Return to Transcripts main page
FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Unrest in Egypt
Aired January 30, 2011 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
We are devoting the entire show to Egypt today.
Coming up in just minutes, we have an interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian opposition leader, Nobel laureate, who remains under house arrest.
We'll check in with reporters from around the region for the latest.
And we have a terrific panel of diplomats and scholars to put it all in context.
Plus, an exclusive, the British Prime Minister David Cameron's thoughts on the events in Egypt.
Now, first, let me give you my take.
Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world. It's had roughly is same borders and capital city since 3,000 B.C. And it has always seen the embodiment of stability, a state ruled by pharaohs, with the bureaucracy that never budge. Now, Egypt is in the midst of enormous change.
This may not be a revolution in a sense of a massive social transformation, but it is a revolt.
The first Arab revolt was in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire that ruled most of the Arab lands. What is going on today in Tunisia and now Egypt is the second Arab revolt against the strong men who have ruled these lands for decades.
Tunisia was the spark that led the fire. Television and the Internet and social media amplified and accelerated the forces of change. But in a strange sense, these forces might have been set in motion by the successes of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes in recent years.
You see, Tunisia and Egypt had been reforming their economies. This stimulated growth as a consequence. Tunisia have been growing at 5 percent a year and Egypt much faster than that. Economic growth stirs up expectations. It is this revolution of rising expectations that often undoes a dictatorship, because it is unable to handle the growing demands of its citizens.
In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak's regime had moved forward economically, but actually moved backward politically, rigging elections, jailing the opposition and signaling that the 82-year-old ailing dictator intended to stay in power for years.
What should the United States do? Many journalists and intellectuals are urging much stronger support for the movement on the streets and, obviously, we are all thrilled by the sight and sounds of the people on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and all over Egypt demanding freedom. Everyone wants democracy and democracy in Egypt could be an earthquake in the Arab world.
But President Obama does have to balance his support for democracy with the reality that Egypt has been a partner with America for over 30 years. Imagine the alternative -- that the first signs of street protests, the U.S. unceremoniously dumps a stalwart ally that has made peace with Israel, fought al-Qaeda, tried to moderate Hamas and brokered deals for the Palestinians.
My solution would be that President Obama clearly and firmly, but privately, tell President Mubarak that he must resign, perhaps not immediately, but soon. His vice president must organize a new constitutional body to write a constitution for Egypt, with strong protections for individual rights, minority interests, freedom of the press, and then carefully set up a process for national elections.
Obama does not need to call publicly for Mubarak's resignation, but he does need to get him to go. America has been urging the Egyptian regime to reform for years, even decades. Hosni Mubarak never took these calls seriously. Had he done so, had he come out in front of these changes, had he come out in front of his people, he could have avoided this revolt. But that is the story of dictators. It is often too little too late.
Let's get started.
ZAKARIA: Mohamed ElBaradei is, perhaps after President Mubarak, the crucial figure in this story. After his leaving his post as head of the world's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, he has devoted himself to agitating for change in Egypt, his home country. And how he is the most high-profile leader of the opposition movement in Egypt.
He was put under house arrest on Friday, but is able to join me now from his home in Cairo. Thank you for joining us, Mohamed ElBaradei.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, FORMER IAEA DIRECTOR: It's always a pleasure to be with you, Fareed. ZAKARIA: Mohamed, what do you make of the most recent moves by President Mubarak, appointing Omar Suleiman as his vice president, appointing another former army officer as the prime minister, the former aviation minister. What is your reaction?
ELBARADEI: Well, Fareed, I think this is hopeless, desperate attempts by Mubarak to stay in power. I think it is loud and clear from everybody in Egypt that Mubarak has to leave today, and it is non-negotiable for every Egyptian. People have been saying or demonstrating for his -- for him to leave. Today, the demonstrations say that he should be put to trial. If he wants to save his skin, if he has an iota of patriotism, I would advise him to leave today and save the country.
ZAKARIA: And what would you like to see happen after that? Let us say Mubarak resigns. What is the -- what are the next steps that must happen in Egypt?
