Diane leads a panel discussion about Jacqueline Woodson's memoir in verse, "Brown Girl Dreaming," winner of the 2014 National Book Award for young people's literature.
Across Egypt, millions of protestors have taken to the streets calling for the resignation of President Mohammed Morsi. The mass demonstrations mark the one year anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration and observers say these new protests rival in size to ones that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak two years ago. The demonstrators speak of many grievances, from the poor economy to lack of public safety. But the overriding concern among Egyptians is their president’s failure to reach beyond his Islamic party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Diane and her guests discuss the mass protests in Egypt.
- Robin Wright Analyst and joint fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World."
- Samer Shehata Associate professor of Middle East politics at the University of Oklahoma.
- Nancy Youssef Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News Channel.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Early this morning, protesters in Cairo stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. This follows a day when millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Mohammed Morsi. The demonstrations are a clear signal of public discontent with the Islamic party in power, but Morsi says he's not going anywhere.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the latest unrest in Egypt: Samer Shehata of the University of Oklahoma, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News, and, joining us from Cairo, Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers. You're invited to be part of the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning, Diane.
PROF. SAMER SHEHATAGood morning, Diane.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning, Diane.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you with us. Before we begin our conversation, let me tell you that Edward Snowden's father was to have been on the program this morning. Everything was set for his appearance. Yesterday at 12:45, we had word from his attorney that, for family reasons, he was canceling all radio and television appearances.
REHMSo I personally apologize to our audience. We had promoted his appearance and then learned at 12:45 yesterday he would not be with us. So good morning to you. Nancy Youssef, I'll start with you. I know that protesters stormed the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters early this morning. Tell us what happened.
YOUSSEFWell, the latest numbers we have is that eight people were killed there when protesters went to one of many, many places that protesters appeared at yesterday and then around seven or eight o'clock, (unintelligible) headquarters and storming in and setting it ablaze. What was interesting is that there were no apparent involvement by the police or the military to stop such an attack.
YOUSSEFAnd as the morning went on, some sort of firefight, it appears members inside were trying to defend themselves. (unintelligible) were thrown, rubber bullets, live bullets went on for hours. And we're now just seeing in Egypt gruesome photos really of what happened to those Muslim Brotherhood members who were inside. And the building now is, about a maybe five-story building, is completely charred.
REHMNow, tell me, is that Muslim Brotherhood connection to President Morsi precisely what the protesters are angry about?
YOUSSEFIt's part of it. And it's a good question because what is it that is supposed to come out of this in a way is unclear. At first, it appeared to start as a question of what constitutes the people's will. What happened at the election box a year ago when Mohammed Morsi won in a democratically elected election, a democratically held election, or the growing popular resentment against him now.
YOUSSEFIt's part because the economy has really deteriorated. It's part because of his decisive nature and his unwillingness and, I dare say, stubbornness in terms of reaching out with the opposition. It's also, I think, a real question about Egyptian identity and who Egyptians want to represent them. So all the people who were there, there was a multitude of reasons.
YOUSSEFAnd I think the assumption on the way that Morsi's carried himself and that the feeling that the Muslim Brotherhood has really been an extension of their presidency has been a key factor. Even though he claims he'd officially resigned, all of the advisers came from the brotherhood, and he in a sense conducted himself in a brotherhood way and a very diverse...
REHMAll right. Samer Shehata, in the past, you have defended the Muslim Brotherhood on this program, saying that you believed that this would be something that would work itself out. How do you feel now?
SHEHATARight. Well, I wouldn't say that I've defended the brotherhood. What I've done, I think, is tried to be objective in my evaluation of them in an environment in which there's overwhelming hostility and cynicism towards them. And I agree -- and I'll be the first to say -- that Morsi has had an abysmal first year, whether it's in terms of not fulfilling any of his promises -- he had promised to appoint a Coptic Christian as a vice president, a woman as a vice president, to be inclusive to be the president of all Egyptians and not just a Muslim Brotherhood figurehead.
SHEHATAAnd there's a real question in Cairo as to who runs the country, whether it's Mr. Morsi or whether it's the general guy to the Muslim Brotherhood in the headquarters that was burned in Mokattam yesterday. But there is a dilemma here, and that is that Mr. Morsi was elected in elections that had a significant integrity. And there is no constitutional way out.
