Veteran diplomat Richard Haass turns from foreign affairs to threats from within. He argues Americans focus so much on rights we forget our obligations as citizens -- and the country is suffering because of it.
Egyptian police continue to battle anti-government protesters. A Hezbollah-backed billionaire is set to become Lebanon’s new prime minister. And Russian Prime Minister Putin vows retribution against those behind the Moscow airport bombing. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- David Sanger Chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times; a co-author of The New York Times' first e-book, "Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy," available January 31.
- Michele Kelemen Diplomatic correspondent, NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Unrest is intensifying in the Arab world. Egyptian authorities clashed with protesters for a fourth day and placed a Nobel Peace Laureate under house arrest. In Yemen, protesters vowed to keep demonstrating until the government falls or makes reforms. Elsewhere in the world, Russia's Prime Minister called for retribution against those behind Moscow airport bombing and Sudan has asked the U.S. to remove it from a state sponsors of terrorism list.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio to talk about the weeks of international stories on the Friday News Roundup. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers. David Sanger, The New York Times. Michele Kelemen of NPR. Please join us 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or twitter. Nancy Youssef, the situation in Egypt is moving very quickly.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFVery quickly, indeed. On Tuesday, we started to see these protests. They seemed to die down mid week and today, with Friday prayers happening and people able to gather outside of the Facebook and twitter and internet ban, people are gathering by the thousands and protesting. Police are having to use tear gas, in some cases, rubber bullets. And it's the most extraordinary uprising we've seen. And under Mubarak's rule. We haven't heard from him since this all started.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFAnd it's really raising questions about how far this will go. It's moving so quickly, you just don't know.
REHMAnd David Sanger, Nobel Laureate Muhammad ElBaradei is now under house arrest in Cairo. Does he pose a threat to the government of Hosni Mubarak?
MR. DAVID SANGERWell, you know, he's posed a threat ever since he left his previous job, which was director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency where many of us got to know him pretty well in the coverage of Iran issues and other nuclear issues. And then he went back to Egypt, but didn't stay there for very long. He's lived most of his time, since he left the IEA, back in his apartment in Vienna, which is where the IEA is located, and just flew into Cairo anew as these protests took off yesterday.
MR. DAVID SANGERAnd was almost immediately put under house arrest today, when he first showed up at some of the protests. He would be an unlikely leader for a movement here that is led largely by youth. Mr. ElBaradei is 68 years old. I wouldn't call him an elitist, but he certainly has an elite air about him. He has been a career diplomat, he has worked off in the rarified world of the IEA, which is sort of a world of its own. So he's been removed from Egyptian politics. On the other hand, he poses -- he creates something that is a particularly big threat, I think, to President Mubarak.
MR. DAVID SANGERFirst, this is not somebody you can easily throw in jail or shoot. He's a Nobel Prize Laureate. So in that regard, he is sort of got the air about him that Aung San Suu Kyi has in Burma.
REHMWhat about the Obama administration, Michele? What are they doing or saying?
MS. MICHELE KELEMENWell, it's been interesting. Last night, there was all these concerns about the internet shut down and that's one of the things that the state department's been focusing on, urging the Egyptian government to allow the protests, to allow the internet access. They haven't gotten very far in all of those calls obviously. They've been very cautious to criticize Mubarak, which has been quite amazing. I mean, Vice President Biden was asked yesterday whether Mubarak was a dictator and he said he wouldn't go that far.
MS. MICHELE KELEMENAnd he said he's been a strong ally over the years. Now, the -- you know, so you've seen this slowly emerging more assertive administrations supporting the protesters, but it seems to becoming very late. There's this group of bipartisan Egypt working group that’s been urging the Obama administration to do much more over the past year really, to support democratic forces in Egypt. And they, you know, they're saying now you got to get behind these young people because once it goes from young people to the Islamist's and it could do that and it may be doing that very quickly.
KELEMENIt's too late.
REHM...here's a story from the AP. The U.S. Ambassador in Cairo warned Washington to be less confrontational in its dealings with Egypt, toning down human rights pressure to avoid jeopardizing relations with the Middle East. Dozens of U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks on Friday's show.
