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Crisis in Egypt

Aired January 29, 2011 - 21:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay in Atlanta at CNN world headquarters.

We want to bring up some live pictures for you from Cairo where it is now 4:00 in the morning. Relative calm settled over Egypt with nightfall. But in the midst of the dark, there are increasing fears of anarchy and uncertainty over Egypt's future. Tens of thousands stormed the streets earlier today, and many of them peaceful, but some burning and looting police stations and other businesses.

We're seeing but cannot confirm reports that put the death toll now at 102. It's clear today's outrage was caused by President Hosni Mubarak's unwillingness to step down. Instead, what we saw was embattled leader firing his cabinet and appointing his intelligence head Omar Suleiman as his deputy or second in command.

Right here, we're hearing complaints from many Egyptians about no police and no security. In fact, Nile TV is reporting that 1,000 prisoners made a deadly escape from a prison near Cairo.

Another worry to tell you about: looters. Residents around Cairo put up barricades and are standing guard to defend their own homes with bats and kitchen knifes.

Well, events in Cairo unfolded rapidly throughout this historic day.

Let's go straight to Ivan Watson who's been in the streets with the protesters.

Ivan, bring us up to speed with what's happening right now. And given me some perspective on this curfew, how well it was observed.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty sleepy right now because it's 4:00 a.m. here and the streets are pretty quiet. There is a presence of Egyptian troops and tanks out in the streets. But they're not even really rolling around and patrolling anymore, Isha.

But what's really remarkable, I thought kind of driving after making a red eye flight to Cairo Saturday morning was seeing almost empty streets in the morning and then pockets of people standing in front of the burnt out shells of police stations and of police transport vehicles, and people snapping souvenir photos of each other in front of them. And then as the day progressed, larger and larger crowds gathering, chanting "Down with Mubarak" and embracing these very soldiers, the army troops, that had been brought out where the police had disappeared basically. We haven't seen hardly any presence of police.

So, you had crowds of as many as 40, 50 people riding around on tanks, offering tea, cigarettes to the soldiers saying, we are one and the same.

But in addition to these festive scenes, scenes of violence, bloody clashes just a few blocks away outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry where we saw demonstrators throwing rocks trying to actually storm that building and being fired upon with some kind of bird shot type of plastic bullet, things that were hitting a number of young men and we saw them being treated in the streets in makeshift first aid stations.

So, scenes of jubilation and more signs of unrest as well and we know that some of those clashes were also taking place in other cities around Egypt, Alexandria well -- Isha.

SESAY: Ivan, we're getting reports of looting and many descriptions of people feeling threatened. We've been able to get a handle on who's actually carrying out these acts of violence. What are people saying?

WATSON: Well, that's very difficult to tell whether this is opportunistic or this is organized. But, definitely, in addition to the burned out police stations I saw, I also saw grocery stores, ordinary shops, their protected metal enclosures have been broken open and looted and people gathered outside.

At one point, a man came up to me and he said, this is a disaster. The police have disappeared overnight. Who is even protecting even the embassies from any common robber. Who can I turn to for help?

And there is a feeling of people being unsettled and fearful that some of the scenes of destruction of the symbols of the old regime here such as the National Democratic Party headquarters, which is still smoldering, that that could lead to further anarchy and unrest -- Isha.

SESAY: Ivan Watson with the very latest from Cairo -- Ivan, thank you as always.

Wolf, Ivan painting a picture of rapidly developing situation there in Egypt and, clearly, a lot of fear on the streets of Egypt right now.

BLITZER: Like all of our reporters, he's doing an absolutely fabulous job reporting a dangerous, difficult story -- a story of such enormous magnitude sometimes boils down to something very, very personal.

Earlier tonight CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman talked about the protests in Egypt not so much as a reporter but as a husband and as a father. He's deeply worried about his own family's safety in the face of looting and vigilante justice. He's lost his voice reporting from Egypt, so we'll listen to him from earlier in the day talking about his deep concern over security in the absence of police protection.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): We basically have to figure out how to protect our neighborhood, and like so many other places, neighbors got together and said we've got to do what we can because nobody else is doing it. What happened was that when the army came into Cairo, the police started pulling out. And as the police started pulling out, people attacked police stations because the Egyptian police are widely hated for corruption, brutality, torture. And once the police left those police stations, people went in and started stealing the weapons from inside and other weapons in the hands of all sorts of people.

