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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Protests Continue Across Egypt; Interview With Nasser Weddady of the American Islamic Congress; Egyptian Officials Visiting U.S. Scrambling to Head Back to Cairo Amid Violent Protests; Reports From American Tourists in Cairo
Aired January 28, 2011 - 16:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And Michael and I, Michael Holmes here, also with CNN International, been to Egypt dozens -- a dozen times, so he and I will share the next hour.
And as we talk so much about Egypt, we have correspondents and crews on the ground, not just, of course, in Cairo, but we have been in Suez and also Alexandria. And that's where we have Nic Robertson with us.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The side street in Alexandria fills with tear gas, a confrontation that tells of Egypt's precarious path ahead. A running battle erupts, protesters and police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mubarak, Mubarak, go to hell.
ROBERTSON: Emerging from the crowd, one man. Rocks fly past him in both directions. More join his peaceful stand.
Cooler heads appeal to excited youth for calm, stop throwing rocks. It works, friendly words exchanged across the front line. Police appear unsure, their duty to the state conflicting with apparent sympathy for the protesters.
Despite the calls for calm, another volley of rocks. The outnumbered police don't want to fight and pull back.
(on camera): And the police clearly pulled back because it just seems impossible to stop all the people throwing rocks, but the police almost seem as if here they are on the same side as the crowd. No one really wants to -- at the moment seems to want into get a big, strong fight.
(voice-over): The great unanswered question on this street, as it is across the country, will the police obey the government's commands or shrink from confronting the people?
Nic Robertson, CNN, Alexandria, Egypt.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: One of our team of correspondents covering what's going on in Egypt.
We want to bring in a guest now, Nasser Weddady from the American Islamic Congress, joining us live from Washington.
But before we get to some of the other stuff, I want -- I understand you were listening to the news conference and we were talking earlier there about how skillfully Robert Gibbs said pretty much nothing. What did you make of it?
NASSER WEDDADY, AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS: Actually, I was really stunned, because what we just saw in front of us right now is the Obama administration's Middle East foreign policy just crumbling, and their inability to really gauge the pulse of the Egyptian people.
I mean, your reporters got it right. You saw what the man said in the report. "Mubarak, go to hell." That's the pulse of the Egyptian street, and they're not -- they didn't hear any comforting words. They didn't hear condolences, which is usually what the United States has done when other natural disasters hit or civilians were killed.
And it was clear, like, from Gibbs' responses that they really don't know what to make of the situation.
HOLMES: Significant though that he did say -- that he not say that -- in answering the question, are you standing by Mr. Mubarak, he didn't say yes.
WEDDADY: Well, don't forget the declarations from Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden.
I know that everyone is going to dismiss Vice President Biden as, you know, Biden-esque expressions, but they came yesterday at a critical moment of the progress of the events on the ground, and they sounded like an endorsement to the Mubarak regime.
But, remember, the most important thing here -- and I have been -- as I was listening to the presser at the White House, I was reading over my Twitter feed. And the response from the people online, the Egyptians and the world community, is a sense of outrage, like 11 confirmed dead in Suez, hundreds of injured, hundreds of detainees tortured, live bullets, rubber bullets. Where is the compassion to the suffering of the Egyptian people?
HOLMES: Nasser, on the street, let me ask you this, regardless of how this ends and it's by no means certain how it will end, do you think that the landscape has changed not just in Egypt, but in the region as well? It just would appear that in a lot of countries, people who once feared the security apparatus have become emboldened, and that, would you agree, is not likely to vanish now?
WEDDADY: Actually what we're seeing through across the region, there's been a shockwave that came out of Tunisia because of what happened there, the people of Tunisia taking the most efficient dictatorship down and dismantling it.
What we're seeing really, and that's what the big elephant in the entire conversation. You could clearly see that Gibbs and the Obama administration are not quite processing the information. The Middle East, as we know it, as we knew it two weeks ago, has changed.
The parameters of the games are no longer the same. You have an explosion of rage coming out of the majority of the population, which is the youth, who are not settling for anything short of democracy. These guys want freedom, liberty, basic human rights.
BALDWIN: This is Brooke in Atlanta.
And I'm just curious because I know you have been watching, as have we, the sort of evolution, if you will. It's been a very long week in just four short days -- the evolution of the demonstrations from day one when we were watching and the tone was more on the streets we want reform, and now day four it's escalated to such violence and essentially saying down with Mubarak.