SANGERThis is actually just based on a story that we had on page one this morning, that the Times had, which was going back into our Wikileaks trove and going back to see what the communications were between the Embassy and Washington. And, I think, it is that advice that as Michele suggested, got the administration off to sort of a strange start this week. You saw Secretary Clinton step out and her immediate comments were about the need for stability in Egypt.
SANGERAnd I suspect that they probably, by the time this process is over, would like to have sort of stuffed those words back out of the system and replace them with more words about reform. And they did that the next day, yesterday. But it poses this critical issue. No one has stood up in favor of internet freedom more strongly than Hillary Clinton. It was probably her best speech as Secretary of State. No one has stood up more on reform issues than President Obama and he gave the speech in Cairo.
SANGERSo now they're in the position of, how do you go deal with a long time ally whose been ignoring their advice for two years?
YOUSSEFI think that's all true. But to be clear this is not because so much about the United States, but about an uprising that started in Tunisia. About 30 years of frustration. I've been going to Egypt my whole life. I'm an Egyptian by blood and it has been bubbling and festering year after year, after year. It is our youth, most of them, who have not known any other leader than Mubarak and have felt stifled. They can't get a job. In Egypt, 50 percent of the people live under the poverty line, which by the World Banks definition is under $2 a day.
YOUSSEFThe United States role here is limited. This is a real grass roots uprising. And I think what we're hearing more than anything this week is how limited the U.S. options are in supporting its ally, Hosni Mubarak. I'd also like to add, as we're wondering what's going to come next, I personally am watching for whether the police start to turn against the government. If they start putting down those batons, if they start taking off their uniforms, then I think something's tipped into a real threat to the Mubarak government.
REHMBut you've got a difference between the police and the army, do you not? And isn't the army...
SANGERYou -- the army's actually a highly respected institution in Egypt and you -- so some protesters cheering when the army showed up, at some of these events in the past day, rather than the police. Which I think is interesting. But it's also -- we have to remember, you know, we were on this show and elsewhere during the Iran protests in June of 2009. You know, we all thought, gee, this would tip it over against the government. Well, today, that looks more like Iran's Tiananmen. They put it down.
SANGERAnd you have to remember that Egypt has probably the most sophisticated security service of any Arab state.
KELEMENWell, we're certainly seeing that by what they're doing to block any kind of access. I mean, a total lock down on phone service, on internet and even our correspondent on the scene there said she was having trouble getting out on her Sat phone, which she had never experienced before in lots of years of reporting.
REHMObviously, nobody is making predictions this early on. But Robin Wright, on the program yesterday, said, we're in this sort of interim period. We really don't know how this is going to go. We don't know what or how this kind of revolution, if you will, can affect the long term of the country.
YOUSSEFThat's right. I mean, what -- one of the differences today then all other days is today people went to Mosques and they could gather as a group and talk about what to do next. And so the real decision points will be tomorrow and the day after in terms...
REHMBut putting ElBaradei under house arrest, doesn't that make a difference?
YOUSSEFTo whom, though? I mean, if you're an Egyptian who sees him primarily as an outsider, it's not as much as listening to your neighbor, to people in your Mosque saying, we need to stand up. Because, remember, people are not saying, if Mubarak's out, we want ElBaradei in. They're just saying, we want Mubarak out. And that's an important distinction.
REHMThe New York...
SANGER...Diane's onto something.
REHM…Times -- The New York Times is saying that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expected to break his silence and address the nation shortly. The government media also reported he had ordered the countries army to take to the streets and reinforce the police. Earlier as troops deployed in the city, they were, as you said David, cheered by some protesters who had more confidence in the military than the police.
SANGERYeah, I think that's right. And, I think, Nancy made a very good point. That ElBaradei is not seen as a leader of this group. But he may be a convenient cover for this group as a temporary transition because he does create the sense of sort of adult supervision. It's not as if the country would be moving into total chaos.
KELEMENAbsolutely. It's a great point. And the other -- and the next sort of turning point, too, as we watch this fall, elections are scheduled in Egypt. Will Mubarak be on the ballot? What will he do? How can he claim to win 99 percent or what it will be again this year?
REHMOr his son.
KELEMENOr his son, given what we're seeing.
KELEMENSo it's going to be an interesting...
