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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Report: President Obama Advising Mubarak Not to Run Again; Rock Concert Atmosphere in Streets of Cairo: Shouting, Chanting
Aired February 1, 2011 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, I should pass along, top U.S. sources say Mubarak will make an announcement that he will not seek reelection. All of this is happening as President Obama has called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top national security advisers to the White House for an urgent meeting. That is happening in about a half-hour from now.
Now, "The New York Times" is reporting at this hour that Mr. Obama advised Mubarak not to run again. We have teams in Egypt and in Washington.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: That's right. We have got people actually down at Tahrir Square, where those protesters are, because, Brooke, the big thing is going to, what are they going to say?
HOLMES: It's all very well for Mr. Mubarak to say he's not going to run again. That's a vastly different thing from saying he's going to step down.
The presidential elections, the parliamentary elections, which were so controversial back in the end of last year, these elections aren't about them. They're presidential elections. They're happening in September. It's a long time between now and then.
The people on the street, the fervor is strong.
John King from "JOHN KING, USA" joining us now.
You've been talking to people in the administration. And the roll that the administration may have played in at least nudging this along?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Michael, nudge is the right word. Essentially, the administration's take for the past 72 hours has been that President Mubarak is not paying close enough attention to what's happening on the street. And he's been in power for nearly 30 years. And so it's difficult to give up power. He's a proud man and a stubborn man.
So the administration says its role was to go to him and say, Mr. President, your people have made it clear that you cannot stay. And we do now from several sources that that nudge was delivered by the former U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner, who went to Cairo. He's a friend of President Mubarak.
And again the administration is told President Mubarak will make that bold step and announce he will not be a candidate in the next election. I'm also told he has assured U.S. officials his son won't be a candidate in the next election. The question, Michael, that you just teed up is what next? Will he insist on staying on and completing his term? How aggressive will he be, if at all, in reaching out to the opposition and bringing new voices into the government immediately? What steps will he take to help the opposition build political parties and institutions to compete in the next election or will he just step out of the way entirely? Does he want to stay on?
I think the defining question is this, does he want to stay on as an active, engaged president for the rest of his term or does he want to step aside, even if he keeps the title, into a ceremonial role and let others plan what will now be a very dicey, very difficult and incredibly important transition.
HOLMES: And that, John, was the impression that was given by Al Arabiya earlier. They were saying that his indication was that he would stay on until the presidential election in September and the words used were institute the reforms that the protesters have been demanding, which is pretty airy fairy, really.
You look at the potential opposition candidates, like Mohamed ElBaradei. He said to our John Vause just yesterday, he said that he wants Mubarak to stand down now, hand over all authority to the new vice president, Suleiman, and begins negotiations for a new interim government.
Are you getting any indication that what the administration was suggesting or nudging or perhaps alluding to the Mubarak regime might have involved a little bit more than hanging around until September?
KING: Well, I do know, from several sources, that it is the view of the administration that the better course would be for Mr. Mubarak to step aside before that.
Once he was certain that his new vice president, that the army was stable, they had reached out to the demonstrators and started a dialogue, it was the preference, they believe essentially the will of the Egyptian people that President Mubarak step aside sooner.
Now we will have to watch how all this plays out. You just mentioned Mr. ElBaradei. Yes, he has said that Mr. Mubarak must go immediately. But, Michael, you know this full well. He's a diplomat. When he gets a victory today, the president of Egypt saying he won't be a candidate in the next election, can there then be negotiations? Will Mr. ElBaradei come to the table and say, I may not get everything I want but can we as the opposition get a legitimate place at the table, a legitimate voice in a transitional government with or without Mr. Mubarak I think will be the defining issue in those negotiations. But if there is an opening and if there is true change, this will test the opposition, too. Do they want everything or are they willing to compromise? And if they're willing to compromise, that will be the defining chapter of the new Egypt.
HOLMES: Yes. John, thanks for that. And we will be having a conversation about who on the streets in terms of the opposition has the street cred to stand up and say that they will negotiate with the regime at the moment. Who has the currency and the backing and has any sort of organization? One of the big problems, there is no formal opposition in Egypt -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: And of course we know this is now day eight since this movement began. And the movement has been driven by -- you see them right there -- the people, the Egyptians.
And we're waiting and we're watching to see how they will react to this news that we are anticipating that President Hosni Mubarak will announce he will not run again for presidency come September.
I want to get to Ivan Watson for us in Cairo. And of course, that is Ivan, the crucial question, how will the people on the streets react to the news? Will it be good enough?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very difficult to tell unless and until that actually happens, and we're really all speculating right now.
