America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Massive protests across Egypt intensified over the weekend. Demonstrators have vowed not to back down until President Hosni Mubarak resigns. The government closed Al-Jazeera’s Cairo news bureau and arrested six of its reporters amid accusations of fueling the protests. The reporters have been released but the bureau remains shut down. The man emerging as the leader of the opposition said he would be willing to serve as the interim head of a new government. The army has had a heavy presence in Egypt’s major cities, but no significant clashes have been reported. The U.S. response has evolved along with the crisis. On Sunday President Obama called on world leaders to back an “orderly transition” in Egypt, a long-time U.S. ally. The latest news – plus analysis of a new era in Egypt.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Egypt has long been a key ally to the U.S. in the Arab world, but that relationship is in flux as demonstrations against the 30-year regime of President Mubarak entered their seventh day. Joining me in the studio to talk about the uprising, what the uprising could mean for Egypt, the U.S. and the region, Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya TV, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Joining us from a studio in Massachusetts, Nicholas Burns of Harvard University.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you have been watching events unfolding over the weekend. We'll try to sort out, as best we can, what's happening and what's ahead. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. NICHOLAS BURNSGood morning.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMGood morning, Diane.
MR. MICHAEL RUBINGood morning.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood morning.
REHMAbderrahim, if I could start with you, what do we know about the holding of six Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt?
FOUKARAWell, we know that they have been released and allowed to resume their work. We know that they were -- during that period of detention, they were prevented from leaving the hotel where they are staying.
REHMThey have been accused of fomenting the unrest.
FOUKARAThey've been accused of fomenting the unrest. Al Jazeera is -- as many people know, it's two different channels -- the English channel and the Arabic channel. The English channel is now -- is still able to operate inside Egypt, film, talk to people and so on. The Arabic channel, which is really of consequence to the regime of Hosni Mubarak in terms of what it covers -- not just to Egyptians, but to people outside of Egypt elsewhere in the Arab world -- its crews continued to be banned from operating inside of Egypt. Its offices continued to be shut down. Al Jazeera Arabic was switched off from Nilesat yesterday, which is owned by the Egyptian government. It is now operating on different frequencies on different satellite channels out of Egypt.
REHMAnd, Hisham Melhem, what about Al-Arabiya in Cairo, in areas around Egypt?
MELHEMWe're still operating, but under strict restrictions. We were -- our reporters were harassed in the first few days of the uprising, and tapes were confiscated from us. We were forced to film from the windows of our bureaus in Washington, which happen to be in a nice location in terms of covering what's taking place in the streets. But this is, you know, standard operating...
REHMPar for the course.
MELHEM...procedure, you know, in Egypt. And they are afraid of the Arab media, obviously, because they know that millions of Arabs are watching these satellite stations. And the neighboring states are also concerned. So they gang up on freedom of information and dissemination of information, so this -- I mean, we've seen it in Tunisia. We've seen it in other places in the Arab world.
REHMNick Burns, does the restraint on these two networks provide any clues about the direction in which President Mubarak is likely to go?
BURNSWell, I think that it's extremely ill-advised to think that you can shut down modern media in the 21st century information age, and it's just an indication, Diane, that President Mubarak is losing control. He's losing -- he's lost control of the streets. And that was clear over the weekend when the security forces did not appear, and now you have instances of looting and insecurity for the average person. He has not shown any real openness to reform and change at all. This new government that he's put in power is really the old government.
BURNSIt's Omar Suleiman, and it's others who are former military officers. And I think that President Mubarak, if he doesn't open himself up to a reform process, risks being engulfed by these events. We've seen it too often in modern history. We've just seen it in Tunisia. I don't think Egypt is that dissimilar, and I think the message that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been putting out this weekend is actually a very good one to which he should listen, and that is there are going to be September elections.
BURNSI think it would be wise for President Mubarak and his son to announce they will not compete in those elections. There should be a transition period. The army will be key in that transition, therefore, very important that the army stay together. And, hopefully, the Egyptian people will have a time to reflect, to have some freedom, to think about what kind of government they want in an orderly way. But the events don't seem to be leading in that direction because of this very poor leadership from President Mubarak and his government.