My wife, in fact, called me to say that she saw in our neighborhood a group of men who wrapped scarves around their faces and were walking around with AK-47s. So, it's this sort of specter of chaos that, you know, had me most of the day not working as a journalist, just trying to make phone calls and figure out how I can ensure the safety of my family. So, I wasn't on air for quite a while just trying to figure out what to do.


SESAY: CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman there.

And, Wolf, clearly it's a difficult time for people like Ben who have family there on the ground and who are trying to tell this incredibly complex and difficult story.

BLITZER: Yes, it's amazing. It's -- you know, and I -- my heart goes out to all of the people in Egypt right now, journalists, non- journalists. This is a story that does have a powerful human dimension beyond all the strategic importance and all of that.

But on a human level, there are people dying right now on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and that's got to stop.

SESAY: Yes, it has, because -- let's tell you about the situation in Alexandria. In that port city, what started as relatively calm protests grew much more intense.

CNN senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has been in the thick of things on the ground there.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's almost getting to be nightfall here in Alexandria now. The people are very clear in what they're saying. They want President Mubarak to go. They said, if he got any honor and dignity, then leave. And they're also saying, if you want to leave, then go to Saudi Arabia. It's waiting for you.

This is the message the people are saying.

I'm making a report right now.


ROBERTSON: Yes. We're making a video report right now. What do you want to say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to say that in his speech, he said, I will stay.



ROBERTSON: So, you think he's going to stay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's challenging us and we're challenging him. He cannot have a curfew. We are staying here.

ROBERTSON: So, you're hearing it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not the president anymore.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

So, you're hearing it from the streets right here. He's challenged the people by saying he'll stay --


ROBERTSON: This man is telling me --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to calm us down.

ROBERTSON: He wants to calm you down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By saying that he will stay.

ROBERTSON: By saying that he will stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not calming us down.

ROBERTSON: That's not calming you down.

And that's what we're seeing here. People are angry and they're saying right now that he must go.


BLITZER: As the protesters make their voices heard opportunists are seizing their chance to strike. Looters in Cairo continue to hit shops and businesses after sunset, abandoned police stations were picked clean of weapons. The Egyptian army forces deployed to Cairo's city center, replacing the national police who seemed to have simply vanished.

While we have pictures of museum obviously struck by looters, we are also getting reports of both army tanks and members of the community circling the famed Egyptian museum, home to King Tut and other relics of Egypt's storied past.

SESAY: Egypt's revolt is playing out for all the world to see, but it isn't the only hot spot in the Arab world. We'll tell you about some others right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want Mubarak to get out. Get out, Mubarak. Get out of Egypt. We don't -- we don't need you. We don't -- we don't want you in Egypt. Get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Mubarak! No Mubarak! No Mubarak!



BLITZER: Hi. This is video that's just coming in to CNN from state- run Nile TV in Egypt. And, as you can see, the streets were quiet late Saturday night. It's now early Sunday morning. We're getting reports from the "Reuters" news agency, by the way, that they have now spoken to Mohamed ElBaradei who says he is not -- repeat, not -- under house arrest. He expects the situation to escalate.

Mohamed ElBaradei won a Nobel Peace Prize. He's the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He's an Egyptian. He's back in Egypt now. He's among those in favor of the demonstrations against President Mubarak.

This is clearly a historic moment in Egypt, events unfolding so quickly it's difficult to keep up with all of them. But Egypt is just one country in the Arab world undergoing political upheaval right now.

Let's discuss what's going on with national security contributor, Fran Townsend, who used to be President Bush's homeland security adviser. Also, Shibley Telhami is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, also professor, the Anwar Sadat professor, in fact, of University of Maryland. And Elise Labott, CNN senior State Department producer.

To all to you, thanks very much for coming in.