SANGERThere's one other point. By putting him under house arrest, he really creates a breach with the United States. You know, his biggest backer out here is the U.S., explaining to -- in that phone call that is inevitable with Secretary Clinton or with President Obama, why ElBaradei is under house arrest. That's going to be tough argument.
REHMDavid Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, co-author of the New York Times first e-book, "Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War and American Diplomacy," available on Monday.
REHMAnd we're back with the international hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with a great deal of happening goings on in the Middle East. Nancy Youssef is here. She's with McClatchy Newspapers. David Sanger of The New York Times. Michele Kelemen. She's diplomatic correspondent for NPR. And in just a moment I'll get to some of your calls, your e-mail. We're also talking about not only Egypt, but Tunisia. Tunisia's interim government has now issued an international arrest warrant for the deposed President Ben Ali and his wife. I gather they or he has gone to Saudi Arabia, Michele.
KELEMENHe fled to Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago. This interim government is under a lot of pressure now to deal with that situation but also to get ready for elections. I mean, the U.S. government sent its assistant secretary for near east affairs there this week to say, you guys have to carry out credible elections. We can help, but, again, the U.S. doesn't wanna be seen too much in the role of playing the political scenes here.
KELEMENThey say this is a made-in-Tunisia story. This is something that the whole Arab world has to deal with, this youth bulge as they call it, young populations that don't have enough jobs and don't feel like they have governments that are responsive. So they're trying to push the Tunisians to hold credible elections. And then, they're trying to do the same in a lot of other places. But, you know, in a place like Yemen, this could get very dangerous very soon.
REHMAnd the Tunisian young people are saying, we won't allow anybody who had been associated with Ben Ali to be part of the new government. And they are.
SANGERThere are, certainly. And, you know, in a country as small as Tunisia the governing elite is pretty small, too. And so to sweep out everybody would be pretty difficult. As Michele said, this was a made-in-Tunisia uprising. But you mentioned before the break, Wikileaks, and there are many government officials who have said to me this week -- American officials -- senior America officials who believe that while this was made in Tunisia, it was ignited by Wikileaks.
SANGERNow, this is sort of interesting because when we initially went through the Wikileaks material for the series at The Times and The Guardian and (unintelligible) all did in the end of November, beginning of December, we all missed Tunisia because, you know, it wasn't considered strategically vital and all that. I'm as guilty of that as anybody.
SANGERBut once the Tunisian memos came out, it simply confirmed to all Tunisians what they had known anyway, which was that Mr. Ben Ali, his wife, the rest of the family, the corruption in the area, the swimming pool, the great dinners, the caviar, the whole bit seemed a bit much. And I think it's going to be really interesting when the history of this period is written to determine whether or not that was really a major cause.
YOUSSEFAnd I think the other thing from that diplomatic leak was the sort of feeling among Tunisians -- goodness, even the Americans are aware of the depth of corruption that's happening in this country. And I think that's exactly right, it did contribute to what we saw in Tunisia soon afterward. There has been a push by the new government to keep some people in because they say they need some transition and it's led to a lot of protests on the streets.
YOUSSEFMost notably, the Prime Minister is a member of the old regime and so there's been an effort to clean out government and name new people in. But this will be a very critical period because it's not just election, but writing a new constitution and building a government with as little possible expertise from the old government.
KELEMENIt also raises a lot of questions just about how diplomats work.
KELEMENBecause, you know, I mean, this administration has been very careful not to go the Bush Administration freedom agenda way and always talk about these issues. They were very careful to talk about supporting reforms and talking privately with these Arab rulers. But in the meantime, their documents, their cables back to Washington -- we're talking about how corrupt this fellow was in Tunisia. So now as you said, Nancy, the people could see that the U.S. didn't back him.
REHMAnd as you said, Michele, now it's spread to Yemen. I mean, it's as though one thing leads to another and someone has dropped a match into the middle of it.
SANGERWell, that match is called the web and, you know, people do see each of these. It's Yemen in many ways that I think has this Whitehouse worried the most. I mean, Egypt because of its size certainly and its position, of course, as the only Arab state that really put together an enduring piece with Israel and Mubarak's central role in keeping stability there until now. But President Saleh of Yemen is the man who the U.S. has relied on the most to allow a very quiet but very effective U.S. operation against Al-Qaeda forces in Yemen. And you'll remember that the Wikileaks cables there included conversations in which President Saleh said, you can do whatever you want, as long as we get -- meaning the Yemeni government -- gets the credit.