ELBARADEI: Well, the next step, Fareed, as everybody now agrees on, is a transitional period, a government of national salvation, of national unity, and that will prepare the ground for a new constitution, free and fair election. These are the three basic demands, what every Egyptian is agreeing upon. And of course, you know, hoping that the army will be able to control the situation.
Right now, Fareed, the country is ablaze. Looting is everywhere. Disbanded police forces that were disbanded for -- nobody knows how they were disbanded -- are looting around the country. The army is not able to control things. Millions are in the streets. This is a country that's falling apart, and the -- he needs to leave today. That will hope help (ph), at least 70 percent, to be followed by a smooth transition of a national unity government, to be followed by all the measures set in place for a free and fair election and democratic constitution.
Egypt needs to catch up with the rest of the world. We need to be free, democratic, and -- society where people have the right to live in freedom and dignity. That's what you get after 30 years, Fareed, of utter brutal dictatorship supported by everybody in the name of pseudo-stability.
ZAKARIA: You mention the army, Mohamed. Talk about that, because Omar Suleiman is himself a former -- a member of the armed forces. The new prime minister is. There is speculation that the army is backing these moves by Mubarak and has in effect taken control of the country.
ELBARADEI: Well, I don't think that the army has taken control of the country, Fareed. If you -- if you look around, there's half million people everywhere, in the middle of Cairo, in the middle of Alexandria.
Omar Suleiman is a person I know. I have respect for him. But the army is (inaudible) not change of personalities. We need a change of system. We need to have substantive, drastic shifts from a dictatorship into a democracy, like the rest of the world. What I have been authorized, mandated by the people who organized these demonstrations and by many other parts of the Egyptians, to agree on a national unity government. And I hope that I would -- I should be in touch soon with the army, and we need to work together. The army is part of Egypt, and we have the highest respect for them as civilians, and we need to work together to get Egypt (inaudible).
What do we have today? A country that's falling apart.
ZAKARIA: You say you are -- you hope to be in contact with the army. Have they reached out to you? Do you intend to reach out to them?
ELBARADEI: Not yet, Fareed. I haven't. I mean, the whole situation has been moving very, very fast, and -- but today there has been a number of declarations by different parts of the Egyptian society, from right, left and center, mandating me to work in -- with them, with the army, with everybody in Egypt, with outside world, to ensure smooth transition.
ZAKARIA: You've heard President Obama's statements in which he says he has asked President Mubarak to act on his promise to change, to bring democracy to Egypt. Do you think -- do you want him to do more than that?
ELBARADEI: Of course I do. I have, as you know, the utmost respect for President Obama as a person. I worked with him during my time at the IAEA. I have a lot of admiration for him. But I can tell you, honestly, as a friend of the U.S., that your policy right now is a failed policy, is a policy that is lagging behind, is a policy that is -- is -- having the effect here in Egypt that you are losing whatever left of credibility.
And -- however, this is -- this has been -- will be overtaken by events, and I want you to be on top of things. Your policy right now -- and this is an honest advice, Fareed -- is absolutely has no credibility here in Egypt. That is -- that is coming from a friend of the U.S., somebody who lived in 15 years in the U.S. and worked for throughout my life in the U.S. I would like to see a democratic Egypt, continued -- a democratic Egypt that is able to have a friendly relationship with the U.S. We have always had a lot of common interests, and there is nothing to believe that a democracy here will not lead to a better relationship with the U.S., based on respect and on equity.
ZAKARIA: Do you want President Obama to come out and publicly ask President Mubarak to resign?
ELBARADEI: I -- I mean, obviously, that is going to happen, I think, Fareed, if not today, tomorrow, you know. It will happen that he has to leave the country within the next three days. That is -- there is no way out, as I see it. It's better for President Obama not to appear that he is -- he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, it's time for you to go, leave in dignity before things are going out of hand. We have seen the fate of many dictators. I do not want to see that happening in Egypt. ZAKARIA: Mohamed, one of the visions that haunts Americans is of the Iranian revolution, where a dictator, pro-American dictator, was replaced by an even worse regime that was even more anti-American and more threatening to the region. People worry about the Muslim Brotherhood. Are you confident that a post-Mubarak Egypt will not give rise to some kind of Islamic fundamentalist force that will undermine the democracy of Egypt?