You hear a mix of different statements coming from the people here in the streets that are still chanting and still -- it's still like a rock concert atmosphere here, Brooke. Some of them saying they don't want any members of Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party in any future government.
Others taking a less maximalist approach to this, most of them just saying simply we want change and we want Hosni Mubarak out. And then when you ask who you want next, who could replace that person, you also get a mix of answers. Some people mentioning Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the IAEA, some mentioning Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League.
Others even saying, well, we could stand with Omar Suleiman, who was recently appointed vice president by Hosni Mubarak after these protests began. Very important point, by appointing a vice president, that allows theoretically and constitutionally somebody to replace him if he was to step down -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Right. You bring up a good point. So far in talking to so many different people, there is not an obvious number two, there is not yet an obvious successor. But the second part of the question is, and we have seen their presence on the streets for the past couple of days that being the military and the military's role here in, if there is a transitional government, and then in the next government. What's the sense from the Egyptians on the role of the military?
WATSON: Well, what we have seen from the demonstrations over the past several days is a real attempt to woo the military, to say, you are our brothers, you are on our side, to give them food, to give them bananas, tea, to embrace the troops that are out here and to feel that they are as one and that they could not be used as an instrument to try to disperse these historic anti-government protests.
And an interesting point, Brooke, also is that a number of opposition parties, six, in fact, came together today and they issued a five-point issue -- list of demands, one of them being that the military maintain its constitutional role to protect the people and to continue working within the constitution, basically suggesting that it not take a role in politics but continue its position to maintain law and order and defend the country.
A few other points made by these opposition parties, they want fresh parliamentary elections, the last November-December parliamentary elections widely viewed as flawed and new committees to be erected to start to draw up some kind of a new constitution. Also interesting that these opposition parties are trying to come together as an umbrella group to start to offer a cohesive alternative to the Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party which, of course, have been in power for so many years here.
BALDWIN: So many years, 30 years, 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak. Again we should be hearing from him any minute now. Ivan Watson, my thanks to you. And we will be checking back in with you to see how everyone is reacting in Tahrir Square once this announcement, this anticipated announcement will be made. Ivan, thank you.
HOLMES: That's right. And we have correspondents all over the region.
And Ben Wedeman, a longtime bureau chief there, will join us after the break. Do stick around. There's plenty happening.
HOLMES: This story keeps developing. Egypt, the protests and the possible announcement by Hosni Mubarak that he will not stand again for president. We have got the story covered from all over.
Joining us now, our longtime Cairo bureau chief Ben Wedeman, also CNN international anchor and correspondent Hala Gorani. Anderson Cooper is on the line also.
Ben, I have got to start with you, my friend. Your take on this, and will the presidential elections in September be enough for the people standing below you?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it represents a major step-down. I must say that President Mubarak has been very ambiguous about his intentions regarding the September presidential elections. He sent out mixed signals, but recently or going back a few months it did appear that he was ready to run yet again for a sixth term as president of Egypt. And I think that may have played a large part in this protest movement. Many people thought it was just beyond the pale that yet again he would run for another six-year term. So this may help somewhat to lessen the intensity of this protest, but what we're hearing in Tahrir Square is that they don't want to change just the president. They want to change, in Arabic, the regime, which really represents something much along the lines of what people were pushing for in Tunisia. They want complete change, not a change of the head and leave the body the same. But you have this problem, of course, that the country is on absolute hold as far as infrastructure and economy.
If the president, if President Mubarak decides to, A, make this announcement that he will not run for yet another term and that he will turn the Internet back on, the railroads will start running again, schools, banks, universities, all those things get up and running again, it could take a real edge off of the protest movement.
HOLMES: And, of course, the Egyptian people may well say, well, we have heard promises before. There's a vice president in play, a prime minister in play. Both men of the military, as is the incumbent. Why should we believe you now? Is that likely to be a fear?
WEDEMAN: Well, let's keep in mind the events of the last eight days. The possibility that Hosni Mubarak would run yet again for president and with free and fair elections, the chances that he would win are pretty slim at this point. So most people realize that one way or another the era of Hosni Mubarak is coming to an end, whether it's soon or in September. But that seems an almost inevitability -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes. Ben, do stick around.
