NPR Special Coverage: Egypt Faces Uncertain Future
NPR Special Coverage: Egypt Faces Uncertain Future
Egyptians calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak continued to flood Cairo's Tahrir Square Thursday. Guests provide an update from the crowded square, and discuss what a possible Mubarak resignation could mean for Egypt and its neighbors.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, foreign correspondent, NPR
Loren Jenkins, senior foreign editor, NPR
Emad Shahin, professor, University of Notre Dame
Aaron David Miller, author, The Much Too Promised Land
Rachel Martin, national security correspondent, NPR
Shibley Telhami, professor, University of Maryland
Michele Dunne, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for World Peace
Hannah Allam, Cairo bureau chief, McClatchy Newspapers
Deborah Amos, foreign correspondent, NPR
Tamir Moustafa, professor, Simon Fraser University
ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro in Washington.
It has been more than two weeks since pro-democracy protests in Egypt captured the world's attention, and now crowds are gathered in Tahrir Square waiting for President Hosni Mubarak to address the country. Anticipation has reached a fever pitch in Cairo. There are conflicting reports today that Mubarak may give protestors their wish and step down from the presidency.
We'll hear updates from Cairo this hour, and we'll also talk about what a possible resignation would mean for Egypt's neighbors and allies. First, joining us now by phone from Cairo is NPR foreign Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Thanks for joining us, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Sure.
SHAPIRO: So over the more than two weeks that you have been covering this unfolding revolution, if you can call it that, how does this moment feel different from all the rest?
SARHADDI NELSON: The anticipation is truly at an all-time high. Everyone's waiting now for Mr. Mubarak to make his statement, although it's important to note that the protestors don't necessarily trust that he's going to say what they want him to say, which of course is that he's leaving, and in fact that the ruling party is going to be sharing power and not just sort of switching around the chairs, like sort of a musical chair game.
SHAPIRO: We have seen V for victory signs. We've heard cheering and shouting. What's the atmosphere like there?
SARHADDI NELSON: People are singing, and they're saying hang on, we're almost there. And, I mean, it's just - they're really, really anticipating this statement, and I think they're really hoping that this will be the end.
I mean, everyone is getting somewhat tired, even though they are hanging on, and they've built a tent city and, you know, are living under tarps and sort of, you know, trying to make sure that they get what they want here. But, I mean, truly on all sides people would like life to get back to normal here.
SARHADDI NELSON: You say people really want to get what they want. Is it enough for President Mubarak to say that he is stepping down? He already said that he wouldn't run for re-election. What specifically do the protestors need to hear?
SARHADDI NELSON: They need to hear that the national, the ruling National Democratic Party is not going to be keeping its stranglehold over the authorities in this country. At this stage, they don't trust the vice president, the new vice president either.
They feel he's sort of part and parcel of the same group that's been in charge here for 30 years, you know, that he's too closely aligned with President Mubarak.
So they just want to know that there really is going to be change. And they're actually willing to let the army - I mean, they're hoping the army will sort of oversee this, this transitional period, if you will.
SHAPIRO: Describe how the protestors feel about the army. What role does the army play to them?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the army was sort of the relief from the police that were so trying - so much trying to suppress this movement from the beginning. And it's been a fairly positive relationship all around. I mean, the protestors have ridden around on tanks and ATCs. They've put graffiti actually on the tanks and have been allowed to. And it's been, with a few exceptions it's been pretty much a very relaxed relationship, if you will.
There's a strong history in this country of the people liking and respecting the army, although there are many in this movement who also question, if there in fact is a real military coup, whether that would necessarily lead to democracy.
SHAPIRO: A coup obviously has very negative connotations. Is that what the protestors are looking for? Is that what they want?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, I don't - they certainly don't want it in the traditional sense. They don't want a repeat of 1952. I mean, they don't - they want something that's going to - some sort of transition that's going to allow democracy to actually come to Egypt.
But what they're looking for is an honest broker, and they're hoping perhaps that the army will oversee this transition as an honest broker but sort of from a back seat, if you will, not necessarily taking the wheel but sort of just making sure that the people who are going to be in charge for the next few months until there are elections are actually going to make sure that democracy takes place here.
SHAPIRO: All right, that's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking with us by phone from Cairo. Thanks, Soraya.
SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, Ari.
