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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Word that Hosni Mubarak May Step Down
Aired February 10, 2011 - 11:56 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Want to welcome our viewers to the United States and around the world.
The mood is extremely festive right now in Tahrir Square in anticipation now of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. You are seeing those live pictures there. State TV has just confirmed that Mr. Mubarak will address the nation tonight.
Hossam Badrawi, the secretary-general of Egypt's ruling party, tells CNN the ban demands of protesters have been met. He says, quote, "They won."
Now add to that CIA Chief Leon Panetta told Congress just a short time ago there is a strong likelihood that the Egyptian president will step down tonight.
Now, Mr. Mubarak has ruled Egypt for some 30 years. He is expected to transfer his power as commander in chief of the armed forces to the Egyptian army.
Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian activist on leave from his job at Google tweeted "Mission accomplished thanks to all the brave young Egyptians." Ghonim has become a hero of this revolt.
It's the top of the hour. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States, around the world. I'm joined by Jim Clancy of our sister network, CNN International.
And as we mentioned, we are watching unfold here Egyptian people who are part of this uprising, and it looks like, Jim, at least one of the demands, a very significant one, might actually materialize and take place later today.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Now comes the hard part.
MALVEAUX: The hard part.
CLANCY: These demonstrators, it would appear, are on the brink of the success of forcing the ruler of almost 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, from power. But now they have to build the political system that they've never had and it's going to have to be built from the ground up.
Let's go to Tahrir Square right now and check in with Ivan Watson, our correspondent on the scene there. Ivan, obviously everybody thinks that they are going to hear the news that they've been waiting for -- for , what, 17, 18 days now?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's important to note, Jim, that when this started, this movement, these protests, these demonstrations were not nearly this large. They have really grown as the days and weeks have gone on. And the people that have been attending these rallies have evolved as they've learned more about the gatherings here, as they've been reassured that they're safe coming in and out of this location.
We have to recall that there has been a series of clashes that have taken place here, that there have been arrests taking place outside the square and there is a lot of misinformation that has been publicized in past weeks on Egyptian state TV, for instance, arguing that the people that are congregating here, that they're drug dealers, that they're criminals, that they're spies of countries ranging from Israel to the U.S. to even Iran and the movement Hezbollah. And many of the crowd that have come here over the days have been coming just to see for their own eyes what exactly is going on here.
And the impression that you get when you come in is, it's really remarkable. You walk in and there are young man drumming and chanting and singing and literally welcoming people in kind of a Kumbaya movement and saying, come on in, you're welcome here. And they call down for the regime and you're searched as you come in.
One young man I was standing next to, he's a Cairo resident, he said this is my first time coming and I'm going to stay here. And he hadn't even entered the revolutionary enclave known as Tahrir Square.
As the weeks have progressed, as the protesters here succeeded in beating back several days of violence and attacks from pro-regime supporters that were using Molotov cocktails and stones and even apparently sniper rifles that killed a number of people, the character of this square evolved. There are now tents all over the place, families sleeping here. People old and young as well. There are concerts that go on here.
We've seen Christian masses here. We've seen enormous prayer services for Muslims, where tens of thousands kneel on the sidewalk. And now, almost euphoria as people seem to anticipate something coming from the mouth of their nearly 30-year president, Hosni Mubarak, and a lot of rumors, a lot of speculation that he may be stepping down -- Jim.
CLANCY: Ivan, you know, as I talk with Suzanne here, now comes the hard part, because all of those people down in Tahrir Square, whether they realize it or not, don't really have a political party that represents their point of view. It hasn't been built yet, and they have to build it.
How much do they talk about that? WATSON: There isn't too much talk about that. I mean, really, people are caught up in the moment.
People power is fun, especially here. You've got people selling food in the streets. It's a carnival. There is music.
But the questions of what's next, that is not really being addressed by many of the people here. There is a simplistic answer often -- we just want to get rid of this man, Hosni Mubarak, he's held us down. That will make everything better.
And it's very clear throughout history when there are revolutions, sometimes the hardest moments come afterwards, even after the revolutionary bloodletting is over. What do you build? Who takes over? Who fills in the vacuum of a system that's been in place for this long?
Some of the activists who helped launch this series of protests on January 25th, they say, we're working on that now. We know that there's going to be a vacuum, and we're starting to organize and consolidate and make plans for what comes next. But they're not telling us what those plans may be.
MALVEAUX: Ivan, thank you very much. Some tough questions.
It's the top of the hour. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm joined by my colleague, Jim Clancy, of our sister network, CNN International. We're bringing you news out of Egypt.
And I want to go to our own Ben Wedeman, who is in Cairo, who's been on the ground for quite some time.
Give us a sense, if you will, what it's like there. What are people saying? How do they feel? I mean, this moment of anticipation, this has really crescendoed.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, actually, first let me give you a quick update.