Also, Hala Gorani, we will get to you in a moment as well -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: We also have Anderson Cooper there on the ground in Cairo. I know Anderson is joining me by phone. And Anderson, if you can, just set the scene for me where you are and if you're seeing massive, massive crowds forming in anticipation of this announcement.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" (via telephone): There's still crowds obviously in Liberation Square, that's where we spent most of the day today. And now we're literally standing by a television waiting for the president's announcement that we anticipate as you said maybe some time within this hour.
I do think it's important to point out, I think Ben is obviously the expert in this region and absolutely right in what he says. It's also important to point out that this is a protest being led by people from the bottom up. This is not, you know, the opposition groups such as they are who have started these protests. It's not the Muslim Brotherhood, it's not Mohamed ElBaradei. It's young people who started these protests on Facebook.
And the core of people who you see, the tens of thousands of young people who you see in Liberation Square, tonight and every single night that we have seen over the last eight days, they are saying over and over again they will accept nothing less than Hosni Mubarak stepping down. And today in the square we saw people holding pictures, posters that they had made of those who have been killed in the last eight days, some 300 people according to the U.N. High Commissioner, up to 300 people have been killed in the last eight days.
The memory of those people, the sacrifices those people made was very present in the square today, and I think it's going to be very hard for those people to let Hosni Mubarak stay in office until September.
BALDWIN: Right. I mean, that's still obviously eight months until that next presidential election. The obvious follow-up question to you, Anderson, would be in speaking with these young people there in Liberation Square, do they have a plan B? Who would they like to see as Egypt's next president?
COOPER: Well, as Ivan Watson pointed out on your air a short time ago, there are people with many different -- who come to this with many different backgrounds and many different ideas of what they'd like to see.
There's a small contingent of the Muslim Brotherhood, there's some people maybe who support Mohamed ElBaradei, although he's lived abroad for the last three decades of his life more or less and doesn't have a broad base of support here. There's other individuals who they might like to support, but as you know Hosni Mubarak has been very effective in eliminating and destroying any legitimate opposition or any other institutions that might exist that could fill the vacuum. So there is a real good -- there's the potential for a real vacuum of power. And it's going to take time before other democratic institutions can be built that people could put their support behind.
BALDWIN: Anderson Cooper, I know you're sitting by a television watching and waiting just as we all are here in the United States, here around the world. Anderson, thank you. We will check back with you a little later.
And again, just to remind you, we are watching and we are waiting for this massive announcement anticipated by 30-year President Hosni Mubarak. Here are live pictures from Tahrir Square as we are waiting for this crowd to react to this announcement that Mr. Mubarak will indeed not seek reelection come September. Stay right here. CNN and CNN International will be right back.
HOLMES: Welcome back.
Expecting any minute to see on Egyptian television a recorded announcement we're told that will be the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president announce that he will not stand for reelection at the next presidential elections, which are in September. You're watching Egyptian television there on the left, in fact, the channel that will be broadcasting the statement when it does happen. And on the right you're there seeing pictures of the demonstrations that have been ongoing for some time.
All of this came after what we're told was some pretty high-level contacts between the White House and the Egyptian government. I want to go to Dan Lothian now at the White House to talk a little bit about that.
Dan, one imagines that the White House is now going -- well, is going to be extremely careful in what it says and does so as to not appear to have any much of a hand in this at all.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And perhaps that's why we have seen a delay in the daily briefing that was supposed to take place at 2:30. And you can take a look there at the briefing room, no one up at the podium. Perhaps they're trying to get that message together, also waiting to see what happens with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
You know, one of the things that we have been closely watching here is whether or not there's a disparity between the public message from this administration and the private message. And as you were talking earlier with my colleague John King about the former ambassador to Egypt who has been sent there, Frank Wisner, by this administration to gently nudge Hosni Mubarak to essentially to step down or to leave and not seek reelection in September, so you know, publicly this administration has been saying, we are not going to meddle in the internal affairs of Egypt. It's for the people of Egypt to decide their next leader.
But then again on the other hand, you have this administration sending a high-level individual there to try to nudge him from the power that he has held there for 30 years so it's' a very delicate dance for this administration because he is someone who has been very helpful not only to this administration, but past administrations in dealing in a whole host of issues in the Middle East peace process as well, many different things that Hosni Mubarak has been a friend, a key ally to the administration, so they're being very, very careful on how they deal with him.
Now, one other note. President Obama has also convened a national security meeting here at 3:30 so it should be starting in a few minutes from now here at the White House. Secretary of State Clinton will be involved in that meeting, along with other top officials.