SHEHATAAnd there's one other thing to say -- and this is again is not to defend Mr. Morsi or the brotherhood in any way. But I think one of the things that people do not do is to look at the world from the perspective of Mr. Morsi, and the world from the perspective of Mr. Morsi is he won an election that was the first democratic election in Egyptian history.
SHEHATAHe found himself facing security forces that were hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood that tortured them for years, a military that was part of the old regime and Mubarak's stronghold, a judiciary that was populated by judges that were pro-the old regime and had it in for Mr. Morsi, and an opposition that from the very beginning -- from his perspective again -- this is not my perspective -- did not want him to succeed and were hoping that an economic crisis or other kind chaos would lead to a military intervention.
SHEHATASo that is the world from Mr. Morsi's perspective, and this isn't the first time that the Brotherhood's offices have been burned. Over 50 offices across the country have been burned. That being said, if I was in Egypt yesterday, I would have been in Tahrir marching on the presidential palace and so on.
REHMNancy Youssef, we understand this morning that four ministers, four Egyptian ministers have resigned from Morsi's Cabinet. How significant is that?
YOUSSEFYou know, I'm not sure yet because he's had ministers resign before. This is the most that he's had resign at any one time. One of them was the minister of tourism who tried to resign a few weeks ago, and he wouldn't accept his resignation. Given the numbers that we saw yesterday, it seems to me to be at almost ancillary problems to what we saw yesterday.
YOUSSEFTo give your listeners some perspective, the estimates are as high as 14 million people protested yesterday. That's one in every six Egyptians. It was a massive demonstration. And so the resignations of those ministers to me is a reaction to that rather than on something that's sort of spurring change here.
REHMRobin Wright, have do you see this situation and Morsi's response thus far?
WRIGHTWell, I think Egypt is moving into a whole new phase of political activism that a young group called the Tamarad, which means rebel, has led the Egyptians to this huge protest far larger probably than what happened 2 1/2 years ago, bringing down Hosni Mubarak. And they've done it very innovatively by getting people to sign petitions, standing on street corners, trying to mobilize people to say something. The kids didn't know what to do in the aftermath of the uprising that brought down Mubarak, and now they seem to be getting their act together.
WRIGHTIn response to the living conditions, the fact that you see not a democracy taking root in Egypt but what we call majoritarianism, where you get leadership that was elected by the majority but does not engage in democratic practices, and that the Muslim Brotherhood has been far more majoritarian than it has been democratic, and I'm not sure at this stage whether Morsi can survive this. It may not happen tomorrow night, which is the deadline the kids, the Tamarad movement has issued in terms of getting him to step down.
WRIGHTBut the fact that you had so many people turn out on a workday -- this was not a holiday in Egypt -- with such large numbers in this enormous heat, such frustration, and given the fact that the vast majority of them engaged in peaceful activity, this says something about where Egyptians stand right now. And I find it hard to believe that Morsi himself anyway will not -- will be able to stay in power for all three years left of his term.
REHMAll right. Nancy, I know you have to leave us shortly. But the points that Samer raised, namely that he was elected democratically, he's only had one year to fulfill all of these expectations, is -- are these young people -- were they expecting too much too soon?
YOUSSEFIt is a valid point, and, in fact, when you talk to his supporters, you find them less and less defending Morsi and more and more defending the process, whereas the opposition is going after a man and offering little in the way of process. In fact, nobody can tell you the legitimate ways that you remove such a man.
YOUSSEFThis is an opposition that says that Morsi is undemocratic even (unintelligible) undemocratic means to remove him. I've been here for the entire time of the Morsi presidency, and I think it's worth noting it didn't have to go this way. When he took office, despite a narrow victory, he started out with an approval rating as high as 75 percent.
YOUSSEFBut almost immediately, it was the start of a power grab, almost immediately became a Muslim Brotherhood presidency rather than an Egyptian presidency. He took the legislators. He started moving judges in. He used very divisive language as recently as Wednesday in a nationally televised address. And what was lost was the sense of an Egyptian leader and rather -- and more of the presidency, I think, to many Egyptians, appearing as this power grab.
REHMAll right. Nancy Youssef, Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you so much for joining us.
