How Will Egypt's Mubarak React To Calls For Reform?

How will Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak respond to calls for reform — or, for that matter, to the demands of protesters that he step down? For some answers, host Melissa Block speaks to Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to both Egypt and Israel, who knows Mubarak well and met with him dozens of times.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And for some sense of how this crisis in Egypt will play out, I'm joined by a former diplomat who knows President Mubarak well and met with him dozens of times. Daniel Kurtzer was ambassador to Egypt from 1997 to 2001. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DANIEL KURTZER (Former Ambassador to Egypt): Thank you.

BLOCK: What do you make of the statement by President Mubarak asking his government to resign while he remains as president of Egypt?

Mr. KURTZER: Well, I think it's an expected reaction from Mubarak. He is on the one hand, he is defiant. He is indicating that he has no intention to take personal responsibility, as it were, for what the demonstrators are claiming is the malfeasance of the regime.

On the other hand, he has indicated a willingness to what he called dialogue and communications, wants to talk a little bit and wants to hear. And the best way he thinks to do that is to shuffle the cabinet, maybe bring in some new faces, kick out some of the old faces and see whether or not that can keep things calm on the streets.

BLOCK: And what do you think the chance of that is?

Mr. KURTZER: I think it's a short-term pacifier. I'm not sure it's going to work. A lot will depend on whom he chooses. There are some very good reformist-minded people already in the government. And the question is not whether they come or go but rather whether some of the older hands on the security side those who have been responsible for implementing the emergency laws that are so unpopular whether they are shucked to the side and perhaps some reformers are brought into those positions.

BLOCK: I was struck by one thing President Mubarak said in that speech tonight to the nation. He said I'll always be on the side of the poor. And I wonder how that goes over among the people who are out on the streets without jobs.

Mr. KURTZER: Well, you know, he's appealing, in a sense, over the heads of the demonstrators. I think he believes and I think he really believes that the majority of Egyptians trust him and think that at least he's trying to do the best he can for them. That's a proposition no one can really test right at the moment because, you know, you don't really have good public opinion surveys. But what I think he's trying to do is appeal above the heads of this essentially urban crowd to the large majority of Egyptians who he thinks will actually come out to support him and basically say, you know that essentially I'm one of you, trust me to do the right thing. I'll make some changes and things will get better.

BLOCK: Knowing Hosni Mubarak as you do, do you think he understands the deep-seated, widespread anger from the Egyptian people that he's facing right now?

Mr. KURTZER: I think he does intellectually. But he has been a little bit shielded from this by advisors over the years. Interestingly, his son Gamal(ph), who some have, you know, touted as perhaps the next president, has traveled the country a great deal in his capacity as senior official in the party. So, at least Mubarak is hearing form his son what people out in the countryside are saying. But it's really hard to say that Mubarak himself is a populist. He has become pretty much secluded and sequestered in Cairo. And one way that he's going to have to pay attention now is in a sense listening to the voices on the street.

BLOCK: And do you see any scenario, Ambassador Kurtzer, where President Mubarak would indeed step down, where there would be regime change?

Mr. KURTZER: I don't see that under almost any circumstances. There have been riots and demonstrations in the past. I think this is a different sort. But so far, there's no indication that the two main pillars of power in Egypt, which is the army and the security services, have defied orders or have refused to stand up for the regime. And as long as that continues, I think Mubarak is secure in his leadership role.

What he's trying to find is a comfort zone where he can be a little responsive but also show determination that he's not going to buckle to the streets.

BLOCK: Okay. Ambassador Kurtzer, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. KURTZER: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Daniel Kurtzer. He was ambassador to Egypt from 1997 to 2001.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.