Earlier today, President Obama also had a Cabinet meeting where they touched on a whole host of issues, foreign policy issues as well and in particular Egypt. I just got a readout from that meeting. Secretary Clinton we're told discussed the administration's focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint in Egypt, supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association and speech and supporting an orderly transition. That's a word, a phrase now that we have heard since over the weekend, an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, interesting language. All right, Dan, we will stay in touch. Dan Lothian there -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Well, we have you covered in Washington, D.C., and, of course, on the ground in Egypt.
I want to go to Hala Gorani. She's our CNN International anchor and correspondent. And, Hala, I know you spent some time in Tahrir Square earlier today. And in talking to some of these people, these demonstrators, did they think they would potentially see change this quickly?
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to say because it's so very unpredictable what the speaking schedule of this leadership is in the last week. You will remember, Brooke, in fact, we were together covering these protests at CNN Center that we were expecting President Mubarak then to come out. And that speech was delayed several times. And then the content of the speech was not what many reports had indicated it would be.
As far as people in the square, these are the demonstrators and the protesters who insist on seeing President Mubarak step down, that they will accept nothing less than complete resignation. However, if the Egyptian leader comes out and says, I will not seek reelection, it is quite possible that it will take some of the passion out of the demonstrations that we have seen in the Egyptian capital. There may be other things in the speech that could be interesting, potentially inviting reformers or opposition leaders or opposition figures to participate in the government in the meantime. We just don't know. And the cliche is, let's wait and see. But in every cliche there's a kernel of truth.
In this case it's a little bit bigger than a kernel. So it's something that we're going to have to wait for in this speech, Brooke.
BALDWIN: I'm just curious, Hala, as so many people around the world are sitting closely to their television waiting and watching for President Hosni Mubarak to speak on Egyptian state TV, is it fairly quiet where you are? Is it safe to say most people are probably sitting home and watching and waiting as well there in Egypt?
GORANI: It is fairly quiet, and it's probably also an indication of what the mood of the protest was earlier in the day. It was actually quite festive. You had families out. A father brought his two young daughters 5 and 7 years old. They had hand-drawn placards against Mubarak. That was the mood today and it's extended itself into the evening. People of course are -- those who are out are ignoring the curfew.
And, yes, I imagine many Egyptians who have gotten word of this speech are very anxious to hear what is going to be said. It will really sort of -- it will really decide how this movement progresses and what impact it will have on the country, whether or not President Hosni Mubarak is just going to give in to the demands of the protesters and say he will not stand again, in essence, stepping down after September.
BALDWIN: Hala Gorani, for us in Cairo, Hala, stand by. We will check back you. Thank you.
HOLMES: Indeed, we want to get Elliott Abrams now, former national security adviser, he's now live for us in Washington, D.C.
Good to see you, Elliott. We were going to talk on a completely different subject before this breaking news came about. But I want to ask you your take on this, particularly the timing. You're talking about a president, an embattled president who has in recent days surrounded himself with like-minded military men in the vice president and prime ministerial positions who is quite likely perhaps not going to run in the next president election and if he did he wouldn't win. And the suggestion is he's going to stick around until then to fulfill the will of the people.
What kind of victory is this?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It won't work. This just really won't work. I can't see anybody in Tahrir Square accepting that he would be president for eight more months and that he would, after 30 years, be trusted to be the man in charge of a democratic transition. Why would anyone believe that?
HOLMES: Is one of the problems now, when you look about who would come after him, be it sooner or later, this dearth of fundamental opposition organizations? You have got people like Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, others poking their heads up. But they don't necessarily have the credibility on the street. The need is going to be for somebody to stand out who has got the trust of the people. And Hosni Mubarak essentially destroyed that.
ABRAMS: He really did. He spent 30 years doing it, he spent 30 years we're told putting down the Muslim Brotherhood, but there they are. You would have to say it wasn't a very successful effort over these 30 years. But I just can't see how he stays in power eight more months.
If he had made this announcement a week ago, much less a month, or two months ago, this whole crisis would never have happened. But to do it now I just -- I think he's got to step down. And I hope that -- you know, Wisner was given the job of delivering the black hand to Mubarak. And I hope what he said was not you need to not run in September. I hope that what he said and continues to say is, it won't work. For your own benefit, for that of family, for that of Egypt, you have just got to go now.
HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, appreciate your insights. Hopefully we can chat again.
BALDWIN: I know there's so much more to get to and so little time here as we're anticipating and again looking at live pictures there of the scene in Cairo as we're watching and waiting for President Hosni Mubarak to give this anticipated taped recording that he will not seek reelection come September. More news. Got to sneak a break in. CNN International and CNN will be right back.