I just got off the phone with a senior Egyptian official who told me there is a lot of speculation going on at the moment, but the decision to -- for President Mubarak to resign is his, and his alone, and they do expect some sort of decision within the next few hours. He said that the higher military council, which put out a communique a little while ago, is in constant session to discuss and to study the situation, that the army is ready in the event that it is called to somehow take broader powers than it already does.
So we're expecting an announcement within the next few hours from President Mubarak. The contents of which, however, we don't know.
So, Suzanne, as far as the mood, lots of anticipation. There are lots of rumors flying around, most of them completely unfounded.
There were rumors, for instance, that President Mubarak's plane was being fueled up and prepared to go. That's clearly not true. But certainly, all this talk, all these rumors are adding to this sense of anticipation, this sense of excitement, especially among the people in the square below me, but also throughout the country.
I was in an industrial town in the delta called Mahallah. There, we saw people already coming out into the streets preparing to demonstrate. Very little, in fact, evidence of people demonstrating in support of the president. That seems to be over.
One other detail I can share with you, state-run television is now running live pictures of the demonstration including a promo that says -- a promotional video that says "Egypt is changing." So certainly even the state-run media, which before was really feeding a very nasty propaganda game, calling the demonstrators "agents of foreign elements," "spies for the Americans and the Israelis," changing its tone, taking a very positive tone regarding the demonstrations in Tahrir Square -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Ben, obviously there are a lot of eyes, the whole world is watching what is happening there. I just got an e-mail from the White House spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, who says the president is keeping a close eye on it. It's unclear whether or not President Obama will speak about this later today.
But one of the things that we saw develop here was that foreign journalists had been attacked. Americans had become a target at one point.
Has the mood changed there? Do you get a sense that people are more United, that they welcome this kind of coverage that they're seeing there, and that those elements that were attacking those who were actually covering this story have kind of disappeared?
WEDEMAN: I wouldn't say disappeared, but certainly the tone is much more positive. However, our colleague Arwa Damon and her crew went out to a village outside of Cairo, and they were attacked by an angry crowd. So you can't really say that the atmosphere is, across the board, better.
But I think one important change that happened was this interview by Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was detained on the 28th of January, who then came out and gave this very emotional interview to one of the private Egyptian satellite channels. And people sort of realized when they saw that, that the demonstrators are not spies for Israel, the United States, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, as was being alleged, that they are sincere Egyptians who actually want the country to improve.
So that really made a big difference. And increasingly, people are sort of being made aware that the Tahrir demonstration is, in fact, a sincere expression of the view of many Egyptians. So, yes, fortunately, the atmosphere is better, but not completely better for journalists covering this story.
MALVEAUX: Ben, thank you very much.
Jim, I understand you've got some additional news, some news you're just getting now.
CLANCY: Well, you know, we are hearing from a senior Egyptian government official who says President Hosni Mubarak is expected to hand power over as commander-in-chief -- to hand power over to the Egyptian military. But he says it's not a coup in the traditional sense. At the same time, this non-coup coup would, of course, outside the bounds of the Egyptian constitution.
So the Egyptian people have to look at this tonight. There are political parties, the ruling political party, not a popular one. The People in Power, clear links to the military, but they are not necessarily popular. The military itself might, in the eyes of many Egyptians, be a better choice to run Egypt during a transition phase.
We don't even know if that phase is going to begin, because we don't know whether President Hosni Mubarak is really going to step down. We do know that he has established he's going to appear on national television tonight. That has been announced by Nile TV there in Cairo.
Let's go over to Washington, though, and let's bring in our own Jill Dougherty, international affairs correspondent there, for a view on how this story really, the first time I saw today that U.S.- Funded Arabic channel Al Hara (ph) had broken the news that President Mubarak would step aside.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is Jill.
The information that we're getting is from a senior Egyptian government official, and how he is describing this is that the government had been holding these meetings. Vice President Suleiman had been holding meetings with protesters and the opposition, and that they realized that they were trying to institute a political process that could work according to the constitution. But they said there was a consensus between the government and the military that a political transition was impossible with President Hosni Mubarak in power, so they made a consensus decision, this official said, that they would move forward with the military stepping up, and do this transfer from civilian to military power.
But he is also stressing that this is not a coup in the traditional sense. And I presume what he means by that is they are not taking over in a forceful way.
But I think there is a lot to be defined in terms of whose initiative this was. Is President Mubarak totally on board? If not, of course, that could be a problem. If he is, how does all of this work?
What does it mean to have the military in charge? Does Vice President Suleiman continue to be part of this?
There are a lot of issues, but right now what he is saying is that the military do take over.
CLANCY: Jill Dougherty, the perspective there of senior Egyptian officials that she has talked with.
I want to bring in Shahira Amin. She's a former correspondent with Nile TV. She resigned only last week because she said she wasn't free to report the facts rather than propaganda from Nile Television, which is a state channel, of course.