Are you changed -- are you surprised by that sudden change?
WEDDADY: Absolutely not.
Actually, I was talking with Ramy Raoof, one of the most courageous activists on the ground right now, who runs the front of -- the defense of protesters in Egypt.
This is a young man who is leveraging Internet tools, until they were shut down, with the help of many other activists Ahmed Varbia (ph), for example, just to name a few, collecting the names of protesters, people who were detained, and relaying information using online tools in real time until they were shut down.
And what was really striking to me is that when the plug was pulled on the Internet yesterday, Ramy called me and said, we're downloading our data from our laptop. We're showering and preparing our gas masks. We don't know if we are going to be alive in 24 hours.
So what really changed from the first day, which was the polite tone, and I think that's the biggest hole in Gibbs' performance so far, is that the police is shooting and to kill civilians, and that equivalency does not hold between violence coming from the government who are the ones who are shooting and killing -- aiming to kill and the protesters, who all they want is their voice to be heard, but only -- the only response they got from the Egyptian government, the same response in the last 30 years, was bullets. BALDWIN: Well, you know, one point one of our correspondents made to me just yesterday in covering and being in the thick of things, he was saying to me, what is so different with these demonstrations, that these people, young and old, they are fearless, and because they are fearless, one cannot predict the momentum going forward.
If you read -- if you read a very interesting piece that came out today in "The Wall Street Journal" written by an Egyptian blogger, Kareem American, who entered an essay contest that we run -- we have been running for the last three years called the "Dream Deferred" essay contest.
And what we're seeing today is that the second (INAUDIBLE) of the poem of Langston Hughes that many of your viewers are probably familiar with is, what happens to a dream deferred?
What we're seeing right now is the explosion of those dreams of these millions of youth who are really looking for freedom and a release. They want their lives fulfilled. They want the liberty and freedom which are the basic God-given human rights to every person on this Earth.
Why -- the question that I'm hearing on my Twitter feed and from my context is that, why us in the Middle East, why us, Egyptians, Arabs, Algerians, all of these nationalities, why aren't we entitled to have our own democracy and have a say in how we're governed? Why can't we fulfill our dream deferred?
WEDDADY: What we're seeing right now is the explosion of that dream.
BALDWIN: Dream deferred.
Nasser Weddady, do me a favor, because we love hearing from you.
BALDWIN: Do me a favor and just stand by. We may come back to you, so keep that seat warm there in Washington, D.C., but for now, Nasser Weddady, thank you so, so much.
HOLMES: We're going to go to Alexandria now, Nic Robertson, one of our team covering the violence and the protests in that part of the country.
Nic, Ben was saying a little while ago that everything had quieted down a little bit there. What about where you are?
I think you can say the same here, Michael. People are still coming out and sort of curious about what the police -- what the army, rather, the armored personnel carriers were doing on the street corners, but there is a sense that sort of the situation is calming down for the night, not because people are being threatened to go off the streets, but I just think their sort of energy, that the violence of the afternoon and the adrenaline is sort of wearing off right now.
But people are telling us that they are going to go and they're going to camp out in some of the city squares and they are not going to leave these campsites until the regime here changes and that they are waiting for that to happen.
So the resolve is still there, but I think that sort of effervescent anger that we witnessed before that, that has ebbed a little bit at this time, Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, Nic, stick around. Don't want you to go anywhere either. I have got a couple more questions for you, my friend -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: For now, want to remind everyone, we really have all the bases covered here. We will take you live to the Pentagon next, but first we want to share this with you.
As we take a quick break, I want you to listen to our veteran correspondent in Cairo, Ben Wedeman, who has watching the situation unfold live. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It appears they are shooting live rounds, in addition to lots of tear gas that has really just inundated our office for quite some time now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Welcome back to our breaking coverage here of the situation still developing in Egypt.
And we have all bases covered, including the Pentagon.
And I want to bring in Chris Lawrence, because, Chris, from what I understand, and this I guess is a total coincidence, the fact that there's top military Egyptian brass in Washington, where you are.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Brooke. They have about here for the past couple of days, senior military officials here to meet with their U.S. counterparts right here in the Pentagon.
We've now been update that had these officials have cut short their trip. They were supposed to be here until Wednesday, but they now cut short their trip and are now rushing back to Cairo, specifically because of the situation there. Just a few minutes ago the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, used what seems to be the Obama administration's buzzword right now, which is "restraint" urging his counterparts in the Egypt military to show restraint when it comes to dealing with these protesters.