REHMGet the blame.
SANGERRight, right. That it doesn't appear that we've let the Americans go in to do this.
SANGERSo supposing they lost Saleh in the middle of this in a country that is, you know, just this side of a failed state, it would put a good -- it would put in jeopardy the U.S. counterterrorism effort there.
YOUSSEFThat's right. I mean, remember the United States is now giving $250 million a year in military aid to Yemenis, part of this effort to thwart the Al-Qaeda threat there. I think it's important to talk about where this is different than Egypt. In Egypt, it's a largely driven youth movement. This one is driven more by Islamists. And whereas in Egypt, they want Mubarak out, there's division in Yemen about what exactly they want.
YOUSSEFSome people want President Saleh and his son to vow to not run in the 2013 election, some want him to step down altogether, some simply want economic reform. And while Mubarak has been silent apparently until now, President Saleh has made some efforts to promote economic reform. He's promising now $47 a month in salary for police and civilian personnel. At least there's some response. So they're both that -- you're right, there's that spark that's hit the region, but there are important distinctions in terms of what's happening in each country.
KELEMENYou know, Secretary Rice -- Secretary Clinton, I'm sorry, was just there a couple of weeks ago and I was there with her. And she did spend some time talking to the president about the need for reform. I mean, she saw this coming. But we were told that he sort of spent most of the meeting talking about what a great partner he is in the war against Al Qaeda. So she is having a hard time doing that private nudging to this -- that government to open up for reform. But she also met with civil society activists with opposition parliamentarians and she got an earful about what the president was doing and the need for a national dialogue, the need for reforms and to make sure that he doesn't become president for life.
SANGERRemember what all of these leaders absorbed during the Bush years from 2001 on. If you signed on to the counterterrorism agenda you were given pretty much a free ride to run your country the way you wanted it to be. And that was what happened with President Musharraf in Pakistan for sure. It happened with President Saleh. It certainly happened with Mubarak who would periodically crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, a group pretty well linked to Al-Qaeda's origins. So this is a big switch and it's one of the reasons that it's so difficult for the U.S. to get out and say the democracy protests have to take priority over every other interest, because we do have other interests.
REHMAnd lest we forget, Nancy, talk about the power shift going on in Lebanon.
YOUSSEFNow Lebanon's one of the places where Tunisia wasn't the precipitating factor. This was actually something festering for quite some time. We saw Saad Hariri, who is the son of Rafic Hariri who was assassinated in 2005, his government collapsed, which was extraordinary because it wasn't predicted just a couple weeks ago. But there's a dispute in Lebanon over the tribunal that's investigating his father's assassination and who should be responsible for it. And that's what split the government. Most interestingly we saw Mr. Hariri, the son, lose the support of some Christian members of government, and so it was a sudden quick collapse. The interesting thing in Lebanon is this isn't as much about youth as it is about sectarianism and class and ideology.
YOUSSEFAnd so we're starting to see now Hezbollah's getting more power. Their backed candidate is now a candidate to be prime minister.
REHMThis is Najib...
YOUSSEFThat's right. And...
YOUSSEFThat's right and he is now backed by Hezbollah and so we're seeing a rapid increase in Hezbollah's power and influence in the country.
SANGERWhich means Iran's influence in the country.
KELEMENAnd the U.S. left as a spectator.
REHMSo you're saying that Hezbollah and Iran have the most influence over this incoming prime minister.
SANGERWell, Hezbollah has been pretty well financed and armed, as has Hamas by Iran. And that's one of the biggest concerns. And look, if you're Iran right now and you've seen your centrifuges hit by a mysterious virus that probably has origins in the U.S. and Israel, and you've seen sanctions imposed against you, they're probably looking for some way to make a point to the United States. And where better to do that than Lebanon?
REHMBut how could that change in leadership affect the region as a whole?
YOUSSEFWell, it's the most power Iran has had in the Arab world arguably other than Iraq. And so we'll see. Now, the question too becomes how much does Hezbollah need Iran now given that it's got this growing influence in Lebanon. So it's to be seen but it will clearly affect the results of the tribunal, which is a very, very important mission to the Lebanese. And it could affect how they relate to their allies. If you're Israel, for example, you're watching this very carefully because it could fundamentally change an already fragile situation there and make it even more so.
