From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Protests in Egypt turn violent as pro-Mubarak groups attack anti-government demonstrators. Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Yemen and Jordan. And the U.S. and E.U. pledge support for the opposition in Belarus. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. has stepped up calls for President Hosni Mubarak to leave office. This comes as violence escalated on the streets of Cairo yesterday. Numerous journalists were detained, anti-government protesters gathered today across Egypt for more demonstrations. Leaders in Jordan and Yemen responded by taking their own reform measures. In Pakistan, the high court continued to hold a U.S. diplomat. And the U.S. and EU imposed news sanctions on Belarus.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Nadia Bilbassy of MBC and David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Do feel free to join us throughout the hour. I know many of you have been watching and being concerned about what's happening in Egypt. Join us on the phone, by e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to everyone.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning.
REHMGood morning. And Yochi Dreazen, what is the latest this morning that we're hearing out of Egypt?
DREAZENThere are sort of two things happening that are both fascinating. The one is that the crowds are, if anything, bigger than they were a few days ago. Today is what the protesters have been calling The Day of Departure, where they -- sort of their deadline for Mubarak to step down, which he shows no sign of doing. But from watching the satellite broadcast, primarily Al-Jazeera English, which has been doing a phenomenal job covering it, it was very interesting that today there was much less fighting. You saw the Egyptian Army out, somewhat in force.
DREAZENThe Defense Minister of Egypt, Field Marshall Tantawi, went to the crowd and spoke to the crowd, which was itself fascinating. In part because he's close to Mubarak and part because he's close to the U.S. and is seen as a useful interlocutor. More interesting to me is that the Egyptian Army set up check points around the square and was checking IDs over everyone coming into the square. In part because the previous few days, obviously, there have been pro-Mubarak thugs whose IDs were police IDs or Interior Minister IDs.
DREAZENThe fact that the Army stepped in to make sure those people cannot come back in today, is itself very interesting.
REHMWhy would they have been carrying those IDs? I found myself wondering about that. Why wouldn’t they have had fake IDs, Nadia?
BILBASSYIt's a good question. It just beats me why security forces carry this to identify themselves. I mean, according to Human Rights Organization, they are identified, I think, 150 of these security forces. We -- I mean, there's such a mix of people. There are some belong to the security forces. There's some militias. There's some paid people who are being used by the regime. There's so many people that were there. But just also to comment on what Yochi said just now. I think it wasn't a coincident that we didn't see violence today.
BILBASSYThe fact that we got assurances yesterday from the Vice President Omar Suleiman. He said to the demonstrators -- because everybody knew that today's going to be a big day for the demonstrators. It's called Yomaharush (sp?) as you said, The Day of Departure and he knew that what happened yesterday in terms of the pictures, the violence, arrests of journalists, the harassment. It has caught the world community attention. And we had to have demand from the European communities, been phone calls going nonstop from Washington to the President through the invoice, through Ambassador Wisner, through the State Department with Hillary Clinton, through the Vice President.
BILBASSYSo I think the pressure was mounting. So the Egyptian government realized that they cannot get away with it. This is not Tahrir Square. The world has changed and therefore they can allow the demonstrators to demonstrate today at least with the protection of the Army and it will go peacefully.
IGNATIUSYes. I would just conclude our thoughts about today by saying that it does seem now that the Army has separated itself from President Mubarak. The Army is the -- holds the balance in Egypt. The protestors were very wise in the beginning a week ago to align themselves with the Army, to embrace the Army to get up on the tanks.
REHMBecause the Army is the people.
IGNATIUSBecause the Army -- quoted an Arab friend in a column a few days ago saying that the Army is the middle class in camouflage. The Army, in a country like Egypt stands for the nation, is of the nation. And these protestors were very smart to say, this is our Army. This is our country, and to be careful about being unviolent. I found it telling that today, in addition to Defense Minister Tantawi, very close to the U.S., going out into the crowd, Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, a very wily and sometimes opportunistic Arab politician, was out in the crowd...
REHMWhat did he say? What did the other...
IGNATIUSHe's speaking to the crowd, but the point is that he's identifying himself very publicly and visibly with this movement. He wants to be the next President of Egypt. He's clearly...
