have a history of incredible political violence -- Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Syria -- sometimes as a result of the sectarian makeup and so on, sometimes as a result of the wars against colonial powers and so on. Egypt doesn't have that history. I think what could happen in Egypt, what's likely to happen, is a return to the 1990s where there are incidents of violence.
SHEHATAThere is assassinations of political leaders. The speaker of parliament was assassinated. There were attempts on the ministry of the interior. Tourists are attacked. There's increasing sectarian tension and attacks on Coptic Christians and so on. But I don't think Egypt has Syria -- you know, Syria is Egypt's future or anything like that, but nevertheless it's an unpleasant prospect.
MELHEMYou know, there was a -- an -- former Egyptian diplomat named Tahseen Bashir who had a, you know, colorful description of comparing Egypt to the rest of the Arab states in the east. He said Egypt is the only country in the Arab world that has all the attributes of nationhood. The rest of the Arabs are a bunch of tribes with flags, a bunch of tribes with flags. Now, it's an exaggeration, but there's a great deal of truth in it.
MELHEMThe problem is the Egypt that I've known in my youth is different than the Egypt of today. I don't know what happened to that tradition of civil, tolerant polity in Egypt. It is no longer there. It is true Egypt is not Algeria. It's true Egypt does not have -- or even the Egyptian army. One of -- last week I tweeted something. I said, now the Egyptian army is creating the tradition of killing people in the streets like Syria, like Iraq, like Yemen, like other countries.
MELHEMThat's what I fear now, that that whole legacy of a civil, tolerant polity in Egypt is disappearing. And even the Egyptians are surprised by the new Egypt that is emerging from decades of autocracy and misrule.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Robin.
WRIGHTOne of the great problems as we move to a new phase in Egypt is that there are no viable, organized alternatives to the parties that won the last round of elections. One of the great dilemmas is, you know, who do people turn to as -- beyond the military as the secular parties? Samer actually has a wonderful line about, in Egypt, the Democrats are not always liberals, and the liberals are not always Democrats. And that's true.
WRIGHTAnd the opposition has been deeply divided among themselves over -- often over their own positions and what role they'll play. They haven't been able to coalesce into a viable major movement. The reality is, if there were election tomorrow and it were free and fair, that the Muslim Brotherhood would probably get a good chunk of votes -- I mean, 20 percent, maybe even 25. Or Islamist parties would still have a large -- a significant percentage.
WRIGHTAnd you've made -- so the danger is that we're not only into the moment where the military is in control, but you may see, whether it's General al-Sisi or others with -- from within that military tradition, running as the next -- for the next presidential election.
REHMSo where is President Morsi, ex-President Morsi? Is he being held, and if so, by whom? To whom is he able to speak or communicate? Samer.
SHEHATASure. There are very few people in Egypt who know where President Morsi is. We know -- it already has been reported -- that he has been moved three times now. He's in the custody of the military. The most recent report is that he is being held in a military facility outside of Cairo. It seems that he's not being allowed -- he's being interrogated daily, apparently. They're trying to find evidence that he somehow participated in inciting violence, or the specific charge is the use of force in his prison escape during the Egyptian Revolution...
REHMBut back in 2011.
SHEHATA...in 2011 and so on in which 30 Muslim Brotherhood people managed to escape from a prison that was, you know, and so on.
REHMWhy would they bring that charge up now?
SHEHATAWell, they're looking for -- that charge is or that idea has been around for a while, but anything to implicate him and to, you know, put him in prison and so on. And, of course, part of that charge is that Hamas was involved in the violence...
SHEHATA...and killing of the soldiers and officers that led to the prison break and that he colluded with Hamas. There are other charges that he -- of course, I think many of these are absurd, that he's given state secrets to Hamas and other Islamist groups and so on. They're basically looking for ways to put these leaders away.
REHMAnd another question from Eric in Birmingham, Ala. He wants to know, is Hosni Mubarak still alive? If so, where is he? Does he have supporters? Hisham.
MELHEMThe interesting thing, apropos of what Samer was saying, is Morsi was presented in jail -- obviously during the interrogation -- of recordings of all of his conversations with everybody when he was in that year in office...
MELHEM...which tells you something about the deep state in Egypt. The military intelligence and the holdouts of the Mubarak regime never trusted him, and they were taping his conversations...
MELHEM...and now he's being presented with these audio recordings.
SHEHATAAnd he even said, why are you asking me these questions if you have the recordings?
MELHEMYeah, you know everything. Look, Mubarak is in -- is also under arrest and failing health, and Mubarak does not have supporters. But the people in government when Mubarak was around, the people in the army and the intelligence services and...