REHMAnd talk about Wikileaks and its influence. What about the documents leaked by Al Jazeera, Michele?
KELEMENWell, it doesn't make anybody look very good. The Palestinian negotiator loses credibility, the Americans lose credibility for either not bridging -- the Obama Administration for not bridging the proposals and the Obama Administration for being such a disappointment to Palestinians.
REHMWell, and what they say is that Abbas was willing to give far more in the way of concessions to the Israelis in the name of peace.
YOUSSEFThat's right. Now it's the Palestinian position so one could argue that it's one side of it. Although there hasn't been anyone to suggest that those documents are inaccurate. Some would argue that this is an effort to hurt Abbas because here he makes all these concessions and then gets nothing. It makes him look weak, frankly, to his followers. And so it certainly raises questions on who would give concessions in the future given that it doesn't appear to be leading it to anything. And the documents indicate that the Israelis were not willing to relinquish any ground. And so I think it makes it harder for Palestinians going forward to make concessions with so much of it now out in the public domain.
SANGERI think that's right and I think there's a sense throughout the region that President Obama's interest in pursuing this issue is somewhat limited, that he has sort of taken the position of, we've tried so you guys come forward to us. You'll notice that he went through the entire State of the Union speech on Tuesday night and there wasn't a single mention of the Mideast peace process.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michele Kelemen, what did Sudan ask the U.S. for this week?
KELEMENWell, you know, it goes back to last year basically. The United States was looking for ways to make sure the north/south peace process was completed. That the south could vote freely in this independence referendum and that the Sudanese government would abide by it. And the U.S. offered a whole package of incentives, some sweeteners and the foreign minister of Sudan came to ask for what he was offered. And that included one of the things they've been wanting for a long time, and that is to get off the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
REHMHow likely is that?
KELEMENWell, the Obama Administration offered it to them and they've said they haven't started moving on it yet but they do plan to move on it. There was an envoy earlier this year said that he predicted by this summer that they would be off that list.
SANGERIt's a long process. Go ask the North Koreans.
KELEMENOr the Libyans, you know.
KELEMENI mean, it's very easy to get on these lists and it is very hard to get off of them.
REHMBut how do they reconcile the whole human rights issue on Darfur?
KELEMENWell, I mean, this is the problem for the Obama Administration now because the State Department list of terrorism is one of the big leverage points. It was the leverage point that they had over the north/south process. But if you do give that up what leverage does the U.S. have to stop what's going on in Darfur?
SANGEROn the other hand, the list is about external terrorism. So what's happening in Darfur, horrific as it is, doesn't really fit the definitions.
KELEMENAnd the State Department has said that Sudan's been cooperative on terrorism. So, you know, they put themselves in that position and I think they're going to have to deliver.
REHMAnd a report here, a U.S. official says initial reports indicate two American citizens died in a suicide bombing inside a western style grocery store in Kabul. Eight people including five foreigners died. President Karzai finally inaugurated Afghanistan's newly elected parliament. How come now, Nancy?
YOUSSEFBecause he was pressured to. This was a five-month wait. He had -- there was questions about -- he had questioned the legitimacy of the election. Someone argued primarily because the Pashtuns, who are the majority in Afghanistan and his biggest allies, got fewer seats than they had relative to their proportion in the country. And so he set up a special court to investigate these charges, all with the understanding that they would find what he wanted them to find. And then the west got involved and said -- and basically backed those who won the election and he was pressured to inaugurate them on Wednesday despite desires otherwise.
YOUSSEFAnd so what came out of this was a real tension between -- more tension, if you will, between Karzai and the United States. And also it appeared to be that Karzai was increasingly isolated now from this parliament that he has been forced to inaugurate and from western diplomats.
SANGERWell, this is, you know, the long running drama. And in this particular case the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, threatened to show up at the parliament last Sunday when they were supposed to all gather together and basically welcome in the new parliament without Karzai and without Karzai gathering it. Now, this is with our close ally in...
REHMTalk about a little pressure.