REHMAnd, Michael Rubin, how do you see the reaction of the U.S. government thus far?
RUBINWell, President Obama has -- is in a very tough spot, obviously. The United States government is reacting to events, rather than being proactive. I'm not sure whether, at this point in time, there is a way to be proactive with events. What the whole crisis brings up is a whole lot of what ifs and what has beens. There's no doubt that, for the past 30 years, we've been supporting a dictatorship in Hosni Mubarak. There were fits and starts of efforts for reforms both under President Bush, although those were not sustained, and under previous presidents as well. But long and short of it is that we remain and have remained wedded to a dictatorship. Before the Iraq war, the Egypt embassy was, perhaps, our largest embassy in the world. And despite having so many diplomats on the ground, frankly, we were caught flat-footed by this.
REHMHow could the U.S. have been proactive here?
RUBINWell, in this case, the efforts -- what Nick Burns is talking about were things that we could do not just now at the heat of a crisis, but back 10 years ago when President Mubarak was having elections. Egypt has always had elections. They just haven't been free and fair. There were lots of opportunities to really push for reform. People were pushing for Hosni Mubarak to appoint a vice-president for the better part of 30 years, and he only did so when his regime was teetering. There was a lot of efforts -- there's always a problem in U.S. diplomacy between, on one hand, promoting reform when it antagonizes the leader in place and, at the other hand, being so obsequious to that ruler that you lose credibility in the ground.
RUBINA former U.S. ambassador to Egypt back in -- just a few years ago, is famous for saying that Hosni Mubarak was so popular that he could even win elections in the United States. Think of that -- how that must have fallen on the ears -- in Egypt, the ears of the students, and it's that sort of thing. So, on one hand, we can stop making those, sort of, obsequious statements. And, on the other hand, we can take a no-nonsense approach that reform means reform and transparency means transparency.
REHMOf course, 20/20 hindsight is always helpful in a situation like this. We cannot forget that Egypt is the most important ally to the U.S. in the Middle East. Abderrahim.
FOUKARACorrect. The most important Arab ally, at least, because there's also Israel in that part of the world. My -- the sense that I'm getting from the Obama administration is that there's an understanding that the region -- the Arab world as a whole -- is not going to go back to where it was two months ago, no matter what happens in Egypt.
REHMYou mean the entire Arab world?
FOUKARAEntire Arab world is not going to go back to what -- to where it was two months ago, and, obviously, it all now hinges on what happens in Egypt. It all hinges on the three -- what I see as the three possible scenarios: one in which President Mubarak is eased out of power and the aspirations of the Egyptians, the demonstrators, are somewhat met, one in which reasons prevails and Egypt is allowed to, through keeping its head, to keep on committing to -- sticking to its international commitments, including peace with the Israelis.
FOUKARAThe second one is if the army intervenes, quells the demonstrators in blood, as it were, obviously, the country will descend into chaos. It would have ramifications not just for the army -- which is, by the way, revered by most Egyptians because it fought so many different wars on the their behalf on the past -- but ramifications also for the United States. The third scenario is the army intervenes, quells the riots, but ultimately fails to bring the situation to any semblance of stability. That could -- those last two scenarios, the way I see it, would have ramifications for Egypt's Arab neighbors. You'll see other domino -- you'll see other leaderships in the region topple. That does not necessarily have to be the case.
REHMHisham Melhem, how do you see those three possible scenarios?
MELHEMWe could say with some certainty that the era of Hosni Mubarak is over for all intents and purposes -- not officially, but essentially over. How the transition will take place, how he will be out, who will take over in that transition remains to be seen. Now, let me say that I'm not very sanguine about the Egyptian army. I'm not very sanguine about any Arab army. I have a jaundiced view of Arab armies because Arab armies are repressive, and they are not -- and they do awful things in the name of "stability."
MELHEMEgypt, since the fall of the monarchy 60 years ago, had four presidents from the army. When Hosni Mubarak names Omar Suleiman from the army and from the much hated intelligence apparatus, he is adding insult to injury for the aspirations of millions and millions of Egyptians. That's why the Obama administration was frustrated with him. And, yesterday, Hillary Clinton almost sarcastically said it took him 30 years to name a vice-president. This regime is unable and unwilling, cannot do it in terms of reform. There's no way this regime will reform. The question is how to manage the transition, and, usually, by their nature, transitions are messy.