And Shahira, great to have you on the line. It's great to talk with you again.
I just wanted to ask you quickly, what's your report tonight on how Shahira Amin is looking at events in her country unfold?
SHAHIRA AMIN, FMR. NILE TV ANCHOR (via telephone): Jim, I am so overwhelmed. This is the moment that millions of Egyptians have been waiting for, and it's about to happen.
I spent the day in Tahrir Square. People are in very high spirits as if they knew that this moment would take place today.
Actually, some of them were chanting, "Tonight is the night." I have no idea how they knew, but they seem to be in very high spirits.
As you know, the protesters have actually branched out into streets nearby. They are camping out in front of the Interior Ministry and parliament. They're in a very festive mood. They've been dancing and singing all night long.
And now, I had just gotten home, actually, but I'm heading back to the square, because I want to be there when the announcement is made, because I'm sure that Egyptians will be partying all night long tonight.
CLANCY: Well, Suzanne, you can hear just the emotion in people's voices.
MALVEAUX: And it's unbelievable.
And Shahira, I have a question for you, because obviously, it seems as if a lot of people during the last 14 days or so reached a boiling point, a breaking point, where they said enough is enough, the status quo is not going to be good enough, that we want freedom. And as a journalist for Nile Television, you made a very bold and dramatic move yourself when you quit and you said, "I'm not going to just be presenting one side of this story."
How did that happen? How did you reach that moment where you said, you know, I've had enough of this, I want change? AMIN: I had seen the scenes. You know, Mubarak's loyalists attacking the anti-regime protesters on satellite channels. And we weren't reporting this.
And there was a point where I felt I have to take sides. I'm either on the people's side or on the regime side. And I couldn't be on the side of a regime that commits such atrocities and massacres its own people. And that's how I took the decision.
MALVEAUX: Well, Shahira Amin, that was a very brave decision that you took. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us your story.
After this quick break, our own Hala Gorani, who has just returned from Egypt, will give her own story, her own take about some of the things that she saw, that she witnessed in covering the very dramatic story and the things that we are seeing unfold here that really could shape and change the whole face of the Middle East.
CLANCY: It's history appearing right before our eyes. I don't think anyone in Egypt , no one across the Middle East, and certainly I don't want to miss this.
Stay with us.
MALVEAUX: Egypt is changing, and we are here together to watch all the developments. That's the message that's coming from state TV right now.
And Jim Clancy, from CNN International, and myself, of domestic, we are bringing the very latest breaking news to you. We are seeing a video from Tahrir Square for the first time since the start of those protests 17 days ago.
Thousands of Egyptians are pouring into the square in anticipation of President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. State TV confirming to us that Mr. Mubarak will address the nation tonight.
Hossam Badrawi, the secretary general of Egypt's ruling party, tells CNN that demands of Egypt protesters have been met. He says -- and I'm quoting here -- "They won."
Add to that CIA chief Leon Panetta telling Congress today, just a short time ago that there is a strong likelihood that the Egyptian president will step down tonight.
CLANCY: You know, I want to welcome in all of our viewers around the world as this is being simulcast on CNN USA, as well as CNN International.
We are looking at a situation where history is literally unfolding in the largest and the most influential Arab country in the world tonight. And Suzanne, as you have said, we're anticipating that President Mubarak will take to the airwaves and announce a transfer of power to the military.
MALVEAUX: And, you know, you just can't overstate the significance of President Mubarak. This is a guy who has ruled for 30 years. He's expected to transfer his powers as commander-in-chief over to the military.
There's so many unanswered questions right now. I mean, you can see the crowds, the anticipation, the excitement about this moment. But at the same time, as you and I have been talking with various people --
CLANCY: You can feel the emotion, can't you?
CLANCY: And if you were there with them, I'm sure it's even stronger.
And we have Hala Gorani, who just got off a plane. And we've brought her -- dragged her into the studio here to talk with her a little bit.
And, I mean, we could tell from your reporting, I mean, the emotions were raw and real.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The emotions on the streets, raw and real. The protesters demanding nothing less than the resignation of President Mubarak.
Concessions were made by the government. They were greeted with skepticism and with frustration by the protesters.
If it turns out that President Mubarak indeed hands over power to the military, it is an absolutely historic, region- changing event for the Arab world. This means that the power of the people has brought down a dictator in the Arab world. This, apart from Tunisia, as we saw last month, a month and a half ago, has never happened before, and certainly not in a country as strategically important as Egypt.
CLANCY: You know, and we look at this too, Hala, and I think it raises fears elsewhere in the Arab world that this is going to become a trend.
GORANI: I think it depends on what ends up happening. If he transfers power to the military, as you know, Jim and Suzanne, the military will continue to hold the cards. In the end, the military is going to be one of the most important elements in all of this.
What kind of regime are we going to see post-Mubarak? Is it going to be the military having a strong hand in political executive decision-making? Will it be closer to a Turkish model, under military tutelage, but with something that looks a little bit more like pluralistic democracy?
