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Egypt Rising: Egyptians Info Says Mubarak is Not Leaving; Senior Egyptian Official Says Army Will Take Over if Mubarak Resigns; Waiting for Mubarak Live Tonight; Electric Atmosphere in Tahrir Square; Egypt Official: Army Takeover 'Not a Coup'; Obama: U.S. Supports Transition

Aired February 10, 2011 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Victory. Victory that may be soon at hand for Egypt's pro-democracy protesters. President Hosni Mubarak expected to announce, on Egyptian television, within this hour or next hour but very soon, we're told, that he is stepping down ending his 30 years in power. We want to welcome our viewers, here, in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer with Hala Gorani. We'll be spending the next few hours with all of you and this is history. History unfolding, right now, as all indications point to this dramatic development, but we need to emphasize that, at this moment, it's just still unclear what exactly the Egyptian leader will say.

The protesters hard-fought battle, which first erupted January 25th, may not, necessarily, be completely over. Several top military officers and government officials held a high-level meeting, earlier today, on the crisis. Senior government official says President Mubarak will hand over power to the Egyptian military. The official says the move would take the government outside constitutional authority, but stop short of calling it a military coup.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters are Tahrir Square, and they were quick with their reaction and their shouting, civil, civil, not military.

With this scene unfolding state television reported that President Mubarak met with his new vice president and prime minister in closed-door talks. Here's what the excitement in the square sounded like before word of a possible military takeover.

Today's fast-moving developments came as pressure mounted for President Mubarak to step aside. In addition to the mass demonstrations in Cairo, anti-government protests were, also, held in other major cities across Egypt. And, for the first time, numerous labor groups threw their support behind the pro-democracy demonstrations by going on strike. The Obama administration, of course, is following all of these developments. The CIA director Leon Panetta telling a Congressional hearing what he had heard about Mubarak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: And as you can see, I got the same information you did, that there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, which will be significant in terms of where the, hopefully orderly, transition in Egypt takes place.


BLITZER: Many of the extraordinary events have been centered on Cairo's Tahrir Square, but they've also spread to other areas in the city, as this map indicates. To the right of the Square is Mubarak's presidential palace, that's about six miles, ten kilometers away.

Another key site, the parliament building, over recent days, though, protesters have spilled out of the square, marched to these two sites voicing their demand that Mubarak must go and must go now.

Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us. He's been in the thick of things from day one of all of these protests. He's joining us, now, live from Cairo.

First of all, Ben, do we have any indication if Mubarak's televised remarks will happen this hour, next hour or later?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: No. Well, we know this evening and, of course, here, they're saying momentarily, so we have no indication. However, what's interesting is that, according to Egyptian TV, the address will be live, which is unusual for President Mubarak. It's been a few years since he gave a live address, the last time was 2003, he was opening parliament and he collapsed during that address, so he hasn't had such a live speech since then.

Now, I did speak with a senior Egyptian official who said that it's early to speculate that the decision to resign is President Mubarak and President Mubarak's alone, and, so, we're hearing conflicting things, some ministers, apparently, saying that he will not be resigning. But all indications are that he will make a major address with, potentially, a decision to step down but, at this point, nothing is clear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's, certainly, not clear whether he will actually leave Cairo, go to Sharm El Sheikh, the southern tip of Sinai, in Egypt, or go abroad or what he will do. We have no indication of any such plans, is that right, Ben?

WEDEMAN: That is correct, Wolf. There are so many rumors flying around. We've heard rumors he's already in Sharm El Sheikh. That he's heading to Bahrain. That he's heading to Dubai, then he's heading to Germany for medical treatment. It's in these moments when, sort of, things become very unclear and we, really, just have to wait for him to make this address, so we'll understand what's happening next.

Certainly, in the crowd behind me in Tahrir, the assumption is he is stepping down, and that's why there's already an air of celebration. And just looking down below me, I can see that there's a very long line of people trying to get in the Square, more than we've seen, yet, in fact, people are parked all along the Six October Bridge, as well. So, people are flocking to the center of the city in anticipation of reason to celebrate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben, I want you to stand by. I want all of our correspondents to stand by. Hala Gorani, our CNN international anchor, will be co-anchoring me for the next few hours. Hala, you just came back from Egypt. We saw your remarkable reporting from there. You know, for those of us who watched the situation in Egypt unfold, in my case, for decades, this is not only history, this is powerful history unfolding and the ramifications, not only in Egypt but throughout the region and, maybe, even, throughout the world, are enormous right now.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: They are, and you talk about region-changing potentially game-changing developments in Egypt that could affect the rest of the region. That is, absolutely, the case. What's happening in Egypt, right now, is historic. We are just going to have to wait and see what President Mubarak says when, and if, he addresses his people live on state television.