REHMWe'll take a short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, you've heard Nancy Youssef, Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, say that the outpouring in Tahrir Square may have been as high as 14 million people organized by the young protestors, who have turned themselves rebel. Here in the studio, Samer Shehata. He is associate professor of Middle East politics at the University of Oklahoma. Robin Wright, analyst and joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Hisham Melhem is Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya News Channel.
REHMHisham, here's our first email from Newport News, Va. Let's see, Tom says, "Egyptians need to be patient and allow the only legally elected president of Egypt to finish his term. Democracy is not democratic if attempts to shove aside a government it doesn't like. In this country, the proper path would be impeachment, if it's believed the president committed a high crime or misdemeanor." How do you see it?
MELHEMWell, Egypt is much more complicated than this. Let me say that June 30 will probably go down in history as one of the most fateful days in Egypt's modern history. It tells us a lot. What happened yesterday tells us a lot. One of them is that the revolutionary spirit that began more than two years ago did not die, notwithstanding the military rule and the counterrevolution of the Muslim Brotherhood. At least, that's how I see it and many Egyptians see it.
MELHEMIt tells us also that this shows us also the unraveling of state institutions and the unraveling of society in many ways, really. It tells us also that, yes, Morsi was elected. But this doesn't mean that Egypt is a democracy. Elections by themselves do not constitute democracy. They are only one aspect of democracy. The other thing is we are in situation today where the MB, Muslim Brotherhood, and Morsi cannot rule effectively. That's gone. I think that's -- most people agree on that one, at least most Egyptians.
MELHEMThe army, which is the most cohesive institution, does not want to rule because their rule, you know, the so-called SCAF rule after Mubarak was also disastrous. Although the army now is saying, if chaos continues, we cannot just sit there and watch it, which is very significant. The other thing is the opposition.
MELHEMThe opposition is united on one thing: They don't like the MB. They don't like Morsi. But they are not united around a vision for the future of Egypt. They are not united about how to deal with Morsi. In other words, there is no constitutional mechanism to deal with the resignation. Even if he resigns today, what you will have is vacuum.
WRIGHTTom brings up a very important point, and that is impeachment. There is no parliament to impeach him. The problem we have in Egypt is not just the ineptitude of the Muslim Brotherhood but the fact that you have still many of the old regime's judges and whether it's in the military. Many of their figure is still in power, and you see this very unnatural alliance right now between the old regime and the young revolutionaries and the political opposition that has not been able to do very much so far in their unity against Morsi.
WRIGHTBut they will fall apart again, and they have very different objectives. But the problem is the courts, where the judges have been appointed by Mubarak, dissolve parliament. And they were supposed to have elections later this year to elect a new parliament. And in the meantime, there is only one source of power, which is the presidency. And that has made Morsi's rule even more difficult. And so in this battle between the presidency and the courts appointed by Mubarak, Morsi made his first fatal mistake. And that was to say, I -- what I say supersedes all the courts.
MELHEMAbove the law. Essentially, he's above the law.
WRIGHTHe was. And so that's an action he took last Thanksgiving and has been the source of everything that is unraveled since then.
REHMSamer, were you surprised at this turnout?
SHEHATAOh, I think even the organizers were surprised because the numbers exceeded expectations. And I think that, whether it was 14 or 18 as some reports have, or even 6 million, there's no question that this was the largest turnout for a protest in Egypt's history and probably one of the largest numbers that we've seen anywhere in the world.
SHEHATAAnd I think it is a referendum, clearly, on Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's rule. So I hope that he takes that lesson. However, I think from his perspective again is, will these protests be sustained? In other words, tomorrow, are there going to be similar numbers that go out? I mean...
SHEHATAOr today. But tomorrow, I think, is the day that people are saying they're really going to go out in force. And then secondly -- and I think this is what many of us are afraid of -- are there going to be instigators, maybe even from Islamists groups that try to incite violence so that it no longer looks to Egyptians and the world as millions of people standing up against Mr. Morsi but chaos and civil strife? And that would not be in the interest of the protestors. That would not be in the interest of democratic forces.
REHMHow about the role of the police?
SHEHATAWell, the police, again, you know, this is something that Nancy mentioned. I mean, they have been bystanders, number one. They -- the minister of interior said several days ago that they are not going to defend Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. And so their sympathies clearly are not for democratic Egypt but very much against the Muslim Brotherhood and against Mr. Morsi.