IGNATIUS...going to run. He'll be a pretty attractive candidate. And just was fasted, it was a sign that, this is -- the balance has turned, that Amr Moussa wants to be there with this crowd saying, this is my protest movement, too.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre and Yochi Dreazen of National Journal Magazine. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. I'm interested that the Vice President Suleiman is sort of sitting in a poised position. But are the protestors willing to take Suleiman as an interim president should Hosni Mubarak step down, David?
IGNATIUSMy answer -- I'd be curious what the other panelist think, would be that Suleiman, at best, would be a transitional regent setting up the system for the elections that will come.
REHMFormer Head -- the security...
IGNATIUSHe's an intelligence chief. He is accused of having been a part of torture of terrorist suspects. It's the police that's really even more guilty than the intelligence service. But Suleiman is implicated in that. A sign that he understands that he needs to reach out was that he -- as I read it, yesterday and today was having a kind of triumvirate with the Defense Minister Tantawi and the Chief of Army staff, both of whom are very close to the U.S. and the idea of having a somewhat broader based security group to shepherd Egypt through this transition seems to be emerging. I think, Suleiman knows, he alone would be too unpopular.
REHMBut is there a transition underway considering the fact that President Mubarak has said, not only he's fed up being president, but that he fears chaos if he resigns, Yochi.
DREAZENThere's not -- it's interesting in watching the entirety of the interview yesterday on Egyptian state TV with Omar Suleiman. He mixed vaguely consolatory things towards the protestors with sort of dark muttering that they were agents of foreign power, is that there was a conspiracy that they were being manipulated by others, by unspecified external forces, which is obviously the kind of different language that dictators always use when they are trying to stay in power.
DREAZENSo the fact that Omar Suleiman was veering between being consolatory on the one hand, somewhat, but on the other saying, there's protests, there's foreign interference. I was very interested by that. I think, that we forget here sometimes that Egyptian's and most people in the Middle East, Jew, Arab, whoever, have much longer historical memories than we do sitting in the United States.
DREAZENThis is not the first time that Egypt seemed poised for transformation. In 2004, 2005, when there was the seed of revolution in Lebanon, there were mass protests in Egypt by a movement called the Kifaya which means, enough. There was thought that this was going to lead to massive political change, Mubarak either stepping down or reshuffling his cabinet or making elections freer. Instead, he went in the other direction, made the elections even less free. So Egyptian's -- there's reason why they're suspicious of people like Omar Suleiman. They've had their hopes dashed before.
REHMAnd Nadia, it would seem that they are suspicious -- the protestors are suspicious of having Mubarak stay on for three or four or five months because they fear exactly what Yochi is talking about, that he could introduce even more repressive action.
BILBASSYAbsolutely, Diane. And this is why I think the administration -- the American administration insisting on the word, now. They talk about transition that's happening now. And I think they will allow Omar Suleiman to lead this transitional period. To include all parties whether it was the Muslim Brotherhood, whether it's Wafd party, whether it's Guifia (sp?) , whether it's al-Ghad, whether a representative of the Youth Movement in Tahrir Square. The thing is, we're talking about the Army.
BILBASSYAnd I think the Army has not made that decision yet to disconnect themselves from Mubarak. Let's not forget that every leader of Egypt, ever since the revolution of '52, came from the Army, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, Mubarak. So it is -- for them, it's a calculated risk at what point they going to decide that it is -- they going to remove the President. Now, removing him doesn't mean that he's going to be another Ben Ali of Tunisia. He's not going to leave Egypt at the cover of darkness.
BILBASSYHe's going to be respected and even Omar Suleiman, in the interview yesterday that Yochi talked about on the Egyptian television, he said, we respect our leaders regardless of what they did. Mubarak himself, he said, I fought for this country in peace and in war. I will die here. So I think it's a matter of how you exit -- you phase him out, maybe you give the kind of legal -- although there is so many legal problems now of how you can make that transition because according to the constitution, it goes to the speaker of the parliament, not to the vice president.
BILBASSYBut if you want the Army to hold the country together, considering the situation is very dangerous and very delicate, I think it will go to Omar Suleiman.
IGNATIUSJust to offer a note from a slightly different direction. What I hear from some of my Saudi, UAE, Israeli friends, who were powerful observers of this, people who you can say are associated with the status quo, it's basically this, are you Americans crazy? You're taking, you know, few tens of thousands of people on television in Tahrir Square as a proxy for a nation of 90 million people of absolutely critical strategic importance. And you're acting as if change doesn't happen tomorrow morning, that it's some kind of crime. And you're beating up your president for not chasing the president of Egypt out of office.