REHMThey are still around.
MELHEMThey are still around...
MELHEM...and they are active now against Morsi, and they are collaborating with the military. Now...
MELHEM...you know, in Egypt, they talk a lot about the independent judiciary. Where was that independent judiciary, not investigating Morsi immediately after the breakout in the jail, I mean, if he really did collide with the Hamas?
REHMSamer, two words.
SHEHATAIt's a tragedy.
REHMAbsolutely. Short break. When we come back, your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's our first email from David in Toledo, who asks, "Did Morsi change Egyptian laws to favor the brotherhood or consolidate power for himself? Did he change those laws extra-constitutionally? Does the Egyptian constitution have provisions for removing leaders that act extra-constitutionally?" Robin.
WRIGHTVery good question.
MELHEMYes or no? (laugh)
WRIGHTMorsi's fatal move was on Thanksgiving last November when he declared that the president had more powers than the courts. And he did this for a reason. The courts, still controlled at that point by many Mubarak appointees, had dissolve the first democratically elected parliament in which the Muslim Brotherhood had 47 percent of the seats and other Islamists groups.
REHMHow did they do that?
WRIGHTWell, they -- the courts did this on the grounds of the method of the election. That it had been -- there are some votes you voted for a district and some for an individual candidate. And they said this was unconstitutional. Well, you can argue whether it was -- that was a proper decision or not. But Morsi was afraid that this was an effort orchestrated by the old regime to begin unraveling the entire democratic process.
WRIGHTAnd so he said, until we have new parliamentary elections, presidential voice will be the last word above the courts. And this was a power play. And it turned out to be the beginning.
WRIGHTAnd that's when you began to see the fear disintegrate or devolve into this confrontation. And it coincided with dire and increasingly difficult economic circumstances, whether it was the blackouts of electricity and the long lines for gasoline, many of which was very suspicious because the day after the election, I mean, the coup, that they...
REHMThe coup -- everything came back on pretty quickly.
WRIGHTThat's right. And so The New York Times did a wonderful story suggesting that, well, maybe this was manipulated in order to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership. So, look, this has been a political game writ large for a year. And the irony is that during the first year of President Morsi's rule -- for the first five months actually people thought he done a fairly decent job in that he negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. And he dealt with Israel.
WRIGHTIt was not just dealing with Hamas and leaving the United States to deal with Israel. He had stood up to the Salafis, the ultraconservative folks when it came to an IMF loan because of the issues of usury in Islam. He had been fairly outgoing with -- in dealing with the West. But he then began a series of moves that discredit him in the eyes of a lot of people. So...
MELHEMThere was also a repression of the journalists and free expression and all that. Yeah.
WRIGHTOh absolutely. But this -- absolutely.
REHMOK. So for me, the question...
MELHEMCan I just interject?
MELHEMThere's no provision in the constitution to remove him by impeachment.
WRIGHTExcept by parliament...
MELHEMThat's not exactly...
WRIGHT...except by parliament. And you had no parliament.
REHMThe question for me is, do the people in the street, those who are protesting against the government, truly want Morsi back? Samer.
SHEHATAYes. The Morsi supporters in Rabia al-Adawiyya in Cairo, in the suburb there who are protesting, want Morsi back. They see it as a coup. They are a minority of Egyptians, but nevertheless, they are too numerous to simply sweep away. And the difficulty is that there is no democratic stable politics in Egypt without the Islamists and without the Muslim Brotherhood whether we like it or not. And this is the dilemma that the generals and the civilian figureheads now face.
REHMAll right. To Irondequoit, N.Y. Paul, you're on the air.
PAULI see a common thread in all of these places in the Mid-East and, in fact, throughout the world. And that is, is people need jobs. And the, you know, the common -- we all have a story and it's -- the main thing is we wanna be able to get up in the morning and have a meaning to our lives.
REHMAll right. Do you think it's all about jobs? Robin.
WRIGHTNo. But, you know, the economic factor is bigger than we often give it credit.
WRIGHTAnd given the difficult circumstances that the new government inherited a year ago, it was very unlikely that they were going to create a utopia within one year. And one of the things the Muslim Brotherhood was always vulnerable to was because it basically said Islam is the solution and could create alternatives and change lives and make things better, whether it was providing jobs or dividing the national resources more equitably. And so this is where all the Islamists across the region face difficulties, whether it's in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or elsewhere.
REHMAll right. To (word?), N.Y., and to Iman, you're on the air.
IMANHi. Well, I have so many things to say, so I'm going to try to be short as much as possible.