Who takes over then? Tomorrow is full of uncertainty in Egypt, as well as the rest of the region, but, for now, the mood is a celebratory one in Tahrir Square.

Fred Pleitgen joins me now. Fred, I hope you can hear me. I understand it's loud and very much crowded in Tahrir Square. Tell me what demonstrators and pro-democracy activists there are telling you, right now -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, they think this is a done deal. I mean, people, here, have been coming up to me, they've been telling me that this is the day that Hosni Mubarak leaves. One young protester just told me, he believes this is the day that freedom is born for Egypt.

And, I can tell you, I'm right in the middle of a massive celebration of people who are really a gigantic Egyptian flag. They're shouting, the people and the Army, we are one. They are, obviously, in a very, very cheerful mood. So, it certainly appears as though people, here, believe that Hosni Mubarak is, in fact, eight going to step down, today, or, at least, announce that he will step down very soon.

One of the interesting things, however, that I've found out from people, and that three or four people have told me, is that they don't think it's such a bad idea for the military to take over for a while. I've spoken to a couple of people that say, that would be the best way, they believe, that there would be an orderly transition, would be, certainly, something that they say they would rather have then seeing someone like Omar Suleiman remain in power, or take over power, from Hosni Mubarak.

GORANI: Is it your understanding, from people you've been speaking with, Fred, that demonstrators would be OK with military rule or are some saying they want a civilian rule and they will continue to protest? If this is what we hear from President Hosni Mubarak, will the square empty out or will demonstrations continue until a transition to a more Democratic civilian ruling in Egypt?

PLEITGEN: I think the chances are quite good that it would empty out, at least a little bit. I mean, it seems to me as though, from the people that I've surveyed, and, obviously, this isn't representative or anything, but of the 10 or 20 people that I've spoken to, that I would say about 15 or 16 told me they would be perfectly fine with having the military in power, at least for a while.

Now, I'm not sure that they, totally, trust the fact that the military would give up power, then, again. They say that, obviously, this could only be for a transitional period and should, then, lead through election. And a lot of that has to do, also, with the fact that many people here say they simply trust the military more than they do the people who are, currently, also in the government of Hosni Mubarak, and those, obviously, are personified by the person of Omar Suleiman, who many people, here, don't, really, have very much time for. They feel that it's still, sort of, part of the old guard.

However, we do have to say, of course, but there are a lot of people here, as well, who would like civilian rule to ensue, immediately. But I do feel that a lot of people think that having the military in power, at least for a while, would guarantee that the transition would be peaceful, and somewhat orderly, and that seems to be something that a lot of people, here, value a great deal, even though, from what I'm seeing here, the mood is revolutionary.

GORANI: All right, Frederik Pleitgen in Tahrir Square as demonstrators, pro-Democracy activists, and the world, wait for President Mubarak to address his people. Possibly, a live address which would be unusual. No exact time on that speech, yet. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Hala, this is a dramatic development, muddling the waters, right now, big time. State television, in Egypt, is quoting the Egypt information minister is saying that Mubarak will not, repeat, will not, step down. We don't know what that means. We don't know, precisely, why he is saying this, what his information is, but, once again, state TV quoting the Egyptian information minister as saying, Hosni Mubarak will not step down.

If, in fact, he doesn't step down, and if he says that on state television in the coming minutes or within the hour or so, you can only imagine, Hala, the disappointment in Tahrir Square, and elsewhere in Egypt, right now.

I want all of our anchors and reporters and analysts and guests to stand by for a moment. There is breaking news coming out of Egypt. History unfolding. We'll take a quick break, and we'll continue the coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Very dramatic breaking news unfolding in Egypt, right now. We're awaiting a statement from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a statement in which he may or may not announce he is stepping down as president of Egypt after 30 years of iron-clad rule in that country. Hala Gorani is watching all of this unfold.

Hala, you and I have seen a lot of dramatic developments happening over the past two or three weeks, in the middle east, beginning in Tunisia, now spreading to Egypt. Who knows where it may be going next, but we're getting this conflicting statement, now, from the information minister in Egypt saying Mubarak will not step down. So, I guess, we're just going to have to wait and see what Mubarak does once he appears on state TV.

GORANI: Yes, I think, protesters, observers, anyone who cares about the Middle East and its strategic importance around the world, holding their breath right now, Wolf. Wondering what president Mubarak is going to say. What time will he speak? Will it be a live address? Will he transfer power to the military, and, if so, what happens tomorrow? What's important, now, is what's happening at the epicenter of this entire movement in Tahrir Square.