REHMSo let's speculate that Mr. Morsi, despite his denials, feels as though he's going to be overwhelmed if he stays in office. What happens if he steps down, Robin?
WRIGHTWell, look, there are a lot of different scenarios, and I hate to stake my future on anyone of them. But the one obvious alternative is, do you revert to military rule where the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces steps in and is a temporary power while they hold elections? That's one option. There isn't a natural mechanism. And ultimately, I think, actually, President Morsi may not be the one who makes the decision.
WRIGHTI think the Muslim Brotherhood will probably -- and some of the major powers within the Brotherhood -- be the ones to finally recognize. I think he is probably being propped up by many of them right now who feel that this was their opportunity for the first time in almost a century after being banned or having to work under the radar, many of their leaders having been jailed, this is their chance.
WRIGHTAnd they feel that the -- and of charge openly -- that it is the old regime that's trying to sabotage them. And so they may stand firm longer than we think. But the fact is the turnout was so significant that there's no way that the government can't respond to it in some way, whether it's, you know, and a national dialogue at this point is not enough.
MELHEMYou know, this movement has been around for 80 years. Most of that time, they work underground. They are steeped into the politics of conspiracies. After a full year in power, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood still acted as if they are in the opposition, still acted as if the whole world is conspiring against them, not only Egyptians but the outside world, the Israelis, the Americans, the Qataris, you name it -- not the Qataris -- and other groups.
MELHEMAnd so that's part of the -- their world view. I mean, Samer is correct that there are, you know, people within the Egyptian bureaucracy who are still against them, you know, people who still believe in the old regime, the (word?) regime and all that -- that's all true. But also the way they ruled is that, you know, we are being victimized by all sorts of, you know, conspiracies. And therefore, we have to grab power, as Morsi tried to do.
MELHEMI -- the only thing one -- anybody can tell you with some certainty, unfortunately, is that Egypt is going to be ungovernable in the immediate future, regardless if who is in charge, whether the army is back, whether Morsi remains, whether Morsi leaves. The opposition is divided on many issues that, as I said, they are united only on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a recipe for chaos, really.
MELHEMAnd a few days ago, there was an article in Foreign Affairs about the defragmentation of society, how the government is relying on hoodlums to control peace in certain cities and how Egyptians are purchasing weapons. I mean, this is not the Egypt that we have known, and there is the kind of violence that you would expect to take care in -- take place in Iraq or Syria or Yemen or Algeria, but not in Egypt.
SHEHATAWell, you know, I agree with much of what Hisham said, and I think that it's now apparent that the worst thing that has happened to the Muslim Brotherhood is to come to power.
SHEHATAI mean, there's no question if one looks at their history and the support for the organization and their image in Egyptian society before Mr. Morsi's election or really before November when Mr. Morsi did the constitutional declarations in the power grab when it spiraled out of control since then. This group had the sympathy -- the support of many and the sympathy of an even larger number because of the persecutions and so on.
SHEHATASince they have been in power, they have become despised by larger and larger segments of the Egyptian population. That's the first thing. But what I worry about, and again, this, you know, has to do with an analytical prospective and not defense of them, is that they make up -- an Islamist make-up some significant segment of the Egyptian population and populations elsewhere, and they have to be integrated into the political process.
SHEHATAAnd if one were to remove Mr. Morsi right now in a non-constitutional way, from their prospective, they would say, we've participated in democratic politics. We haven't resorted to violence, and you've excluded us. And that would either lead to their resort to violence or it would not lead to a healthy body of politics.
SHEHATASo this is a clear dilemma here.
REHM...without the support of the military, can the protesters succeed in the ouster of Morsi?
SHEHATAIf they brought the country to a halt, if massive civil disobedience -- and this is what they're calling for, sustained civil disobedience for weeks. And this is difficult of because of the Cairo heat that we've talked about. It's also difficult because Ramadan is coming up where Muslims are going to be fasting from sun up to sun down and so on.
SHEHATABut if they did that, I think Mr. Morsi would have no choice but to either step down or really more likely to try to come to some kind of compromise. Dismiss the cabinet. Appoint someone from the opposition as a prime minister and make something of a deal and so on that could be worked out.
REHMWould that satisfy the people?