ELBARADEI: I'm quite confident of that, Fareed. This is a myth that was sold by the Mubarak regime, that it's either us, the ruthless dictators, or above (ph) them the al Qaida types.
You know, the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism, as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group. They are a minority in Egypt. They are not a majority of the Egyptian people, but they have a lot of credibility because all the other liberal parties have been smothered for 30 years. They are in favor of a federalist (ph) state. They are in favor of a wording on the base of constitution that has red lines (ph) that every Egyptian has the same rights, same obligation, that the state in no way will be a state based on religion.
And I have been reaching out to them. We need to include them. They are part of the Egyptian society, as much as the Marxist party here. I think this myth that has been perpetuated and sold by the regime has no -- has no iota of reality.
As you know, Fareed, I've worked with Iranians, I've worked here. There is 100 percent difference between the two societies.
ZAKARIA: And finally, would you be willing to serve as a president, as an interim president, if Mubarak were to step down?
ELBARADEI: I'm willing to do whatever I can do to save this country, Fareed. You know, this is not my priority. I have a lot of interests in global issues, as you know, humanity, inequity, arms control, and I continue to be active on all these issues. But if my people here, the Egyptian people want me to serve as a bridge from authoritarian system into a democracy, I will not let them down. That is -- I owe it to them here.
ZAKARIA: Mohamed ElBaradei, pleasure to have you on, and I hope we'll have you on again soon.
ELBARADEI: Pleasure to talk to you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, the latest live from Alexandria and Cairo, in a moment.
ZAKARIA: The ancient city of Alexandria has seen some of the worst violence in the nation during this period of chaos. At least 31 are said to have been killed there. And during the demonstration earlier today, anti-American anger was palpable. Nic Robertson was at that demonstration and joins me now.
Nic, so far, America has not played a very large role in the street protest. What do you think changed? And describe what you saw.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the frustration level has gone up because the crowds are clearly not having their voices answered. President Mubarak stays in power. People are listening very, very attentively. And, remember, many of the people behind these demonstrations are young students, university students, young lawyers, as well as people from all walks of life, but they listen very attentively (AUDIO BREAK) President Obama has said.
And the growing feeling here has been that President Obama has shaded his response too much sort of in the middle, if you will, siding perhaps with President Mubarak, and not enough coming out in support of the people. This hasn't been a central theme of the demonstrations until today. Today, it was.
I really heard very loud and clear, and there were banners proclaiming it, that people feel that United States is a supporter of President Mubarak. This plays, if you will, to American fears that they won't complete change, that they feel President Mubarak has been propping up policy in the region with respect to Israel, that wants to see a complete change from that, and that anger and frustration present in the demands for Hosni Mubarak, President Mubarak to step down is now being transferred and filtered to the very behemoth anger of the United States for not coming out more strongly in the favor of the people.
We're also now hearing that people are opposed to United States policy in the region, particularly towards Israel -- Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Thank you, Nic. We'll have you back soon.
Coming up: a great panel to put this all in context.
ZAKARIA: Joining me from Cairo's largest public square, Ivan Watson, where about 10,000 people are gathered despite it being after the curfew.
Ivan, what can you tell us?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fareed, I'm afraid I'm having some audio problems and I'm not hearing you right now. If you can hear me all right, we're in Cairo's Tahrir Square. It's after 5:00 at night. The sun is rapidly setting over the Egyptian capital.
I'm going to step out of the way. We're more than an hour after curfew and as you can see, thousands and thousands of people out here, and are showing their ongoing defiance to the government of President Hosni Mubarak. And this despite the fact that there was a show of force, two fighter planes flying so low over this square less than two hours ago, just at the start of curfew that I could actually see into their cockpits.