BALDWIN: And welcome back. Breaking news. The situation continues to unfold in Egypt. This is day eight of the demonstrations there, the movement, many, many young people, and they continue to say, down with the president, down with Hosni Mubarak.
We have correspondents both in Washington, D.C., and all around Egypt. I want to go to Arwa Damon who really has spent her day in the thick of things, in, if you will, the epicenter of these demonstrations in Tahrir Square. And Arwa, just give me a sense of what these people are saying and how they're reacting in anticipation of this taped speech.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Brooke, I'm standing right now in the middle of a pretty dense crowd of demonstrators that are all gathered around something of a makeshift tree flipping through the channels awaiting the president's speech.
We've been asking a number of them how they feel about the fact that he appears to be making a compromise, saying that he would not be running in those September elections. And the answer that we have been hearing back from the demonstrators has been loud and clear -- no, that is not enough. They want him out and they are going to try to continue the same intense pace of demonstrations until he actually leaves office.
But the bottom line is, that sort of concession that the president appears to perhaps be making is not going to be accepted on the ground here, not from those demonstrators that we have been talking to, Brooke.
BALDWIN: So, Arwa, bottom line, what will it take to get these thousands and thousands of people out of streets, to get them to stop demonstrating there in Cairo?
DAMON: For the president to stand down. And that is it, pure and simple. It seems as if people have reached a breaking point with the regime of Hosni Mubarak. They are not going to settle for anything less than his removal from office and also for the removal of anyone associated with him from any position in government.
These demonstrators out here today are looking for concrete change. They say that change is only going to come about by putting new people into power, people into power they say that need to be elected in a democratic and truly free and fair election.
Remember, this is the demonstration that has transcended all social levels in Egypt. It is not confined to just one level of society. We have intellectuals marching alongside the impoverished, all standing together demanding that one same thing, that president stand down.
The number of people we've been talking to tonight -- and it's fairly late. Everyone defying the curfew -- they say they'll spend the entire night here, days, months they say if it takes until the president actually does stand down. BALDWIN: Arwa, do me a favor and just looking around -- I can hear the crowd around you -- how many people are surrounding you? Are we talking hundreds? Are we talking thousands?
DAMON: There's quite a mix surrounding us. Some people very much eager to come have their voices heard, have their opinions heard. Everyone has just started cheering. It does appear looking over to the screen in front of me that perhaps this highly anticipated announcement is going to be coming soon. People here now saying, wait, listen, it's an important time to be listening. They're all clamoring in front of the screen trying to get a better look. It is a fairly crowded atmosphere. I don't know if you can hear the cheering starting right now.
BALDWIN: I can. I can. And it's amazing looking at pictures of children. I mean, clearly these demonstrators, young, old, as you said, intellectuals, secular. Again, live pictures there of Cairo. I imagine Arwa is somewhere in the thick of that. Arwa Damon, I'm going to let you go for now. Of course we'll check back in with you as you are in the midst of these crowds in Tahrir Square. Arwa, thanks.
HOLMES We're going to take a short break now. We're keeping an eye on Egyptian television to see when that statement from Hosni Mubarak does commence. You will get it live. On the other side of the break, we're going to tell you a little bit about who is Hosni Mubarak to understand his history is to understand how he got here. That's after the break.
HOLMES: Continuing to watch Cairo, Egypt, which is pretty much the center of all breaking news at the moment, waiting to see when the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will speak on state television. We're expecting that to happen -- well, we've expected it to happen for the last 90 minutes or so. And the television station itself actually put up a font on the bottom of the screen a short time ago that said "Important announcement from the president soon." We're still waiting and you'll see it when we do.
In the meantime, it may be worth going back and have a look at who Hosni Mubarak is and how he got to where we all are today.
HOLMES: To understand Hosni Mubarak, you have to start here with his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, who in 1979 signed the Camp David peace treaty with Israel. That handshake on the White House lawn enraged radicals who believed Sadat had sold out Arab interests across the region. In protest, even many centrist governments broke diplomatic relations with Egypt.
Two and a half years later while President Sadat was reviewing a military parade with then vice president Hosni Mubarak sitting next to him, Muslim radicals in the army had their revenge. Sadat was assassinated. Mubarak was wounded but survived to be sworn in as president. That was October 1981. Hosni Mubarak has been the Egyptian president ever since and until this week never had a vice president. When he came to power, Egypt was the pariah of Arab world for signing that peace deal with Israel. Mubarak went on the diplomatic offensive, quickly improving relations with Arab neighbors.