SHEHATAIt probably wouldn't satisfy those who organize the protest because they're calling for his resignation...
SHEHATA...Tuesday at 5 p.m. But it would divide the opposition enough that some people would say yes if there was someone, either Mohamed ElBaradei or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, another person who is a presidential candidate who's, you know, kind of reasonable and so on, as prime minister in the cabinet was charged, I think that would do enough to divide the opposition that Mr. Morsi could survive.
YOUSSEFI think it's too late. I think that this is something he should have tried a long time ago. This has been building for so long, and there have been questions about the prime minister, and he had lots of opportunities. And they have been so stubborn that they're -- they've really contributed to their own undoing. The one point though that we ought to take into consideration about Egypt is this is a country that accounts for one quarter of the Arab world's 350 million people.
YOUSSEFIt is the -- it has been the role model. And their implications for the rest of the region are so deeply profound that when you look at whether it's Syria's civil war, the insecurity in Libya, that this creates real concern and may be the biggest drawback, the biggest setback for democracy and change in the region.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now. Let's go first to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Ryan.
RYANGood morning, Diane. I actually had an easier time getting a call through than I've ever had before, which is a surprise for me. But...
REHMGlad to have you with us.
RYANI'm glad to be here. So anyway, without further ado, you know, anyway, I've been following the Egyptian protests since they began way back at the beginning of the Arab Spring when they took their -- when they took -- you know, when they followed the lead of Tunisia and all of that. And I've been really, really involved with the Egyptian protesters overseas. I'm here in the United States, but I've worked online and in social media to kind of give them a voice stateside when mainstream media sources don't necessarily still do in-depth reporting on what's going on there.
RYANBut anyway, that's just my experience. What I really wanted to say was that the comments is that like the reason for these protests is that, you know, they're -- the Egyptian people are getting this vibe that, you know, this is going to be politics as usual. They're going to elect someone, you know, during the election who says they're going to do all these things and then, you know, after the election, they don't do them. They're -- this is sort of like -- there's precedence for this, you know?
REHMThey just don't follow through on their promises, Robin.
WRIGHTAbsolutely. And the interesting thing is, in this period of change, we're seeing people demanding accountability, transparency, and that is deeply important for what happens next. The problem is that the leadership, the alternative leadership, hasn't emerged. The Muslim Brotherhood was so strong because it filled a political vacuum after 40 years of -- well, after, you know, modern Egypt's history of having military leaders and autocrats in power.
WRIGHTAnd the problem is that when you look at the array of opposition figures and parties that are alternatives, none of them have provided the kind of imagination, the dynamism or the ideas to be an alternative.
REHMBut, Samer, to Robin's point about Egypt being such a major factor in the Arab world, how is what's happening there likely to affect the broader constituents?
SHEHATATwo things. First, I think it tells everyone in the region and those of us who analyze the region that Islamists do not have a monopoly of support in Egypt or elsewhere. The political map is much more diverse, much more fluid than that. And that is the lesson for Islamists elsewhere -- in Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and so on -- that they really cannot proceed in a heavy-handed manner and dismiss secular, liberal opposition, women, religious minorities and so forth. And it also empowers those who stand opposed to Islamists of all different stripes, potentially.
MELHEMI agree. Look, I think -- a couple of things. The Muslim Brotherhood is not likely to reach a compromise anytime in the immediate future. They will see this as the beginning of the end for them now, now that they are in power. That's why I think that we are going to see uncertainty, chaos, probably violence in the streets.
MELHEMAnd there are some people, unfortunately, who would like to see some violence so that the army will come back in the name of restoring stability in the country because the army, the -- in Egypt is like the army in Turkey in the old times, you know, who are the guarantor of stability of this country. I have something else to say about Egypt in the region, but -- if you give me a chance.
REHMAll right. And we'll take just a short break here. We are inviting your calls. Join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd we have breaking news being reported by Reuters. Egyptian Gen. Sisi is giving politicians 48 hours to meet the demands of the people. He says that people have expressed their unprecedented will. What does this mean, Samer?
SHEHATAWell, I mean, this is incredible. It essentially says to Mr. Morsi, you have to make a deal, come to a compromise with those in the street, the opposition or else the military is going to intervene. At the same time, it gives a signal to the opposition that all they have to do is hold out for 48 hours and not accept the compromise and Sisi and the military then removes Morsi.