CNN's Ivan Watson joins us now live with more on the mood and what demonstrators are saying they want to hear, tonight, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, just moments ago, we heard some of the crowd chanting, civil, civil, not military, clearly, showing, at least one group of demonstrators, that they'd prefer to have a civilian government than, perhaps, military rule. And that's one of the scenarios that has been floating around that, possibly, Hosni Mubarak would hand power over to some temporary transitional military government. Again, as you mentioned to all on the air, depending on the words from the president himself.

Let's just remind everybody how fast the events have changed over the last two and a half weeks, here. The balcony I'm standing on, below here, a week ago, were first aid clinics, there were doctors and medics stitching up, in front of our eyes, wounded demonstrators who had been hit by the scores and clashes and seriously wounded in battles with pro-government supporters.

Let's pan the camera down right now, Hala, to get a sense of what the scene looks like tonight, just yards away from where medics were trying to take care of wounded demonstrators. You can see, we've been watching down here a street party. People dancing in the streets, joyously. You know, a real evening of euphoria down here with massive crowds here after 8:00 in the evening and a lot of anticipation from these people that something will change in the near future.

And we've been getting messages from the government here. We've been getting messages from the government and even from state TV tonight. Take a look at this video we want to show you that shows protesters shaking hands with soldiers and then there's a message that is put on to the state television broadcast saying "change. Egypt is changing." And we've heard from a number of government officials, as well, including the senior ranking general here who addressed the protesters yesterday, coming through the crowd and saying that your demands are going to be met. And I think that has helped raise the expectations of the people here.

GORANI: All right, Ivan Watson, thanks very much. This movement, as Ivan mentioned, impossible to predict one day from the next what will happen. Exactly one week ago, there were clashes in the streets. Many deaths. Many wounded. Right now a celebratory mood in Tahrir Square with so many of the protesters hoping that this is truly the end for this regime. We're going to have to wait and see.

Wolf, back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: And, Hala, as you know, if President Mubarak announces he's not stepping down, that disappointment in Tahrir Square and elsewhere will be enormous. And we can only imagine what that reaction will lead to. But we'll stand by. We'll await President Mubarak's remarks.

We're also just told that President Obama, who's on a visit to Michigan right now, he's got a speech on an unrelated subject coming up in about 15 minutes or so. We're told at the beginning of his speech, he will address the situation in Egypt. We're anxious to hear what President Obama has to say, as well.

Let's bring in Jill Dougherty, our State Department correspondent, though, right now.

And, Jill, tell us what you're hearing over at the State Department.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, the State Department is not saying very much of anything, Wolf, because they are watching, along with everyone else, to see exactly what is going to happen. Because until you hear it from President Mubarak, nobody knows precisely what he will say and how he will say it. And there are a lot of details that are in question and it's very important that this get defined exactly, because, as we've been reporting, a senior Egyptian government official has been saying, you know, there will be a transfer of power to the military, but it's not a coup in the traditional sense. Well, what is it? And is President Mubarak totally on board? Now, it would appear if he is the man who's going to be making this announcement, that he is on board in some fashion.

But you have to ask yourself, Wolf, you know, how is it defined? What does it mean if the military steps up and takes charge? Do -- let's say, does the vice president, Suleiman, have some type of role? Is that enough for the protesters and the opposition? Because they've been asking, you know, for the president, demanding that he step down, is that enough? So there are a lot of questions. In fact, probably more questions than answers or facts at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be -- it's going to be fascinating and critical, Jill, to see the precise wording of the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. Does he say he's stepping down temporarily? Not saying -- using the word temporarily. Is he leaving the country? Is he staying in the country? Is he trying to hand over authority to the vice president, Omar Suleiman? We don't have any of those answers right now. But we do know, Jill, that if he says he is not stepping down, but staying in power, at least wanting to stay in power until the next scheduled elections in September, Jill, you can only imagine the disappointment, the anger, the frustration that will develop on the streets of Cairo.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, absolutely, Wolf.

And, you know, to give a little bit of background about that senior Egyptian government official talking to CNN saying that they were working on constitutional ways of bringing some type of change about, but they couldn't get there. He said, you know, the process wasn't getting the confidence or the support either from the opposition or, notably, he said, the international community. So you could read in the United States into the international community. So that they decided that they couldn't do it in a constitutional way, you know, in a technical, legal, constitutional way. So what they had to do was go outside the constitution.