REHMHisham Melham, he's Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV. He's Washington correspondent for An-Nahar. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the ongoing situation in Egypt, which -- in which demonstrations continue. Huge questions remain about the army and how the army will function, how it will operate, will it -- whether it will seek to quell the demonstrations. And, Hisham Melhem, just before the break, you were talking about the army and how the leadership of Egypt has always come from within that army.
MELHEMI think we should put -- they should put an end to this. Look, this army is fat and lazy. The senior officers are rich, and they enjoy all sorts of perks that other armies in the Middle East -- who are as corrupt as them, from Pakistan to Morocco -- enjoy. I mean, let's be clear about that. This reverence of the Egyptian army, this romance that some American officials or some American scholars, or even some Egyptians would do, is maybe, you know, misguided. Okay? We've seen what armies did in other Arab countries. And the Egyptian army was defeated utterly in 1967, did much better in 1973. They haven't fought a war since 1973. Egypt made money on the Suez Canal in tourism, this and that, and there's nothing to show for the Egyptian people.
MELHEMThe army is a pillar of this regime, which is rotten at the core, and people should be -- should understand this. I don't know what's going to happen in transition. It's a very delicate situation. And transition, as I said, are very messy. I think the Obama administration should be faithful to its public positions about democracy, empowerment, respect for human rights, and President Obama, in particular, should be faithful to his own words and speech a year-and-a-half ago, in the heart of Cairo, when he said to the Egyptian people, I respect your aspirations for democracy and human rights.
MELHEMSo I think the whole world is watching this first test of the young American president who is dealing with a dictator in Cairo who's twice his age, who still lives in the Dark Ages. And appointing Omar Suleiman is another indication that there is a denial on the part of the Egyptian leadership and the Egyptian elite. Egypt is still important. Egypt is not as important as it used to be. The average Egyptian citizen looks at Mubarak, and he sees in him the embodiment of decay and the decline of Egypt as a regional power.
FOUKARAAnd, also, what Hisham said is correct. The only thing I would add is that the army is, as Hisham said, the pillar of the current regime. But the army is also the pillar of the Egyptian state as a whole. Look, there are no two ways to skin this cat. Whatever happens in Egypt, the army will have a major say in it. Now, there are fears, obviously, that the Muslim Brotherhood may take over, and it'll be anti-U.S. and anti-Israel and so on and so forth. That is not entirely untrue. But what -- whoever ends up taking over in Egypt on the civilian side can only do it with the blessing and the cooperation of the army.
REHMTurning to you, Nick Burns, here's an e-mail from Dallas. G.K. says, "How much did Mubarak's pro-American position contribute to the popular demonstrations against him? Will Syria, where a single family has ruled the country for over 40 years with single-party rule, harsh dictatorship, enormous poverty and corruption, suffer a similar fate? Will the president's anti-American policy prevent a similar popular outcry?" That has lots of questions. Nick Burns, I turn to you.
BURNSWell, those are good questions. And I think that, certainly, the fact that Mubarak has been very close to the United States doesn't help with a wide range of Egyptians who may not want or like that link. But here's the irony. I do think that President Mubarak is going to lose power. He has lost control of the situation. I agree with those who say that, like it or not, the army is going to be the key institution as we go forward. And so the best that the U.S. can hope for -- and we have to remember, this is not about us. And we have to be very careful, I think, not to insert ourselves too aggressively in this situation.
BURNSI didn't agree with the criticism over the weekend of President Obama, that he should have been out calling for Obama's -- for Mubarak's ouster. He should have been more active. I think he's played this just about right. We have to let the situation go forward, but we have to hope that the army can provide for a period of transition and then genuine reform leading to election. So that, I think, is the best thing for the United States to do. Whether or not this flows into other countries, I do think there is -- it's an extraordinary moment in the Middle East.