Elise, let me just get your reaction because there was a strong statement issued from the leaders of Britain, France and Germany -- David Cameron, the British prime minister, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And they said -- among other things, they said, "The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and a longing for a just and better future. We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and free and fair elections." To me that statement goes beyond what the Obama administration has been saying, specifically the words of "a process of transformation." It sounds like they are calling on him almost to step down.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Well, I would say a two- pronged statement there, Wolf, because part of the rest of the statement was that we recognize the moderating role that Hosni Mubarak played in the Middle East peace process and we ask him to use that moderation now in addressing the needs of his people. And I think it, really, if you take that along with the comments of President Obama yesterday, Secretary Clinton, it really reiterates the tightrope that these powers are walking right now.

On one hand, they want to be on the right side of history. They want to support the aspirations of the Egyptian people. They're just riveted by what's going on.

At the same time, the cold reality is that these countries also need to protect their interests. Hosni Mubarak is a very critical ally to the U.S. and to Europe, and these are the powers of Europe just like Hosni Mubarak is the power of the Middle East. And they need to work with him if the event that he does stay, they don't want to alienate him.

And if he does leave, they're concerned about a vacuum. They're concerned about who comes next. So, they're really trying to walk this tightrope right now and I think those are kind of measured statements if you will, Wolf.

BLITZER: If he steps down, Shibley, let's say he decides tomorrow, you know what, I'm 82 years old. I've been in power 30 years, I'm ready to retire. Let someone else have that responsibility -- can he stay in Egypt or does he have to flee and go -- you know the Arab world. Does he have to go to Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi or someplace else?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, SABAN CENTER: Well, you know, it obviously depends on what follows. I can't imagine doing that unless the vice president, in this case, the one just appointed, Omar Suleiman, becomes president and they announce that this is a transitional government and they'll have elections anyway. In that case, my own sense is he probably would leave Egypt. It would be very uncomfortable for him to stay there. He might test it out a little bit but that might be my guess.

Now, we haven't gotten to that point. It's clear that he's way behind the tune (ph) in the streets. He's not leading it very well. He's really started losing touch with his people.

I would argue in the 1990s, certainly in the past decade, the one event that really affected the way he behaved and the way he structured Egypt was the assassination attempt in 1995. He started relying on the security services, being very insecure, and went into more of a separation --

BLITZER: An assassination attempt. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Omar Suleiman basically saved his life at that time.

TELHAMI: No question.

BLITZER: But there are widespread reports as you know, Shibley, that his son, Gamal, already has fled Egypt. His wife, Mrs. Mubarak, already fled Egypt.

Do you know anything about that? Because these are reports -- I haven't confirmed them.

TELHAMI: I've seen the reports. And, you know, obviously, you're going to have these rumors one way or the other. They could be true. They could be untrue.

You can imagine we're talking about the role of narratives. Everyone wants to tell you time is on their side. They're winning and they're losing. We're going to have this kind of thing where the government are going to say we're stable and those people who want to overthrow it are going to say it's not.

But I want to say something about the Obama administration that you started talking about. Let's put it this way. Obviously, it has to be on the side of the people, no question about that. When it comes to democracy, freedom, we have to be on the right side and the president is saying the right thing on that.

We cannot make this about America. This isn't about America. You know, the Bush administration tried. It failed.

Tunisia worked. It wasn't about America.

We can't be a big (INAUDIBLE) you know, we think when we asked what should the president do -- well, I'm sorry. We're not going to decide who the next president of Egypt is going to be.

It's out of our control. Even if we try, we don't do it. We haven't been good at engineering it. Let's keep our perspective.

BLITZER: The U.S. has a limited capability in affecting the street in Egypt, I think it's fair to say. But if you were still advising a president as you used to advise President Bush. But let's see you're advising President Obama right now, Fran, what would you tell him?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is true -- this is about the people of Egypt. This is not about the United States. But let's remember, we also subsidized the Egyptian military with over $1 billion of aid every year.

BLITZER: Almost $2 billion.

TOWNSEND: So, it's not without levers. And we have tremendous, tremendous leverage.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. cut off that military subsidies (ph)?

TOWNSEND: Well, the White House made perfectly clear they're reviewing that now. I mean, I think -- you know, the interesting point now, there has not been any positive development post-President Obama's statement last night. Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton is going to go on the Sunday shows, she's going to be here with Candy Crowley on "THE STATE OF THE UNION."