SHAPIRO: And we're continuing to wait for a statement, which could come any minute now from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
We're joined here in the studio by NPR senior editor Loren Jenkins. Loren, earlier today senior military leaders in Egypt announced that they had taken steps to secure the country. What does that mean exactly?
LOREN JENKINS: Well, it's rather confusing, like everything that's been happening in Egypt. It was immediately seen as a coup by a lot of analysts when they saw the military came out.
Look, first - for the first time since this crisis began in the streets 17 days ago, the supreme military council of the armed forces met this morning and into the afternoon, without Mubarak, who actually is the commander-in-chief, or his new vice president, Omar Suleiman. They were excluded from this meeting.
The army came out with this statement, labeled it communique number one and said we're in charge and we're going to see that your wishes are met.
For anyone who knows the history of Egypt, communique number one was the communique that Nasser, Gamal Abdel Nasser, issued when his free officers overthrew King Farouk, the monarchy in Egypt, in 1952.
So it's made everyone think this is a military coup, and they're taking over. Up to now we don't know, and we won't know really until Mubarak speaks just what role they will assume.
Are they going to be a caretaker government? Are they pushing him out? Or are they just, you know, staying there? I mean it's very confused, and it's swung back and forth all day, sort of the emotions and the thoughts of, you know, what's going to happen.
SHAPIRO: We heard reports from military officials that he was going to step down. Then we heard a report from an information official close to Mubarak that he was not. Does that suggest that there's still a tug-of- war going on?
JENKINS: Probably. Again, I think, you know, the information minister is part of Mubarak's entourage, someone who was appointed by Mubarak in that position. He's obviously a loyalist. The army - what everyone's been trying to assess is where is the army in this, and some days it's looked like the army was defending the regime, and other days it looked like it was defending the protestors.
SHAPIRO: We're going to bring in another voice now. Joining us on the phone from Cairo is Emad Shahin. He is an associate professor of religion, conflict and peace building at the University of Notre Dame. Welcome.
SHAPIRO: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
SHAPIRO: Describe where you are right now and where you've recently been.
SHAPIRO: Well, I just landed, and I'm on my way to Tahrir Square, and of course as you can imagine, the traffic is a little bit busy because of the - these committees, defense committees, protection committees. They are inspecting cars and so on. So we have to - and also some military units. So we have to, you know, take longer routes and just, you know, detours and so on.
SHAPIRO: I hear a lot of adrenaline in your voice.
SHAPIRO: (Unintelligible) Square - there are some tanks on the road, of course, blocking, and just they let the cars pass as the - after they inspect them.
SHAPIRO: I hear a lot of adrenaline in your voice. Describe what this moment means for you.
SHAPIRO: Well, of course, you know, look, I have been, you know, actually desiring (unintelligible) just, you know, to come and join the protestors. And thank God, you know, I was able to. And I'm looking forward, actually, to reach - I can't reach to reach Tahrir Square. I can't, you know, wait to reach Tahrir Square.
And as, you know, some people have reported to me, because I have been on the phone with some, you know, family members, the mood is very festive because there are expectations that Mubarak is going to give a speech or a statement, make a statement very soon. So of course, you know, these are all speculations.
People are speculating about what he might be saying, and the speculations range from possibility of delegating, you know, his authority to the military or to Omar Suleiman or hanging out a little bit longer. We really don't know.
So there is some kind of jubilant, festive atmosphere..
SHAPIRO: You know, from the beginning...
SHAPIRO: ...as people report to me.
SHAPIRO: From the beginning, these protests, the protestors have not fit the typical demographic profile of democracy protestors. And you, as, you know, a professor at a university in the United States of America, don't necessarily fit the freedom-fighter, democracy protestor profile yourself. Why was it so important to you to be there now and to make your way to Tahrir Square?
SHAPIRO: Well, I'm Egyptian, of course. I'm Egyptian, and for me this is, you know, a historical moment. These are momentous, momentous events that are going to change - if things, you know, like unfold the way they should be, and there is of course a big if here, so these are momentous events that are going to change the political map and structure and social (unintelligible) life in Egypt.
These are pro-democracy demonstrations. People are, you know, protesting and have been pressuring to get the freedom to change regime. These are not - they are not seeking just gradual, cosmetic reforms but are really looking for a new democratic life, free life, free life.
SHAPIRO: You know, you said if things unfold they way they should. What is your fear?