SANGERYeah, right. So that gives you a sense -- now, remember, it's Ambassador Eikenberry who wrote back to President Obama during the Afghan, Pakistan review in late 2009 that President Karzai would not be a reliable partner if he was thinking that the strategy would be based on that. And my guess is that when the history of this period is written, Ambassador Eikenberry's cable is probably going to look just about right.
YOUSSEFYou know, I don't envy the diplomats in this situation because, on one hand, if you don't do anything, this -- it looks -- and if you do, you're now seen as too heavy handed in what's supposed to be a democrat Afghanistan government.
REHMNancy Youssef. She's Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Short break and when we come back your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to Annandale, Va., good morning, Andy. But first let me tell you that Egypt's military has deployed on the streets of Cairo. And parts of the ruling party headquarters in Cairo are going up in flames, apparently set by enraged protestors demanding Mubarak's ouster. Andy, sorry to preface your comments with that. Go right ahead.
ANDYIt's quite all right. I said to my wife a couple days ago, I think Mubarak is toast, but, you know, I want our president to be on the right side in this. We're hearing from Vice President Biden that, you know, he doesn't think Mubarak is a dictator. Where has he been? You know, and Hillary Clinton said a few days ago that the situation is stable in Egypt and Mubarak is trying to conduct reforms. You know, this is ridiculous. If the president and his folks don't get on the right side in this, they're gonna lose the support of the Egyptian people and they'll be facing the Islamists.
KELEMENWell, yes, I mean, that's what I've been hearing from a lot of other people too, analysts who have been watching this who have been trying to get the Obama administration on, as you put it, the right side of this for awhile. You know, early on we were talking about how when this administration came in, the idea of the Bush administration's freedom agenda was so discredited that this administration could've went back on all of this. You know, Hillary Clinton, when she first met with Mubarak talked about how she was a good family friend with Mubarak and his wife. And it got Egyptian activists very angry and worried.
KELEMENAnd so the administration's policy has been evolving. They're getting there. They're a little bit a slow to it, but, again, it is concerning that they're not speaking out a little bit more forcefully in favor of the secular protest who are out there now.
SANGERThere's a long history in the United States of administrations being behind the curve on these things. And one of the excuses that many administrations make for that is that if you cut off the channel too fast with a leader who may be under great pressure, you may lose your opportunity to have those back channel conversations with them when the moment has come to leave.
SANGERAnd the classic example here was Marcos, you know, somebody who had been the President of the Philippines, had been a great U.S. ally and at some moment it came when the Reagan administration had to tell him the time was there to go. And you may remember they had some nice housing for him in Hawaii and so forth. And they felt at that time that it was important that they keep enough channels open that they could ease him out, which is ultimately what they did. There have been other examples that have worked out a little bit better, including South Korea.
REHMAll right. To Steve in Lansing, Mich., good morning.
STEVEHey, I was wondering if you could provide some historical context as to what sorts of specific support has the U.S. government provided for Egypt. And especially has that support been crucial in the Mubarak government being able to maintain power?
YOUSSEFYes. Well, the most obvious is $3 billion in aid every year that Egypt gets. It's the highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in addition to Israel. And so that's the most obvious example. But more than that, they've sort of bolstered his credibility as the leader of the Arab world in western eyes, but not necessarily in the eyes of the Arab world.
REHMWhat about Tunisia? How much foreign aid does that country get? Do we know? We don't know.
SANGERI don't know.
SANGERIt can't be that much in...
YOUSSEFI seem to recall 50 -- from the U.S. a very small relative number they...
REHMSmall. All right. Okay. To Orlando, Fla., good morning, Ricky.
RICKYHi, I just wanted to say that I'm a college student here and we have high youth unemployment here just like they have in Egypt, I would say. And I think what's happening in Egypt and Tunisia should start happening here, that we need to start organizing and being active and have people take ourselves seriously. Nobody takes the youth seriously. And we can't any jobs when we graduate. All my friends are waiting tables again. It's ridiculous.
REHMIt is unfortunate that as we talk about what's happening in the rest of the world, we know for a fact it's happening right here as well.
SANGERWell, we do have high unemployment here and there is a lot of frustration about it. But as Nancy said at the opening of the show, in Egypt we're discussing a country where, what is it, half the population lives under the $2 a day poverty level. And while we have many, many problems in the United States and I wouldn't diminish any of them, what you see in Egypt is of a whole different scale.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas, good morning, Sandra.