Despite that, (AUDIO BREAK) and waving the real symbol of this movement so far, the Egyptian flag. This has been a movement that has been wrapped up in patriotic pride for Egypt. People saying they want to stay after 30 years in their own government and who will lead their country and make (AUDIO BREAK) decades replaced.
One big question -- no one can tell me who they would like the next president to be -- Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Thanks, Ivan. We'll be back to you as well.
So, what was going on? What is the end game? And what role should the United States play in all of this? These are just some of the things I want to talk about with a great panel we have, all long time, Egypt hands.
On the diplomatic side:
Martin Indyk spent his entire career as a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, everything from assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs to U.S. ambassador to Israel. He's currently senior adviser to George Mitchell, the special envoy for the Middle East peace process.
Richard Haass was senior director for policy planning of the State Department under George W. Bush and senior director for Middle Eastern affairs at the National Security Council under the elder Bush. He is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
On the scholarly side: two men who are both just back from Egypt. Tarek Masoud is of Egyptian origin, is an assistant professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
And Steven Cook is a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, where he's writing a book on Egypt.
Tarek, explain your -- you have family in Egypt. You have many friends, you were just there. What is the looting about? Why is there looting taking place if these are protests against the government?
TAREK MASOUD, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, it's not the protesters doing the looting. In fact, this, I think, indicates the quality of this regime because by all accounts that we're hearing, these are thugs that the regime used to rely on to crack down people during elections. They've let them loose. They've opened up the prisons and allowed criminals to roam the streets, and then they pulled out the police and the security forces that are under the Ministry of the Interior.
And this, I think, was to demonstrate to Egyptians, OK, if you want to protest this regime, look at the chaos that will follow. And their gamble is that the desire of normal middle class Egyptians for security and for stability will cause them perhaps to welcome a crackdown and a restoration of order. I don't think it will work. ZAKARIA: Richard Haass, what should the army do? Because this is the key institution in Israel. The police widely hated. If anyone can restore, you know, and the cycle Tarek is describing, it would be the army. What should they do?
RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: You're exactly right. The army has to avoid looking tactless, which is what it's looking like a little bit now. On the other hand, it doesn't want to use lethal force on behalf of Hosni Mubarak. What this tells you as quickly as possible, behind the scenes, and I emphasize that, behind the scenes, the army has to push for political change so then it can assert itself not on behalf of Mubarak, but on behalf of Egypt. The army now, which really is in control politically, has to see that through and bring about a political change.
ZAKARIA: Steve Cook, you wrote a book about the Egyptian army. What is -- what do you think they're going to do? Are they -- would they be willing to actually take charge of the government? Or do they really want to be behind the scenes?
STEVE COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: They want to be behind the scenes. At one time, were in charge of the government and were burned by it in 1967. What they want to do now is save the regime from which they benefit and they want to push Mubarak out slowly. That's why you see the handoff to Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief, who is a military officer.
ZAKARIA: You met with him when you were in Egypt. Did you he have any clue about these protests?
COOK: Well, we did ask him about the upcoming Police Day protests, and he insisted that Egypt was not like Tunisia, that, in fact, the police had a strategy and that President Mubarak was strong. He turned out to be wrong on both accounts, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence going forward.
ZAKARIA: Martin Indyk, listening to all of this. Do you think that the United States is playing this right?
MARTIN INDYK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, events are unfolding, Fareed, at a dizzying pace and the U.S. government is trying its best, I think, to keep up. But I don't think that they have yet made the transition in their own minds that essentially, the compact between Mubarak, the pharaoh, and his people has now be broken and therefore, as you -- you so far viewed it's time for him to go and the focus should now be on transition. They cannot be seen to be pulling the rug out from under him. But I think that they have got to start to put in place the basis for the very kind of constitutional process that you describe and that Mohamed ElBaradei embraced.
ZAKARIA: Richard, when we were talking earlier, you felt, though, that they were publicly be too critical of Mubarak.