The pressure is going to mount for her to make a stronger statement. She can't just hold the line.

BLITZER: Are the Europeans going further than the United States with this statement that they issued?

TOWNSEND: I tend to agree with you. I think that they have gone a little bit further, which only adds to the pressure Secretary Clinton will be under tomorrow when she's on the Sunday shows and there will be a lot of scrambling within the administration to prepare her very carefully for what she says tomorrow.

BLITZER: The "Reuters" news agency, Shibley, and I'll let you react to this, now also threatening to reduce aid to Egypt. There are 80 million people there. Germany is threatening to reduce aid. There are 80 million people there. It's a pretty poor country.

TELHAMI: Yes. I don't think any of that is going to be a major factor in what's happening on the ground. The public is doing what it's going to do. The government is fighting for its survival. Aid or no aid in the short term, they're going to have to behave in whichever way they're going to have to survive. So, all that, I think, is just, you know, kind of external. We're arguing among ourselves. The Europeans are among arguing among themselves.

When we say there's political pressure on the secretary of state, it's primarily here. You know, in the Arab world, yes, sure, you might find some democracy advocates who would say, I'd like to hear more support. But you also the conspiracy theorists who are saying the U.S. is trying to engineer its own outcome in Egypt.

So, let's keep -- I say -- let's keep some perspective. It's not about us. Let's not make it about us.

BLITZER: Let's keep it humble.

TELHAMI: Let's keep it humble.

OK. Shibley Telhami, thanks very much. Fran Townsend, thanks to you. Elise Labott, our senior State Department producer as well.

Isha, this is a story that is moving very, very rapidly. I suspect over the next 24 hours there will be some more very dramatic developments.

SESAY: Yes, there certainly will be. And we want to bring up here some exclusive interview we did earlier on here on CNN. The Egyptian ambassador to the United States went from hourly contact with the White House and his own government on Friday to what you might call radio silence today, all as he worries for his own family's safety. He speaks to CNN exclusively next.


BLITZER: We have been focusing most of our attention inside Egypt as we cover this crisis. But earlier, we had a unique opportunity to get some valuable perspective from the country's ambassador right here on CNN.

I spoke with Sameh Shoukry just a little while ago about the pace and the intensity of what's going on in his country as well, as the outlook ahead.


BLITZER: A lot of us are shocked by what we're seeing, especially those of us who have been to Egypt in many occasions. You've lived there your whole life. Are you stunned by what has happened so quickly?

SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: It is a development, but Egypt is an important part of the Arab world. Its importance rests in the strength of its population and their resourcefulness and their ability to overcome difficulties.

BLITZER: You have loved ones, family members in Cairo and elsewhere. What are they saying to you?

SHOUKRY: Well, there is, of course, a sense of crisis. They are all concerned about their country. They are all loyal and loving of Egypt, and want to see Egypt and the best possible of light and, of course, there is the security dimension. Most people have taken the responsibility upon themselves.

Among them my younger son who has joined the neighborhood watch who was protecting private property.

BLITZER: What is he saying to you, your son?

SHOUKRY: He is saying that there is a great deal of solidarity among his neighbors.

BLITZER: But they're afraid of what?

SHOUKRY: They are afraid -- there have been reports of vandalism, of looting, of attacks on private property. And they are banding together to protect each other.

BLITZER: But they don't have guns. They have -- maybe they have some knives --

SHOUKRY: I think they are resorting to their numbers. They're resorting to their ingenuity, and to their ability to fend off any attacks. Most of these attacks have been sporadic, have been isolated, have been perpetrated by some hooligans, some criminals. And when they see resistance, they have tended to not face the confrontation.

BLITZER: Mubarak has been in power for 30 years. He's never allowed a vice president to emerge. But today, he names Omar Suleiman, a man you know, as the new vice president. What does that mean now that he has finally decided at age 82 to allow Egypt to have a vice president?

SHOUKRY: The demonstrators, I think, have indicated their concern related to the future and this comes as one of many steps I'm sure that will be taken to reassure the public in terms of the ability to -- Egypt's institutions to continue to operate and to continue to provide the -- by the government and its -- the personnel who need it, the leadership and the capability to fulfill the aspirations of the people.