SANDRAGood morning, this is Sandra. Thank you for taking my call, Diane.
SANDRAYeah, I wouldn't want President Obama to take -- to involve himself in the affairs of the Egyptians. (unintelligible)
SANDRAThis is not our responsibility.
REHMYeah, so our caller really wants the U.S. to keep hands off, let them take care of themselves. What do you think, Michele?
KELEMENI think probably a lot of people feel that way, but it is a big ally. It's been an important country for Middle East process, such as it is. It's been a key ally in the Middle East against the growing Islamism or Islamist movement. And so this is -- there is a danger for the U.S. in what's happening in Egypt and they have to pay attention. Whether or not they can really do anything about it is a different story. I think what we've seen across the region is that the U.S. has lost a lot of clout and it's lost the ability to influence events in the way that it wants to.
YOUSSEFI wanted to go back to Ricky's point. I wanna try to at least paint a quick picture of what it's been like in Egypt and why we're seeing this. You know, just in the course of my lifetime we've seen the dissipation of the middle class. You're either very rich in Egypt or you're very poor.
REHMSame with Tunisia.
YOUSSEFYes. But it's a much smaller country and the extremes there you saw it more with the government. They sort of flaunted it in a way. And I don't wanna -- it's a hard comparison, but the additional -- and to give you a sense of it, if you're an Egyptian, you can go to the best universities, you can do well in school and you come out and there's no work. If there's no work, you don't get married. If you don't get married, you don't get to leave home.
YOUSSEFIf you don't get to leave home, you've not lived up to your family's expectations of you. You haven't lived up to your potential. You've lived a worse life than your mother and father have and that creates a sense of shame amongst everyday Egyptians who are expected to do better, not be 27, 28, 29 years old and not able to support themselves.
SANGERI think Nancy I think is absolutely right on this, but I think the other issue we have to remember about why the U.S. will play some role, and it's gotta be a very careful role because this is about Egypt, it's not about the U.S., is that Egypt is strategically vital to the United States and to the west in a way that Tunisia is not and many other countries are not as well.
REHMCairo, Alexandria and Suez have been placed under curfew as the Egyptian government battles to restore control after the biggest protest so far. And here's an e-mail from Julia. She's in Grand Rapids, Mich. She says, "I was just wondering are there whisperings of dissent in Libya? Hasn't Kadafi been in power longer than any of these guys?" David.
SANGERYou know, so far we have not seen a whole lot out of Libya. Libya was another country that was very unhappy with the revelations in WikiLeaks and the American ambassador there had to quietly leave town. But so far I haven't seen any indication that this contagion has spread there.
REHMAll right. To Dearborn, Mich., Ali, you're on the air.
ALIHi, I'm a Lebanese American and I've been following some of the things that have been happening in the Middle East over the past few weeks. I've heard obviously the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt and now Yemen. And Lebanon, you know, the government has collapsed and they're trying to reform there. A lot of these are U.S. backed governments as well. Is this something that we're gonna see -- that you feel that we'll see broader in the Middle East over the next few weeks? Is this something that may be a turning point for the Middle East as a whole?
KELEMENWell, it's moved very quickly from country to country, so I think there -- it does seem to be a turning point. I would say it is. I mean, certainly Tunisia was the first time you had a popular uprising against an autocratic government in the Arab world, so I -- you know, the events are moving so quickly, the U.S. is having a hard time keeping up with all of it and I think it does look to be a turning point.
YOUSSEFYou know, it's funny, we talk about U.S. influence. And I can't help but think as I watch all this in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the United States brought democracy to the region and it was supposed to change the regions and that didn't happen. When we talk about democratic revolution in the Middle East, it won't be Iraq where we had -- where we've committed so much to do it, but in places where the United States intervention was minimal, where it was a true popular uprising, not outside forces coming in and trying to shape it. So given that, how much can you hope for the U.S. to shape things than the other way around and bring more stability.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Kurt in Stillman Valley, Ill., "Isn't the big fear that Islamists will take over and open the border with Gaza? If that happens, it seems the whole situation with Israel and its neighbors falls apart. This makes me wonder how popular the king of Jordan is. We have been bribing Egypt and Jordan through "foreign aid" to be friendly with Israel and everyone knows it. Considering our budget situation, how long can we continuing to buy friends for Israel?" David.