IGNATIUSWhy -- are you -- have you Americans lost your minds? While I obviously -- I don't want to diminish the exhilaration we feel about the protestors, it's worth listening to this argument, that we need to be careful now.
REHMDavid Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post. Short break, right back.
REHMWelcome back to the international portion of our Friday News Roundup this week with Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal Magazine, David Ignatius, he's co-moderator of Postglobal on Washingtonpost.com. I found one of the more remarkable events yesterday was the fact that Christiane Amanpour of ABC News and her television crew managed to get through to the palace to speak directly with Hosni Mubarak. While they would not allow television cameras to go live, they did have photographs. She did get that reporting. They went through a lot to get there considering the fact that reporters themselves are now being hammered, Yochi.
DREAZENAnd in some cases, hurt fairly badly. There's a reporter from Fox that I've, over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, run into a lot named Craig Polcott, true professional, very, very good guy. He was beaten severely. To my knowledge of all the Western reporters who were either punched or shoved or in some way assaulted, his injuries were by far the worst. But there's no question that this was not coincidence. I mean, this was an organized, well orchestrated, well designed attempt to track down, hunt down and silence Western reporters. That television cameras in Tahrir Square were shut off, again, this was not coincidence.
DREAZENAljazeer English had multiple cameras set up from various vantage points. Police people came to the door and shut those cameras off. So, you know, cell phone signals were blocked, e-mail was blocked, Twitter was blocked. This was not random occurrences of crowds of thugs. This was well orchestrated.
REHMIs there a real belief that they can shut the news out from the world, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think people are now taking the model of Iran tragically as a guide. And the Iranians show that if you are repressive enough, you can get control of the situation and turn off the means of communication so that people can't get their stories out. Over time, you can squeeze protests down. Thank goodness that hasn't happened in Egypt. But I think this idea, kill the messenger is very, very current. Talking to Arab friends, I'm hearing crazy conspiracy theories about Aljazeera. This is a plot by the emirate of Qatar against President Mubarak. It's just they're just in a state about what they see as external conspiracies to take down their leader.
BILBASSYIt comes from the playbook of most people, despotic the regimes who want to stay in power, that if we shut the media off, nobody will know what's happening. And I think they tried it, but they realize now that it's not working and therefore we're gonna see more protection of journalists as we've been assured today by the defense minister and the vice-president. You asked, Diane, why he spoke to Christiane Amanpour. It shows also maybe President Mubarak is deaf to the demands of the people in Tahrir Square, but he's not deaf to the demands of the International Community. He realizes the importance of the media and therefore he wants to get his message across.
REHMBut at the same time, here's an e-mail from Cincinnati, Ohio, from Siedu (sp?) who says, "The intensity of the revolution seems to have reached a plateau. President Mubarak still is resolved to stay in power. What are the chances he will simply wait out the protest?" Yochi.
DREAZENI think the odds of that happening are actually very slim. Despite the fact that he's done this before, despite the fact that protests have fizzled before, or as David pointed out, been crushed and put down before, something fundamental has changed here. I mean, you have the fact that members of his own government are meeting with the protestors and by doing so, giving them legitimacy. You have the fact that rightly or wrongly, Washington has decided, the administration has decided Mubarak has to go. All of that is new. I don't see any way in which he stays in power past September.
IGNATIUSIf -- my guess -- I've known Mubarak for much of the 30 years he's been in power, seen him on visits, I've seen him in Egypt. I think he most wants a dignified exit. The idea that he's just being sort of thrown out with the laundry offends him and he's a man who takes great pride in his personal dignity. So I think the part of a successful transition will be giving him an exit, whether it's next week or next month, that he feels he's not, you know, being packed off to Saudi Arabia. There are angry demonstrators who'd like to see just that. You know, get him out of the country now.
IGNATIUSBut I think that's part of what we'll be watching and it's important to remember in this part of the world, whether you're a leader or you're a person on the street, your dignity -- your personal dignity's important.
REHMI thought it was interesting, Nadia, that Christiane reported that Mubarak's wife and son...
BILBASSYAbsolutely. And we have heard rumors -- and I think we talked about this program before, Diane, that Gamal Mubarak and Alaa, his two sons has already left the country with how many suitcases and they're in London, et cetera. So the fact that he was there, both of them with immediate family in the presidential palace under heavy security as we were told yesterday, it shows that they are there to stay. And I think the fact that -- you're absolutely right about that he wants to find a dignified exit.
