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THE SITUATION ROOM
Media Attacked in Egypt; Obama: 'A Better Day Will Dawn Over Egypt'; Egypt's Social Elite Tense and Fearful; Anxiety in Alexandria, Egypt; Mubarak: Chaos if I Resign Now; Getting Americans Out of Egypt
Aired February 3, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And we begin with breaking news. The embattled Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, now speaking out in a new interview about the mayhem crippling his country -- why he says he won't step down right away and he doesn't care what people say about him. That's coming up.
Also, the country's newly appointed vice president urging protesters to, quote, "Go back home and allow the state to do what it needs to do."
OMAR SULEIMAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator):. The president, in his address, has said that we should punish those who have called this crisis that Egypt is going through. And this is also a necessity. The government has to take on the measures for an immediate investigation into those who have caused this crisis and all those who would be proven to have the -- been negligent or would be accused in those actions will have their harsh punishment. This is a commitment by the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The defiant Egyptian vice president. More on him coming up.
Also, heightened fear in Cairo right now, as scores of journalists become prime targets in the chaos. Ahead, new arrests, the tensions, even a second attack on our own Anderson Cooper. And why U.S. officials now believe it could be part of an organized effort. Stand by for that.
The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is issuing a stern warning to the Egyptian government in the wake of the latest assaults on journalists and others in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We condemn, in the strongest terms, attacks on reporters covering the ongoing situation in Egypt. This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press. And it is unacceptable under any circumstances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's go straight to our Ivan Watson.
He's joining us on the phone right now.
He's in Cairo -- Ivan, I know a lot of people are bracing for huge demonstrations tomorrow. It could really, really get ugly. But today was a day that it got very ugly for you and all of our colleagues in the press, not only Americans, but from around the world.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There were Egyptian, Swedish, American, Turkish, Canadian, British and Arab journalists who were arrested who were beaten, some of them hospitalized, had their equipment snatched or stolen, in some cases. It was even the Egyptian Army that is purported to have remained neutral throughout the clashes we've seen now going into the second night that were taking film away from photographers here.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling this a quote, "government orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news," going on to say that Egypt is "seeking an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world's worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba."
And it's not just journalists that have been targeted, Wolf. It's also human rights workers. There were two officers at the Shah Mubarak Law Center in the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. They were surrounded by a group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators, the likes of which we've seen clashing, for now, approaching 48 hours now. And then security officers went into those officers, put at least a dozen human rights workers flat on their stomachs, then interrogated them and then took them away to an undisclosed location in a minivan. Among them, representatives of Amnesty International, as well as Human Rights Watch.
And all this as the vice president of Egypt, as well as the prime minister, have come out calling on the Egyptian youth that have been fighting so fiercely against the Egyptian security forces and these pro-government demonstrators now to lay down their arms and to allow a period of reform and democracy in the future.
So mixed messages coming from this regime during the biggest challenge -- perhaps the biggest challenge yet in recent history to its authority.
BLITZER: And the president, Hosni Mubarak, Ivan, now telling ABC News that he's not leaving. He says, sure, he'd like to step down. But he says if he were to step down before the scheduled elections in September, there would be chaos in Egypt.
It's getting close to chaos, I think, right now. But he's making it clear -- and his vice president is making it clear, who was on Egyptian television today -- that the Egyptian president is going to stay. I assume that is going to further anger so many of these demonstrators. WATSON: That's right. One of the demonstrators that I've spoken to and one of the big differences, Wolf, from yesterday is that the number of people inside Tahrir Square, behind the barricades, swelled dramatically today. I talked to some of the protesters, who were able to get reinforcements, people coming in with fresh medical supplies, for example, and food, water; actors and intellectuals coming in to keep their morale up.
And one of the demonstrators said, you know, yes, the government is starting to make some concessions. It's starting to speak in nicer tones to us. But it is not meeting our one essential demand -- and that is for Hosni Mubarak to resign.