SANGERWell, the first question here is could the Islamists take over in Egypt, and while in theory they could, what's interesting about these protests is they were not the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood or any of the other Islamist groups. In fact, those guys are playing catch up, which is pretty fascinating. The second is these groups tend not to pull terribly highly in places like Egypt. So I think that risk is less than the risk that a general chaotic situation could break out which Islamic groups could then exploit, either to mount terrorism attacks or change what was happening on that border. But that's a bigger and a different kind of risk than government takeover.
REHMWhat about King Abdullah in Jordan, is he under any threat whatsoever?
YOUSSEFI have to tell you, I've been wondering that all week. And the government in Jordan runs -- talk about tight security. It's tighter there, I think, than almost any other country. The economic disparity there is not as great, but I think it's something to watch because he is also not a popular leader of this country.
YOUSSEFWell, because he's seen as someone frankly who wasn't qualified to take the job, that he's too close to the west, that he's pushed Jordan too close as a western ally and not defended its Arab unity, if you will, among the Arab states, that they've worked too closely on Iraq and on other issues of U.S. interest. And that he wasn't the legitimate leader. Remember when his father, King Hussein, died, his naming as king really came quite unexpectedly to Jordanians who expected other family members to take the reign. And so he's never taken control as the true face I think among Jordanians as Jordan.
REHMNancy Yousseff of McClatchy newspapers. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And now to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, Diane.
MARKThanks for taking my call.
MARKI'm just curious what your panelists think the risk of these uprisings and this contagion spreading to Saudi Arabia, because one of your panelists was talking about how this seems to be affecting U.S. backed regimes and, of course, that's the elephant in the room with our support with Saudi Arabia.
MARKI'll take my answer off the air.
SANGERA superb question. So far we haven't seen anything very much in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia is a place where obviously there is a significant Islamist threat. There's a family that has had rule that has been, I guess you would call, a benevolent despotism, but in some moments the benevolence has faded away. And I think that that's the one that would certainly worry the U.S. and certainly the oil markets the most.
REHMThis is interesting from Jonathan. And, again, you know, everybody at this point is certainly speculating. Nobody knows how all this is going to play out. But Jonathan's not shy about offering his prediction. He says, "The best thing that could've happened in the Middle East is Nobel laureate and pro democracy leader Mohamed Elbaradei's house arrest. He has become a rallying point that will only give fire, passion and resolve for Egypt and other countries to overthrow their governments. Watch," he says, "if it happens in Egypt, we will see a domino effect." David.
SANGERWell, we could. And, you know, I -- as you said and warned, none of us know how this stuff is gonna work out. Think how much has happened since we've gone on the air. But at the same time, you have to think that the house arrest of Mr. Elbaradei, if it lasts, will become a rallying point. And most importantly, it will become a point of contention between Washington and Mubarak himself. And throwing Nobel laureates into house arrests in the middle of political turmoil makes a regime seem a lot like the Burmese regime. And that's probably not the company they want.
REHMMichele, I bet you're gonna have a busy day.
KELEMENYes, indeed, to see how the administration is rethinking its reaction to what's going on in Egypt today.
REHMDo you think it will? Do you agree with David?
KELEMENWell, I think it has to. I mean, the way it -- as I was saying, the way that Vice President Biden refused to call Mubarak dictator yesterday, I think that sort of language is gonna have to change when you see house arrests of someone like Elbaradei when you see the internet going down, when you see police and army out on the streets.
SANGERYeah, when you get a delta this big between what any administration's standards are for how a regime is supposed to act and how a regime is acting, you know that something's gonna have to give.
REHMWhat an interesting weekend we have in store for us, Nancy.
YOUSSEFWe sure do. And I've been watching since six o'clock this morning and as soon as I leave here I'll go back and watch it, because it's an Egypt I've never seen before and I'm shocked and worried about family and excited all at the same time.
REHMNancy Youssef, she's Pentagon correspondent for McClatchy news. David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, he's a contributor for The New York Times' first e-book "Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy" that's available on Monday. Michele Kelemen is diplomatic correspondent for NPR. Thank you all and stay tuned. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones.
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