BURNSThere's a narrative for reform being led by young people in the streets, being encouraged by social media. And I would hope, frankly, that the spirit of reform would arrive in Syria because that is a sporadic regime -- much more authoritarian and dictatorial than the Egyptian government -- and one would hope that peaceful reform and peaceful democratic spirit would be the way forward in Syria, as well as Egypt.
RUBINI certainly agree with Nick's analysis with regard to the army and what its role likely will be. However, where people are going to be looking at the United States from here on and forward is whether or not we're going to just, with a nod and a wink, say, oh, yes, it will be a transitional government preparing for September elections or, oh, yes, it will be a transitional government that's going to last for two decades. The fact of the matter is people aren't going to have tolerance for the United States and its policies, and there will be a backlash unless we really do push for an open transition and keep that timeline flowing to the September elections. And that's where, looking forward, the United States is going to have to be very, very careful.
REHMI want to ask you about Mohamed ElBaradei and whether, in fact, he would operate fairly, he would have the support of the people as an interim president should Hosni Mubarak step down, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAI think, at this particular point in time, it's really hard to tell. I mean, the conventional wisdom about Mohamed ElBaradei is that his credentials are much more burnished outside of Egypt than they are actually inside of Egypt. I don't know, given the current situation inside of Egypt, to what extent that remains true. Something that we've only begun to hear about today coming out of Cairo, the political -- the opposition political parties yesterday began to talk about forming a group to negotiate with the regime of Hosni Mubarak, some sort of transition.
FOUKARAAnd that gave Egyptians -- a lot of Egyptians -- a lot of hope. But what we're beginning to hear today is that there is now some sort of divergence of opinion about ElBaradei and about whether he is actually the best person to lead this group in its negotiations with the regime. How deep and how far and wise that divergence is, I don't know at this particular point in time. But, certainly, a lot of Egyptians are pinning some sort of hope on Mohamed ElBaradei.
MELHEMCertainly, Mohamed ElBaradei is not Lenin returning to Russia on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution. He's certainly not Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Tehran from Paris with a powerful movement waiting for him. He is a symbol. At best, he could be the face of this transition, a face acceptable to many Egyptians who may have different -- disparate political views, a face who might be acceptable to the West because the West, like it or not, still has a role -- particularly the United States -- there. I think, when it comes to the army, I think, the United States is in a position to influence the Egyptian army. They should be very clear. We will not tolerate violence. We will not tolerate a coup. The Egyptian army needs the American largesse, needs your tax money and my tax money...
MELHEM...needs it for training, for equipment and for maintaining the relationship with the United States and Israel. So -- now, when people tell you Egypt did this for us, they fought al-Qaida with us and they are signing peace with the Israelis or helped us in Afghanistan, they are helping themselves. They are helping themselves because al-Qaida is chasing them just as they are chasing us. So it's not that we are in desperation as the United States. So the United States still has an influence to play. The question is, you play it, how? It is extremely important. It will be a huge mistake if we make this thing about the United States.
MELHEMI hear people in Washington tell us, will this group be a pro-American? That is the wrong question. They should be pro-Egyptian, first and foremost. They should be democratic. They should respect basic human rights. That's the starting point. The starting point is Obama's speech in Cairo. If we have a decent regime emerging from this chaos, from this mess, from this transition, it has to be pro-Egyptian. It has to be answerable to the people of Egypt, and inserting ourselves and saying that this is good for Israel or this is good for us is extremely dangerous.
RUBINWell, I largely agree with Hisham. The problem is it's hard to label someone pro-Egyptian or anti-Egyptian because, if you put 100 Egyptians into the room, you're probably going to get around 120 different opinions. But, certainly, when it comes to the army's self-interest, I fully agree. And we were talking on the break that, first of all, why do -- where does this $1.4 billion in aid come from? It's actually not one of those things with which we have a great deal of flexibility because it is mandated through the Camp David Accords -- the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty -- and so long as Egypt remains a party to that, legally, the United States is bound.
RUBINBut while the Egyptian army does operate on its self-interest, one way in which this really has illustrated to me was when I was looking, over the weekend, at the UN voting statistics of Egypt, that -- well, everyone will say that Egypt is such a great pro-American ally. In fact, at the United Nations in the year 2009, Egypt voted with the United States less -- with less frequency than did Cuba, Zimbabwe or Vietnam.