HOSNI MUBARAK, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT: To consider peace is not something impossible. It's a gift to the people, to the human being.
HOLMES: For 30 years Mubarak has been a regular guest of American presidents. He's been an all lie of the west in efforts to contain Al Qaeda, and Mubarak collaborated in repeated U.S. efforts to broker peace deals between Israel and the Palestinians, here with President Ronald Reagan.
MUBARAK: The exercise of the right to self-determination cannot be denied to the Palestinian people.
HOLMES: The self-determination back home in Egypt, though, was another matter. Mubarak's presidency was reaffirmed three times in national voting, but, by law, no one else was allowed on the ballot.
After U.S. pressure, eye supposedly open election was held in 2005, but international observers complained the balloting was rigged. After contesting the election results, the number two vote-getter was arrested, charged with forgery, and sentenced to five years hard labor. That punishment earned the Mubarak government a strong rebuke from the White House.
The alternative, Mubarak's government hinted, was chaos, and Egypt's painful history of terror attacks meant little was left to the imagination. From Luxor in 1997 when 60 people mostly tourists were slaughtered to a resort city in 2005 where 88 people were killed.
Like a cat, Mubarak seems to have had nine lives. He survived multiple assassination attempts, including an attack by Islamic extremists on his motorcade during a 1995 visit to Ethiopia.
Still, Mubarak is now 82, and in recent years his health has appeared to falter. When Mubarak came to power in 1981 he inherited a country torn apart by economic and political differences. Islam idealists and radicals wanted a Muslim state. Secular moderates wanted a western-style democracy.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein and Iraq, U.S. pressure forced Mubarak into grudging change -- more freedom of expression, newspapers allowed to publish articles critical of the government, and economic reforms that brought strong economic growth. But this interview from 1981 may offer a hint at Mubarak's cautious approach to change.
MUBARAK: Look what happened in Venezuela, and look at Tunisia. They tried to make tough reforms. The people are human beings, they didn't accept it, or they couldn't accept it.
HOLMES: All right. A look back at Hosni Mubarak and what got us to where we are.
BALDWIN: Now as we've been checking with correspondents in Egypt, I also want to turn our attention to Washington, D.C., and to John King. John, I know you've been in touch with some of your sources here. And just in terms of perhaps the White House and as we anticipate this announcement from Hosni Mubarak that he will announce he will not seek reelection come September, is this what the White House wanted?
KING: Yes, it is what the White House wanted, but it is only part of what the White House wanted. Remarkable watching Michael's piece unfold, remember this a 30-year alliance with the United States of America as well that is having a defining change today.
We know the White House would prefer that President Mubarak step down in the short term once he had put in place a transitional government. They like and support his new vice president, very good relationship with the army chief of staff. They believe the people on the street could support a transitional government led by those two gentlemen as long as some legitimate people were brought in from the opposition.
The key question is, the White House is told President Mubarak will announce he won't be a candidate in the next election. He was going to try to ride out this term, we were told by a source. You've heard from our correspondent that the demonstrators believe that is unacceptable. So that remains a defining question -- what role does President Mubarak want to play after he makes this announcement? Will he aggressively bring new people in, or will he try to run out the clock, if you will, and continue the crisis in a different way?
But this is a defining day. As we watch this unfold, yes, we will watch the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, and Michael can talk more smartly about this. An interesting question will be, what will the reaction from Iran be and from the Palestinian territories be and elsewhere in the region be? How will they describe fairly or unfairly the role of the United States in all of this and how will that stoke the unrest in the region?
BALDWIN: Of course we've already seen Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan today, a lot of eyes on the Middle East. I want to get back to Egypt, a big, big friend of ours, Hosni Mubarak a friend of president Obama. The number one recipient of U.S. aid. How would this affect the U.S.'s relationship with Egypt?
KING: Well, the U.S. hopes to have a lasting and stable and trustworthy relationship with whatever comes next. Obviously the military to military relationship is critical right now. Secretary of State Clinton will be critical, and the president of the United States willing critical.
We need to learn more about who President Mubarak is will to bring into the government. We know there is a strained relationship right now with President Mubarak but a longstanding relationship. The vice president and chief of staff have had long standing ties. The question is, who comes in. Mr. ElBaradei had his tensions with United States, especially back in the Bush administration day, but he a known figure on the world stage. But as Anderson was noting earlier and others have noted on the square, there is no face of this revolution. That is one of the complicating factors. You do not know who. Who could you bring into the government that will satisfy at least be a relief valve to allow dialogues and conversations about democratic institutions?