That is what we're going to have to look at, because Mubarak, in the end, when you look at the last few weeks, he may have still been in power, but executive decisions were made by his vice president. Now if he gives up his commander-in-chief role, it means he's completely stripped of all power, regardless of whether or not he steps down.
MALVEAUX: Hala, I'm just getting an e-mail here about President Obama. He's been asked about whether or not he's going to make any comments.
He has been watching very closely what is happening on the streets there. He says that we're going to have to wait to see what's going on.
Clearly, that's a cautious message from this administration. That's not surprising. This has been an administration that has really, in some ways, played catch-up to what you saw taking place unfolding on the streets there.
You were faced at both ends of this, obviously support, but also some who went after you and other journalists who were covering the story. Do you get a sense now that people understand what you were trying to do and how significant this is?
GORANI: Yes, I think I do. And when you mention President Obama there, his reaction, and what the administration has said throughout this crisis in Egypt, I think you're exactly right. Playing catch-up is the way people on the ground interpreted the U.S. administration's reaction to all of this.
Some expressed frustration toward me, other American journalists, the U.S. government has not been clear in calling for and giving its support to the pro-democracy protests. But I think the United States is in a position, also, of having to be cautious, because if you very early on express support for a movement that ends up not succeeding, then it's very important the U.S. ally is going to end up being led by someone who feels that the U.S. did not provide full support from the beginning.
So this is all strategic, but the important thing is that on the streets of Cairo right now, there is really the feeling from what I've been hearing and from what I've heard over the last 24 hours, that this movement has helped change the face of an autocratic government.
CLANCY: They feel like they've got power in their hands. They feel like they've been able to effect a change that seemed beyond their grasp for decades.
GORANI: You know, three months ago it seemed impossible to imagine a scenario like this one. If President Mubarak had come out and said what he said 10 days ago, three months ago, we might not have seen this. But after Tunisia, protesters, demonstrators, pro-democracy movements in that country, the most important in the Arab world, feel like they have a say in their own political future. It is the reawakening of the Arab street, and that is practically an understatement if you imagine what might happen today.
MALVEAUX: It might be a little too early, but where do we go from here? Because you have the domino effect. You've got Yemen. You've got Jordan. You've got Tunisia. You have the whole Middle East that is potentially changing here.
What will satisfy the people that you spoke with? What do you think they ultimately want? Mubarak says I'm out of here, I'm gone, what do they want tomorrow?
GORANI: Well, the protesters in Tahrir Square don't want the same old guard taking charge and leading the country. In other words, they don't just want President Mubarak to step down, they also want his associates to step down.
They want a new regime. They don't want amendments to the constitution. They want a whole new constitution.
Now, it depends. Exactly, "wait and see" is the proper way to look at things, because if President Mubarak does indeed step down, and his associates, Vice President Suleiman, the military, take over and promise reform and change, will it satisfy protesters, or will they say, no, it's not enough?
Because after President Mubarak's speech, Jim and Suzanne, about -- I want to say about eight or nine days ago, there was a feeling that perhaps that would satisfy protesters, him promising not to run for election in September. It did not.
So, will today's moves, will today's speech, whatever is said by the president, satisfy them? Wait and see, because a fool -- only a fool predicts what's going to happen in Egypt these days.
CLANCY: Very quickly, let me just update our viewers.
Because in case you just joined us, we are watching the history unfold in the Middle East, in the state of Egypt, the largest, the most populous Arab nation on the face of this earth. There are persistent reports that President Hosni Mubarak, who has scheduled an evening address on state-run television, that he will announce he is transferring the power of his presidency as commander-in-chief over to the military. We know the military held high-level meetings this day. Now, we do not have it confirmed from political sources that he is going to resign flat out, but rather some high-level sources told us that, in fact, he will transfer power to the military.
And, you know, Hala Gorani, as Suzanne and I were talking earlier, this is the tough part, because they don't have a political organization that represents them, all of these protesters in Tahrir Square.
GORANI: They don't, but Egypt also has institutions. It has a history of institutional organization. I mean, this is not Yemen. You know, this is a country that's had, over the years, a constitution. It's had a parliament, as empty of power as it has been, as under the control of the executive -- in the military it has been. So this is a country with a rich history, with a very well, sort of developed intelligence middle class, even if they're in the Diaspora.
So this is something that is possible in Egypt. It's just a question of allowing -- of giving breathing space to the political opposition, allowing political parties to form themselves, and allowing for a transfer of power in September.
MALVEAUX: Hala, how much patience do you think the people have? Because we saw the stories that you did. The banks were closed. People couldn't get cash, they couldn't take their kids to school. I mean, there gets a certain point they reached their threshold and, like, we want life back to normal.
MALVEAUX: Do you think that it's reached that point, or they're willing for weeks, perhaps months on end, to allow this to take place?