REHMStunning. Go ahead, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAI would like to add one quick thought about the issue of aid. And I think we all agree here, that the American people around the world as -- are seen as being a generous people in the broadest sense of the term. But I think the issue of aid to Egypt, this particular amount -- 1.5 or whatever the amount might be under $2 billion -- is actually symptomatic of the real problems that the Egyptians are demonstrating about today. How come their country, which has 5,000 years of history behind it, 80 million people, the lynchpin, as it's described, of stability in the Middle East, how come it is dependent on the United States for what they see as alms giving, one point billion dollars (sic) ?
FOUKARAThey want their country no longer to be in a position the way it has to be dependent on another power to give it one point billion. They want to be self-sustained. That is part and parcel of the conundrum, the current conundrum in Egypt today.
REHMNick Burns, I know you want to add.
BURNSI just wanted to add, Diane, the point that despite the UN voting record of Egypt, the Mubarak government has been a vital partner for the U.S. Think of it this way. Mubarak has held the peace with Israel for 30 years. He has worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism in the Middle East. He has worked to block Iran's expansion. He has worked to keep the Suez Canal open to European oil and gas imports. And he has been -- and Egypt has been very helpful in terms of the Iraq War. So it's purely from a national security perspective if you're an American.
BURNSThis is a very important relationship. Now, I think, we have to be very careful -- as I said before -- not to make it about us. I agree with the others who have said that. ElBaradei could be a bridge towards a transition. He is very well-regarded internationally. The question is does he have credibility in Egypt? But the Muslim Brotherhood came out this weekend saying they could live working with ElBaradei in a transitional period. And so, I think, the Egyptians have to think of a practical way forward that would get them through the chaos of the current situation, towards a better place where they have some time to put together a democratic process and democratic institutions.
BURNSAnd it seems to me that's where behind-the-scenes American influence should be. And if you look over the weekend, The New York Times and The Post have told us that President Obama was on the phone to President Mubarak. Secretary Gates was on the phone to Defense Minister Tantawi. Chairman Mike Mullen was on the phone to his counterparts. So the U.S. is obviously active behind the scenes. I think we should largely be behind the scenes in this crisis.
REHMNicholas Burns, he is professor in the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll open the phones now. First to Chesapeake, Va. Good morning, Jay. You're on the air.
JAYGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JAYI find it -- excuse me -- interesting that almost 20 minutes into the show, finally somebody on that panel has said what I had heard at the very beginning of this, which was this is a demonstration or a movement by, typically, those individuals under the age of 30, college or university educated, and they simply were frustrated in the fact that they could not find work. And so this is my question. Is this about -- as it is so many places in the world today because of the worldwide recession -- that the middle class is under assault? People, educated, willing to work, cannot find work. That's what I had heard in the very beginning.
JAYBut, lo and behold, listening over the weekend to people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, they are saying that this is something that is being brought on by the Muslim Brotherhood. What I have heard in the past several years, from the beginning of the Iraq War and the Israel and Palestine thing, is, when you neglect the middle class, their very basic needs -- those needs are going to be filled by things like the Muslim Brotherhood, by al-Qaida, by Hamas. Why aren't people talking about what is at the real cause of this? And that is a lack of jobs and a lack of a strong, healthy middle class.
MELHEMThis is not about a grand narrative. This is not about us and the West. This is not about imperialism. This is not even about Israel. This is about people who have been marginalized, humiliated, feeling that their country treats them with utter contempt. The way the Egyptian government rigged the elections a few months ago in a brazen fashion, in your face, was the last straw. I mean, they are seeking jobs. They want opportunity. They want a better future, like every youth in the world, and they want a decent life. But they want, also, respect for their dignity. And they feel that this government treats them with utter contempt. Why -- one final thing I say. There is a sense -- even on the part of the average Egyptian who doesn't speak geopolitics and all of the stuff that pundits do, there is a sense that this man presided over the decline of a country that was once the trendsetter in the Arab world.