HAASS: All the calls for restraint seem to be siding a lot with the protesters. The comment by the White House spokesman the other day threatening to review U.S. assistance to Egypt, that's sending the message around the region. I just came back from Davos, as you did you. And a lot of people from elsewhere in the region were very concerned that this was raising questions about the reliability for the United States. If they were that quick to distance themselves from a friend of three decades, what would that mean in Jordan? What would that mean in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere?
So, the administration, in a funny sort of way, I think needs to do less publicly and more privately. Because the more it does publicly, and we've seen, it will make nobody happy. Whatever they say will not be enough for the protesters and it will be too much for our friends throughout the region. I would put the emphasis on what the United States says and more important, does privately.
ZAKARIA: All right. When we come back, we will talk about what effect Egypt will have on the rest of the Middle East. We have somebody from Beirut to talk to.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAKARIA: All right, and we are back with our panel of experts, Tarek Masoud from Harvard, Steven Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, the president of the council, and Martin Indyk, former U.S. diplomat, currently adviser to George Mitchell.
Tarek, you were disagreeing, I could see, with Richard Haass. Richard Haass says if we pull the rug from under Mubarak, it sends a signal to every regime in the Middle East, if you have street protests, United States is going to dump you. What do you say to that?
MASOUD: I think that's not a bad signal to be sending. I think -- look, our policy for the last 50 years has be a policy that has favored stability over democracy, and that would be fine it if actually produced stability. But I think what these protests have shown is that they don't and that we can't keep these people in power, and we're in a real risk if we follow Mr. Haass's suggestion of going soft on Mubarak and not taking the side of the protesters.
We are in huge danger of being on the wrong side of history not just in Egypt, but in the rest of the Middle East, as well.
ZAKARIA: Martin, which side of history are you on?
INDYK: I agree completely with Tarek, although I think Richard's on the right side, too. He just wants to walk softly. The basic point, as I said before, is the compact is broken. This is over for Hosni Mubarak, and the question is now how to ensure, if possible, a stable transition to democratic government in Egypt.
That is a huge deal. It will have huge ramifications for the whole region. No doubt, every Arab autocrat is now shaking, and most of them are our friends. And obviously, we have to be concerned about the signal we send. We have to be concerned about the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, as well. But it doesn't get resolved by clinging to a leader who no longer has any legitimacy with his people. And we can see that in these street scenes. So we've got to get on the side of history, and we need to do that quickly because it's moving very quickly.
ZAKARIA: Steven Cook, do you dare disagree with your boss?
COOK: Slightly. Only slightly.
COOK: What I would say is that there isn't really a lot that the United States can do. Egyptians are now writing their own history, their own narrative. It started with Tunisia. It's now with Egypt. Arabs throughout the region are now getting the message that the dictator can be dislodged. That's what Tunisia taught them. There's very little that we can do to shore up these regimes.
The region is changing. We should be on the right side of history. We should be saying strong things about the rights of people because we're going to play this out for the next decade, 20 years. And Arabs will remember. You saw Nic Robertson's report from Alexandria. The first week of this was not about the United States. But central to the opposition to Mubarak is his alignment with the United States and the perception that he has warped Egyptian foreign policy and has done damage to Egypt's regional standing.
ZAKARIA: Thirty seconds.
HAASS: First of all, our policy has produced stability for decades. We would not have made the progress, among other things, between Israel and the Arabs that we did had we not supported some of these governments.
Second of all, behind the scenes, we should be pushing for change. Publicly, we should be very careful about what it is we -- what it is we say and what it is we do. In many of these places, to go from where we are to quote, unquote, "democracy" sounds good. Bringing it about will be extraordinarily difficult. It's one thing to say out with the old, something very, very different, to bring in the new and the new be better. We have got to be very, very careful.
The time to make political change is very rarely when the crowds are in the street. It's the sort of thing history shows from other parts of the world, historically, over the last few centuries, you're much wiser to push gradually for political change when things are calm. If you wait until the people are in the streets, be careful. You feed the beast. And it's not clear that at the end of the day, you will set into motion a set of events you can control.