GORANI: I would have said no three days ago, and now I would probably say yes, because this opposition movement has been so re-energized. Several contributors factoring in, including Wael Ghonim -- we've been speaking of him -- the Google executive who gave that emotional interview on an Egyptian television station.
I think, also, this is -- we have to put things in context here. This has been going on for two weeks, two-and-a-half weeks. It took a month to take down President Ben Ali of Tunisia. This has not been an extremely long movement when you think of what was at stake and when you think of how powerful this autocratic government, with the support of the military, has been over three decades.
MALVEAUX: Hala, thank you so much for your perspective.
Obviously, we're going to have more on this developing story right after this quick break.
CLANCY: Well, I'll tell you what, we're going to have Arwa Damon with us from Tahrir Square. Let's get an update from the scene, the epicenter of a revolution going on tonight in Egypt.
CLANCY: A welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Jim Clancy. Alongside me, Suzanne Malveaux, Hala Gorani, just back from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Welcome to our continuing coverage as we're looking at what is unfolding this night in Egypt, where we are told the president, who has scheduled an address to the nation on state-owned television, may announce he is stepping aside.
MALVEAUX: And one of those people who is on the ground, our own Arwa Damon, who is there in Tahrir Square. She joins us by phone.
And Arwa, if you could, paint a picture for us, what it's like to be there, what the crowds are saying, and what it feels like, this anticipation, this energy before this announcement.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. Hi, Suzanne.
The atmosphere here is really quite electric. There is this air of anticipation that people perhaps might have finally achieved what when these demonstrations began was unthinkable, that President Hosni Mubarak would actually step down.
There are long lines waiting to come in to the square, very thorough searches. People are waiting to come in.
Two women behind us were chanting, "Egypt! Egypt!" and then shouting out to the demonstrators that were guarding the front lines saying, "You are our heroes. You are our youth."
But when we've been talking to people, opinion has actually been very -- as to whether or not should the president make this announcement, should he, in fact, step down. That would bring about an end to these demonstrations.
One young man we spoke to saying that he would find it perfectly acceptable if Vice President Omar Suleiman were to take the reins of the country following the necessary constitutional amendments, that he would be happy seeing the military in power for a short period of time. But another young man we spoke to finding that entirely unacceptable. He said that initially, he and his friends, his fellow demonstrators, would have accepted seeing Suleiman in power, but after he came out and said that Egypt was not yet ready for a democracy, they now want to see him out, as well.
In fact, they want to se all elements of the regime out. They are saying that is because if the vice president is making those statements when he's not yet in power, what is he going to do when he actually does take power?
But, Suzanne, the crowds here really gathering, coming together. There is music blaring out of some of the speakers. Flags are waving. Vendors are selling food. It feels like a festival, to be honest, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And, Arwa, do you get a sense, it seems obviously that folks are divided on this question of whether or not they should stay or go or life will get back to normal, that they'll go back to work or school. Do you get a sense that they are hunkered down, that they have taken a stand and they will continue this movement until everything, till they get all their demands?
DAMON: Well, that's where we do maybe see this divide, because, remember, this is a leaderless opposition, so the demonstrators are not all united behind one individual. Their opinion is very divided as to what they will accept and what they won't.
One thing is clear, though, and that is that until an announcement is made, nobody is going to get their hopes too high. Remember, there's very little trust, very little faith amongst these demonstrators for the president that he will, in fact, stick to his word.
But if he does make this announcement and if he does somehow give up the reins of power, this would truly be a historic moment, not just for Egypt but across the entire nation. We did hear from the head of the National Democratic Party on CNN where he said something very important. He said that the demonstrators had already won, and he was congratulating them for all that they have accomplished. And this is quite a significant statement to make, a signal that perhaps things were shifting rapidly in a different direction, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And, Awa, it may be a little bit early, but anybody in the crowd talking about who they would like to see as the next leader? We have seen people emerge in this crisis over the last couple of weeks. People have talked about the Muslim Brotherhood; Mohamed ElBaradei as being another potential leader. Do people shout? Do they have signs about someone they would like to see take over?
DAMON: Well, not really in a unified sense at this point, Suzanne. And that has been one of the biggest challenges here and one of the issues lying ahead. There is no clear path as to what the demonstrators would specifically want to see happen. Assuming the president were to step down, assuming all elements of his regime were all of a sudden removed from power.
And that is where we have heard a lot of concern being voiced amongst the demonstrators themselves as well. There are many different names out there in terms of who could lead an interim or transitional country until those elections take place in September but no one consensus. And given what we're already hearing in the short time we've been here about what various different demonstrators would find acceptable so that they would eventually walk away from Tahrir Square, one really isn't in a position where we can only wait and see what is going to happen.