Instead, the vice president -- the newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, was calling for more time and said he needed more time to try to set up future elections. And that is something that opposition leaders, as well, have rejected. They said, OK, we could have gone into negotiations with this new government, but after what they described as this vicious attack on what had been a peaceful protest, they say they will not sit down for negotiations with the embattled government of Hosni Mubarak, which seems very focused on punishing its critics right now.
BLITZER: And I want to be transparent with our viewers, Ivan. It's now after midnight in Cairo. We're not showing our viewers live pictures from Tahrir Square or anyplace else in Egypt right now. These are pictures that were taken earlier in the day.
Tell our viewers why our live cameras now are no longer available.
WATSON: Well, as part of this concerted campaign to shut down images coming from in here, nearly all of the international broadcasters operating on the ground here have had to stop filming into the -- into Tahrir Square. We're not -- we're simply not allowed to do our live shots. That's why I'm not coming to you from in front of a camera right now.
So, if this is, indeed, the plan of the Mubarak government, it is succeeding. They're succeeding in intimidating the journalists now. Several of my colleagues have been attacked again today. Anderson Cooper, Joe Duran attacked while trying to leave our hotel to a safer hotel, were surrounded by a mob of people who broke the windshield of their vehicle and tried to pull them out of their car.
It is -- it is a very intimidating atmosphere right now. And the amazing thing is that the demonstrators continue to fight back. And they seem to have occupied more territory, as well, around Tahrir Square, which, for so many days now, has been this symbol of defiance against Hosni Mubarak's government.
BLITZER: Ivan, stand by, because I want to continue this conversation with "The New York Times" Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Nicholas Kristof.
He's joining us on the phone right now. Nick, first of all, I know you -- I've been reading your reports and hearing your commentary. So you've been in Tahrir Square now for days.
Where are you -- if you can tell us without endangering your security, where are you now?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, actually I would rather not say in case the Egyptian officials are -- are watching. I mean the -- we're getting reports of the security forces raiding hotels looking for journalists. And so it just seems safer and more discrete to simply say that I am in Cairo.
BLITZER: You're in Cairo. And, fortunately, you're OK. It's gotten from bad to worse yesterday to today. And as you -- you heard Ivan Watson say, we can't even show our viewers live pictures right now. It's simply too dangerous to do it to our -- to our camera crews.
Here's what you Tweeted, among other things, earlier in the day. Here's one Tweet: "Amazing to hear that Mubarak is unhappy about violence when he launched it and he's still claiming that he previous chaos. Give me a break."
Elaborate a little bit on what's behind that Tweet.
KRISTOF: Sure. Well, I mean the -- also, just one point I think we should make is that, you know, as journalists, obviously, we're enormously upset when -- when we are attacked. But it's also true that, frankly, we do have some protection, because of our foreign nationality, because of the fact that, you know, we're going to be leaving the country. We're not living here.
It is the Egyptians who in, you know, many cases, make our reporting work and who are here forever, who are at much greater risk. And I mean the -- the real fear that just really nags at me and -- and haunts me in the pit of my stomach is why doesn't the government, you know, want us around?
What is it that it plans to do in the next few days that it really doesn't want cameras to -- to be able to -- to report on?
And that is -- that is the real fear, that there's some kind of an even broader crackdown coming, which is why they're first trying to get all of the reporters out of the way.
BLITZER: It's scary, Nick, because I -- I also read your column, when you said some of these thugs are roaming with -- with razor blades and with screwdrivers and they're clearly going after journalists. And they're going after others, as well. But journalists are a prime target.
KRISTOF: That's right. Well, when I arrived at Tahrir today, there was a -- a -- a line -- a gauntlet of these thugs. And I mean they just looked like central casting's version of thugs -- these big, strapping young men. And they were holding -- they were each holding these clubs with nails driven in them. And, you know, that -- that was pretty intimidating.