BALDWIN: Chris, have these individuals visiting from Egypt who are cutting their trip short, have they reacted at all publically within the Pentagon as to the situation happening back home?
LAWRENCE: Not publicly, but we are told that obviously they did not, could not ignore the situation, that it was something that was talked about by officials here.
I mean, you've got to realize the extent to which the U.S. military and Egyptian military are tied together. The U.S. gives well over a billion dollars a year to the Egyptian military. It's outfitted the Egyptians with Apache helicopters, M-1 tanks, fighter jets, aerial surveillance capabilities, really brought Egypt's military into the modern age.
And for that, of course, the U.S. does get something in return. There's been ongoing peace between Egypt and Israel, and the U.S. gets access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.
BALDWIN: All right, Chris Lawrence. Thank you, Chris.
HOLMES: All right, let's turn to CNN executive editor Tim Listner, he's got vast experience in the Middle East.
You know, Tim, we were talking to Nic before we lost the signal to Alexandria, and we were listening in the White House press briefing, the issue was raised. What about, and let's get the crystal ball out, if Mubarak decides to go, one of the problems in Egypt is who steps in? His anointed replacement, of course, is his stone but he's not respected by the military, not popular on the street and Mubarak is successfully fractured the a significance to the point where it's difficult to see them coalescing in the short term.
TIM LISTNER, CNN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: That's very true, Michael. And you know, his opponents call Mubarak "The Last Pharaoh," and pharaohs don't broker much opposition. And in his this case, he's been sure to make sure that no internal challenge comes from the military or other politicians across his long rule, 28 years. He's manage d to diffuse any opposition internally, so there's no obvious opposition.
And he's also defanged the opposition, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, but a combination of harassment and repression, so there's no obvious opposition figure. You could say Mohamed ElBaradei, his return to Egypt is a possibility, but he doesn't really have after a long career as a diplomat the sort of street smarts the ability to handle the rough and tumble of what could become a revolution.
Someone else who is mentioned is Amr Moussa, who is the Arab League's secretary-general. And he's very much regarded as a progressive, but he is Arab League's secretary-general and he's shown no signs of wanting to leave that position and jump back into the fray of Egyptian politics.
HOLMES: And neither -- what would the U.S. think about either? Mohamed ElBaradei was not the most popular man when he was with the IAEA, with the U.S. that is.
What do you see as the U.S. Role going forward. The U.S. credibility in the region is being rocked over the years by its support for regimes, autocratic regimes like Egypt, Saudis, Jordanians as well.
LISTNER: Well the U.S. has certainly lost the support of the Arab street because of its support for the likes of the Mubarak government. But what's interesting about these protests is that they've been very much directed at the government. There's not been any, "Down with the USA," nor has there been on the street any suggest of Islam is the answer.
This is a new generation that have put together political grievances, economic hardship, a lack of employment opportunities and are coming at the regime in a way that it could not have predicted and could not have expected. So that's what makes it so unpredictable. They have no leadership. It's been entirely spontaneous.
HOLMES: And the role -- the role also, Tim, of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being really held up a bit of a scarecrow by the Mubarak regime and also the U.S., a fear that if there were true free and fair elections, that this group would bring a lot of power and wield a lot of power. And that was the fear, wasn't it, Islamists?
LISTNER: That's absolutely right. Mubarak has always -- in fact someone said in one of the U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks that Mubarak is a doctor and he's only got one patient and that patient is the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood and keeps bringing this patient out to warn the United States of the consequences if he's not there, what will happen. If you remember, Musharraf said much the same thing.
HOLMES: But what is their level of support, though, Tim? It's not massive, is it?
LISTNER: It's not massive.
HOLMES: It's not as massive as people think it is.
LISTNER: It's well organized in a social way through all the mosques, the Muslim Brotherhood. And it's a venerable institution, it's been in Egypt decades.
But as I say, Mubarak has done a lot to harass, intimidate, imprison and otherwise make the life impossible for the opposition. So it's not a very effective force.
And notably in these demonstrations, it arrived very late in the day. These demonstrations were well underway before the Muslim Brotherhood decided they would join in.
HOLMES: Yes, yes. Very good point.
Tim, executive editor of CNN. Good to see you, Tim. Thanks for joining us -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: And again, just to remind everyone, it's 4:20 Eastern here in the United States, but it's seven hours ahead there in Egypt so it's about 11:20 in the evening.