MELHEMIn my youth in Beirut, I used to read Egyptian papers, watch American -- watch Egyptian movies, listen to Egyptian music. They were the trendsetters. They used to produce knowledge. They used to produce culture. They produced the greats like Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel laureate and all that. There isn't a single great university in Cairo. There isn't a single publishing house in Cairo. They are no longer the leading media center in the Arab world as they used to be. All of these in the Egyptian -- average Egyptian senses that this regime in particular, over the last 30 years, brought Egypt down to its knees.
REHMHisham Melhem, he is Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, Washington correspondent for An-Nahar. We'll take a short break. More of your calls, your comments when we come back.
REHMAnd during the break, Michael Rubin, you reported on something you witnessed firsthand.
RUBINWell, in 2006, I went to the National Democratic Party's conference. The National Democratic Party is Hosni Mubarak's political party, and it was supposed to be a state's managed affair. But whenever even delegates from his own party would get up from the Sinai or from the western desert or from some of the peripheral areas and complain about inadequate housing or lack of potable water or inability to deal with unemployment, their microphones would get cut off. If this is happening inside Hosni Mubarak's own party, you can imagine what the people who aren't privileged enough to belong to the party were feeling.
REHMHere's an e-mail -- let's see -- from College Park, Md., which says, "Once again, the U.S. is in the untenable position of trying to suddenly and belatedly ingratiate herself with pro-democracy forces in a country after having propped up a blatantly undemocratic dictator for decades. In the long run, wouldn't the Free World be better off if the U.S. did not compromise its values by supporting undemocratic regimes for short-term gain?" Nick Burns.
BURNSWell, we've lived with this dilemma in the Philippines in the '70s and '80s, in Iran in the '60 and '70s, and we've lived it in Egypt for the last 30 years. The fact is, from an American perspective, there have been real benefits to the relationship with Mubarak on vital issues for us -- the peace with Israel, the war against the terrorist groups, Iran -- but, on the other hand, I think this is a very good question. It does make us reflect that America has been always about something else, something very specific -- freedom and democracy and openness.
BURNSAnd there's been a tension in our foreign policy that goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers about when those democratic values take priority in our relations with other countries and when some of the real world and interests do. And I think that President Bush certainly struggled with this, as did President Reagan, and now you see President Obama doing that as well. Again, Diane, I think it's easy to say that President Obama has fallen behind the events, and he's trying to catch up. I actually think that the measured approach he has taken -- and he was very forceful Friday evening in his statement at the White House, forceful for reform. I think that the administration is clearly throwing its weight behind peaceful reform, but it's struggling to convince the Mubarak government to go there as well.
REHMAll right. To Keene, N.H. Good morning, Steve. You're on the air.
STEVEHello. I have a quick question here. And I'm a little bit worried about the regime holding a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown -- Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. What are your thoughts on that?
FOUKARAWell, talking of Tiananmen Square, the -- there's one picture that has become iconic from Tiananmen Square in the United States. There have been similar iconic pictures out of Tunis and Cairo, which we have not seen in this country yet. And this just goes back to the issue of values versus interests. I hope that, at some point, some of those iconic pictures from Tunis and Cairo will become iconic here in the United States as well. The issue of Tiananmen Square -- and we -- I think we talked about this in the previous show, and this takes me back to the issue of economics -- obviously, there is clearly a case of economic grievances involved. That's how it started in Tunisia, and, certainly, in Egypt, there is a case for that. But this is more than just economics, obviously.
FOUKARABen Ali, for example in Tunisia, not only did he mess up the country economically -- okay, he liberalized the economy, the financial crisis hit, then you had massive unemployment -- but it was the corruption ultimately that did it. Corruption is not an economic phenomenon. Corruption is a political phenomenon. And, as Nick Burns said at the start of this show, that what's going on in Egypt now is not too dissimilar to what's going on elsewhere in the Arab world.
FOUKARAThe issue of marrying interests and values, you know, that's what has been the engine of the march of history. States have always looked for ways to marry those two. I think the United States will continue, regardless of what happens in Egypt, to try and marry those two. But, now, the pressure is actually coming to the United States from Egyptians themselves. It's not just the case of the United States saying, how shall we marry these two? Egyptians are now saying, you have to marry them in ways that takes us into account.