I was able to find another route into Tahrir. And I must say that an awful lot of other people found ways in, too. I -- I spoke to a doctor who had not been previously involved in these protests. And then he watched the scenes on satellite television yesterday of peaceful protesters being attacked by these thugs. And he was so outraged that he -- early this morning, he -- he prepared his will. And, now, he's 64 years old. He uses a cane. He got in his car and drove 200 kilometers to Tahrir, sneaked into the square and has been treating the injured today.
I mean there -- so, on the one hand, you have this brutality from the government. On the other hand, you have just an extraordinarily inspiring determination on the part of the people to resist as far as they can.
BLITZER: And I don't know if you heard the interview on Egyptian television today, Nile TV, with the new vice president, Omar Suleiman, but I listened to the whole thing. And -- and this section, I'm going to play it for you, Nick. I'm going to play it for our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
It seemed, at least my interpretation, to give the green light to a lot of these thugs to go out there and attack journalists.
Listen to this and I'll get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SULEIMAN: I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels -- they're not friendly at all -- that have intensified this period of the youth against the nation and the state. And they're actually continuing in that. They are continuing. And they have filled, in the minds of the youth, with wrongdoings, with allegations. And this is unacceptable. I am really sad for those panels that are affiliated to brotherly nations. They should have never done that. We should have never sensed this in any of this period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He calls these journalists "the enemy's spirit." I just want to reiterate. He says: "I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels. They're not friendly at all, who have intensified the use -- the youth against the nation and the state."
That sounds like almost a green light to go out there and attack the news media.
KRISTOF: Yes. And I think that was incitement. But I also think it's important that -- to -- to note that it's not just some kind of a general incitement through TV channels. It's really much more basic than that. These groups of thugs who are being sent in, who are the ones attacking journalists and attacking the pro-democracy protesters, you know, they're not just coming from their homes or something. Many of them seem to be members of the police forces themselves or other government employees. Their I.D. -- I've seen a lot of their I.D. cards when they were caught and they're invariably members of the police or security forces or members of the ruling party.
And they arrive in busses. They all have exactly the same talking points, very similar posters. I mean they're -- they're organized.
And -- and, in fact, this is standard operating procedure for the Mubarak government for years. I mean this -- right now, it's under the spotlight because there are so many cameras in -- in Cairo. But for years, this is exactly how Mo -- how Mubarak has intimidated dissidents and those who would criticize his regime, while being able to distance himself and create a little bit of plausible deniability.
BLITZER: Nick Kristof.
I just want our viewers to know, if they're not following you on Twitter, they should. It's @nickkristof, @N-I-C-K-K-R-I-S-T-O-F, @nickkristof. Follow him on Twitter and you'll get all the latest information from Cairo and beyond.
Be careful over there.
We'll stay in close touch with you.
Thanks very much, Nick.
KRISTOF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming out of Cairo and Egypt.
Could the chaos spread to other parts of Egypt right now? We're going to have another live report from another major city on the edge.
The reporting continues right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack, he's wondering what's next for Egypt and its president. Jack's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Egyptian people are not buying what Hosni Mubarak is selling. In fact, the antigovernment protestors have only become more emboldened since Mubarak's' announcement that he'll step down from the presidency, but not until September. They want him gone now. They think 30 years is long enough.
But that doesn't seem to matter much to Mubarak. He told ABC's Christiane Amanpour that he's sick of being president and would like to leave office now, but he says he can't for fear of the country slipping into chaos. That's as opposed to what we're seeing in the streets of Cairo right now.
As for the people shouting insults at him, Mubarak says, quote, "I don't care what people say about me. Right now, I care about my country, I care about Egypt," unquote.
Earlier this week, President Obama seemed to suggest that Mubarak should step down sooner rather than later, saying that an orderly transition to a new regime must begin now. U.S. officials say the protest movement isn't going away, it's only getting bigger and they worry that the longer the crisis goes on without a resolution, the worse the economic impact and the violence will become. Already there are food and fuel shortages, banks are closed.