WRIGHTThis could be fatal for -- not physically but politically for President Morsi in that the opposition has no incentive now to compromise with him because they believe the military will act if he doesn't give them everything they want including stepping down. So this is, in effect, putting the military totally on the side of the people. And this increases the number and the political power of the opposition.
MELHEMLook, I think this is an extremely worrisome development because now Sisi is on the record, saying that if you don't compromise or if you don't come up with an acceptable deal in the next 48 hours, we will intervene. Now, this will create comfort within the ranks of the opposition, but this is going to create panic and anger and resentment in the ranks of those who supported Morsi. And they are significant too. And that...
MELHEMLook, because they could resort to violence. They could resort to their own version of civil disobedience. If...
REHMBut how large are they?
MELHEMWell, they are large enough to be disruptive. That's the point. And they are organized enough. And they are more organized than the opposition. The opposition had been good at organizing demonstrations, period. They don't know how to engage in elections, how to organize people to vote, none of these. They don't even have a unified vision and don't even have a unified leadership. And their leadership also is not necessarily stellar, or at least most of the leadership is not necessarily stellar. That's part of the dilemma of Egypt today.
MELHEMBut the return of the army from the barracks to the streets or to the government is going to be also problematic because they have a lousy record. The other thing that we didn't touch on, all of us, the three of us, is the economy. I don't care who's ruling Egypt today. It could be Mother Teresa. It could LBJ. It could be Eleanor, I mean, Franklin Roosevelt. Any great leader in history, he or she cannot deal immediately with Egypt's problem. And there is a problem of high expectations.
MELHEMAnd the Egyptian bureaucracy was so corrupt. The Egyptian state was so corrupt. Corruption was in every aspect of society. I mean, you know, there was a book named -- called "Yacoubian Building" where Aswany describes...
REHMI've read that building.
MELHEM...the corruption in every level in society, from -- In labor, in families, in the military, in government. Egypt, in the last six years, in many ways, lost a great deal of its luster. We talk about Egypt's, you know, stature in the region. It is not as important as it used to be. My Egyptian friends don't like to hear this. Today, Qatar is more important than Egypt unfortunately.
SHEHATAWell, I mean, you know, much of what Hisham has said is correct. I mean, there's no question that in terms of regional standing and influence, Egypt has declined significantly and a small Persian Gulf country that happens to have, you know, significant natural gas reserves plays a larger role in Middle East politics than Egypt does. I think that the answer to your question about how much support the Muslim Brotherhood has is, one, we don't know. We don't know. We don't know the membership.
SHEHATABut secondly, we estimate the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood as between being 400,000 to 800,000, a million people. But the most empirical evidence we have of their electoral support is how Mr. Morsi did in the first round of the presidential elections. Five million people voted for him when they had a chance to vote for all different kinds of other candidates. So that five million is not the majority, but as Hisham said, it's enough to be disruptive. And if Sisi intervenes, they're going to feel as if they have -- a presidency has been stolen from them by non-democratics.
WRIGHTLook, when you look at parliament, which is the only other election we've had in Egypt since the uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent of the seats. Another Islamist group, the Salafis, won another 25 percent so that the Islamists had 72 percent of parliament. Now, I think that reflects the vacuum more than it does the hard numbers. But it is generally accepted the Muslim Brotherhood has somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the vote or can count on something within that if people turn out to vote.
WRIGHTOne of the great challenges in Egypt is how many people turn out. And the elections in each of the countries have gone down with each election because people have not felt invested, not felt that they had the kind of alternatives they wanted. The question is, really, when it comes to what happens next, is, who emerges as an alternative?
WRIGHTAnd that's the thing that concerns me as much when we get to this question of is Egypt governable. Is there someone who can govern Egypt because the military doesn't want to? It didn't do well the last time around. It led to the last round of protest when people called for them to move aside. So there, you know, this is a turning point. We're clearly turning a corner. The question is to what.
REHMAll right. And to Karim (sp?) in Rockton, Illinois. Good morning. You're on the air.
KARIMGood morning, Diane. I'll try to make it brief as I can. I was born in Egypt actually, and I came here obviously when I was a child. But what I want to know is if it's possible to have a sort of democratic government in any of the Middle Eastern countries. It seems like the only way they function is when it's either a dictator or a puppet government, et cetera, where somebody has full control.