There are alternatives that are worse to Hosni Mubarak and the status quo. Doesn't mean you support him uncritically, but we've got to be very mindful we can bring about things that are worse.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, we're going to talk about the broader implications of all this, and we will go to Beirut. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAKARIA: What effect will Tunisia and now Egypt have on the rest of the Arab world? Michael Young is one of the best reporters I know in the region. He's the opinion editor of "The Daily Star" in Beirut. He joins me now.
Michael, what is the answer to -- what do you think the repercussions of this are outside of Egypt?
MICHAEL YOUNG, "THE DAILY STAR," LEBANON: Well, I think, at this point, we have to already (ph) see what the message is in Egypt, whether the army takes over or some other message. But in terms of the Middle East, I think it'll be very varied. These are very different systems. I don't really see, for example, the same thing happening a country like Syria or in Saudi Arabia. Even in Jordan, I think this may be difficult -- this kind of movement will not take place, I feel.
And look at what happened in Lebanon in the last week. Essentially, in 2005, the departure of -- the assassination of Hariri led to a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and a relative weakening of Hezbollah, at least politically. Well, in the past week, essentially, the Syrians have reimposed themselves in Lebanon and Hezbollah.
So I think it's a -- it's a very different image. I am a bit uncomfortable with these meta-narratives of the region going towards greater freedom.
ZAKARIA: Tarek Masoud, one thing that people are worried about -- I mentioned it in the interview with ElBaradei -- is the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea here is this would be a replay of the Iranian revolution. You've studied the Muslim Brotherhood. What do you think -- do you think that they're -- A, could they come to power? B, if they come to power, is it an Islamic Egypt?
MASOUD: I think we've long overestimated the Muslim Brotherhood, and I think in part, as Dr. ElBaradei said, this was because the regime wanted us to be fearful of the Brotherhood. If we look at the protests now, if the protests are a kind of indication of the relative balance of political forces in that country, the Muslim Brotherhood are present. They're certainly participating in the protests. They're also organizing local defense groups. But they're not in the lead.
Now, they're the most organized political party. It's possible that in an election, particularly depending on the electoral system, that they do very well. But I also think there are other forces in Egyptian society, and these protesters show that there's a great demand for liberal politics. So I don't think that the Muslim Brothers would take over.
Our worry is not so much the Iranian revolution as it is the Russian revolutions of 1917. Remember, there were two, right? So in February, it wasn't the Bolsheviks. It's only in October that the Bolsheviks take over. And that's the worry that might happen here. But I think the evidence is that the Brothers are very cautious. They've not tried to take the lead on this. And I think that's because they can't. So I don't think we need to worry as much Mubarak would like us to.
ZAKARIA: Martin Indyk, do you think that we could live with a more democratic Egypt? It's probably going to be more hostile to Israel. It's probably going to be more retrograde in certain social ways, you know, the veil and things like that. It sort of, I guess, would look more like Turkey. Or could it be a lot worse?
INDYK: I think the key, Fareed, here is the role that the military plays. As we've already discussed and as Mohamed ElBaradei indicated, he's looking to the military to restore order and essentially to hold the ring so that a democratic process can unfold, so that the risks that Richard Haass was talking about are minimized, and indeed, on the Turkish model, so that the Muslim Brotherhood is restrained.
I'm not quite as sanguine as Tarek about them, but I do think that if the military plays a democratizing role here, rather than sticking with Mubarak and going down with him, the situation may not devolve into the kind of chaos that we're witnessing at the moment in the future.
Now, the military has a strong reason for maintaining the peace agreement for Israel. It serves its interests very well, including all of the aid it gets from the United States because it's at peace with Israel. And so therefore, where the military goes will have a big impact on what the relationship is between Egypt and Israel in the future.
COOK: Fareed, let me get in on this (INAUDIBLE) Let's get to some facts about the military. When Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in 1952, they were going to return power to a clean parliamentary system. This military is the descendant of that military. They created this monster. We should not be so confident that the military will return democracy.
They have their skin in the game. They have become wealthy. They have benefited from this regime. They may be pushing Mubarak out just to reconstitute the regime in a different way under Omar Suleiman, under Ahmed Shafiq, under the chief of staff, Sami Enan. We must look at the military not necessarily as a progressive force here. Like I said, this is the military's regime, and it's a monster that has created the archetype authoritarian system in the Middle East and has spun out transnational jihadism, as well.