RUBINTwo very quick points with regard to Tiananmen Square. If the question is, will the Egyptian army simply fire on the protesters in the street the way the Chinese did back in 1989? The fact of the matter is we need to remember that Hosni Mubarak really antagonized the army by trying to force his son -- who has now fled to London -- into a leadership position...
REHMAs well as his wife.
RUBINRight, Susan Mubarak. And Hosni Mubarak wanted a dynastic succession. That antagonized the army. The army is not completely pleased with him, even if Hosni Mubarak had come from the army. The other interesting point is that, over the weekend, it appears that China started censoring tweets and such about what was going on in Egypt, perhaps because they were worried about some of the parallels in people's minds.
REHMAll right. To Fayetteville, N.C. and to -- let's see if I can get this -- Angelica. Good morning to you.
ANGELICAYes. Hello. The situation that we're seeing in Egypt, I would like to say that it's only the result of what the brutal regime of Mubarak and the oppression that he had for 30 years and forgetting his own people, and we, in the whole wide world, did nothing for it. As I hear one of your guests say that Mubarak -- painting Mubarak as an angel and denying all what he has done and saying that he was pleasing for the 99.5 in the results of the elections. Now, we can see clear that the 99.5 people are sharing an open -- sharing their sentiment. And I applaud the army because the army is for the people.
REHMBut isn't that the question we have not been able to answer yet? Will the army support the people? Will the army support the regime?
RUBINWhy will the army shoot at their own people to support an 82-year-old president who dye his hair black because he still lives in denial, even on the personal level? If the army is going to take over, the army will take over -- will try to take over by bringing another officer and take over and say, we have a different vision, and we have a different approach. They are not going to shoot at the Egyptian people to save this man.
REHMDo you believe that, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI would like to believe it. In my heart of hearts, I would like to believe that the Egyptian army will not shoot. We've seen something very strange over the last couple of days. We've seen the army sharing food and water with the demonstrators in Tahrir Square -- the main square in Cairo -- but we've also seen Mubarak surround himself with his generals, the usual clique over the past two days. And that, certainly, is sending conflicting messages to Egyptians and to the outside world. I think I would like to believe with Hisham that push comes to shove, if the army is given the order to shoot, that they will not shoot. I'm not 100 percent sure that will happen.
MELHEMI would expect the Syrian army to shoot at their own people. The Iraqi army, during Saddam, would shoot at their own people. The Tunisian army did not. And so it's complex. I don't think the Egyptian army -- they would have to think 10 times before they do that. I'm not saying they will not do it. That's why I don't trust armies in the Arab world. I told you from the beginning. And I don't like -- and I hope the next leadership will not emerge from the army. But the army cannot do these things without thinking of the United States. This is Egypt. This is not China. This is Egypt that's going to be influenced, whether they like it or not, by the Europeans, by the Americans, by other Arab states. So the Egyptian army has to think very hard before they resort to this kind of violence.
REHMThere is a certain fear in this country. We've heard it even this morning of the so-called Muslim Brotherhood. To what extent is that organization -- if we can call it that -- moving to take advantage of the situation or working in concert with those who are protesting and working for the improvement of the country? Michael Rubin.
RUBINWell, I'm certainly not one that's sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, but I question whether they can really get more than 20 percent support at any time. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian American sociologist, oftentimes like to suggest that, in the Middle East, you had autocrats and you had theocrats. The autocrats used the mechanisms of state for their power, the theocrats used the mosque, and they both use each other as their best recruiting tool.
RUBINBut we have seen in these protests that the Muslim Brotherhood is a bit late to the game. They're trying to get started. They were following the protests, caught flat-footed, just like the Americans were. Ultimately, while the Muslim Brotherhood has been illegal under Hosni Mubarak, they have run as independents. And I'm not sure whether they could really sweep the government like some people are trying to make them into a big bugaboo.
FOUKARAI just would like to add that more importantly than them coming late to the game, which is absolutely true -- I mean, for some time, they tried to even keep their distance from the demonstrators. But they have come late to the game. But, more importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood has always espoused the philosophy that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And that's why they have been trying -- we're going to work long-term. What does that mean?