SHAPIRO: The military, of course, and (technical difficulties)...
SHAPIRO: I'm sorry. Say that again? Your phone cut off a little bit.
SHAPIRO: If the military that's to insist on holding on to power, they might do that directly or indirectly. Most probably, it will be indirectly through Omar Suleiman. And the military (technical difficulties) Mubarak has instituted a week ago or so. This is one of my concerns.
The second concern, that this military-led government can split the opposition and co-opt some of them so it can really split the ranks of the opposition and the protestors.
What I'm concerned about, of course, are the pro-democracy protestors, the youth, and it can really marginalize and isolate them gradually. And, of course, the third concern is the position of the outside world, that they relinquish support for a regime change, they do not support a regime change, but they find it enough only to support change within the regime itself.
SHAPIRO: I want to bring back in NPR senior editor Loren Jenkins here, who is with us in the studio. And Loren, as you listen to these concerns from Professor Shahin, how acute are these fears? How real is the possibility of things going awry?
JENKINS: Oh, this is - they could certainly go awry at any moment. Look, I actually went as a young reporter to Cairo the day after Sadat was assassinated, when Mubarak came to power as his vice president.
SHAPIRO: So some 30 years ago.
JENKINS: Thirty years ago. And I've covered Egypt off and on and watched the Mubarak regime entrench itself more and more and establish a really amazing police state that really controlled everything, allowed no parties, allowed no dissent, no discussion, no freedoms.
I think what we're seeing in the streets is this blowing up of, you know, lifting the cloud of fear of the police state.
Now, what happens after Mubarak leaves, if indeed he leaves, is up to questions. I mean, the movement is young, youthful, unorganized. There are no real political parties there except for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned, and how they emerge and who comes out on top is anybody's question.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Loren Jenkins. We also want to thank Emad Shahin, associate professor of religion, conflict and peace building at the University of Notre Dame, who joined us on the phone from Cairo.
We are watching events unfold in Egypt this hour, waiting to hear from President Hosni Mubarak. When we come back, we'll talk about the possible repercussions for one of that country's most important neighbors, Israel. We'll be back after a break. You are listening to special coverage from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
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SHAPIRO: From NPR News in Washington, this is special coverage. This is Ari Shapiro.
Anticipation is building in Cairo this hour. Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, is expected to speak at any moment. And there are conflicting reports that he may resign. Egyptians are crowded into Tahrir Square after 17 days of protest, and the atmosphere has been described as electric.
Here in Studio 3A, I am joined by NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins, and we are also joined on the line now by Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Aaron David Miller. He's with us to talk about the possible implications of a Mubarak resignation for Egypt's relationship with Israel. Miller was a former advisor to six secretaries of state on Arab- Israeli negotiations. Welcome to the program.
M: Pleasure to be here.
SHAPIRO: Egypt has been one of Israel's strongest allies in the Middle East. What changes if President Mubarak loses power?
M: You know, I think there's so much uncertainty and so much concern and worry, not just in Israel but among the other Arab autocrats that the U.S. does business with, that it's going to be extremely difficult to sort through this in the next weeks and months.
Two realities, though, are unmistakable. Both the Israelis, the Arabs, King Hussein, the Saudis, have got to be looking in their rear-view mirror because what has happened in the streets of Cairo is really quite extraordinary.
Not only has the fundamental bargain that the U.S. made with highly centralized regimes in danger or on the cusp of coming apart, but there's another reality as well, that states that are non-democratic will be looking in the rear-view mirror, wondering what are the implications and possibilities of political change there.
The Israeli concern, I think, is an obvious one. Egypt has remained the strategic pillar of their strategic advantage in this region over the course of the last 30 years. Without Egypt, the expression went, there can be neither peace nor war. The Israelis for 30 years had the first and avoided the second.
And while I believe no matter who rules Egypt, or at least within a mainstream arena, no one is going to renounce the treaty, close the canal, sever the relationship with the United States.
But the political space that America, and to a lesser extent Israel, enjoyed for the last three decades is going to narrow considerably, regardless of what the outcome is.
SHAPIRO: And so do Israeli officials and Israeli people believe the chance for peace is slipping out the door with the possible departure of Mubarak?