There is one thing that is striking, though, that our team was talking about as we were walking in here: that is that given this excitement and anticipation, if the president disappoints this crowd right now as they would not be entirely surprised, but it would change the tide here as well possibly, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Arwa Damon there in the midst of all of that. Thank you so much for your perspective. Obviously, a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation, also a lot of questions unanswered questions about what this mean.
CLANCY: Yes, this is when it's great to have correspondents like Arwa Damon and a man that I believe is probably the most experienced Cairo correspondent anybody has tonight, and that would be Ben Wedeman. Let's bring in Ben from Cairo, Egypt.
Because, Ben, you've lived there and you have for a very long time. You speak the language, your friends are Egyptians. There are some tonight, they're not going to celebrate. They're very concerned about what they see happening in their country. What are they thinking? What concerns them?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, really what concerns them, Jim, is the unknown. This movement in Tahrir Square, as you've made the point, doesn't have a leader. It's succeeded in sort of break -- I mean, in breathtaking speed, to what appears to take down a regime that many people thought was as solid as the pyramids.
And, of course, here the question is as was in the case of Iraq, what about the day after? What about after President Mubarak leaves? And that's the big question. Most Egyptians have never known any other leader, and while they may have very mixed feelings about him, at least under Mubarak. life was predictable. Not necessarily exciting, not necessarily something that offered a lot to many Egyptians, but it had that element of predictability that has just disappeared, vanished, evaporated since January 25.
And as Hala made that very good point, it took Tunisia a month to push Ben Ali out of power, a man who was in power since 1987. If President Mubarak steps down tonight, it will be less than three weeks. And as I said, this was very -- is a very -- or was a very is probably better way to put it -- solid regime that many thought was unshakable. So it's the question -- so it's this uncertainty that really has some Egyptians, in fact, many Egyptians outside the square down here a bit unnerved. Jim?
CLANCY: Ben Wedeman, reporting with us there live from Cairo. We've got to take a short break here. But we'll be back. Right after this, we're going to talk a little bit more to Hala about that subject.
CLANCY: Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the situation unfolding this hour in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak has scheduled an evening, Egyptian time, broadcast to the people of his nation, more than 80 million of them. In that broadcast, there is broad speculation that he will announce he is transferring power to the military. That would be, well, as it's being called by members of the government, high-level Egyptian officials, not a coup but close to it. American diplomats say it would be a coup.
The certain -- the uncertainty is the biggest question here, and to help us understand a little bit about what Egyptians are thinking tonight, a man whose name has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Ahmed Zewail, winner of the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Zewail, I want to welcome you to the program and just ask you about that one question, the uncertainty in the minds of Egyptians tonight. How serious is it?
DR. AHMED ZEWAIL, NOBEL PRIZE WINNER (via phone): Thank you, Jim. I don't think there is uncertainty. I think the Egyptian people have spoken out and they -- the people, the youth of the square are determined for a new Egypt and new face of Egypt. And I think it's a unified picture here in Cairo and everywhere else in Egypt.
CLANCY: But people are wondering about what is the next step. I mean, very honestly, it's not a monolithic state where everybody agrees. There are many supporters of President Mubarak, people who said they like the message of stability.
ZEWAIL: No, I think this will be in the minority. I think the majority of the people in Egypt, as I wrote and spoke before, would like to see a change. They see Egypt as a great civilization. And it should be in the modern world. And over the last 30 years or so, education has deteriorated, corruption has increased, so many other factors in the political arena. And so I don't think you will find too many people here who don't want a new Egypt.
I think the question is that how is the transition going to be made? And I have to say the armed forces until now has been doing an admirable job in terms of protecting the country, in terms of dealing with the people of Egypt. So tonight we will know precisely how the transition is going to be made.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Zewail, this is Suzanne Malveaux. If you were in charge -- if you were in charge the next day, if you had any power to make some decisions, what would be the first thing you would do for the people?
ZEWAIL: Well, I think -- I think what the people are looking for is still for the armed forces to protect the law and order in Egypt, but that they will have a civil governing body. And I think there will be a transitional period which Egypt is run by a civil group. I don't know how this is going to be done yet. This is what I would do, and to have whatever the Egyptian people would like and trust to be in this position. But that the army will protect this transition until a new constitution is in place and also the people have the chance to really vote democratically, and that will be a whole new era for Egypt.
CLANCY: Dr. Zewail, do you have confidence that the military, if they are calling the shots at the top, you say they would be protecting things. Protecting is one thing, but how do you install some kind of -- something representative of civil society? The politics that we see at the base of Tahrir Square? How do you see that they are making the decisions about the political future of Egypt? ZEWAIL: Well, there's a number of scenarios that are going around here, and -- but I remind you with the experiment also in Turkey, where the army really is protecting the rule of law in the country, but you can have a transitional government. And the army might decide to compose what's called here the council of presidency, which might be represented by one person from the army and perhaps two from the civil society to sort of plan the vision for the transition.
They might also decide on one person that the Egyptian people are united about, and then they will protect this until there is a free election after the transition period. There's a number of scenarios that I don't think they are out of the question.