Other world leaders have also called on Mubarak to step aside, including the prime minister of Turkey who says that Mubarak should, quote, "Satisfy the people's desire for change," unquote, without hesitation. Others are suggesting an interim caretaker cover that could oversee upcoming elections.
Here's the question, then, this hour -- "Should Mubarak should be forced out now rather than waiting till his term expires in September?"
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Pressure certainly is mounting, Jack. All right, thank you.
Over at the White House, President Obama closely monitoring the escalating attacks on journalists in Egypt. Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.
Dan, what exactly are you hearing?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that one aide here at the White House told me that there's growing frustration over how this violence is not only targeting just protests but also journalists. As you pointed out, President Obama has been briefed on the situation.
There's also concern here about what could happen tomorrow after Friday prayers, that this violence could even escalate. So the White House, again, is calling for restraint.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama's stay of spiritual reflection came with a call for a peaceful transition in Egypt.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We pray that the violence in Egypt will end and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world. LOTHIAN: This unrest was not completely unexpected. At a Senate hearing Thursday, it was revealed U.S. intelligence warned the Obama administration in 2010.
STEPHANIE O'SULLIVAN, NOMINEE, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR FO NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We have warned of instability, we didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened in the last -- end of the last year.
LOTHIAN: Now the violence is not only aimed at the protesters, journalists have been beaten or detained.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called for restraint and nonviolence. "This --is completely and totally unacceptable," he said. "Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately."
A State Department official told CNN Egypt's Interior Ministry was behind the detentions. This action, the targeting of journalists, is fueling some of the frustration inside the Obama administration, even as U.S. officials turn up the pressure for a transition to happen now, not later.
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt's opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately, serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition.
LOTHIAN: But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said earlier this week he won't seek reelection in September, told ABC News that he wanted to step down but feared it would result in chaos. "I don't care what people say about me," he said. "Right now, I care about my country, I care about Egypt."
LOTHIAN: Now the Obama administration continues to apply pressure in two ways. First of all, reviewing the aid, the more than a billion dollars a year that the U.S. gives to Egypt.
Secondly, I'm told by an official here at the White House that there's diplomatic pressure that's ongoing at all levels of government between the U.S. and Egypt. Again, the two focuses making sure they will allow peaceful protests in Egypt and secondly that they would allow for a transition of power much sooner rather than later -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They're staying up all night over there, some officials of the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, watching the turmoil unfold.
Thanks very much, Dan, for that.
Egypt's new vice president is warning of dire consequences if protesters don't return home. He says the turmoil has already chased a million tourists out of Egypt.
Plus, could Yemen be next? Stay with us.
BLITZER: Get this, just a half a mile from all the chaos in Cairo's Tahrir Square but seemingly a world away from the unrest, Egypt's upper crust is wondering what will happen to them now and to their children.
CNN's Arwa Damon has this report.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an almost surreal and unnatural setting in today's Cairo, the capital's elite seek refuge. Some come craving a sense of normalcy, others just want to catch up with friends before they, too, join the protests against President Mubarak.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He keeps on disappointing us. He didn't fulfill any of our demands and his speech was very empty, those were empty words.
He says he's going to discuss the articles of the constitution, does not mean that he's going the change the articles and the people were very specific about that.
DAMON: May (ph) has been actively demonstrating, her friend Rania (ph) has not. As we speak, word trickled in about the violence erupting just across the Nile, only a kilometer away.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday, I would be very proud to see everyone in the street together and standing there just peacefully demonstrating in their own way. But today, pro-Hosni Mubarak, anti- Hosni Mubarak hating each other and this square begin the Holy Grail.
DAMON: For many, this is the worst-case scenario, clashes between civilians, threatening to rip apart Egypt's social fabric.
Large pro-Mubarak groups descended onto the demonstration ground, the scene that unfolded shocked the nation.