BILBASSYBut let's not forget also he's part -- just not for him personally. He's part of a military institution. The military -- we're not gonna see a leader, one person, who fought in wars as they said being lift, whether it is like Banali (sp?) or somebody else were being shipped to another country. And I think also they going to have a guarantee that if he step down, he's going to be protected from persecution.
REHMAnd David, there's been lots of talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, the role they may be playing now, the role they could play in the future. What's your assessment?
IGNATIUSThe Muslim Brotherhood is a deep historic movement in Egypt, throughout the Arab world, especially deep in Egypt, its birthplace. The Muslim Brotherhood, after playing a very low key role initially a week ago, has become more visible, has been using Mohammed El-Baradei, the former head of the IAEA, in effect as its kind of front. The Muslim Brotherhood has said that it will not run a candidate for president in the elections in an attempt to reassure people that a Muslim takeover is not imminent. I think they're playing their hand very carefully.
IGNATIUSPeople who know more about the Muslim Brothers than I, say that you really have to be very careful in looking at them. They are -- they have a kind of, we said, a Bolshevik aspect. They are a small organized cell-like movement that has some very powerful views that secular Egyptians wouldn't like. They wouldn't want to live in the country that the Muslim Brothers might create. So my own feelings is you just have to watch this carefully and hope there are protections against them taking over in a kind of glitch.
DREAZENYou know, we as a country here have faced this question sort of -- the unspoken question of what you asked is, if there is a free election come September, who wins and in what numbers? And what is the case and place that they've had free elections is that the parties that we don't like within the U.S. have done very well. If you remember the election in Palestine got -- Hamas did extraordinarily well. Were there to be a totally free election in Lebanon, Hezbollah would do even better than it has already done. If there was a free election in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would do quite well. Not enough to be a majority, but it'd be a major player.
DREAZENAnd so for the administration, which right now is kind of reacting somewhat tactically about how does it react to the news of the day, what does it do about Mubarak, when does it get them out, there's this broader question of, if you push for democracy and that leads to the election of someone you don't like, what do you do then?
REHMAnd of course, you've got the toll on the Egyptian economy, Nadia.
BILBASSYOh, absolutely. I mean, we talked about, I think, 7 million -- sorry, a million tourists left in the last three days. I mean, imagine with the cut of the internet in terms of the Egyptian's talk exchange, the banks, the tourist industry.
REHMSo it's got to come to an end.
BILBASSYIt has to. It has to because, as I said, I mean, they have so many things to lose. And that's the difference. We still have leverage in Egypt because this is not North Korea, it's not Syria, it's not -- isolation is not going to work with them. In fact, they have is in their own interest and this is what we heard officially from the vice-president, from Egyptian officials, telling everybody to go back to their work, to the factories, to the fields, et cetera. So Tahrir Square is a different story. And as you said, the demonstrators have secured so much that they not going to give it up in the last minute. And therefore, we going to see some kind of a deal sooner or later.
REHMDavid, how soon?
IGNATIUSWell, that's the question that we want to know the answer to and don't. We may know in a few days. These scenes are so emotional it's like watching "Les Miserables" played out on your TV screen. You know, revolutions are lovable when they're young, when they're spontaneous, when they're full of idealism. But we know from history that revolutions become less lovable as time passes, as small groups take advantage of the chaos and the uncertainty. The very spontaneity of the revolution in a sense lends itself to manipulation by a small group.
IGNATIUSAnd I think that's why I'm happy that the military today holds the balance of powers, the steadying force in Egypt. That people who want to govern are going to have to deal with the military. Because that gives us some hope that rather than chaos and economic decline that you'll have some steadiness emerge in another week or two.
REHMAll right. Let's talk for a moment about Jordan, the fact that King Abdullah has fired his government, named a new prime minister. Was this a preemptive move on his part?
BILBASSYOf course, Diane. What we have seen that started in Tunisia where this young man, Mohamed Bouazizi who burnt himself, he ignited a huge movement in the Arab world that's so desperate for change. What's happening in Jordan now is really interesting because the king himself said two days ago that the change -- the reform was not enough. We have to do something. He already dedicated $500 million to improve the standard of living in Jordan. Jordan is not Egypt and it's not Tunisia. It doesn't have natural resources. You know, it's very difficult in terms of the ethnic makeup of the -- the largest Palestinian refugees live in there. Same with the Iraqis after the Kuwait war.