And so here are pictures. It's a much, much different scene there. The streets appear a bit calmer, if we can call it that. There has been a curfew impose that had for the most part has been largely ignored these last few hours, and for the most part now it's the army out there instead of those riot police.
HOLMES: The contrast, I think -- are the pictures are coming from our bureau position, if they are, that's the Corniche. And at 11:00 at night in the Middle East, people are just getting started. They've gone to dinner at 10:00, they're probably walking around down there --
BALDWIN: People are still very much so out and about.
HOLMES: -- crowded down there. You still see -- you see that -- there are people out but nowhere near what there would be on a normal Friday evening.
BALDWIN: Sure. Just thought it was an important point to make.
And of course, we're watching the situation in Cairo, but as we take a break here, I want you to listen to CNN's Nic Robertson who has been watching the situation unfold live there as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: There appear to be no answers here in downtown Alexandria where a police station was set on fire a little while ago, the government buildings were set on fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Welcome back to CNN.
I want to bring in Elise Labott, she's our senior State Department producer live there in Washington.
And Elise, we were listening just about half an hour ago to Robert Gibbs speak at that White House press briefing, and he was very, very careful in the words he chose and he wasn't at all choosing sides on behalf of the Obama administration. My question to you is --
ELISE LABOTT, CNN SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER (via telephone): Well, what we heard was a real kind of tough message about not cracking down on the protestors, really focusing on -- on the rights of the protesters and what the Egyptian government can do to meet the aspirations of the people.
The administration walking a very fine line right now between not doing anything that suggests calling for regime change, but also making sure that the government knows that this is a dire moment right now. They understand that this is a very worrisome moment for the government, but they really need to take some action right now.
And I think there have been a lot of questions about why the administration is not calling for President Mubarak to go. I think officials I've spoke to, there is a concern that if they were to go that far, that this might put the government even more in a survivalist moment, and they might crackdown even further because they would feel that their back is up against a corner.
So what they are doing is they are urging change. They are urging him to say, look, President Mubarak, you can turn this around, you can meet the needs of your people.
I haven't spoken to anyone in the U.S. government that really thinks that the government is going to fall, but they are really concerned about a crackdown, and they are concerned that the Egyptian government doesn't really understand what it's facing rights now. They really think that they can just use a crackdown and turn this around and --
BALDWIN: Sure. Well, I think --
LABOTT: -- and they are focusing on the human rights of the people right now.
BALDWIN: And I think that is one of the points that was made there in that White House briefing and obviously for the reasons you outline, that's why President Obama has asked President Mubarak to step down and really take sides.
But you mentioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who we heard from out of Doha two weeks ago, and we also heard from today. In fact, we want to play a little bit of that sound.
This is Secretary of State Clinton delivering this message this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would like to say that something about the unfolding events in Egypt.
We continue to monitor the situation very closely. We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters. And we call the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain --
(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: So, Elise, what was the message that Egyptian leaders heard from Secretary Clinton? Was there a signal buried in there at all?
LABOTT: I can't hear.
BALDWIN: Elise? She can't hear me. Elise, Thank you.
Michael, to you.
LABOTT: Well, I can't hear you, but --
BALDWIN: Elise, you can hear me?
HOLMES: We'll move on. We'll pick up with Elise later on.
Now, we've got some new video. Ben Wedeman, who we've been talking to, our bureau chief in Cairo has sent us some new video. I want to walk through this. This is something we were talking about, Ben said he had been witnessing this before.
This is actually the ruling party headquarters on fire. This, when you think about the rule of Hosni Mubarak and his party over the last three decades, is unbelievable that protesters have gotten in there, clearly looted the place and set it on fire. It almost defies belief, and long-time watchers of Egypt like Ben Wedeman are simply stunned that this sort of scene is taking place.
BALDWIN: Sure. Obviously, these demonstrators have been talking for days about, you know, down with Hosni Mubarak, and they are hoping these very symbolic images translate to reality.
HOLMES: Yes. Yes. We'll keep an eye on that. That's amazing pictures. Just for those of us who have covered that region for a while.
BALDWIN: You've been there, you've seen it.
HOLMES: Yes, absolutely. I'm just stunned to see this.
All right, stay with us. Up next, we'll speak with American tourists who are in Cairo right now. They captured some of the intense video that we've been showing you of the violence, do stick around.