BLITZER: Can we now assume in advance of elections if something were to happen to President Mubarak, if he decided to step down or flee or do whatever, that Omar Suleiman would then emerge as the next president of Egypt?

SHOUKRY: Constitutionally, if the president is incapacitated or leaves office, the presidency, in a temporary manner, is transferred to the speaker of parliament, who is under obligation by law to conduct elections within 60 days to elect a new president.

BLITZER: Do you think he would be more acceptable to the people who are demonstrating on the street than President Mubarak is?

SHOUKRY: Well, he -- like I say, I think he is held in high regard. He has a lot of personal credibility and capabilities. And I'm sure he's recognized for that. And in many quarters, he is held in high esteem.

BLITZER: The key to what happens in Egypt, a lot of experts have suggested is what the Egyptian military winds up doing. Will they stay loyal to Mubarak or move to the people on the streets? What's your assessment?

SHOUKRY: The Egyptian military has always been the safety for Egypt. It protects its citizens. It protects its borders, and it is held in high regard and esteem. It is a professional force that has always demonstrated its ability in the time of crisis to create stability and provide welfare for the Egyptian people.

BLITZER: If Mubarak loses the confidence of the military, it's over for him.

SHOUKRY: The military is an important aspect of Egypt and Egyptian politics, and it is necessary, of course, of such an important institution to have a role in the formulation of Egypt.

BLITZER: This is a real crisis that's unfolding and lives are at stake as we all know. And we wish your family, obviously, safety in Egypt as well. Thank you for coming in. SHOUKRY: Thank you.


BLITZER: I can't tell you, Isha, how many people are tweeting me or sending me e-mails, getting in touch with me. They're so worried about loved ones in Egypt right now, family members. It's a source of great concern. Right now, still the middle of the night over there. It'll be daylight soon, but there's a lot of deep concern because the uncertainty is widespread.

SESAY: Yes, no, it certainly is. We know and we have been reporting that people in various neighborhoods having to take matters into their own hands to protect their possessions, protect their beings (ph) as people head into the streets to (ph) cause (ph) instability and to loot.

Well, as we approach the dawn of what everyone expects will be day six of protests in Egypt, this is what we know. A curfew is in place, and it is relatively calm in Egypt right now. But earlier today, these were the scenes. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Much of it was peaceful. There was also looting at police stations and at some people's homes. Hospital authorities in Alexandria tell CNN at least 31 people have been killed. Earlier, the state-run Nile TV reported 38 people had died.

Well, what is starting to look like anarchy in the streets has some Egyptians resorting to vigilante justice. In the absence of police protection, citizens are now arming themselves with sticks and knives to protect their homes and belongings. In the midst of the chaos, Egypt's state-run Nile TV reported tonight about 1,000 -- 1,000 inmates escaped from a prison outside Cairo.

The Mubarak government is holding firm for now, the president appointing his long-time intelligence chief as his deputy, a first for his government, Wolf, a major development today.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a huge development. For 30 years, there was no vice president in Egypt. Now, all of a sudden, today, there is a vice president. We'll see how that unfolds.

As Egyptians cry out for freedom, they now live with the fear of lawlessness. Residents are arming themselves with bats and knives. We'll speak with one woman in Cairo who witnessed thugs plundering nearby homes.


SESAY: Many innocent bystanders are caught in the middle of Egypt's looting and chaos. Kareem Amer is in Cairo, where he says security is desperately need. He joins us now by phone. Kareem, it's my understanding that homes near you have been ransacked. Tell us more about that, what you've been seeing and hearing.

KAREEM AMER, CAIRO RESIDENT (via telephone): Hello?

SESAY: Kareem, if you can hear me...

AMER: Hello? Yes, can you hear me?

SESAY: It's Isha here. Hello, there.

AMER: I can hear you. I can hear you. I'm in Cairo right now, in the Heliopolis district, where -- which is traditionally a very safe district. We're 10 minutes walking from the president's house. But there's absolutely no safety in here whatsoever. We've been hearing gunshots left and right all night long.

And we've been here. The men of each household have come down and formed their own group militias, holding down security for every building, because we have loved ones upstairs. Women and children and elderly are sitting by. We don't have any police, and we keep hearing things in the street. So we've made our own little militias. Everyone is standing. People have brought down knives, people have brought down whatever they can find in their houses.