Rania says she's now staunchly against the president and his supporters who she and many others blame for turning peaceful protests violent. They accuse the president of wanting to use unrest to justify remaining in power.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were protesting peacefully, everything was done, they just asked for the demands, they just don't want to go home. They way they're hitting themselves out there is a bit -- I mean I'm scared now.
DAMON: Beneath the veneer of upper-class society, conflicting emotions coupled with a growing fear, stability seems a distant dream.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have heard yesterday on the TV that they have 6 million people in Egypt that are paid daily. So these people have been ten days no food for their kids. So later on when they cannot feed their kids, they will come on us and take our money and take our food and become looters and they become very aggressive.
DAMON: This woman who downtown want to be named says Egypt was sitting on a time bomb, waiting to explode. A mother of a 19-year- old, she blames herself for what her son's generation is going through.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, as a generation, we did let them down. We, as a generation, we not do our part. We were busy fighting for our living and for stability in the country.
DAMON: Her generation never thought to speak out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people will win. The people in the street who slept overnight, the youth who led this, they have to win.
DAMON: But as the night grew more violent, it seems that perhaps there will be no winners in this case.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: Away from all the chaos in Cairo, the situation is calm never some of the small towns, even some of the sprawling cities like Alexandria.
CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us now live from Alexandria.
It's relatively quiet, I take it, today, but they're bracing for Friday after prayers, huge demonstrations again. Is that right, Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is right. The anti-Mubarak campaign planned a very big demonstration. This they're calling it their day -- well, on Friday.
The pro-Mubarak campaigners have been out on the streets here, not in big numbers, loitering on corners, waiting for the anti-Mubarak demonstrations to go by to get into violent clashes.
The anti-Mubarak supporters have been heading off in different directions to avoid those confrontations, but it seems almost inevitable when they put more people on the streets on Friday that you will see the confrontations here that have been avoided so far.
And it is very tense here. Both sides increasingly polarized and really more and more of the population polarized as well, coming to opposite conclusions about what they're seeing happening in Cairo, Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of our colleagues in Cairo are being harassed, they're being beaten up, some have been arrested, not just from CNN, but from all sorts of other news organizations.
What about in Alexandria? What's the situation for journalists in Alexandria like right now?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, without the sort of same focal point, where one of the principal hotels where journalists are working in Cairo is at the sort of fulcrum, the epicenter of the battle there on the central Liberation Square, it doesn't quite exist in the same way here in Alexandria, which means we can get out of where we are and do a little more work. However, the pro-Mubarak crowds, however, are still very vicious, very angry. If they catch journalists, they're giving them a roughing up.
We were in a situation this morning, for example, where we were just talking to local fishermen, fishermen in the harbor, and they turned against us. They are pro-Mubarak. They're not demonstrating. They're frustrated and angry that they can't make their normal living because they can't get out to sea and catch the fish.
They blame it because of what they have seen on state media, they blame it on foreign agents and international journalists like ourselves. So even people that are not demonstrating here will turn against you. And it took a couple of soldiers to extricate us from that situation.
No blows were thrown, but without the army there, the situation just escalates. One person comes on, and another, and another, and another. And that is typical of the crews working here.
A number of our colleagues who were in the same location as us have had similar situations. One crew today had knives pulled on them as they were trying to interview a man in his house. That was actually at his house. So it is a very, very volatile and potentially very dangerous situation still -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It sounds like they're seeking to intimidate the news media in Alexandria, and basically deter you from doing your job, which is to report the news, especially tomorrow, which is going to be a huge day. Is that a fair assessment?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, it is fair. And I think everyone here will be using their best judgment on what they can do. Because there hasn't been this direct confrontation and fights as we have seen in the center of Cairo, it gives the impression in Alexandria that it is perhaps safer. And I think everyone here, even the people in the city as well, are very aware that it's literally just beneath the surface.