BALDWIN: You know, we're awaiting a lot of these images of Egypt from our crews on the ground in Egypt as well, but we're getting a lot of images from you, our iReporters, who are sending you these images of unrest.
HOLMES: How the world has changed.
BALDWIN: How the world has changed, thanks to cell phone video. Take a look at this. This was shot by two Americans, Heather and her father George. They asked us not to use their last names, so we will not. They're in Cairo.
And look at this. They were on holiday when the violence broke out and so, George is the one shot this video. This is the Qasr El Nile Bridge on the eastern side of the Nile.
You can see hundreds of protesters crossing the bridge. It looks like two perhaps army trucks in the middle. There are shots fired. Tear gas as well, and they said that protesters were throwing some of the canisters back at police and Heather and her father George are joining me by phone.
And, first, I just want to begin with: are you safe right now? And secondly, what was it like to see this in person?
HEATHER, AMERICAN TOURIST IN CAIRO (via telephone): Yes, absolutely we're safe. There's an immense amount of security around our hotel. There are metal detectors. There are tons of security guards.
We feel pretty safe. It was amazing and very scary to see the second part of the protest. When you're seeing is the first part that started earlier in the afternoon, and the second wave came at about 4:30 or 5:00, and there were like tens of thousands of people just coming over that bridge.
BALDWIN: It's amazing. Hundreds of people. There you are on vacation. What are you doing now? Are you staying holed up in your hotel?
HEATHER: Yes. We've been pretty much restricted to the top fourth floor and above of our hotel. No one is really allowed outside and the elevators won't go below the fourth floor.
BALDWIN: That's interesting.
BALDWIN: So, when you say you're restricted, who's restricting you?
HEATHER: There are security guards at the front door and on the first floor. The entire first floor and second floor were blacked out for a couple of hours, and all the restaurants were closed.
GEORGE, AMERICAN TOURIST IN CAIRO (via telephone): All the restaurants were closed.
BALDWIN: George, go ahead and jump in and tell me -- have you been able to be in touch, you know, with friends or family members back home? Is the Internet -- I know a lot of that has been blocked within Egypt. Have you had any success communicating?
GEORGE: Actually, we've been very lucky. We've been able to get on Net and we've got Skype and we can call friends and we can e-mail and IM friends at home. So, it works out very well for us. So, they know the situation. BALDWIN: Have you ever been in Egypt before?
GEORGE: No. This is our first time, for both of us.
BALDWIN: How many days have you been there?
GEORGE: This is our third day?
HEATHER: Yes. We actually arrived here on Tuesday night or Wednesday night, after everything had been going on. We actually got stopped at the airport. We held our stuff (ph) at the airport because there were protesters along the street as we were coming into our hotel.
BALDWIN: I know that it is about 11:30 your time there in Egypt. And just tell me, do you hear anything? Are the streets fairly quiet right now where you are?
GEORGE: Yes. It seems like it's quieting down some. The bridge that we can see now is -- it's mostly empty. There's -- there are some people walking, but it's almost no traffic at all. No car traffic at all really, and just the general surrounding is fairly quiet.
BALDWIN: So, what's next for you? Two Americans stuck in Egypt restricted to the top floors of your hotel. Can you go home?
HEATHER: Well, we're actually not slated to go home until next Saturday. So, we're hoping we'll get out to the rest of our tours, but we kind of have to wait and see until tomorrow and the next couple of days.
BALDWIN: What other images, if you can -- we're still looking at this video you shot over the bridge. But share with me any other images that you've seen if and when you're able to get out on the streets in these past few days.
HEATHER: We actually got up to about the 18th floor of our hotel in the back is a perfect view to El Tahrir Square, and you could see the protesters never actually got all the way into the square, but they got close.
GEORGE: What we saw anyway. I think they actually did now.
HEATHER: Yes. But they were throwing like flames, Molotov cocktails. There were explosions like tear gas canisters, fires were everywhere.
GEORGE: Possibly Molotov cocktails. They exploded pretty quickly.
BALDWIN: I mean, I know you have to sort of keep a light mood. But looking at these images here, just for us, you know, looking at them on the television, it's quite a different thing than experiencing it in person. I imagine it's quite frightening. HEATHER: Yes. The most frightening part was the later protests, seeing all the people coming across the bridge and then wondering where they were going to go because the next street available is the street that goes right in front of our hotel and wondering if they were going to, you know, be able to come in or not, or whether they were going to be dispersed.