You have to understand, ma'am, we're not a traditionally armed and violent people as Egyptians. We don't carry guns usually. So we are not prepared for this.

And the police is nowhere to be found. The military is nowhere to be found. And we keep hearing reports of bandits coming loose. We heard from a nearby group of friends of ours that they captured a group of bandits. Five of them were in a car. They were escaped convicts. And they were able to capture them.

In another area also very close by, as well, we had a micro-bus that was ravaging through the area and shooting -- shooting guns in the air rapidly. And they were also captured by citizens who have taken justice into their own hands because, as you can see here, the state has completely failed us.

The regime has completely failed in being able to provide basic security. And one thing that Egyptians are now united on is this. Whether you are pro the protests or anti the protests, regardless, everybody has lost faith in the regime.

SESAY: Kareem...

AMER: The regime has shown that they cannot provide basic security. I am an Egyptian-American, but I stand proud today to be here in the streets protecting our homes as citizens until we see something.

SESAY: Kareem, let me jump in right there -- right there because before you go on, was that gunshots? Were those gunshots I heard just a short time ago as we started this conversation?

AMER: Yes. Those are gunshots in the distance and they keep coming, and there hasn't been one sign of anything stopping it. And it's quite alarming. I mean, people are -- we're trying to do our best here. We're not armed, but we are -- we've made blockades to stop cars from coming through. We -- people have made Molotov cocktails. We are waiting and trying to do what we can do. But the point is much more severe than this. There needs to be international pressure to do something about the situation. The situation cannot continue. We are sitting here and we're asking ourselves, as there's two hours left until the sun comes up, what will happen tomorrow? Will we wake up to an Egypt that is changed, that has finally become what all of our dreams and hopes and desires know and believe is our genuine right, or will it continue? Will we continue to live in a state of fear? That is our question, and that is the question I pose to you. And what will the world do? As an Egyptian-American I question myself, as well.

SESAY: Kareem, let me ask you this. As you have those dreams for the future of Egypt, what do those dreams look like? Describe that to me. What is it that you're looking for, you are demanding?

AMER: At this -- what am I personally demanding or what are the people demanding?

SESAY: You support the protests, is my understanding. So what is the collective desire right now, as you understand it?

AMER: Whether I support the protests or not is not the point. The point is that the regime has lost credibility. Regardless of whether you support the regime or not, the regime has lost credibility and the faith of the Egyptian people and the faith of the international community on every level. On every level.

So we have been put in a basic situation, and regardless whether you support the regime, what is being used right now are scare tactics to scare Egyptians into feeling that unless they support basic security in this country, they will be tormented. And that is what's happening. People are hiding in their homes. People are on the streets with knives. People are scared, and the government is leaving us to be scared like this because they want the people to succumb. They want people to feel that the only option is to follow the government, whether you like it or not.

SESAY: Let me ask you this final question, Kareem. Do you feel you and the street militia that you have formed will be enough to protect your families and your friends from any looters that may come into your neighborhood?

AMER: I mean, we have street militias at every corner, and different people have formed their own militias. We are not some organized united front, unfortunately. We're trying to do what we can do. We have crude weapons, but we know that we are not trained and -- we are not trained in any sort of weaponry (INAUDIBLE)

But what we do know is that we cannot stand by. We don't know what's happening in the country, and we have to provide protection for our families. This is what we've been reduced to. We're in a survival moment right now. And there's no sign from the government that anything will change.

SESAY: Kareem...

AMER: What are we supposed to do?

SESAY: ... unfortunately, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you for joining us from Cairo this evening.

Wolf, you hear from (ph) what sounds like a very, very tense time there in Cairo.

BLITZER: Scary stuff, indeed, Isha.

We're just getting this in from Reuters, the Reuters news agency. They've had a chance to speak with Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an Egyptian. He's one of the opposition leaders. He's now back in Egypt. Let's listen to what he's saying about all these demonstrations.


MOHAMED ELBARADEI, OPPOSITION LEADER: He obviously did not understand, you know, the message coming out from the Egyptian people. It was almost an insult to the intelligence of the Egyptian people to tell them that the only response, that I will have a new government. People know full well that he is in charge of every aspect of running the country. I hope he will understand the message before things will get ugly.