Now, that sounds kind of legally scary, but I think what this person's -- this government official is to be believed. What he's saying is, the constitution just wasn't written in a way to allow us to do that. So we're going to change things. The military is going to take over. But this is not a coup. So that's kind of where we stand. But it will be very important to listen very carefully and that's why people in this building here at the State Department, at the White House are reluctant to really have any official comment.

BLITZER: All right, Jill, stand by. I want everyone to stand by. We're awaiting two presidents that are expected to speak, the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, and the president of the United States, Barack Obama. He's getting ready to speak in Marquette, Michigan, the upper Michigan peninsula. There you see a live picture of the podium where President Obama will speak. At the beginning of his speech, we're told, that he will have brief comments on what's going on in Egypt. And we'll await. We'll of course, have live coverage of that. We'll have live coverage of President Mubarak and see what he has to say. Our special breaking news coverage of the crisis, the turmoil, the upheaval in Egypt will continue after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Egypt right now. Reports that the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, getting ready to step down. We'll see if he actually does. He's getting ready to speak on Egyptian television. We're told that speech is supposed to be live. We're waiting for that.

We're also awaiting President Obama momentarily. He'll be speaking in Michigan on a totally unrelated subject, but his aides are now saying at the top of his speech, right at the beginning, he'll have brief remarks on Egypt. We're anxious to hear what President Obama says. But much more importantly, we're anxious to hear what President Hosni Mubarak has to say.

Hala Gorani is co-anchoring with me here on CNN and CNN International.

You know, a lot of viewers are anxious to know, Hala, right now, why today. What has happened between yesterday, the day before and today that would force the Egyptian president, after 30 years, to step down. And the only thing I can imagine, you not only lost the people, but he then lost a lot of the workers who began going on strike yesterday. He lost state media. State television began reporting fairly nice comments about the protesters. And then he finally, in my opinion, he finally lost the military. If he didn't have the support of the military, there was no way he was going to stay on as president of Egypt. So all of these pillars started crumbling.

You were there from the beginning of this crisis. You saw that crumbling unfold and it's just reached a crescendo today.

GORANI: And I think importantly, Wolf, you mentioned all the other factors. I think probably the most important factor right now for President Mubarak and the men who surround him is the sheer size of the crowd in the streets of Cairo and in Tahrir Square. The expectation was that the movement would lose some of its steam, some of its passion. It didn't. Quite to the contrary, it actually gained momentum. Several things contributed to that. Wael Ghonim, the Google executive that gave that emotional interview on Egyptian television, but also the determination of this pro-democracy movement to take this ruler down, to make sure he steps down, that nothing less would satisfy them. They've been saying it for weeks. Many predicted they would not continue to occupy the square. They have.

Michael Holmes joins me now with more on these rulers -- on President Mubarak. But really President Mubarak, it seems, Michael, potentially is going to announce today, even if he's not stepping down completely, that many of the powers he holds now will be transferred.


GORANI: How about Omar Suleiman, the vice president? The man really calling the shots many say there.

HOLMES: Well, yes, I mean he's an interesting character. And I think one thing we've got to know about this guy, he's 74 years old. He is the former head of the intelligence services, which automatically makes a lot of the people on the street there, that you're watching on the other side of the screen, nervous about this guy. He has headed the intelligence service since 1993, up until last week when he became the vice president. Interesting enough, foreign policymakers back in '09 dubbed him the Middle East's most powerful spy chief. Even more than Mossad, which is saying something. I mean you've got to do a lot to win that title.

GORANI: Yes. And what's interesting right now is to wait for the crowd's reaction, because let's underline one important thing. Omar Suleiman is not a break with the past here in Egypt.


GORANI: He's a military general. He's been around the intelligence chief. How will protesters react is a big question. What is his relationship with the United States?

HOLMES: It's fair to say that over the years the United States has viewed the incumbent vice president as a bit of a fix-it man in many ways. They've done business with him. He's a man that has been able to go around, negotiate cease-fires. He's mediated in the Arab/Israeli talks. He even allegedly had a role in the very controversial allegations of extraordinary rendition when prisoners were spirited off to Egypt and allegedly tortured. He was the man that is said to have been actually involved in dealing with the United States on those things.

GORANI: And it's an open question whether protesters who are now asking for President Mubarak to step down will be satisfied with this man you're seeing on your screen there taking over power. The military also taking over power. Do they want the emblem of this dictatorship gone, the face of the dictatorship as embodied by President Hosni Mubarak, or, as many have told us, do they want a complete and radical change?