FOUKARAWe're going to work socially. We're going to expand our influence socially with the Egyptian people then think about power. Because what happens when you get to power? We've seen it in this country. You say, yes we can, to a whole bunch of things. But when you are actually in power, you have to make some very difficult and painful compromises, which they may not necessarily want to make at this particular point in the history.
REHMIs there a danger that this could move from being a secular state to an Islamist-controlled state?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, I would niggle a little bit about describing the current regime in Egypt as secular. I would niggle a little with describing any government in the Middle East as secular. But, that aside, the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power, I mean, it raises so many different scenarios, so many ifs. One of them relates to the percentage that they may garner in a free and fair election.
FOUKARABut I go back to my original point -- which we have seen in Pakistan, we have seen more successfully in Turkey -- basically the army guiding the political scene in which civilians, as Islamists, call the shots. Now, if they only garner about 20 or 25 percent -- maybe right -- you know, give or take the percentage, it may be right. It seems to me that the secularists in Egypt and the army, no one will want to take the chance by actually giving them the pistol with which they could shoot policy.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara, he's Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'd like an opinion from you, Hisham Melham, as to how long you think the current situation will endure.
MELHEMIt could drag on for days and maybe weeks and maybe months. It happened in Iran. It happened in other places. If it drags on and if you have more chaotic, you know, events in the streets, this will give an opportunity, either to the army to intervene or to the Islamists to take it. Look, what happened is an outburst, is a spontaneous outburst. It was not ideological, and that's why we haven't seen this grand narrative, as I said. The Islamists in Egypt are a fact of life. For a secularist like me, it's a sorry fact of life, but I have to recognize it. They have been around since 1928. Some of the leaders were killed by the monarchy and by the republics after 1950s, and they became iconic leaders.
MELHEMI don't believe that Islamists anywhere in the Arab world or in Muslim world have the solution as they claim. Everywhere they ruled -- from Sudan to Iran to Afghanistan -- they have been a disaster. But they are very good in the opposition. They are very good at mobilizing people. They are very good at being secretive and working underground, and they are good because they look at the long-term prospect of their success. I don't think that the army likes them, and I don't -- but Egypt, also, is a secularist in the sense that there are secular traditions in Egypt. Egypt is homogeneous. The majority are Muslims, yes. But there is a considerable Christian community.
MELHEMBut, even among the Muslims, there is, you know -- secularism has thrived in the 20th century. So it's not a forgone conclusion. One final thing is many people in this country and in Israel believe the lies of Mubarak and Bashar al-Assad and all of these Arab leaders, that the devil you know, which is us, is much better than the devil you don't know, which is the Islamists. The Arabs should not be condemned to live either under backward Islamist parties or passive, ruthless military regimes.
REHMNick Burns, what do you expect in the next few weeks?
BURNSWell, Diane, I think -- I'd be very surprised if President Mubarak and his team went quietly and easily. They are a very serious, tough-minded group of people. Now, as I've said before, I think they've made a series of mistakes. And so, I think, that does point to the military as the key actor here. I don't believe the military will support President Mubarak in any circumstance. I think he's going to have to prove to them that he can continue to lead Egypt, and he's not proving that right now. So I would anticipate, at some point, President Mubarak, understanding that he can no longer lead Egypt, agreeing to a transition period, agreeing to some kind of reform dialogue, probably on the other side headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the IAEA.
BURNSAnd the army will be the critical institution in deciding whether or not Egypt can have the kind of security it needs, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Diane, is going to play a role. It has been the dominant, if you will, opposition group for a long time. It doesn't have majority support, but it has substantial support. And we should want to see, I think, a much broader representation of Egyptian people in this dialogue.
BURNSIt is a very strong country and culture, and we should wish them well.
RUBINJust as we look ahead, one potential problem -- which I don't think we've addressed -- is whether the repatriation of wealth from the Mubaraks -- some allegedly $25 billion which they have accumulated and embezzled over the course of their 30 years -- will become an anti-American or anti-European rallying call the way that the repatriation of the shah's wealth really became a populist issue on week two and week three of the Iranian revolution three decades ago.
REHMMichael Rubin, he's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, and from Cambridge, Nicholas Burns, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. As you said, Nick Burns, we wish the people of Egypt well. Thank you all 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 Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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