KARIMOtherwise, they have all these factions and everything else. I'm actually Coptic, which is very, you know, a minority in Egypt, but that's why we came here when I was a child, et cetera. But it seems that the only way it runs is that somebody basically ran it with an iron fist.
REHMSamer, you're shaking your head.
SHEHATAYeah. I think that there's -- it's very difficult to argue that somehow Middle Easterners or Arabs or Muslims are incapable being democratic. I mean, clearly, I think it would be a rush to judgment to say that, for example, after 50 years of authoritarian rule and an uprising in 2011, that they failed to be democratic now and that kind of, you know, means that they can't be a -- look at Turkey, for example.
SHEHATAIt has problems, but there's no question that Turkey has been -- has had successive democratic elections and that have led to leadership change. So I don't think that, you know, Middle Easterners, Arabs, Muslims and so on are incapable. The same arguments were made, by the way, in decades past, about Catholics not being able to be democratic or Buddhists and so on...
SHEHATAJapan and so on. So I don't believe any of these cultureless arguments.
REHMOn the other hand, you, Hisham...
REHM…have wondered what the Arab world is doing to itself.
MELHEMAbsolutely. I mean, the Arabs now, sometimes including Egypt or in Syria, they like to blame outsiders with their problems. I mean, this is part of the political ethos of those countries since independence, 50, 60, 70 years ago. I always, you know, argued that Arabs are responsible in the main for their own current problems. And there is a governance crisis. Now, I agree with Samer when he talks about, you know, this is a cultural judgment that is unfair.
MELHEMIf you look at Egypt or Iraq, in fact, between the two world wars, there was more political life. There were political parties. There was relatively freer press. You did not see massacres as you've seen in Iraq and other places or mass graves or any of these. There was a political life. It was destroyed by certain powers within those countries and also by outsiders, like British colonialism and all that.
MELHEMSo we have a history to go back to and say we could deal with representative government. But this is a problem that the Arabs have to sort it out. We are going through a long period of transition. And during long periods of transitions, crazy phenomena appear, you know, weird powers appear and all sorts of things. And anybody who expects that this process that began two years ago is going to end in a year or two or a decade probably or two is mistaken. They don't have a historical view of things.
WRIGHTSure. Revolutions are like onions. You peel away layers. You go through phases. And this is simply the first round. When you look at the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, there are -- our own revolution, which was not really revolutions or coup d'etat, but there -- this is a time when we are only at the opening rounds of the transition in the Arab world. And that's, you know, we want to flick a switch from off to on, and it doesn't happen that way.
REHMSamer, you seem, again, to be shaking your head.
SHEHATANo, no. I'm in agreement with what has been said. I mean, you know, from one perspective, of course, we haven't seen a revolution in Egypt. What happened in 2011 in the ousting of Mubarak was not a revolution. A revolution means a massive redistribution of political and economic power. What happened was Mr. Mubarak was thrown under the bus by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after 18 days of massive protest.
SHEHATAAnd so the regime was still there, and hopefully, it would be wonderful if we could have a revolution that would really lead to a democratic civil state in which everyone was a full citizen regardless of gender and religion and so on. And hopefully, what we're seeing in Egypt will produce that. It's not going to be tomorrow. I'm afraid it's not going to be six months, and it's not going to be a year. And there going to be some bad times in between, but that's, I think, what many of those people who were out in the streets yesterday want.
REHMAll right. To Dayton, Ohio. Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREWGood morning. Thanks for having me on.
ANDREWWell, one thing I wanted to say is Egypt has a young democracy, as well know. It's their first year trying this, as far as I can tell and what I know about it. And as your one guest said, it's like an onion. And one thing they're going to have to do is if they manage to get Mubarak out and they elect a new leader, they're going to have to get the religious aspect out of the politics, you know.
ANDREWImagine if the Christian alliance came to power in America, and you know, started to make laws around what Christians would believe, you know, or we dissolve Congress. It wouldn't fly. So the next elections they have, they're going to have to -- it's OK to talk about, you know, you're Muslim or you're Christian or whatever, but I think they're going to have to definitely abstain from making religion the center of their politics.