BILBASSYBut what's interesting now that he sacked the current prime minister and he brought somebody called -- the current prime minister now who's going to form a government, Marouf al-Bakhit. Now the largest opposition to the king or to the government is the Muslim Brotherhood. It has different names, obviously. And they rejected the current prime minister and they're saying that he's not the face of reform. We don't want him. The reason the king brought him is because he come from the eastern part of the country. He wants to build the loyalty to him. And this is why we're not seeing in Jordan what we have seen elsewhere in the Arab world because even the Muslim Brotherhood, the most potent opposition to the king, said, we not demanding a change of government or regime. We want the reform only because we're still loyal to the Hashimad (sp?) kingdom or the family.
REHMBecause it's a totally different system with the king as kind of the titular head of the government, is that correct, with an openly and fairly elected parliament, David?
IGNATIUSThe -- no. The election law in Jordan is one of the really contentious issues because it disenfranchises what people believe is a majority Palestinian population. Jordan, to me, is a tragic example of a leader that -- King Abdullah who saw the need for reform, who embarked on a serious process, who drafted one of his ministers, Marwan Muasher to draw up something called the national agenda, which was a detailed plan for political social economic reform and he abandoned it in 2005. He basically chickened out.
IGNATIUSAnd the reason was he had very unhappy old guard politicians of the East bank traditional elitist Jordan who were attached to the status quo. This is -- like all these Arab countries, this is a very corrupt country and they were profiting from the way things were done and they didn't want to change it. And King Abdullah backed off and now I know he regrets it.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi, are we likely to see any major changes in Jordan?
DREAZENI don't think so. It's worth remembering that Jordan, the king, both Abdullah and his father Hussein, they fire prime ministers with some regularity. This is not a rare occurrence in Jordan. It's the easy way in the same way that here when a sports team is doing badly the owner fires the coach and leaves the players. It's the same dynamic in Jordan. When there is popular unrest either already happening or seen on the horizon, the kings fire their prime ministers, reshuffle their governments and move on.
REHMSo how serious could that unrest get in Jordan?
DREAZENI mean, David hit it on the head a moment ago. The unrest right now is minimal. What would make it sort of a more worrisome and potentially game changing event is if the majority Palestinian population or close to majority Palestinian population, whichever numbers you look at, if they decide the status quo for them is not good enough. If they decide they want the full vote, they want more equality with non-Palestinian Jordanian citizens, that would be the game changer. Right now that isn't happening.
REHMAnd you also had big protests in Yemen as well, Nadia.
BILBASSYOf course. And...
REHMThe whole Arab world somehow.
BILBASSYBut this, Diane, is the writing on the wall in these countries. And as I always say, the same problem that malaise the Arab world, the lack of freedom, the lack of multi-party pluralism, the...
BILBASSY...the economy, the unemployment, the half of the Arab world lives on less than $10 a day. It is inevitable that it's just a matter of time. And all this -- people who rule their country for 30 years, presidents for life. And when they leave, they want to put their sons in. So in Yemen now, President Saleh came and he said, I'm not going to stand beyond 2013 and my son is not going to be a candidate either. And he told the opposition that he formed actually a quartet to include the opposition, one of the biggest party that the (word?) said, yes, we must agree.
BILBASSYAnd funny enough he was talking very candidly about what's happened in Egypt and Tunisia and he said, look what happened there. We all watching, but we don't want the chaos. So let's sit down and talk before anything. So he's trying to empty -- preempt anything that could happen on that larger scale. Yemen is a different country because of Al-Qaeda. Because of the tribal system in Yemen, it's one of the poorest in the Arab world. So this is a country that we have to watch very closely.
IGNATIUSYemen is an interesting example of how our government is trying -- has been trying to prepare for the likelihood of changing these countries. Our military commanders have recognized that although they depend on the government of Yemen, Al-Qaeda has taken root there and this is, you know, probably the second most important Al-Qaeda base of operations. They can't depend on President Selah. He's just too corrupt, he's -- you know, there's so many fissures in the society.