GEORGE: The most frightening part was probably when we saw fires erupting in certain places and then we kind of wondered if we should pack a bag and ready (INAUDIBLE).
BALDWIN: Well, what a vacation to both of you. Heather and George, stay safe. Do me a favor. If you're stuck there and you have a pretty nice view from your hotel room, continue to send us those iReports. Thank you so much.
HOLMES: That's a heck of a way to spend your vacation, that's for sure.
BALDWIN: I know, right.
HOLMES: I was talking to a friend actually about a week and a half ago, and she said to me, shall I go to Egypt? Is it safe? I said, it's fine, great, wonderful. This week, a little different.
BALDWIN: Days later, change of scenery.
HOLMES: Yes. One of our reporters on the ground there is Fred Pleitgen. He's been out and about. He's in Cairo.
Fred, we sort of ascertained that at 11:00, things have quieted down a little bit. You've been out and about. I'm interested in what feedback you were getting on people from the ground about the legs of this movement, that they are going to be back to recall. Are they going to be back the next day?
FREDRIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly what they were telling me, Michael. It was really amazing to see, because we were out and about really at the times when all of this was going down, when people were getting tear-gassed, when people were getting beat up. We were on the front lines with them and they said that they're not going to back down. They said now is the time for them to see this through.
It was interesting to see a lot of them felt that this was the first time that they really thought the Egyptian security forces were not invincible, that there was really something changing here on the ground, and that, of course, if you will, got even more boost with the military movement. All of a sudden, the police had disappeared.
I mean, you heard from Ben before that the party -- that the headquarters of the national party was on fire. It's since then been looted. We've been seeing cars going across the street that are packed with office chairs, where people have just taken stuff out of that headquarters.
And so, there seems to be an air of people believing they had one significant victory on the street.
HOLMES: Is there a sense, Fred, that you talk about the looting. I'm interested whether there's a sense there of chaos now? Or is the army keeping some partial lid, particularly on government institutions?
PLEITGEN: Well -- I mean, right now, there's simply no security forces on the ground to stop anything like looting. So, right now, there are some places here in Cairo that are very difficult to get around, where there are some pretty nasty people on the ground as well. Other places are fairly peaceful. Every where the army is, it's fairly peaceful.
It really seems the army coming in here has in many places diffused the situation, has really caused a whole different sentiment among the people. And one of the things that was very interesting, one man that I spoke to on the ground was telling me, he said that he believes that this is Egypt's revolution, but that the revolution is not finished yet, and he says it could still go either way. But certainly there is an air among the people that I've been speaking to that this is something, a very pivotal moment in their country that they are witnessing right now and that -- and that is happening possibly this night, Michael.
HOLMES: You know, Fred, the crucial thing, of course, is what does Hosni Mubarak do next? And, you know, this started off in other countries, too, things being about things like poverty, the economy, unemployment, education, things like that.
Have you seen it more from demands for that to now they are saying, "Well, actually no, the regime has got to go"?
You know, I'm just wondering if it's crossed that Rubicon from making demands that the government could give into as opposed to now, no, it's on. It's all or nothing.
PLEITGEN: Well, it was interesting to see because some of the people that we were talking to told us that they didn't necessarily want President Mubarak to step down, but they did say they wanted fundamental change. People were telling me again and again that, as you said, there are no jobs. It's very difficult to find employment. Many of them were also speaking of social injustice. One man told me, all we want is a little bit of love.
Now, there were, of course, other people who were very adamant about the fact that President Mubarak must step down, that they felt that there was a fundamental change that had to happen and it had to happen right now, and they were very vocal about this as well.
So, certainly, it is those fundamental problems that you saw in places like Tunisia as well, a lack of opportunity, a lack of social opportunity, a lack of social freedom, of course. This is a very repressive police state. And people are just telling me they are absolutely fed up with their situation because they also just feel that they're way behind their possibilities, way behind what they could be, and they feel that now is the time where they have to go and fight for this.
And the other thing that we've been talking about so much, Michael, is we've been saying that so many people come from all walks of life here, but it's really interesting to see the amount of people who are very, very young, who are participating in these demonstrations, who are very well-educated, who have a lot of knowledge politically, who will tell you a lot of things about world politics, how all of this plays into world politics, how important Egypt is in politics in this region and in world politics. And these are the people who are going on the street and who are -- who were, for the better part of the day, fighting it out with the police forces and then, of course, sort of making up with the military when they rolled at least into our part of town right here, Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, and as you say and as Tim (ph) was discussing with me earlier, too, this is now a section of the community in Egypt who no longer fear a security apparatus that kept them under the thumb for so many years. Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much.