The important thing is, Brooke, the administration made the calculation even though it couldn't answer many of those questions, the genie was out of the bottle and it felt he had nothing left to do except tell Mr. Mubarak it was time to do something different.
BALDWIN: Let me quickly follow up on that. Is this anticipated move on behalf of Hosni Mubarak a direct result of the U.S. sending Frank Wisner to Cairo?
KING: I think that would underestimate the reaction of President Mubarak's own people. There's no question the administration wanted to send someone President Mubarak trust out of the fear that the people closest to him weren't giving him candid and blunt support, that he had lost the bond with his people and that the United States saw that, other key players in the western world saw that and it's important to take the step.
But this is a nudge from president Obama, but a nudge that comes after eight days of a pretty blunt and direct and clear message from the people of Egypt.
HOLMES: John, I've got to ask you this, it's Michael. I can't when I look at what Mubarak looks like he's going to do wait around for seven or eight months, be backed up by his own guys in that time, I can't believe that this is what the White House would have wanted, that when Wisner went in there that was the message he took.
KING: It is clear, Michael, they would like more and. It is clear before they sent the former ambassador to deliver the message, they had hoped president Mubarak would reach this of his own accord. They did not want him to leave right away. They wanted a conversation, a dialogue, the new vice president to take power. They wanted things to settle down, they wanted the army to make clear to the people and the people make clear back to the army that that relationship of trust, perhaps the most important relationship at this moment continued.
Then what they hoped is that President Mubarak would announce it's time for him to go. Now, we don't know a lot of things, not a lot about the private diplomacy, about President Mubarak's conversations with his army and his advisers. We'll watch all of this unfold.
It is the preference ever the White House that Mr. Mubarak not be there for the next eight months. Would they prefer that he would leave in the short term? I can't define it for you because they won't define it for me. I don't know they have a definition of what it means.
But they would like in a matter of week to step aside -- if, and this is a huge if, if there is a stable government in place. The White House says a lot of information it's getting is sometimes murky and conflicting. But let's not understate the importance of the moment. If President Mubarak is saying he won't be a candidate and he's made clear his son is not a candidate, that is a closing of a very, very important chapter in Egyptian history. It still leaves a lot of questions for the weeks and months ahead, though.
HOLMES: Thanks, John, for you analysis, and we'll be getting more as we continue to follow this story. And we're still waiting for that announcement to happen. As John was saying, the notion that Gamal Mubarak would have run, that was out the window a few weeks ago. That was not going to happen.
BALDWIN: So the question is, with the transitional government, would the people in Egypt and the United States be OK with, a transitional government with members of the Mubarak regime or an opposition --
HOLMES: The probably want to see an interim government that brought in various factors, various people, people like ElBaradei, there' other people they could bring in and have a transitional, temporary administration until they can get to truly free and fair elections.
But we've got to come back to this point, Brooke. The U.S. has to tread very carefully and it is. The U.S. does not want to look like they've got a hand in this. If they come out -- they're not going to -- and say, we think we can do business with ElBaradei before the elections, it's the kiss of death. You've got a country there the population has a 17 percent approval rating of the U.S. So you don't want to be endorsed.
BALDWIN: A lot more to talk about, Mr. Holmes. We need to sneak a quick break in, we'll also check in with Arwa Damon in Tahrir Square to see what the people are saying in anticipation of this announcement by President Hosni Mubarak. We'll be right back.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. As we continue to watch these live pictures there from Tahrir Square in Cairo, we are waiting -- we were told, what, an hour ago now that we'd be hearing a taped recording from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Egyptian state television. We're still waiting for that. In the meantime, we're checking in with our correspondents on the ground in Cairo.
HOLMES: Arwa Damon is among them, she's in Tahrir square, getting a sense of what's going on. Arwa, I know earlier on you were talking to people about the deprivation they've been having in terms of closed down ATMs, no food, things difficult to get. But I imagine since this rumor has gone around about Hosni Mubarak you're hearing a lot different sort of mood.
DAMON: Yes, Michael. We're here in the middle of the crowd, actually just a short distance away from this massive TV screen that has been set up. We heard cheers breaking out earlier when one of the anchors read a list of the people's demands. Since then, cheers have been erupted every once in a while.
We've been asking the people around us how they feel about the anticipated announcement by the president that he would not be running in the September elections. And I'm joined now by a young lawyer, whose name is Mahmoud Safi (ph). Mr. Mahmoud, what is your opinion about this, the president saying he will not run in the September elections? Is this enough for you to stop demonstrating?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It is not enough. We have a request. We have one question. We want him to leave our country now, immediately, not tomorrow, not tomorrow.