M: Oh, I think there's a great deal of concern and uncertainty. On an issue like Gaza, for example, will the next, will the new Egypt be as diligent as the Egyptians have been in monitoring that border? Will they be as acquiescent to American and Israeli goals with respect to Hamas? Will the new regime support America's efforts to contain Iran? Will it share counterterrorism information and share and cooperate in intelligence collection?
SHAPIRO: What is good for the Egyptian public as they sort through this process of democratic change may not necessarily any longer be good or right for American interests or for Israel.
SHAPIRO: Well, you mentioned American interests.
SHAPIRO: How do American interests change as this power dynamic shifts?
M: Well, I identified two or three areas where I think there are potential problems. Containing Iran. Mubarak was adamant on this issue. He was next to Sadat when Khalid Islambouli sprayed them both with machine-gun fire. The Iranians went ahead and named an avenue in Tehran after Islambouli. Mubarak never forgot it.
I'm not at all confident that the next Egyptian government will be as neuralgic or as allergic to containing Iran as Mubarak has been. And the same issue pertains to all kinds of other aspects of our policy. Democracy promotion is something we believe in, in theory.
We have cut a devil's bargain for more than 30 years with regimes who were sclerotic and frozen in time. That bargain has now come apart in places like Tunisia and Egypt, and it's going to require a recalibration of our own sense of how much space we're going to have to pursue our own interests.
One of the key issues is the Egyptian military. The reality is that Egypt has been, is now, a praetorian state, where the military exercises tremendous control, not only in Egyptian politics and in national security but in the economy.
Tantawi is the minister of war production. The Egyptian military owns farms. It owns collectives. It owns industries. It doesn't pay taxes. It has huge perks and privileges in the Egyptian system. The U.S. has a very close relationship with the Egyptian military.
What is going to happen when the new and rising political currents of democratic change no longer want an Egyptian military, they want a civil, political governance? These are...
SHAPIRO: We have another guest here in the studio who can address just that very question. Aaron David Miller, thank you for joining us. Aaron David Miller is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He joined us from a studio there. Thanks for being on the program.
SHAPIRO: And now to NPR's Rachel Martin, our national security correspondent, who is with us here in Studio 3A. So as we were just hearing, the Egyptian military plays a pivotal role here. Let's begin by asking: Is this a coup? Is the military forcefully taking over?
RACHEL MARTIN: Well, I think you can answer that in two ways, yes and no. You know, there are all the trappings of a coup. We've got, as was mentioned earlier, Loren Jenkins talked a little bit about this, there was a very important meeting where the leaders of the military supreme council got together - Mubarak, President Mubarak, explicitly not invited to that meeting.
SHAPIRO: Nor his vice president.
MARTIN: Exactly. So - and out of that meeting came a communiquÃ©, a very important message indicating that this is a new chapter, perhaps, in Egypt's history.
So this has all kind of the signs that this might be a military takeover. At the same time, you have no idea what's happening behind closed doors right now. We don't know what kind of negotiations are happening. We're waiting at this very moment to hear President Mubarak speak.
But it's worth pointing out that President Mubarak is of the military. He was an air force general. He is very closely linked with the top military commanders. And he in fact tried to bring some of them onto his side.
This whole thing has been a battle of trying to win over the army, between the protestors and the Mubarak regime, and very early on President Mubarak recognized that he was going to have to take some steps to kind of bring the army into his camp, and he did that, you know, by elevating some people.
Hussein Tantawi, who is the defense minister, he made him the deputy prime minister. He was trying to inculcate some of these military leaders in hopes of assuaging some of the protestors' concerns.
SHAPIRO: You know, Rachel, we've been hearing from people who say they hope the military takes charge. And we've also heard from people who say they hope the military doesn't hold on to control. Can you describe where those conflicting feelings come from?
MARTIN: Well, you know, Egypt has a long, very long history, generations of military dictatorship. And as we've all seen, this is a revolution of very young people who are demanding a substantive change. That means they might not be satisfied if Mubarak comes out and says that Omar Suleiman, his vice president, the former chief of the intelligence, is going to take over. That might not be enough for them.
At the same time, it really is interesting. The army is known as the people's force. This is a conscription force. Every Egyptian family has someone who has served or knows someone who has served. And as a result, it's a very diverse force. So it's dangerous to think of it as a monolith.
There are factions within the army itself. There's a generation gap. There are also people who have studied in America. The United States has a very close relationship, the military - military-to-military relationship. So it's not clear where the army stands writ large. That's something we're still waiting to see.