Now, we've been talking to Ben Wedeman, one of our other correspondents on the ground there. We're going to get the back story from Ben Wedeman, from the show I host on CNN International, which isn't running today because of these developments, but we're going to give you Ben's back story anyways. Stick around.
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WEDEMAN: Because, of course, communications are down everywhere. It's very hard to determine the scope of protests around the city. But certainly, this one in front of the Ministry of Information is something I never thought would I see.
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BALDWIN: Well, here we are quarter until midnight Egypt time, and you can see some of these pictures of the streets. This is still now day four of these demonstrations. The tone is very much so ratcheted up from once wanting reform to wanting their president, 82- year-old Hosni Mubarak, who's as been their own country's leader for 30 years. They want him out.
The military now on the scene today to try to quell some of these protesters, and still, as we heard from the White House briefing, according to White House Secretary Robert Gibbs, still no phone call made between President Hosni Mubarak and President Barack Obama.
HOLMES: Yes, that's right. Wow. It was extraordinary.
There's all sorts of things happening on the ground there, and we're across all of them.
Now, during what was a very eventful day today for CNN's Ben Wedeman, our bureau chief in Cairo, he and camerawoman Mary Rogers (ph) were out and about all day having a look at all the dramatic moments as they unfolded.
Now, what we do on my program on CNN International "BackStory," is we look behind the scenes of what people are doing in the field, taking a different look at it. That's for the benefit of those watching us in the United States.
Now, Ben sent us in a piece that we were going to run on "BackStory," which is now preempted because of these developments, but it's great stuff, and we wanted you to see it.
WEDEMAN: In one of the hotels, the five-star hotels just down the street from us -- I'm sorry, Hala, this, tear gas is getting to us here -- the security is confiscating the cameras of tourists. Of course, for a country that depends so much on tourism, for this sort of heavy-handed tactic to be used against the people who are a major source of income for this country is also a worrying development, to say the least.
The Internet has been cut. Cell phones have been cut. You can't send an SMS, and the only way to communicate is via landline.
At about 1:00 local time the crew, Mary Rogers (ph), Tommy Evans (ph) and I, were right off Tahrir Square when we were between a group of protesters and a very large group of policemen, plain clothed and otherwise. And they sort of -- about 12 of them gathered around us, threatening to beat us with their clubs and sticks, and, you know, they wanted to take the camera.
We struggled with them to keep the camera, but they broke it. They broke it and then just took it away.
Now, I have spoken with the head of the State Information Service Ismail Khairat, who is a senior Egyptian official, and I said, "Do you have any comment upon the repeated incidents that we know of, of journalists being attacked and their equipment broken by police?" And he said, "No comment."
Here, if we go pan back on to the bridge, you can see hundreds of people still trying to get to Tahrir Square. Tahrir, of course, the liberation. Many Egyptians saying they want to be liberated from this government that certainly has shown that it has some very sharp fangs.
On the right-hand side of the road down there is what looks like an army vehicle. What we saw just a little while ago were two other army armored personnel carriers full of soldiers. But if the army has been brought into play, that is quite significant.
But, in the meantime, if we just pan the camera over to the bridge, that's the 6th October Bridge, the main bridge coming into the heart of Cairo. What you see is, on the right-hand side, hundreds of protesters who have been trying to reach the heart of the city. They are being driven back by an armored personnel carrier that looks like it's just been hit by a Molotov cocktail. You see the fire rising above it, and now the crowd is running through the tear gas, going through the direction of that armored personnel carrier.
It's been a battle back and forth. Now you see that truck is retreating and another Molotov cocktail being thrown at it. It appears that this is nothing short of a battle in this city between the government and thousands and thousands of unhappy Egyptians.
I can tell you I heard what sounded like several live rounds being fired on that bridge in the direction of the protesters. And when live rounds comes out, it means that the situation is escalating seriously.
It looks like the crowd on this bridge behind me is getting bigger and bigger despite the tear gas that's being fired in some profusion here.
OK. Dramatic developments here. What you're seeing is dozens of trucks full of riot police seem to be -- seem to be leaving the heart of the city.