BLITZER: He's referring to Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt. He is firm in his denunciation of the Egyptian leader. That's Mohamed ElBaradei. He's one of the opposition leaders. Earlier, he also told Reuters that he is not -- repeat, not -- under house arrest. I assume he'll be out on the streets as the daylight begins in Cairo in the next few hours.

Meanwhile, dancing with leaders who rule with iron fists. For years, the U.S. has supported Egypt's Hosni Mubarak -- Democratic administrations, Republican administrations. Has President Obama now, though, decided to cut ties with him? Some answers up next.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights, and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.



SESAY: The uprising in Egypt has turned into relative calm with night, but the stakes remain high. There are no reliable reports about the overall death toll as a result of the protests. Hospital authorities in Alexandria tell CNN at least 31 people have been killed. Earlier, the state-run Nile TV reported 38 people had died. Well, this was the scene throughout Egypt earlier today, massive unrest. Tens of thousands of people were out swarming the streets. The protests grew more intense as President Hosni Mubarak clung to power.

Right now, the police have disappeared, leaving residents scrambling to protect their homes with bats and kitchen knives. The military dispatched by Mubarak did not interfere with the protests. But keep in mind, who the powerful army sides with -- Mubarak or the protesters -- remains key to the outcome of all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Isha. The U.S. government certainly has a long history of supporting directly or indirectly iron-fisted rulers or outright dictators. But now President Obama finds himself facing a very tough dilemma, offering moral support to the protesters in Egypt while struggling over what to do about Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

Let's discuss with Fran Townsend. She's a CNN national security contributor, former President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser. Also joining us Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born commentator and journalist.

In the best of all worlds, Mona, what would you want President Obama to do right now?

MONA ELTAHAWY, COLUMNIST, "ASHARQ AL-AWSAT": I would want President Obama to make it clear that he supports the people of Egypt because they represent the future of this uprising against a dictator of 30 years. But many...


BLITZER: Has he not done that yet?

ELTAHAWY: I have not heard that enough because I think President Obama has been trying to square a circle, and it's impossible to square that circle because President Obama is just the latest of U.S. presidents who have supported Hosni Mubarak at the cost of the freedom and dignity of Egyptian people!

But let me make something very clear. I don't want -- no one in Egypt wants America to rescue Egypt. Egyptian people will liberate themselves from the tyranny of Hosni Mubarak. We all opposed the invasion of Iraq in the name of democracy, and you see the shambles that happened after that invasion, thanks to President George Bush. We don't want to be invaded for the sake of democracy. We want to liberate our own country.

But we want our countries around the world to understand that their stability must never come at the price of our freedom and dignity. And when you mention people like Omar Suleiman and Hosni Mubarak, who are pillars of that stability for U.S. administrations -- they represent torture and rendition. They torture terrorism suspects for the U.S. administration! That's who the Egyptian people -- I heard the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. say Omar Suleiman is respected and highly regarded in Egypt. That's not true! Egyptians -- Egyptians uprising against Mubarak despise both Omar Suleiman and Hosni Mubarak because they represent torture. And Egyptians want freedom from human rights violations.

BLITZER: We're talking about Omar Suleiman, who was sworn in today by President Mubarak as the new vice president, the first time in 30 years there's been a vice president in Egypt.

Fran Townsend, you've met Omar Suleiman. He may not be respected by the protesters on the streets, but I know for a fact -- and maybe you've worked with him -- he's respected here in Washington by Bush administration and now Obama administration officials.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. And he's a well-known figure in Washington, and perhaps, more importantly, Wolf, throughout the region. There's no question leaders of the Palestinians, Israel, Saudi Arabia, throughout this region, know him, trust him and have relied on him. They seek his advice and his counsel in dealing with issues in the Middle East peace process. And so he is widely known and regarded throughout the region, and that will be important if there's a transition of power from Hosni Mubarak.

BLITZER: Mona, has this train left the station in Egypt? Is it only a matter of time before the demonstrators get what they want, or will the military step up and support President Mubarak and crush the demonstrators?