SHAPIRO: Just to give us a sense of this moment in Egypt's historical narrative, Loren Jenkins, you covered Egypt for many, many years. And as we watch these scenes unfold on television, on CNN, what is this moment? What does it look like in the streets?
JENKINS: Well, I've never seen crowds like this in the streets of Egypt since Nasser died in 1970. And they turned out for his funeral. He was this great nationalist leader, an inspiration to a lot of the Egyptians. He gave them something to be proud of, and they turned out like this. The streets were mobbed for days just for his funeral.
There hasn't been anything like that since. When Sadat was assassinated, they buried him almost in private. There was no great funeral or anything like that.
There have been bread riots, but they have all been smaller. There have been some riots over the years, but nothing like this. This is a sense of a whole nation feeling freed, and every Egyptian I've talked to is just ecstatic about what's happening. To them it's a transformative stage. It's moving into a new era. It's, you know, what President Obama said, that we're really witnessing history unfold here.
SHAPIRO: You know, our colleague, Jacki Lyden, was telling me that in a group this big, with this many people protesting, it just takes one match to ignite a flame and really tip the scales into violence. And it strikes me that we have not seen that. These are crowds that are signing and cheering.
JENKINS: Well, that's what's been extraordinary about these demonstrations. They have been peaceful throughout, except last week on two nights, when the government seems to have unleashed its secret police and pro-Mubarak groups who were the violent ones, and they attacked these demonstrators. These demonstrators have remained in the streets for 17 days and have been totally pacific and organized in making sure no one tries to be violent.
SHAPIRO: Rachel Martin.
MARTIN: Well, and also, you know, you have to think they recognize that the army is sitting there with big tanks. And these folks understand the power that that institution has in Egypt. And if there were to be some kind of violence, the army would be then put into a position as the keeper of security in the state to intervene, and that would be chaos.
SHAPIRO: I want to bring Shibley Telhami into this conversation. He's joining us from his home in Maryland. He is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
SHAPIRO: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: Based on what we know so far, do you think the protesters will be satisfied with whatever we hear from Egyptian President Mubarak today?
SHAPIRO: Well, if he resigns, for sure. I think, you know, he's become a symbol. I think there is a sense on the streets already. You can feel it just watching the live Arab satellite coverage of the story and hearing people's comments. There's a sense that this - today marks an end of an era. There is no doubt. It may not exactly mark the beginning of a new one yet, and obviously, there's a lot of apprehension because we don't know what it is. But this is a moment. Again, this day will be remembered as the day akin to the coming down of the Berlin Wall. It's that big.
You know, Loren was speaking about the last time he saw these crowds in Egypt in 1970, when Nasser died. And I have to look back at this because - recall, Nasser became a hero for Egyptians in 1950s, particularly after the 1956 Suez crisis. And then he had a little bit of a setback because of a devastating defeat in 1967, just three days before he died.
But one of the things that happened, with all the flaws of Nasser historically and within Egypt and whatever happens, one thing Nasser gave Egypt and gave a lot of Arabs, and that is pride. I have - if you had to look back and say, when was the last time when Arabs - when most Arabs and Egyptians felt proud? I would have to go back to that era. And I think what we were seeing today is a moment that is profoundly important psychologically. I can guarantee you that most Arabs everywhere - in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, not just in Egypt - feel proud today because of this event.
SHAPIRO: And if I am an autocratic ruler of an Arab state, how worried should I be about what's unfolding in Egypt today?
SHAPIRO: Terrified, because it doesn't matter. I know that, you know, everyone says, you know, my country is different. And there is some truth to that. Every country is different and, certainly, Gulf States are different.
But if you look back at it - and you see two things. Number one is no one obviously thought this could happen in Tunisia. And then even right after Tunisia, the foreign minister of Egypt and others kept saying Egypt does not like Tunisia, and it turns out to be even bigger than Tunisia. I mean, it is more massive, more huge.
And, frankly, one of the things that we have to understand about this - and it's becoming clearer and clearer as we know something about the organizer and people like Wael Ghonim and hear their story - this was not about food. This was about dignity. This was about pride. This was about humiliation. This was about empowerment. And we have to understand that, obviously, food and poverty have something to do with it, because they bear on dignity.