CLANCY: Dr. Zewail, you have the Nobel Prize in chemistry. And it is a rather potent mix that Egyptians are looking at tonight. What do you think are the risks -- are there risks in your mind of elements that might, because of this situation, take advantage of it?
ZEWAIL: I think half an hour ago, I would -- or maybe an hour ago, I would have said that there is some risk in the sense that if this keep going on and the people become in some sense, violent -- in a violent state, it might be the armed forces have to step in and that could be ugly.
But I am very much appreciative of the fact that the armed forces is controlling what's going on, and they are behaving very wisely in dealing with the people, so I think -- I don't think -- I want your audience or your viewers not to think that this can be hijacked, for example, by the Muslim Brotherhood or by this group or that group. I think Egypt is beyond that. And as I said many times, there can be too much worry about the issue of Egypt becoming another (INAUDIBLE) or another (INAUDIBLE). The people on the Tahrir Square, and I'm sure your CNN correspondents will tell you, these are the youth of Egypt who don't have political ideology and they don't have religious alignment, they just simply want a better Egypt and they want a better life for themselves. And I fully support the movement.
CLANCY: Let's pause just for a moment here and listen to those people who are crying out tonight. They are expecting to see historic change in their country.
Dr. Zewail, final question. And that is, you talked about it, violence could be a risk if these demonstrators, not only here in the square but around the country, the people who want to see fundamental, political change are disappointed one more time to find out either President Mubarak isn't going to stand down or that the military plans to install its own political system, if you will. Are you concerned at all about the backdrop or about the effect that that will have on Egypt?
ZEWAIL: Well, you know, Jim, there's always the 10 percent possibility of something. But in my views, the president -- you know, Mubarak has fought in the -- in wars for Egypt. And so I don't think he can let the country be in flames tonight, for example, if he doesn't step down. There is no other resolution to the problem. These people want him to step down. I believe that he will be treated with dignity. But the real issue is not who is going to govern or what is going to happen to (INAUDIBLE). The real issue is that Egypt must make the transition into democracy and into the modern world.
CLANCY: Ahmed Zewail, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry and a man featured on an Egyptian postage stamp and mentioned as a possible, possible president to help lead a transition, a political transition in Egypt.
MALVEAUX: I think you're going to see more people coming out and saying, look, I want a piece of this, as well. I want to be a part of this revolution that's taking place.
We want to bring more people into our discussion now to talk about the very latest developments here. David Horowitz, he is the editor for "The Jerusalem Post." He is in Jerusalem. Robert Kagan is a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution. He is in Washington. And Jamie Rubin joins us on the phone. He's the former assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
Thanks you very much for joining us.
I want to start out with you, Mr. Horowitz, if I can.
Obviously, this alliance between Egypt and Israel, very strong. Mubarak, been a very reliable ally. When you see the potential of President Mubarak stepping down and stepping down so quickly, what does that mean for Israel? Is this a time for concern?
DAVID HOROWITZ, EDITOR, "THE JERUSALEM POST": It is a time for concern. And the kind of comments that your last guest said would be received in Israel with a sort of sense of, from his mouth to God's ear. I think Israel empathizes immensely with the Egyptian people. They may not have internalized it, but they're out on the streets because their country is so unlike Israel, because they seek the freedoms and opportunities that Israelis, Jew and Arab have. And Israel would -- wants to see them gain those freedoms.
The concern is that their protests would be subverted. The hope here is that that doesn't happen. That this doesn't become another Iran 1979 when a movement for freedom and democracy was outflanked by the Islamists. And the concern, when you look from Israel is, the only organized opposition at the moment is the Muslim Brotherhood. And, therefore, that the transition does need to be careful. That the people in Egypt, before they go to elections, have to be confident that their votes will be respected. That they won't be persecuted for their views. That any such campaign will take place in a genuine, free and open society. And then that the people of Egypt make an informed choice and have real options. And that, of course, would give Israel a more stable partner than a partner -- than a partnership that it's had with an autocratic leadership.
MALVEAUX: Who is Israel willing to deal with now if President Hosni Mubarak goes this evening? HOROWITZ: Israel's relationship with Egypt, there's partnerships and communications between the armed forces. But apart from that, Israel is, you know, is standing aside and watching this unfold. Israel, the only democracy in this region, that would love to be joined by others. That wants to see popular demands from the Arab people for genuine -- for a genuine stake in the running of their own country, wants to see that process successfully implemented, but worries, as I say again, because of precedence in places like Iran, if you look at what's been unfolding in Lebanon in the last few week, if you look at what happened in Gaza with the Palestinians. The Palestinians were rushed into elections and really had a choice between the terror-stained successors to Yasser Arafat and the terrorists of Hamas. So Israel hopes that there will be a genuine, well-organized transition in which real democracy can flourish.