IMANOK. So first, we all agreed that end do not justify the mean. So the Morsi supporters are now blocking bridges, blocking roads. They are pulling off bricks from the sidewalks and buildings, barricades in there. When they have any injure that refused for the hospitals to take them, to treat them when there are casualties, they refused to send them to the forensic doctors to determine the reason of the death and the type of bullets and these kinds of things.
IMANAnd one of the guests said that Mr. Aboul Fotouh was talking about the dehumanization. Well, I think that this is the dehumanization of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MELHEMWell, there is dehumanization, you know, on both sides. It's a two-way street, and I said that, and I'm very clear on that. And anybody who has been hearing me on this program and others, I'm not very friendly towards the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't believe that Islam (word?) Islamist solution. I have a very jaundiced view of all these Islamist groups. I have a jaundiced view probably even more about the military in the Arab world.
MELHEMTo be blunt, I don't think both of them -- I detest both of them as political forces. And -- but it is the responsibility of those who are in charge to avoid the use of violence, especially the gratuitous use of violence. There are other ways of dealing with riot -- with riot control, tear gas and not live bullets. And as Samer said, correctly quoting Human Rights Watch, which has no, you know, biases here, most of those who were killed were killed with shots directed at their necks and chest and heads.
MELHEMYou talk about snipers. You talk about organized systematic killing of people. And this is not the second -- this is the second massacre actually since they took over. And that's why -- I mean, I denounced Morsi throughout last year. And I don't believe that the Muslim Brotherhood have the solution for Egypt. And I agree with Samer. There are political party. As much that I detest them, they should be included, especially if they're not violent. And that should be the criteria.
REHMAll right. More broadly, Jonathan says, "What does this mean regionally between Egypt, Tunisia and Syria? Events between Israel and Palestine seemed calm. Is this becoming a powder keg?" Samer.
SHEHATAWell, it's not a powder keg in the sense that the conflict in Egypt does have ramifications for other countries, but it's unlikely to produce violence in other countries. It weakens, for example, the position of Islamists in Jordan and in other places.
MELHEM(word?) and Tunisia.
SHEHATAAnd Tunisia as well. And it might embolden the opponents of Islamists. But it's unlikely that the kind of violence is going to spill over. And as Robin mentioned earlier, it's also unlikely that any progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front is going to positively affect what's going on in Egypt. What's going on in Egypt is a domestic battle.
REHMAll right. To Bandera, Texas. Hi there, John.
JOHNHi. Yeah. I just retired from the Department of Defense, Defense Languages and taught in Cairo mostly, which is their language school. And one thing that I always taught my students was that democracy is not for all nations. They're not ready for it. And so it's interesting to me that I -- and I've taught English to all the Arabs through both Iraqi Wars and the Afghans. And the military will always take control in Egypt.
WRIGHTWell, the military has been largely in control since 1952 when a military officer led a coup against the monarchy. I would disagree that democracy is not for all nations, but democracy is an evolutionary process. And we, as a nation, are still evolving in our own democracy, and we've been at it for over 250 years. One of the problems is that there was -- there were no -- none of the seeds that are needed for democracy planted in Egypt in part because of very severe autocratic rule, which didn't allow liberal or secular opposition parties really to gain much ground.
WRIGHTAnd so today you see this terrible political vacuum in which the Islamists were the only organized alternative, and when they were elected, the, you know, the other political players weren't happy about it either. So there's not a democratic culture that would foster democracy.
REHMBut is this an end to Egypt's nascent democracy, Hisham?
MELHEMOne could argue that. I mean, a lot would depend on what's going to happen in the next few weeks and months because we might see...
REHMAnd tomorrow especially.
MELHEMProbably. I mean, I -- you know, there will be civil strife, not necessarily civil war but civil strife. They may be a return to the 1990s of the Gamaa Islamiya attacks on state, on tourists, on foreign presidents. That's what happens if you drive the Muslim Brotherhood underground or some of them would go underground, and sometimes even the leadership may not be able to control. One word on democracy -- we talk about culture of democracy.
MELHEMIn this greatest democracy in the world, when my great hero Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence that talked that all men were created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, he was talking about white men but (word?). He was not talking about women. He was not talking about natives. He was not talking about slaves. And then in this country, we had universal suffrage in 1920.
MELHEMAnd until the mid-1960s, until Johnson came up with the Civil Rights Act, blacks were not treated equally at the voting booth. So this is an evolution. And this is, in my opinion, the greatest democracy in the history of mankind.
MELHEMSo let's be patient. I mean, people may not seek Jeffersonian democracy, but they want to be empowered. They want to be represented, and they want to have human dignity.