But this is much bigger than the issue of food and deprivation at that level. It's about political freedom. It's about a sense of proud. Egyptians have not felt as proud of themselves and of their country and its standing when they go visit Saudi Arabia or go to Dubai or go anywhere. And so in that sense, I think, even countries that are better off economically cannot rest comfortably thinking that is a protection against the will of the people.
SHAPIRO: Professor Telhami, I'd like you to stay on the line. And we're joined here in the studio by NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins.
And, Loren, there is a report just now from Al Arabiya, which may or may not be true, that says that the president, Hosni Mubarak, is going to say that he's handing over his authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman. If that is, in fact, what President Mubarak says, will that satisfy the protesters?
SHAPIRO: I don't think so. I think they want to see a whole change in regime. And Omar Suleiman is very much of a part of the regime. He's a very close crony of Mubarak's, a fellow military man of Mubarak's. He's been his defender. I think they'll want more, that they want a change of government. They want a real democracy. They want to participate. They want to see political parties, press freedom, all the things that they're demonstrating for. They want to feel proud and free.
SHAPIRO: Professor Telhami, I know that you and Loren Jenkins know each other well, going back decades, covering Egypt. Does take the two of you back to the moment so many decades ago when Egypt was such a different place?
SHAPIRO: Undoubtedly. I would even say this is bigger than Egypt has ever experienced. I mean, let's think about this for a moment. I mean, the 1950s was extraordinary because the - you know, in essence, the - Egypt as a nation and its leaders and its military with public support stood up to foreign powers that were disliked. And it was an anti-imperialist mood that swept. And that anti-imperialism is still there in the Middle East.
But we have never seen a revolution of this sort, where you have millions of people demonstrate peacefully and bring down a government that everyone assumed is very solid. We've never seen that. I don't think there's any moment in the contemporary history of the Middle East where it's like that, even the Iranian Revolution. That was organized. It was clear. They worked at it for months.
This is really extraordinary. And I think it's bin Laden's nightmare. And we have to keep that in mind. This is the anti-bin Laden. This is the empowerment that brings down the very regimes that bin Laden was trying to bring down in exactly the opposite method. It's totally non- ideological. It's (technical difficulties) peaceful.
And so in that sense, I am - I'm in awe of what we have of what we are witnessing right now. This is - in historical perspective, this is going to take us months and years to think about, contemplate and write about.
SHAPIRO: Professor Shibley Telhami is Anwar Sadat professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. Thanks for joining us.
SHAPIRO: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: When we come back, a closer look at Egypt's relationship with the United States. We're waiting to hear from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who's expected to speak to the crowds in Tahrir Square any moment.
Stay with us. You're listening to a special coverage, from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
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SHAPIRO: This is special coverage, from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, in Washington, where we are watching events unfold in Cairo. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to speak to his people soon, and there are conflicting reports that he may resign.
We're joined here in Studio 3A by Loren Jenkins, NPR's senior foreign editor, and Rachel Martin, NPR national security correspondent. We also have with us here Michele Dunne. She's a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, and she's a specialist on Mideast affairs. She worked at the Department of State and at the White House.
Thanks for being here.
M: Thanks for inviting me.
SHAPIRO: Describe the balancing act that the U.S. has been executing over the last few days as they watch this unfold.
M: For the United States, obviously, there's a long and deep relationship with the Egyptian government and a lot of interests there - diplomatic, military security. But also, the administration has had to have an ear to voices from elsewhere in the region, from other Arab leaders, from Israel, who've expressed a lot of concerns about what's going on in Cairo, and yet at the same time, try to communicate a message to the Egyptian government, on one hand, and the Egyptian protesters. It's been a real balancing act. And frankly, I think we've seen a lot of zigs and zags in the message coming out of the administration over the last couple of weeks.
SHAPIRO: I've heard one official say we want to stand behind democracy wherever it starts. But we also don't want to send a message to other world leaders that we're only behind you as long as you're in power.
M: Yeah. I think that's true. You know, they've certainly gotten the message from other leaders that it's sort of unseemly to be seen as just dumping Mubarak unceremoniously after decades of friendship. But at the same time, the administration said right from the beginning that the demonstrators' demands were legitimate. And I think they've also been clear that the things that President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman have offered so far have not met those demands.