IGNATIUSSo our military has been doing a number of things. First, we've been training their military as aggressively as we can, trying to meet as many officers, bring them to the U.S., get to know them, go and join operations with them, develop the kind of relations that military officers can. Second, we've been trying to reach out to an array of civil society groups in Yemen, to get to know politicians at every level wherever we can just to make contacts. Do what Embassies are supposed to do. Get to know a bunch of people.
IGNATIUSI heard a senior military officer say to me a few weeks ago, before any of this began, that basically that Yemen was like quicksand, that we needed to understand that this was not going to be permanent. And I have to hand it to this person and to others in our senior command structure for understanding that change was ahead and that we needed somehow to broaden our basic contacts.
DREAZENIt's just -- it's worth injecting one note of caution, which is that although what's appearing on our television screens looks revolutionary, there have been scenes like this before that didn't go anywhere, and Yemen's a great example. President Selah in 1999 said, I'm not running again, then he did. In 2005, he said, I'm not running again, then he did. We should be careful.
REHMYochi Dreazen of National Journal Magazine. Short break and then we'll open the phones, take your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd there is another issue on people's minds regarding the U.S. diplomat in Pakistan custody, Siad in Arlington, Texas writes, "I am not sure he is a U.S. diplomat to begin with. I don't know anywhere a diplomat is allowed to carry concealed weapons, especially commonwealth countries where they have very strict gun laws. Who is this fellow whose name is Raymond Davis?" David Ignatius.
IGNATIUSI'm told by Pakistani contacts, refer to this man as Raymond Rambo Davis, that he is a Defense Department contractor. He holds a diplomatic passport and so technically under the rules that govern here, he should be released and subject to U.S. law. That's the -- those are the rules of the game. The circumstances under which he was caught -- arrested are outrageous when you look at them. He was driving through traffic in Lahore. He is apparently stopped by thieves who are common along that road who try to take his money. Most people -- nobody carries guns for the most part so people typically give over their billfold and that's it. He started shooting.
IGNATIUSThen somebody from the American Consulate, desperate to try to rescue this fellow, comes roaring down the street and kills another Pakistani in the middle of Lahore. It's a sign of how convoluted Pakistani politics are that nobody really wanted to deal with this. Nawaz Sharif and his brother who run Lahore and the surrounding area, Punjab, kinda kicked it over to Zardari. The president who didn't wanna deal with it, kicked it back. And so it's sitting in limbo.
IGNATIUSI'm told that some compromise that will lead to this man's release under the normal diplomatic procedures is gonna happen. But this is one that really bears closer examination. What the heck was this guy doing packing heavy duty firearms in the middle of Lahore? And I have some guesses, but I don't wanna -- they'd be no more than that. But it's something that we really ought to take more seriously.
REHMAll right. And here's a question from Susan in Alexandria, who says, "The media keep referring to the army. Who is in command of the Egyptian army? It looks to me as if a military coup is in Egypt's near future, so-called elections notwithstanding." Yochi.
DREAZENYou know, our relationship with the Egyptian military is a fascinating one. To answer this sort of literal question that the listener was asking, the army is run by field marshal Tantawi who's a veteran of the wars against Israel in both '67 and '73, and as result has a lot of credibility because he's seen as having stood up to and fought the Israelis. The military commander is a general named Sami Anan who was in Washington at the Pentagon when this all began, got back on a plane and headed home.
DREAZENWhat's fascinating about Egypt is we often talk about the money we give them, the $1.5 billion of aid roughly. Equally important and from my view, I've spent the past week reporting this for the magazine as the relationships we have all throughout the military, not just at the senior level. But the U.S. for the past 30 years have been bringing somewhere between 500 and 1,000 officers a year every year here, which means that the vast bulk of the Egyptian officer corp. either has personally been to the U.S. or knows someone who has.
REHMHas been trained here.
DREAZENAnd what's interesting, talking to Americans who did the training, the Egyptians unlike most other foreign students who come typically bring their families. So you have not just an Egyptian officer, but he would bring his wife and children. So the ties between captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, all the way up to generals and their counterparts within our military are extensive. We don't have that relationship with many other militaries in the world. Israel, England, Canada, but in the Muslim world and the Arab world, that's unique.
REHMDoes that give us leverage over how that military operates?
DREAZENExtensive, both leverage and also a sense of shared values, not just sort of how militaries fight, but the relationship between a military and its society that supports it.
REHMAll right. To Phoenix, Ariz. for our first caller, good morning, Jeffrey, you're on the air.