ZAKARIA: We're going to have to go. When we come back, David Cameron with his thoughts on the events in Egypt, and a bit more from our panel.
ZAKARIA: Some of you may have tuned in today expecting our exclusive interview with the prime minister of the U.K., David Cameron. We will play that interview in full next week. But here is what he said to me on Friday in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, about Egypt.
ZAKARIA: You've been watching the events in Egypt as a follow-on to what's happened in Tunisia. Do you believe that Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the IAEA who's now become one of the leaders of the opposition movement, is correct when he says that President Mubarak should resign?
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what we need is reform in Egypt. I mean, we support reform and progress in the greater strengthening of the democracy and civil rights and the rule of law. Clearly, there are grievances that people have, and they need to be met and matched. I don't think it's right for us to point at a particular politician or a particular leader.
I'd like to see that progress take place. I don't think it's in anyone's interest that people are being killed on the streets of Egypt as we speak at the moment. And so I hope the violence will cease. But clearly, you know, when you have people that have grievances and problems, that want them responded to, it's in all our interests that these countries have stronger rule of law, stronger rights, stronger democracy.
But the argument I would make is I think, in the past, sometimes we in the West have taken rather a simple view that what matters is just the act of holding an election. Real democracy is actually about the building blocks you put in place, about the rule of law, the rights, the strength of your civil society, the freedoms you have in that country.
And I think we need to take a more mature and thoughtful approach to these countries and recognize it's those building blocks that, in the end, make your country democratic, strong, accountable, all the things we believe in the West, rather than simply believing democracy is just the act of going to the polls.
It's so much more than that. We know that from our own history, as you do in America. And we need to apply that thinking to other countries, too.
ZAKARIA: When Hillary Clinton made some similar-sounding statements, ElBaradei -- again, who's become a leader of the opposition -- said, You are effectively supporting 30 years of martial law and repression in Egypt.
CAMERON: Well, I don't believe that's the case, as I said. What we support is evolution, reform -- not revolution, but evolution and reform so that people who have grievances get those grievances met. I think that the world would be a safer, stronger place, we'd all be better off, if there were more countries with more democratic institutions. But let's recognize those institutions need to be built from the bottom up, not always sort dropped in from the top down, if I can put it that way. ZAKARIA: Is Mubarak a friend of Britain?
CAMERON: He is a friend of Britain. Britain has good relations with Egypt. We've worked together over many issues that cause concern, not least the Middle East, where we want to see progress, not least the need to combat Islamic extremism. And as I say, in those countries, particularly those countries that have potential problems in terms of Islamic extremism, it seems to me the building blocks of democracy -- the rights, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, making sure the army plays a proper role in society -- those building blocks are even more important in countries prey to Islamic extremism, and in other countries.
But frankly, they're essential to all countries, and it's those building blocks that I think we should focus on. And in the relations we've had with Egypt, we've always made that point to Egypt's leaders that believe in that sort of reform and progress and making sure that grievances are met and dealt with.
ZAKARIA: Richard Haass, you heard David Cameron. He's trying to do that balancing act that you were describing.
HAASS: It's a warning to countries where the degree of economic reform gets out of sync with the degree of political reform. And I expect in countries as far afield as China, they're watching closely what's going on. Economic growth in China has far outpaced, if you will, political reform. To the United States, the message is, you've got to push for gradual political change, exactly as the prime minister said, all the basics, the difference between, if you will, democracy promotion and elections promotion. We've got to get that right.
We've also got to keep all sorts of ties to militaries. In many of these countries, like in Egypt, the military will probably play a central political role. It makes a real case for continuing to educate these young military officers in American staff colleges because right now, the principal leverage the United States perhaps has over Egypt is privately what they can say to people like Omar Suleiman, the vice president, to get him to begin to move the country in the right direction.
ZAKARIA: Tarek, I'm guessing David Cameron's comments disappointed you.