SHAPIRO: What did you make of President Obama's statement in Michigan today, where, at the beginning of a speech about broadband access, he said we'll stand behind the push for democracy in Egypt?
M: Yeah. I think his message today really was aimed mostly at Egypt itself. He wanted to send a message of support to the peaceful demonstrators. And he used the word genuine, a transition to genuine democracy, which is a little bit of a modification of what he's been saying, but clearly, you know, showing some concern that what we could be moving toward here is some kind of a military coup that doesn't end in democracy. And that word genuine, I think, was also aimed at whoever's going to be taking power here in Egypt.
SHAPIRO: Rachel Martin, you're here with us in the studio. And I understand you've been talking to people in the U.S. intelligence community about contact with Egypt. What are you hearing from them?
MARTIN: Well, interesting. You know, we've been discussing whether or not the protesters would be satisfied if President Mubarak - as he is now reportedly going to do - comes out and says that Omar Suleiman, his vice president, would assume presidential control, at least for the time being, and whether or not that that would assuage the protesters' concerns.
MARTIN: We have an expression for people like Omar Suleiman. We always said that we have time for people like him. We always had a lot of time for Omar Suleiman. When he calls, we take his call.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: So this is not - this is a complicated issue for U.S. intelligence operations in the region. They have developed close links with the regime when it comes to fighting al-Qaida. And it is unclear, at this point, how they start to distance themselves as they see the popular discontent with that choice if he is to assume power.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Loren Jenkins, our senior foreign editor.
JENKINS: Michele, isn't it clear that we, basically, as a nation, have very little power to influence events in Egypt and elsewhere these days? It seems that - and I think the Obama regime - presidency has said this, that, basically, it's up to the Egyptians and this is an Egyptian upheaval and they have to resolve it for themselves, and there's not a lot of levers we can pull.
M: I think the - yeah, the Obama administration definitely has wanted to say this is a choice for Egyptians. We're not making a choice for you. And yet, I find people in Egypt sort of hanging on every word that comes out of the White House and out of the State Department. Now why is that if we don't have any influence there? You know, the demonstrators and people I either talk to or follow through the Egyptian media have been saying, you know, we want a better message of support out of the United States. We're getting confused or a mixed message. And we've also seen Egyptian officials reacting, too. We saw the - a strong, negative reaction from the Egyptian foreign minister.
So I would say that while the United States is definitely not controlling or, you know, kind of moving the chess pieces here in Egypt, that it still seems we have significant support - significant influence there.
SHAPIRO: Michele Dunne, how does it complicate things that, you know, when we look at analogous situations in other countries, there's generally an opposition leader - and in Egypt there isn't?
M: Yeah, that's right. And the Egyptian government was careful to make sure there wouldn't be a unified leader of the opposition that would emerge in recent years. Yeah. That has made it a complicated situation, and actually, we see sort of new opposition movements emerging in Egypt through these protests.
That's not an unusual thing to expect in a situation of kind of a mass uprising like this. So we have some older opposition organizations, some of which, I think, are quickly being left behind. Some of which, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are still relevant to this situation. And we have newer opposition organizations, these youth groups, Mohamed Elbaradei's National Association for Change, the April 6 Youth Movement that's existed for a couple of years, that are becoming newly relevant.
And they're kind of struggling here to put forward leaders. We started to see some new names emerge in recent days, Wael Ghoneim, of course, and others. And there's an attempt to...
SHAPIRO: I'm just going to interrupt you. We're about to hear from President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
SHAPIRO: (Through translator): And now I address my speech today to the youth of Egypt in Tahrir Square and all of its grounds(ph). I speak to you from the heart. I speak to you, to the children of Egypt.
I speak to you because you are a new generation in Egypt that asks for a better Egypt and builds for its future. I say to you before I say anything, that your martyrs and those that have been hurt were not hurt for nothing, and know that I will not shy away from bringing to justice those who were responsible. They will be punished.
And I tell the family of those martyrs that I too have felt the pain, just as you have felt, and my heart has hurt just as your heart has hurt. I say to you, my answers to your calls and your prayers is to stay steadfast and not return. And I have looked and understood everything that you have said, and I am steadfast in meeting those demands.
You, of course, are looking for honesty. Your demands are just. Mistakes are apparent in any political system in any country, but what's important is owning up to our mistakes and fixing our mistakes and holding responsible those who need to be held responsible.