JEFFREYOh, hi, good morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JEFFREYI apologize to your staff. My mother listens to your show religiously in Flagstaff, so I'd be remiss if I didn't thank you, so...
JEFFREYMy question was answered earlier a little bit, but I wanted to take a couple minutes, or not even a couple minutes, a quick question. David had said earlier that Mubarak, you know, would like -- what he would like and I think that this has really gone past the point of what Hosni Mubarak would want. I mean, the historic nature of this, we've had one million Egyptians protest in a country of 80 million. Now, based on a percentage, that's far better than we did in the American Revolution. And I think the historic importance of this shouldn't be dismissed.
IGNATIUSI agree with the caller. I certainly didn't mean to dismiss it. I do think that I hear from other Arabs, from Israelis, a cautionary note that in a situation where your interests are so much at stake, you need to be sure that you're not just opening the door to anarchy. And I think that's the point.
REHMSure. But these are young people, young men and women, no jobs, $2 a day. I understand their protests and I would also understand the reluctance of older people not to come out and participate.
IGNATIUSI think, Diane, the hardest thing about statecraft is when all of your emotions -- well, simple way to say it, is that this may be a situation which our principles and our interests are a little bit in conflict. Our principles tell us to embrace these protestors and the change that they represent. We watch them and we identify with them so totally. Our interests are in a stable Middle East and we -- you know, it really matters whether that part of the world loses its anger and heads off...
REHMBut then you have to -- then you have to question the definition of stability and ask for whom. Nadia.
BILBASSYAnd that's always been the problem. The criticism against you is foreign policy in general in the Middle East, in the Arab world in particular. Always been two things, that the support for the despotic regimes because of the word of stability the United States wants at the expense of reform and democracy. And ultimately when this regime clamped down heavily on the liberal and secular opposition, the only place that left for people to organize is the Mosque. And this is why we've seen the rise of Muslim fundamentalists because...
BILBASSY...they can operate easily. America's always safer when you have a democratic government accountable to its people and ultimately that's what need to see in the Middle East. And the change is coming. And I hope this administration will support it because the word chaos that the regimes always used, the word Muslim fundamentalist rising to power, I understand all this fear, but we have to look at things differently now.
REHMAll right. To Edith who's in Cold Spring, Ky., good morning.
EDITHGood morning. I learned two things this morning which surprised me I did not know. The Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And the military in Egypt are conscripted. They represent most families in Egypt. Therefore they would not be likely to be fire on the citizens if ordered to. And the election, if they hold an election, I hope they get there, but I hope they don't rush into that. I think that's how Hamas took over and the other radicals. It was done too quickly.
DREAZENYou know, the first two points are both accurate and interesting. The last point about Hamas I would take issue with slightly. Hamas didn't take power because it was rushed into it. Hamas took power because it had been building support for 20 something years, initially with Israeli support. Israel saw Hamas as a valuable counterweight to FATA, to the PLO. So, you know, David talked earlier about statecraft. Balance -- we often try to balance interests and think that we can maneuver them skillfully from a distance. And the Middle East reminds us again and again that we can't.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Kevin in Boston, who says, "Israel is very troubled by the current Egyptian developments. Will this mean more U.S. arms and funds for Israel?" Yochi.
DREAZENYou know, it's worth talking. We haven't really talked about Israel much in this show so far, but Israel is terrified about this and not unreasonably. The sort of obvious surface level fear is what happens if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power? Do they abrogate the peace treaty? Does Israel have to again deploy troops to its southern border? The kind of broader fear which is I think a more reasonable one, is regardless of who takes power, Egypt has never been a country where the country as a whole, the population as a whole, embraced Israel or the peace treaty. Any candidate who runs will run on a harder line towards Israel than Mubarak has had. So whether the peace treaty is actually abrogated, whether more likely it's just an even colder peace where they pull further and further away, it will not be the relationship that Israel's had with Mubarak for the last 30 years.
IGNATIUSI think Yochi expressed well the anxiety that Israelis feel. My own view as an observer of this for a number of years is that these events do remind us that it's crucial for Israel to find ways to move toward resolution of problems, leaving them festering, leaving this sense of the Palestinian issue is an open wound that feeds on Arab sense of grievance and anger is not an Israel's interest. And so I think some Israelis while they are frightened by what they're seeing, I hope will look at this broader picture and say, we need to align ourselves with where this part of the part of the world is going so that five or ten years from now we're more secure, not less secure.