WRIGHTDream on. The reality in this part of the world is that religion is part of culture, it's part of politics, and it's not going to go away in the same way that Christianity and Jewish values define what happens in this country, what happens in Europe.
REHMBut Samer talked earlier about Islam and the extent to which that will influence what happens.
WRIGHTOh, I think it will. I think that we may well find that in -- we move to the next phase, and if we have new elections, whether it's for parliament or the president, we'll find the Salafis, the really ultra-conservative, right-winged Islamists still playing a role. They have a popular base. And they are actually in alliance with the young revolutionaries now because they don't want to see the Muslim Brotherhood in power.
WRIGHTBut they have a different vision. That's why you see the 14 million people turnout on the streets. And the fact is they represent a lot of different political goals and positions.
REHMSo Morsi's goal in this particular situation would be to divide?
SHEHATAOf course. I mean, from his perspective, he's got 48 hours to somehow get that 14 or 18 million people down to 1 million or 2 million. And that means make a deal with some members of the opposition to try to divide that.
MELHEMHe likes the imagination.
SHEHATANow, I think it's clear to all of us that Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have failed tremendously...
SHEHATA...and that there has to be a way forward. So let's hope that something like that results.
REHMAll right. To Ross here in Washington, D.C. Good morning.
ROSSGood morning. My question dovetails on what we've heard from the last two callers, and I want to focus on the religion thing. I know that's difficult, but I think we have to ask the question. Is Egypt evidence that a strongly religion-based government in the 21st century just won't work? I think the answer is yes, it just won't work. But if your callers or your panel answer that no, how does that fit with what we're seeing right now in the Arab world?
REHMAll right. And before you respond, let me tell you that Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers just called to say that the entire city erupted in cheers after Gen. Sisi made his announcement. Hisham.
MELHEMYeah. Well, still the onion still stinks, I think. Look, I -- everybody knows them.
REHMOnions don't stink. They burn but...
MELHEMNo, no. They burn, yes, exactly. Look, my two colleagues know my views on -- I have always had a jaundiced view of Islamist and power in the Arab world. I'm an unreformed secularist, and I believe that I belong to a minority in the Arab world in that sense. I never believe that political Islam has the solution to the myriad problems that the Arabs faced in the 20th century or the 21st century.
MELHEMThey can never succeed without revolutionizing themselves, without reforming themselves in a radical way that would make Islam doesn't look like Islam the way we know it is. Most Islamist groups -- and I'm very blunt about this -- have a problem with women. Most Islamist groups in politics have a problem with non-Muslim minorities. And non-Muslim minorities are full -- in the Arab world has many of them.
MELHEMSo they have serious problems. They never manage to deal with social economic issues. They are good at mobilizing people, they are good at telling you what they don't like but they are never good at delivering. There isn't a single Islamist "government" in the world that delivered, from Sudan to Iran to Afghanistan, you name it. So that's one.
MELHEMNow, it doesn't mean that this is -- when I say this, it's one thing. The other thing is it is possible. It is possible to say we have a political party here in this country, let's say, in Egypt. We are informed by Islamic values, but it doesn't mean that you are going to rule the way we ruled in the 7th century.
REHMAll right. Now, we have to focus here in the moments that we have left. What should the U.S. role be here as this revolution, if you will, continues? Samer.
SHEHATAWell, many people in Egypt think that the U.S. has been too involved in Egyptian domestic politics in the last weeks because of the ambassador's involvement in almost mediating between or trying to mediate between the Morsi government and the opposition. Obviously it has stand for the principal of the right to peaceful protest. It has to condemn violence. It has to be for principals of equality of citizenship and so on.
SHEHATAI think more than that is very tricky. I mean, if Mr. Sisi were to intervene and there would be some kind of a ouster of Morsi, then, of course, that's a violation of a principle of non-democratic, you know, turnover. So, you know, it's a difficult position for the U.S. to hold, but I think that less is better in this case.
REHMRobin, last word.
WRIGHTLess is better. The United States should not be making the decision for the Egyptian people. What happens next? They have indicated they want to do it, and they will one way or another.
REHMRobin Wright, she's an analyst, joint fellow at the Institute of Peace. She is the author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World." Samer Shehata, he's associate professor of Middle East politics at the University of Oklahoma. Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News Channel. And we certainly thank Nancy Youssef, who joined us from Cairo. She is Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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