And I tell you, as president of the country, I will not shy away from listening to the youth of my country, but I will not accept any advice that comes from outside, from wherever it comes or for whatever reasons. The youth of Egypt, my fellow citizens, I have explained myself and placed plans that do not require discussion.
What I have given to this country, in the past 60 years, in war and in peace, I worked then, and now I say I will be responsible for changing the constitution and be responsible for the people until the elections of September, where there will be a free and fair election and the people can pick who they want to rule. Therefore this is the promise that I have promised. This is the swear that I have sworn. And I will protect it until Egypt is back into safety.
I have been in discussions about how to get out of this situation. And I've tried to meet the demands based on the constitution and in a way that will keep the stability of our society and our youth. And therefore now we will - we are discussing a transfer of power. And I presented this idea in order to get this country out of the crisis it is in. And I am watching minute by minute. And I'm very careful about what happens next to Egypt and its people and the protection that will now come from the military.
The youth of Egypt have got together and asked for change and for a relief of the political regime. And I have agreed to bring our political minds together to come up with a solution and to come up with a clear plan and a timeline of the change. Day by day we come - day by day we come closer to a transfer of power.
This national dialogue is now given to a constitutional committee that is studying the changes that have been requested in the constitution, that - as has a committee been established to ensure that those promises I've given come through. And I promise the people that make up these committees are the intellectuals and specialists that are known in the country.
But even though we have had martyrs die in the events since the past few days - and I have sent out orders for an investigation to start immediately of what happened last week in the upheaval, and I've given this investigation to the vice president. And I have started with the committee that I have started to study the changes in the constitution that have been asked for. And I, based on what the committee has discussed, based on Amendment 190 - 189. And therefore I have asked for the changes in constitutional Amendments 76, 77, 189 - and this one I can't remember - okay.
And getting prepared for immediate changes that are agreed upon by this committee - these changes are our first concern, the changes in the presidential elections. They will also put in place a specific time period for presidential elections. And there will also be amendments to change the way that people in the parliament are elected into power and continue into power.
So the constitution must balance between the fear of terrorism and protection of the freedom and rights of all our people, particularly using the emergency law. That is - but we are still - we will - we are considering repealing the emergency law.
My citizens, we have lost trust between us and our people, and we have lost trust in the process of change that we have begun. For Egypt is now seeing difficult times - we cannot continue like this. For our economy and our society, I've seen losses day by day. And we are now seeing changes that those youths that are calling for these changes are seeing the consequences of first. For these changes have nothing to do with specific people or with Hosni Mubarak.
These demands - these changes are for Egypt. Therefore it is our duty to continue the dialogue that we have begun without a conflict between groups. For now we will bring back to the streets of Egypt its daily activities and bridge trust between the people.
I was once a young man just as the young men are in Tahrir Square, and I learned what it means to be a nationalist and sacrifice for my country. I defended my country. I entered its wars, with its losses and its wins. I lived the days of freedom and colonialism. The happiest day of my life was when I put the Egyptian flag on the Sinai Peninsula, and other days like this. I will not bend to foreign pressure. I have done for the security and stability...
SHAPIRO: You're listening to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, speaking through a translator at ABC News here in the United States. This is special coverage from NPR News.
SHAPIRO: ...may know that I will work every day for my country. We are now in a difficult situation, and we are at a turning point, a moment in history. We must now look at the overall security and safety of our country. And that must be our first consideration. I've seen the vice president discuss the changes that might come in the Constitution. I know that the will of its people will not be broken, that it will stand on its two feet honestly for all its children.
We will prove we are Egyptian. Our strength is in the outspokenness of our people. We will not take advice from anyone, and no one will shape our decisions except for those in the streets, and from the requests of our youth.
The unity and determination of its people, it's our nationalism, this is our gem, our country that we have been with for more than 7,000 years. This is the soul of Egypt that will live in us as long as there are Egyptian people. From the peasants to the intellectuals, it will remain in our Muslim leaders, our young people, our Muslims and our Christians, and in the minds and hearts of any of all of the children that will be born after.
I say again, I've lived for this country, protecting its securities, and Egypt will be the one that remains above people and above societies. It will remain until I give up my presidential powers. It will remain a great country that will not leave me and I will not leave it, and it will remain a proud people, head held high, filled with pride and joy. May God protect Egypt and its people, and set them on a straight path.
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