I mean, we see people standing on the street corners here, arguing among themselves. The passions are really heating up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson is in Alexandria.
We'll stay in very close touch with you. Be careful over there. Thanks very much.
Some Americans in Egypt say they're simply terrified right now and they want to get out. How easy, how difficult is it? We'll update you. Stand by.
BLITZER: We'll get back to all the developments in Egypt in just a moment, but there's some other important news we're monitoring right now.
Lisa Sylvester is here with some of these other top stories -- Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is urging lawmakers to raise the debt limit, and do it now. He says if that doesn't happen, the U.S. could end up defaulting on its debt, which he warns would be catastrophic. The Treasury Department expects the U.S. to top its legal borrowing limit of $14.3 trillion as soon as this spring.
British lawmakers are furious, and they want to know why their government diverted $3 million in foreign aid money to help pay for Pope Benedict's state visit last year. A parliamentary committee is investigating. The committee chairman says the government's explanation that the Catholic Church has done some good work in developing countries is "lame."
And remember the gunman who stole $1.5 million in casino chips from the Bellagio in the now-famous Vegas heist? A man, his face hidden by a helmet, pulled a gun at a craps table and fled on his motorcycle. Twenty-nine-year-old Anthony Carleo is now under arrest. Police suspect he also robbed another casino -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll check back with you in a few moments. Thanks, Lisa.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, says President Obama simply doesn't fully understand Egyptian culture and what it would mean if the Egyptian leader were to step down. Is Mubarak right?
Stand by. We're going back to Cairo.
BLITZER: The embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak insists he's not to blame for the unrest. He's pushing back hard against U.S. pressure right now.
Let's bring in our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger, and David Gergen.
Mubarak told ABC News today, referring to President Obama, David, he said, "You don't understand" -- he's talking about the American president -- "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I stepped down now." He says the president of the United States doesn't understand what's going on in Egypt.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think it's apparent to the whole world it was Hosni Mubarak who didn't understand what his own people wanted. And he's out of touch with his own people.
President Obama is doing the best he can. I do think that President Mubarak has got a point, that there is a danger of chaos here. And that's why it's so important, Wolf, that even as the president stands openly with the demonstrators, that there be a time for quiet diplomacy by the United States, joined with other nations, to bring about a very orderly transition that does not lead to chaos, but a good landing.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I think it really depends -- this is such a fluid situation, as we have all been watching -- it really depends on what happens in the next couple of days and the next week or so. I mean, we don't know what the opposition is going to do. We don't know, because so many people are afraid for their lives, whether they're going to go to ground.
If they remain persistent, for example, how will this affects the military? Will the military split?
So I think David is right, the president has to pursue the diplomatic channels. But I also believe that perhaps with other nations there could be some way for us to say, look, you're going to be isolated, you're going to be alone against all of us. And maybe there's a threat of sanctions, if not the threat of the removal of military aid. You know, something has to be out there that we can say you guys have to really understand that this has changed.
BLITZER: Because Mubarak also says today -- he says, "I'm ready to step down, but if I were to do so before the scheduled elections in September, it would leave the country in chaos."
Well, I think it's fair to say the country already is in chaos right now, David.
GERGEN: It is fair to say that there's a lot of demonstrations and there is a chaotic quality to it. But to have no government at all, and especially to leave an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood to come in and exercise a lot of power, is exactly the outcome the United States does not want.
GERGEN: It would be profoundly destabilizing not just in Egypt, but in the region. And that's why it's so important to work through this.
John Kerry, in his op-ed piece a couple of days ago, made a good point, and that is, how does one find a graceful way out for Mubarak, a way that sort of allows him to go with a little dignity and keep some kind of orderly process that brings the opposition in, gives them full voice, pays full attention to the need for democracy, the aspirations of the people, but does not lead to a government that is a Muslim Brotherhood government?
BORGER: You know, and that's where perhaps the military comes in. And one of the reasons I'm told that the administration is not overtly threatening the military is that perhaps the military can be useful in this kind of a transition that David is talking about.
GERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.
Gloria and David will be standing by.
GERGEN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the breaking news out of Egypt, including a closer look at who could be responsible for all these attacks on journalists.
Plus, the desperate attempt of so many American citizens right now to simply get out of Egypt. This part of the crisis is worsening.
BLITZER: The State Department is tweeting that any Americans wanting to leave Egypt should get to the airport as soon as the overnight curfew ends. It's now approaching 1:00 a.m. in Egypt.
Lisa Sylvester is working this part of the story for us.
Lots of nervous people. Their loved ones trying to get out. Not that easy.
SYLVESTER: That is indeed right. And many Americans who were waiting it out through the first days of unrest in Egypt, well, they are now saying that they've had enough, that it's just too dangerous.
I spoke to two Americans by phone today as they waited at the airport. One is a journalist, the other a school teacher.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Christopher Le Coq is an American journalist for "Daily News Egypt," part of the "International Herald Tribune." He was working on a story on gas shortages in Cairo when he and his coworker were surrounded by an angry mob.
CHRISTOPHER LE COQ, JOURNALIST, "DAILY NEWS EGYPT": At that point, there were probably 20 or 30 people. It was kind of a mob scene. There was a lot of screaming and pushing.
The military showed up, military officers, in a (INAUDIBLE). They tried to calm the situation down and keep it between us and the mob, essentially. And from what I was told -- I don't speak Arabic very well -- I was told that basically, the mob was saying that were Zionists, that were provoking problems in the country, essentially, and that if the military didn't kill us, they were going to kill the military and then kill us.
SYLVESTER: The State Department says 3,000 Americans have sought help to leave the country. P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We will stay in touch and closely monitor, you know, the welfare of any American citizen. And where we can be helpful, we of course will dispatch directly assistance, or we'll try to work with the host government.
SYLVESTER: Lindsay McNeal is a first grade teacher at an international school in Egypt. She and her husband decide it's too scary to stay.
LINDSEY MCNEAL, FIRST GRADE TEACHER: They had people on camels and on horseback. You know, it's (INAUDIBLE). Well, some of them went to (INAUDIBLE) house, and they actually -- a man on horseback was throwing glass at my husband and neighbors. And I was just thinking, like, it's just really not safe in our neighborhood anymore and we need to leave.
SYLVESTER (on camera): Do you still have a lot of things left behind? Did you just kind of pack a suitcase and that's it, just what you could carry?
MCNEAL: Oh, yes. Lots of things.
We packed one suitcase for the both of us. We have cookies out on the table because we're just thinking -- by the time we made the decision to leave, it was almost getting dark, so I'm thinking, we need to get out and into the airport before it gets dark because the situation gets bad as soon as the sun goes down.
We had problems getting on the main roads because the army would block off main roads. So we basically were driving around in circles trying to get here. But once I showed up, I saw, like, shining faces, and I said, "I'm an American, my husband is Egyptian. And we have marriage papers." And they said that's fine, and we crossed (INAUDIBLE), and we're in the airport right now.
SYLVESTER: Now, as for Christopher Le Coq, military officers quickly put him and his team in a car, and they shuttled them away. And after being released, he made the decision it was time to leave Egypt.
He's now headed to Cyprus and then on to France. Lindsey McNeal and her husband, they were on the same flight to Cyprus, and they're hoping to get back to the United States. But he's an Egyptian national, Wolf, and so they don't have papers. That's something they're going to have to try to work out when they're in Cyprus -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they do. All right. Thanks very much for that.
Should the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak be forced out now rather than wait until his term expires in September? What you're telling Jack Cafferty, that's coming up. And food and fuel prices are soaring. Now the Egyptian government is warning things could get a whole lot worse.
BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Should Mubarak be forced out now rather than waiting until his term expires in September?