CLANCY: All right, I want to bring in, if I can here, Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
And, Robert, just to ask you the question. This has been a pretty difficult time for the Obama administration. They didn't know how far to go and they didn't know when to take policy in that direction. So far they have not come out and called for President Mubarak to step aside. What we have had are some very unclear statements that indicate the U.S. wants to play both sides of the fence. It hasn't come off particularly well.
ROBERT KAGAN, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I think it's gotten better in the past couple of days. And, quite honestly, you know, if you look back at previous occasions like this, whether it was Ronald Reagan and Marcos or the South Korean military dictatorship going down, it's very difficult to get it exactly right. I think right now the administration is clear that they do want to see Mubarak go. I think the real question now, if Mubarak does resign is, will the military be supporting Suleiman in a new dictatorship or are they, if fact, going to carry out the kind of transition that Dr. Zewail talked about. And that's where I think the administration needs to be very --
CLANCY: What does the administration have to do in that latter case?
KAGAN: I'm sorry?
CLANCY: What does the administration have to do if they see that happening in the latter case?
KAGAN: I think the administration has to be firm in statements that it's already made that, for instance, the emergency law must be lifted, that the opposition must be brought in to any transitional government. Those are key elements. That's what the opposition is demanding. And I think that now if Mubarak is, in fact, leaving, the United States will continue to have a lot of leverage and it just needs to be firm in making those points.
MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Jamie Ruben very quickly here.
Jamie, when President Mubarak, if he does, in fact, turn power over to the military, is this or is this not a coup?
JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASST. SEC. OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS (via telephone): I don't think it's a coup in the classic sense. The military has made clear from the beginning it would not use force against the demonstrators on the street and those would have made this happen. Clearly extra constitutional steps are being taken because the way the Egyptian constitution was constructed. It didn't lend itself to moving towards the kind of democratic values that we and the people on the streets have been pushing. And the U.S. will have leverage here once this step is taken and allowing Mubarak to take it with dignity, I think, is important.
The leverage will come, as Bob was referring to, in the interaction between the United States and the Egyptian military. If they allow and oversee and provide security for the kind of national dialogue that's necessary to ensure real democracy or real democratic values take hold, none of the fears that your guest from Jerusalem worried about will come to pass. And, in fact, the whole argument coming out of Israel in recent weeks about how the Egyptian people have been led to believe by their television all these anti-Semitic feelings, and aren't as pro-Israel as Mubarak, in theory at least, when this change comes, Egyptian television will begin to be more rational and the Egyptian people will be able to get a more fact-based news system and the people then, in supporting their government and helping to create their government, will provide the kind of stable outcome with a (INAUDIBLE) peace, but none of the fears that the Israelis are worrying about.
This can all end well if there's some careful diplomacy, if dignity is taken care. But, importantly, the pressure remains from the west, from those who have influence on the Egyptian military, to make sure that the reforms that are crucial without which none of this can work maintain a speedy pace. That it isn't just a move, as Bob said, to another authoritarian rule under Vice President Suleiman.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Jamie.
Our own Hala Gorani here joining us.
And you had a point about some of the pictures and the things that you're seeing on the streets here that are significant.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, state television is running a promo, showing protesters shaking hands with the military. This is, of course, state television. Perhaps preparing the country for what is about to come. Perhaps the handing over of power to the military.
It's important to note, however, that within the square, we're hearing people saying -- some people saying, according to our reporters on the ground, we don't want the military, we want civilian power, civilian power. It's always an open question how people will react in the square among the pro-democracy movement. Will they be OK with the military taking over much of the power in the country.
Here's the promo, by the way. I'm told we can run it now. (VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Great. So there are very -- images of very patriotic sort of images of Egyptians waving flags, asking for change and then nice, smiling --
CLANCY: Getting ready --
GORANI: Soldiers in the square, as well. Getting them ready perhaps for this transition.
MALVEAUX: Are they that savvy that they've already prepared this promo?
GORANI: It seems as though it's the case.
MALVEAUX: They're ready for this.
GORANI: But you know what the military has. Basically the military has already pretty much stepped in. The old guard surrounding President Mubarak and President Mubarak himself are all military men. This is not all of a sudden the military stepping in. This might be a reassertion and an overt sort of underling of a power that's already been there.
CLANCY: You know, I want to remind everybody, I just got a message from Ivan Watson, who you've been working with for the last couple of weeks, but he points out this picture that we're looking at here on our screen, well, he says, I'm going to read this to you, "the dance party you guys are watching from our camera is right under our balcony. A week ago there was a first aid clinic there where medics were stitching up combatants from the clashes." What a difference a week makes.
MALVEAUX: All right.
CLANCY: We've got to take a break.
MALVEAUX: Well, we're going to continue, as well. Hala Gorani is going to be -- stick around, and then Wolf Blitzer, as well, who will be giving us the very latest information on all these extraordinary developments. We'll take a quick break.