SHEHATAWell, and this is the tragedy that I was referring to earlier when we think about the uprising that lead to the overthrow of Mubarak and all of the aspirations that we had for Egypt being a modern state with the rule of law, with equality of citizenship, with participation, with attaining of the security forces. So the brutality that Egyptians witnessed daily at the hands of the security force would be no more. All of that seems, sadly today, further from the possible than it was, I think, in any time over the last two years, not impossible but further.
SHEHATAAnd those aspirations were incredibly noble. I mean, the motto, remember, was bread, freedom and social justice on Jan. 25. And it was Police Day. That's what Jan. 25 was. And that's why people went out and protested that day, to protest against the indignities and the excessive use of force and so on against normal citizens. And unfortunately, I don't see now with the military in power and with the security forces being given this freehand that being realized.
REHMSamer Shehata, he's professor of Middle East politics at the University of Oklahoma. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's Debra in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
DEBRAHi, Diane. Firstly, it's been years I've been trying to get on to your show. And I just thank you. And, Robin, meaning no respect to your other guests but I just love and adore her as well.
DEBRAGetting into Egypt...
DEBRA...I have friends that I consider family in Egypt. And I just remember how happy they were a couple years ago, telling me come back to freedom Egypt. And what I had found is that -- I mean, while I was there, you know, you had women, they were driving cars, they had fashionable soap operas, everything. When they had the revolution, the Brotherhood said they weren't going to run for office. Then they ran for office.
DEBRAAnd rather that Morsi coming in and giving jobs to men, as the men -- as the gentleman said earlier, to find ways to get water into the homes of the Egyptians, they all of a sudden tried to start restricting women's rights and equal rights and all of that. Now I must say the military has gone too far right now. And rather than thousands they had on the streets supporting the military, it was actually millions, I think. So when I hear things like gas, which was so cheap in Egypt, was no longer available, it tells me there was a lot wrong that was going on.
WRIGHTA lot wrong indeed. And women's rights were actually quite an important issue. And that's in some ways a reflection of the democratizing culture that women were players in the uprising against Mubarak, and they were out in the streets, both in the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations and in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations. You know, I ache from your question because the idea of tourism, I mean, this is the fact, who's going to go back to Egypt?
WRIGHTAnd the economic problems that have the bedeviled Egypt now for several years really threaten whoever takes control next. And at the moment, you have Gulf countries that are providing billions in aid so that the government can survive. But, you know, they're not models for what we wanna see happen in Egypt in either. And there's the danger that you have them playing a disproportionate role in trying to direct what happens next and supporting autocratic regimes in...
REHMJudy in Cincinnati wants to know, "Can ElBaradei step forward and play a constructive role? If he did, how would he be received?" Samer.
SHEHATAWell, and he's one of the few sane voices I believe in the, you know, on the political scene. I mean, you remember, when the coup was announced and Sisi was there, he is the person who said national reconciliation. And, in fact, he also criticized the excessive use of violence by the security forces that we saw over the last few days. Now, he doesn't have a tremendous amount of standing among the Egyptian people.
SHEHATAWell, there's a great deal of suspicion about him. Remember the Mubarak regime had a disinformation campaign against him. They convinced many Egyptians that he supported the war against Iraq or on Iraq, the U.S.-led war and so on. Plus, he is in some ways a foreigner in Egypt. He's lived outside of Egypt more than he has in Egypt. And he can't relate, I think, in the way that kind of local organic politicians can. He's not a politician. He's a brilliant technocrat and legal scholar.
REHMBut isn't that what's needed right now?
SHEHATAI would, you know, I would vote for Mr. ElBaradei at the beginning, and I supported him. I think now we're going to see whether he is principled and how much he stands up to the military in terms of the use of violence in the coming period.
REHMWho can stand up to the military? That's a question.
MELHEMAs a political group, the only group that would stand up for them are the Muslim Brotherhood. And that's the fear, and that's the problem. You know, ElBaradei is a descent guy, who does not have the charisma that is required at this stage in Egypt. And it seems to me that Egyptians today are looking for a savior. And the problem is they think that the savior is al-Sisi, another general.
MELHEMAnd Egypt doesn't need another general because, you know, we've seen what Nasser did. We've seen what -- Sadat was a military man. Mubarak was a military man. People have short memories.
SHEHATAIn six months, we're going to be here talking about how the military abuse -- is abusing Egyptian youth...
SHEHATA...the April 6 Movement and all of those individuals..
REHMSamer Shehata, Hisham Melhem, Robin Wright, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top national news stories.
The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is earning more than $3 billion from its investment in a new drug. Other charitable organizations are hoping to follow a similar path. New opportunities and new questions for nonprofits.