BILBASSYIsrael has two treaties with two Arab countries, with Egypt and with Jordan. If you look at it, it kept the peace in terms we didn't have a conventional war between the Arab states and Israel. But if you look at the population, whether it's in Egypt or in Jordan, they're very hostile to Israel. So people always argue the only security that Israel has is not by more weapons, as suggested of giving them more weapons, but to have a just solution to the Palestinian questions. Because this is ultimately will pull the rug under from everybody who argued that Israel shouldn't exist or, you know, we have to destroy it, et cetera. So for them I think now is the onus on the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu trying to move the peace process forward.
REHMBut what happens to Gaza if in fact the Egyptian leadership changes drastically?
IGNATIUSIt's -- Egypt has been working with Israel in effect to quarantine Gaza. I don't think that policy's succeeding very well. The chief negotiator on this issue has been Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence who's now the vice president. As Yochi was saying, whatever happens in terms of the government, the army will remain as it is. And this is an army that we know well. We talk about security issues with them all the time. Managing Gaza, managing under a new government is gonna be very tough. Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood -- Hamas and Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have very, very close ties, so there'll be pressure to open the gates for Gaza.
REHMAll right. And to Raleigh, N.C., good morning, Paul.
PAULGood morning. My question's actually pretty elementary question, but I think it's been kind of overlooked by the media which justifiably has kind of been focused on the events as they happen, kind of what's happened in the past ten minutes. My question is what are people's specific grievances against Mubarak? I can understand the desire for self determination and democracy and that sort of thing, but what is their specific grievances with kind of their lifestyle under Mubarak? And why is it so much against Mubarak and not against the system?
DREAZENWell, Mubarak is the system. I mean, this is not a democracy where you sort of elect a senator or a congressman and then you can appeal to them or to the president or vote. The system is Mubarak. Mubarak is the system. And the grievances fundamentally are what we would consider here pocketbook issues. There is a sort of broader we want more democracy, we want more freedom. Fundamentally it's we want a job.
BILBASSYI think it's more than that. The movement of 6th of April which is the lead day the demonstrations in Tahrir Square has articulated the demands. They wanted to lift the emergency law that has been imposed in Egypt for 30 years. They want to dissolve the Parliament, both of them, the Shura and the Sha'ab, because they don't believe it is a representative. And they want multi-party democracy because it seems like one party that ruled Egypt. And this last election was rigged by international standard. And we saw even the Muslim Brotherhood who had 88 seats in 2005, they have zero 2010.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for Middle East Broadcast Centre. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to, let's see, Mohammad in St. Louis, Mo., good morning to you.
REHMYes, sir. Go right ahead, Mohammad.
MOHAMMADThank you, thank you (unintelligible) Actually, I just have a question, very simple and clear, crystal. And that's -- why we have to still be involved the way that we were in the past 30, 40 years, 60 years even in the Middle East and around the world? The way that we were -- we, yeah, got involved with their politics and we (unintelligible) of those people for many years the way that we see and this is the end result of that. We did it with Egypt, now we see. So why can't we understand and realize that that is not the way that you have to do it?
REHMWhat do you think, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I think the caller raises a question that many people in Arab world would ask. The twin pillars of American policy in the Middle East for 50, 60 years have been Israel and Israel's security and Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia's oil and security. And I think it's impossible not to say that that approach has gotten us into a lot of trouble. I just would say that we have a president now who grew up in Indonesia under the dictatorship who has personal visceral memories of what it's like to be in the kind of society that Egyptians are living in and who feels that once change comes you can't put it back in the box. And that's important. It's an important factor in how he's reacting.
REHMAnd once final comment many people have been asking why the U.S. and the European Union have stepped up involvement in Belarus. Today John McCain and Joe Lieberman spoke in Lithuania's Parliament and said, President Alexander Lukashenko is on the wrong side of history, calling him a tyrant. And that's our Friday News Roundup in the international news for this week with Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine. Have a great weekend watching the Super Bowl. Any preferences there, David?
IGNATIUSI lived in Pittsburgh so I gotta go with the Steelers.
DREAZENKills me to say it, Packers.
BILBASSYI'll have to say I've been seven years here. I still don't understand American football. (laugh)
REHMMe neither. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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