MASOUD: No, they don't disappoint me, they're just not surprising. I think, look, President Obama has a unique opportunity here. He needs to get out in front of the Arab world and utter "F" word, freedom. And I think that will have a tremendous effect in reversing a whole legacy of bad policy towards this part of he world. Now is the time. This is the game changer.
ZAKARIA: Quick last thoughts, Martin Indyk?
INDYK: Well, what you heard from David Cameron was yesterday's language. The talking points of reform and building blocks are all very fine, but Cairo is burning and the focus now is no longer Hosni Mubarak. He is, in effect, a dead man walking.
I think that the critical issues now relate to how can a constitutional process be put in place, if at all, to prevent chaos and anarchy and restore some semblance of order. I think the Egyptian people have an innate willingness for a stable process. They've had 3,000 years of obeisance centralized rule. But it needs to be democratic rule. That's the 21st century Egypt that we have to help bring into being.
ZAKARIA: Final thoughts, Steven Cook?
COOK: I think, broadly, in the region, the United States needs to use its diplomatic tools and political skills to accommodate itself to a changing region, rather than trying to change it or engineer transitions. This is something that the Egyptian people are going to do. This is something that the Tunisian people are going to do. We can play a role at the margins, but ultimately, it's going to be up to them and it's going to vastly change the Middle East, perhaps for the better.
ZAKARIA: And finally, Michael Young from Beirut? Your final thoughts on all of this?
YOUNG: Well I've noticed that we've not mentioned in this conversation Iraq. You know, all this talk about gradual change -- well, the fact is, sometimes societies don't have a chance to engage in gradual change, either because there are revolts or because there are invasions, as the case is in Iraq.
I think today Iraq is a dysfunctional democracy. No doubt about it. Cameron is right when he says there is more to democracy than just elections. But at the same time, I also think there is a genuine change, a genuine progress with respect to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And I think it's incumbent upon countries like the United States and the other democracies to help countries that have managed to put in some kind of a democratic system -- dysfunctional, sure -- but sometimes you say, Well, all right, gradual -- it's over. We can't go for gradual change now, so you know, let's at least help these societies advance towards something more functional rather than dysfunctional.
ZAKARIA: Thank you so much. Richard Haass, Steven Cook, Tarek Masoud, Martin Indyk, Michael Young. Terrific discussion.
And we will be back with Nic Robertson and more live from Egypt.
ZAKARIA: And we are back, and we're going to Alexandria, Egypt, where Nic Robertson is joining us live. Nic, one of the things that has come out in our discussion here is the key role of the army. From where you are, what do people on the street think the army is doing?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a really mixed feeling about it, and a sense of confusion, as well. They're not sure if the army is here supporting President Mubarak -- the army is on the streets guarding government buildings in the city -- or if the army is actually here to support the people and provide security.
And the impression they're getting is that the army is not providing security in their neighborhoods, and therefore, the army is on the streets for President Mubarak. The verdict's out on it. There have been very good relations between the people and army so far, but it's really a very -- a source of serious concern for people when we talk to them which way the army will go, because they sense here that at some point, the army will be forced to make a decision by the dynamic of what happens on the ground. They will be forced to make a decision. Are they with the people or the president? Will they shoot on the people or will they not? That's what worries them right now, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: And what about these vigilante groups that are forming? Are they -- again, are they -- how should one read them?
ROBERTSON: It's a very random group, and really, depending on the neighborhood, that will depend on the group. in the sort of lower class neighborhoods, if you will, it's a very sort of uneducated group of people that are providing this sort of vigilante lookout.
But we went to a secret location in the city here today. We were taken there, not allowed to film on the way there, into an apartment building where young students and lawyers are planning up -- planning, dividing up the city, who should have -- form checkpoints on what corners, trying to put in place safety and security measures for the population, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Thank you very much, Nic.
And thank you to all of you for being a part of my program this week. I will see you next week, and we will then have the entire interview with British prime minister David Cameron on Egypt, but also on budgets and all kinds of other things.
Thank you again.