Ralph writes from Orange Park, Florida, "There's no guarantee Mubarak would yield power in September no matter what he says now. It would just give him more time to rig the elections and determine his own successor."
Ahmed in Charlotte, North Carolina, "The entire world is watching Mubarak's evil tactics right now. Egypt wants to catch up with the rest of the civilized world. We want our honest, intelligent and capable men and women from all walks of life to stand up and represent our country in fair elections. We can make the world proud of us, but it all begins today by throwing Mubarak out."
Abdelrahman writes to us from Cairo, "No, Mubarak should stay to the end of his term. Not because I like him, but for stability. He can't reverse the changes that have begun now, but we need stability in order to prevent other groups from harming Egypt even more."
Jerry writes from Oregon, "Jack, now that Mubarak's goon squads have resorted to attacks and detainment of prominent world journalists while reporting in Egypt, he should be forced out now, as in yesterday. I'm afraid he's planning something seriously brutal as he attempts to throw sand in the eyes of the world."
Dianne writes, "He ought to go now. He's undeniably the cause of the chaos that he decries. And someone needs to remind him the same U.S. technology that can put a smart bomb down a tiny chimney in Iraq can also see Tahrir Square in full detail even in the dark. He really can't hide the abuse of his own countrymen, whether the press is there or not."
David writes, "Jack, how much money would it take for you to leave CNN today rather than at the end of your contract? It's estimated Mubarak's family worth is between $40 billion and $70 billion. Go figure. I guess that's more than a $1.5 billion from the U.S. for more than 20 years."
If you want to read more on the subject, you can find it on my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you. Thanks very much.
The crackdown, the turmoil in Egypt. We're going there live. We're going to Cairo. Our reporters are standing by with all the latest on the chaotic situation.
And taking a stand. An Egyptian journalist, a brave one, tells us why she cannot do her job anymore.
BLITZER: Egypt's newly appointed vice president is warning that the turmoil is paralyzing a country already suffering economically.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She's working this part of the story for us -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the head of the World Bank told Reuters that Egypt's future is extremely difficult to read, but he said the lender is ready to support nations in the Middle East moving forward with political and economic reform. And from within Egypt, a word of caution.
OMAR SULEIMAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): So a million tourists in nine days have left Egypt.
SNOW: Egypt's vice president warned of economic damage to the country in an interview broadcast on Egyptian state-run television, saying the country has lost a billion dollars and blaming outsiders for the unrest. But the turmoil has exposed an economy with a deep divide.
It's estimated that 20 percent of the country's population lives below poverty, and the unemployment rate is high. Ian Bremmer runs a global political risk and consulting firm.
IAN BREMMER, EURASIA GROUP: You had over 800,000 young people coming into the workforce in Egypt every year. And so the middle class was shrinking, poverty was increasing --5.5 percent growth didn't do it in terms of making the Egyptians feel like they were going to have any future.
SNOW: Egyptians have also been facing soaring food prices, now at record levels.
DAN GLICKMAN, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: It is not the prime cause, initial cause of the rioting in Egypt, but it will certainly exacerbate it and make it a lot more malignant.
SNOW: Dan Glickman is a former agriculture secretary who served under President Clinton. He now works on the global agriculture development and hunger initiative and is concerned about unrest spreading as supplies tighten and demand grows.
GLICKMAN: Higher standards of living in countries like India and China, that are increasing their consumption of grains and meats, bad weather around the world.
SNOW: Adding to Egypt's economic woes, businesses forced to shut down as protests heated up. And the government dealt itself a blow after banks and the stock market had to close because of government- restricted Internet access. And while the Suez Canal remains open, there is anxiety that unrest could disrupt the movement of roughly 1.8 million barrels of oil every day. That's caused oil prices to go higher.
SNOW: And then there's the concern in the oil market that the unrest will spread through the Middle East. But some analysts say some of that fear is overblown since they expect stability in Gulf states, where oil is produced -- Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Mary Snow, thank you.