DAMON: And we were told earlier that there are many differences among the people here standing around us right now, but there is one thing that keeps you together. Speak to us about those differences and what it is that is keeping you together right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are -- we come from many different places, and we are Muslim and Christian, from everywhere. But we have one hope. We hope to have freedom. We want change. We don't want this man. We don't want this man. We want our country to be free, and we want freedom.
DAMON: But why is it not enough that he is saying he won't run in the September elections?
BALDWIN: Arwa, we're going to cut you off. Arwa Damon speaking there with people in the square. You can hear, Michael, that people are angry. We heard him say tomorrow, tomorrow. We want Hosni Mubarak to leave. So it's interesting though from an outsider perspective there is anger towards this one man, but at the same time, in talking to our different correspondents there, there's quite a sense of community among the people protecting their neighborhoods, arming themselves, protecting their children who we've seen out demonstrating.
HOLMES: It's not a religious crowd. It's all kinds, all areas of life are represented in that crowd there. And, you know, just from how this has built up over the last eight, nine days and the mood of the people and how restive it has become and how the fervor has grown.
And the notion that they are going to buy Hosni Mubarak sticking around until September and the elections there and just not running as opposed to stepping down, it's very difficult to see how that's going to be somehow acceptable on the street.
BALDWIN: That's one of the sticking points, and that's what we have to wait and hear if that in fact -- if he'll stick around for the eight months or if he will not.
We got to get a break in. Be right back. Stay there.
BALDWIN: Breaking news there in Egypt. A very, very crowded Tahrir Square as people are waiting. We were told we'd hear this announcement on Egyptian state TV about 90 minutes ago, that we would be hearing from President Hosni Mubarak, anticipating his announcement that he will not seek election in September.
But is that good enough for the people of Egypt? I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer. And Wolf, I know you have been to Egypt. So many people have described these demonstrations as a sight no one in this country has ever seen before. What are your impressions, as you're watching this along with us?
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, it's really amazing. As anyone who has been watching this story, as I have for 30 years, if not longer, it has to be totally amazed by what's going on, how quickly this has erupted. It was only a few weeks ago that there was some demonstrations in Tunisia, and then the longtime president there, president Ben Ali, had to flee, and we see what happened there.
But that was a spark, and now there's a forest fire going on, and Egypt has caught that, and it's really stunning to see how quickly this has led to this point where President Mubarak who has been in power for almost 30 years is on the verge of stepping down either immediately or within the next few weeks or months. We'll see if the crowd, if the people on the street are willing to wait that long.
But there's every indication to believe it's over for President Mubarak. One way or another he's going to have to leave. Certainly he's going to make it clear that he's not going to seek reelection in the scheduled September elections.
The question is what happens next? Not only in Egypt, Brooke, but what happens in the region? Does this wildfire spread to other countries? Whether to friendly countries to the U.S. like Jordan, for example, and Yemen which has seen some demonstrations, Jordan as, as well as not-so-friendly countries like Syria or Libya for that matter or maybe even Iran, does this spark the protesters on the street elsewhere in the region as well?
So this whole Middle East region is really going through a thunderous change right now and one that few of us could have predicted only a few weeks ago. That's how quickly this has spread. It really is amazing.
BALDWIN: And here we go eight days later. It is amazing. Wolf Blitzer, we'll see new one hour's time hosting "THE SITUATION ROOM" from Washington. Thank you, sir.
HOLMES: And indeed, that's right. There have been momentous changes and we even saw today in Jordan a preemptive strike, if you like, by the king there to dismiss the prime minister and put in a new one hoping to head off more demonstrations in his neck of the woods.
So, how did we get to this moment here in Cairo? Suzanne Malveaux has a look back.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Starting with Tunisia where an unemployed graduate student sets himself on fire after a city inspector confiscates his unlicensed fruit cart and then allegedly slaps him. His death sparks unprecedented fury and protests against the government, forcing Tunisia's longtime president to flee.
In Algeria riots break out over rising food prices and a housing crisis. In Yemen, students take to the streets, emboldened by its neighbors in the region. On Tuesday Egypt erupts. Angered by the alleged corruption, police brutality and lack of reforms in their own country, thousands pour into the streets demanding Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has held power for nearly three decades, resign.
Protesters are met with tear gas and violence. The next day the violence escalates as Egyptian security forces turn water cannons and --