ELTAHAWY: Hosni Mubarak is finished. And the reason I say this is that it took four days for tens of thousands of Egyptians to bring to the knees a 30-year dictatorship. It took him four days to call the armed forces out in the streets and ask them to help him because his brutal security forces were not able to crush courageous Egyptians out in the streets who said "Enough" to Hosni Mubarak.

If it takes four days to make Mubarak's 30-year tyranny crumble, then I say Hosni Mubarak is finished. We are watching the Egyptian armed forces basically tell the Egyptian people, We understand your grievances. And Egyptians are hoping the armed forces listen to them and side with them and the future of Egypt and move out of the way when calm is established and allow for an interim government that is civilian.

Egyptians are sick and tired of being ruled by the military. Mubarak is from the military. Let me tell you one thing that will convey to your viewers especially in the U.S. what Mubarak recommends. Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981. Since that time, the United States has had five presidents. Egyptians are saying, Enough, we want change. And the armed forces recognize that, and I'm very glad they haven't opened fire on Egyptians. And I hope that they will be there to enjoy with their fellow Egyptians a transition to peaceful civilian power. No more military men!

BLITZER: You think the Obama administration is going to shift gears at all tomorrow? TOWNSEND: I think you're going to see Secretary Clinton -- she almost can't go out, Wolf, without advancing...

BLITZER: She's going to be on all five Sunday talk shows, including "STATE OF THE UNION" right here on CNN with Candy Crowley.

TOWNSEND: That's right. And that's a -- you know, that's a heavy schedule, and there's lots of opportunities for misstep. And she will be very carefully prepared, but I suspect, because there's been this period of time since President Obama and President Mubarak made public statements to the world and very little positive action -- none, actually, and more people are dead and injured in Egypt -- she's going to be forced to advance this narrative (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, we got to leave it right there. Thanks very much for helping us throughout the night. Mona Eltahawy -- Mona -- @Monaeltahawy -- I follow you on Twitter. You're doing an amazing job. Keep up the good work. Good luck to you. And we'll stay in close touch. The story is not going away. We'll stay in close touch throughout the week.

Isha, this story, I suspect, in many ways, is only just beginning.

SESAY: Yes, I think you're absolutely right. I think we shall (ph) just watch the days and weeks ahead.

As we come to the end of our CNN live special, "Egypt in Crisis," we leave you with the poignant sights and sounds from the people actually living it.

BLITZER: And here are some of the voices of our CNN iReporters in Egypt. We want to thank all of them. And thank you for joining us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We actually arrived here on Wednesday night after everything had been going on. We actually got stopped at the airport. The tourist (ph) (INAUDIBLE) held our bus at the airport because there were protesters along the street where we were coming into our hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During the morning, there was a lot of police that had built up, riot police, on the bridge and the surrounding square. And there were no protesters until after prayer. At some point before 2:00 o'clock, one could hear chants from a distance, Allah-u Akbar, "God is great." And it started to get louder and louder.

And then suddenly, behind a really tall building, I see, like, a huge crowd of demonstrators. And just -- you know, you don't see the end of the line. It's just -- it's just so many demonstrators, thousands of them. There was about 300 or 400 riot police guarding the entrance to (INAUDIBLE) to the bridge crossing the Nile. They were shouting things at the police, and the police were shouting back. And yes, then it started with tear gas and the police hitting the protesters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were throwing, like, flamed (ph) Molotov cocktails. They were -- there was explosions, like, tear gas canister. Fires were everywhere. What 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tear gas went into the crowds, so they saw (ph) a lot of tear gas, actually, so the crowds went back, like, up to 100 meters back. And they still start shooting a lot of tear gas, even when there are not protesters near the police. Just the amount of tear gas that they shot went up into the air and it flew up to the hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most frightening part was the later protesting, all those people coming across the bridge and then wondering where they were going to go because there's -- 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 where they were going to be dispersed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I saw a few people helping this person who looked unconscious or injured (INAUDIBLE) and putting them into a van, and yes, taking them away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most frightening part was probably when we saw fires erupting in certain places. And then we kind of wondered if we should, you know, pack a bag and be ready to evacuate (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel for the people on the streets and -- the Egyptians because they're the ones who are having the hard time.