There are three armored personnel carriers with turrets on top that have moved in front of the Ministry of Information and the television building. It's not at all clear what is happening, but it appears they are pulling the riot police out of the lines of confrontation in the middle of the city.
OK. What you're seeing is the riot police are slowly moving back. The demonstrators are moving forward.
What's interesting, there's a soldier amongst the demonstrators. He's not stopping anybody, but nobody is harassing him. The soldiers are trying to calm the crowd down, but the crowd is just moving forward.
I can't make out what they're chanting, but they're moving forward. We have -- oh, freedom. And that's what they're chanting.
And they're moving toward the Ministry of Information. Now the police are firing tear gas back at them, but the protesters are throwing rocks, and they don't seem to be driven back by that.
BALDWIN: We are just a couple of minutes away from "THE SITUATION ROOM." And as we always do, we check in with Wolf Blitzer in Washington for a preview -- and certainly they will continue all this coverage -- of what is developing there.
Look at these pictures in Egypt.
And Wolf, are you with me? WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I'm there, Brooke. I'm here, actually, today. How you doing?
BALDWIN: I'm doing well.
I want to begin, because I know you were sitting there, as were we, listening and watching Robert Gibbs for the better part of an hour sort of dodging questions. You know, on a day like today, I'd hate to be the White House press secretary. And bottom line, he was very careful with the words he chose and he was very much so not taking a side.
BLITZER: Yes. These are really, really sensitive moments right now, not just in terms of U.S./Egyptian relations, or anything like that, but in terms of the entire Middle East.
It reminds me back in 1978, 1979, the toppling of the Shah of Iran. He, too, was a close U.S. ally, although severely flawed, very unpopular. And all of a sudden, there was a revolution in Iran and we know what happened -- 440 days of Americans held hostage in Iran, eventually leading to the ayatollahs. And they have been in business now for 30 years.
Potentially, this is one of those moments in Egypt, the largest of all of the Arab countries, 80 million people, the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, a strategic military partner of the United States, in control of the Suez Control, so it's so important right now what's going on. We don't know if Mubarak, the president of Egypt, goes down, what will follow. It's anyone's guess at this point, and that's why the White House is as cautious and as careful as possible.
Over the next two hours here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" we're going to be live in Cairo, in Alexandria, elsewhere in Egypt. We've got all of our best reporters and analysts and guests coming in to dissect what's going on. And we expect -- we fully are bracing for some dramatic new developments over the next two hours, so we'll be all over this story -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Of course, you will, Wolf. We'll look to you to see this thing through for the next two hours. Wolf, thank you.
Mike, to you.
HOLMES: All right. Yes, we're going to continue our coverage after this short break. We had an interesting chat earlier with Nasser Weddady, and we're going to have him back for a closing thought.
Do stick around.
BALDWIN: In the final two minutes we want to go back to Nasser Weddady from the American Islamic Congress, live in Washington.
And Nasser, I mean, what do you make of all of this here? And a point someone made earlier from Washington, the fact that it's possible that the Obama administration would have to potentially back a possible democracy or alienate Mubarak if he stays in power.
WEDDADY,: Actually, most importantly, what is really here at stake is that the Obama administration has its hands on an historic opportunity to have an indigenous democracy that came out of the Middle East, as is happening in Tunisia, that door basically opened by the struggle and the courage of the Tunisian people. Indigenous democracy coming out of the ground, no military invasions required. And as many of my friends online would say, keep the change, keep your bullets, let us sort our own mess.
Democracy is the only way out, and the big really change in that, what this proved so far, is that this duality of hell, as many people call it, between either repressive regimes or theocratic groups, has been blown out of the water. Clearly, democracy is the third way.
The people of Egypt, the people of Tunisia and the people of the Middle East and North Africa want democracy and freedom. Let them have it. Don't impose on them these geriatric dictators. Their time -- they just run out of their course, and the same as that duality between dictatorship and Islamism, which is a very obsolete 20th century idea.
BALDWIN: Sure. Nasser Weddady, thank you so much for sticking around the whole hour.
And perhaps that is democracy, what a lot of these people want. And we don't know how long that momentum will last and how long they will be on the streets, but we'll be watching it.
Nasser, thank you so much.
Michael Holmes, my anchor buddy from CNN International --
HOLMES: Good to be with you.
BALDWIN: -- thank you so, so much.
And now we go to Washington, Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.