HOLMES: The problem with the complete and radical change, as you know, and we've been discussing is, that you can't have a complete, radical change now. I mean if Mubarak steps down today, there's got to be something else. When you factor in the military, a lot of the crowd, as you've been reporting on the streets here, they like the military being there. The military is of the people.

But let's remember, the military has also been protecting the regime throughout this whole protest, this whole uprising. They've even been allegedly involved in arresting protesters as well.

The other thing is, will an institution of such great power and standing in the Egyptian society, beneficiaries of much largesse over the years, are they really likely to sort of step in for a set period of time, allow democratic institutions to be set up and then gracefully step back and allow a truly free and fair election and a truly civilian government? Are they likely to do that? That's the question.

GORANI: It is the big -- it is the big question, what model will they decide to follow? What shape will the leadership of Egypt take? Yes.

HOLMES: They're so woven into Egyptian society now, not just on a military level, but the -- in the economy, in the society, aren't they?

GORANI: And at the highest levels of politics.

HOLMES: Yes, and --

GORANI: Thanks very much, Mike.

HOLMES: Yes, and just remember, good relationship with Israel, Suleiman, as well. He's been -- he's got a hot line. The ministry of defense in Israel has done business with this man for some time. So it will be interesting to see how he plays out there.

GORANI: It will be, indeed. Michael, thanks very much.

Wolf, back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: Hala, I want you to stand by please, as well. Remember, we waiting for two presidents, the president of the United States and the president of Egypt to speak momentarily. We're told the President of the United States, Barack Obama, will speak in Michigan. There you see live pictures. He had a totally unrelated issue he wanted to discuss. But his aides say at the beginning of this speech, he will address this crisis in Egypt right now.

We're also awaiting the comments of the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. The crowd there is cheering. They're thrilled because they believe he will formally announce he's stepping down and may even be leaving the country. His information minister just said on state TV that is not happening, but we will see what the Egyptian leader does.

Our special breaking news coverage here on CNN and CNN International will continue right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the Egypt uprising. You can see on the right side of your screens the Tahrir Square, where thousands and thousands of protesters are thrilled, they're chanting "Down, Down Mubarak, always be free, Egypt." They're thrilled. They're excited amid these reports that the Egyptian leader after 30 years in power will finally step down.

On the left you can see a podium. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is in Marquette, Michigan. He's scheduled to speak on a totally unrelated issue involving the worldwide web and getting all homes in America connected. But he's going to top his speech with comments about what's happening in Egypt right now.

We're told momentarily the president will walk up there and he will begin his comments, he'll get a nice round of applause, presumably from the folks there in Michigan, and then will speak about the crisis in Egypt. This has enormous, enormous ramifications for everyone. Not only in the region, but around the world we're watching. They're wondering if, in fact, Mubarak does step down, if, in fact, he leaves the country and there are rumors to that effect, what will happen next? Tunisia, Egypt, which countries will go forward?

The president is now being introduced. You can see the folks there standing up. He'll walk up to the microphone and will speak out about Egypt first and foremost. There he is, President Barack Obama. We know that he has been really preoccupied with the crisis in Egypt now for more than two weeks.

Hala Gorani is co-anchoring with me. As he shakes hands and gets ready to speak. Hala, we really haven't got a first statement from the Obama administration over these past two weeks whether or not they want Mubarak to step down --

GORANI: Right.

BLITZER: -- only they want change and they want change right away. But here he is. He's smiling, he's happy, although I suspect he's got a lot of other stuff on his mind.

Let's listen to them.


BARAK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat.

It is wonderful to be here in the upper peninsula with so many UPers.


OBAMA: How many of you are Green Bay fans too?


OBAMA: Yes. I've been seeing too many Green Fay fans lately.

It is great to be here. It is great to be in Northern Michigan University. We've got some wonderful guests here that I just want to mention.

First of all, somebody who is as good a public servant, not just good at what he does, but good at heart, and works tirelessly on behalf of the entire state. Your senior Senator Carl Levin is here.


OBAMA: Now, his partner in the Senate could not be here because she's actually leading a Democratic caucus retreat, but she's been fighting for manufacturing, for broadband, for a lot of the things that we're talking about here today. So I just want to acknowledge Debbie Stabenow who deeply cares about the work that you do up here.


OBAMA: I want to thank the great hospitality of Mayor John Kivela, who's been showing me around town. Thank you so much, Mayor Kivela.


OBAMA: The president of Northern Michigan University, Dr. Les Wong is here.


OBAMA: And all of you are here. And you guys are pretty special. Absolutely.

Before I begin, I just want to say that we are following today's events in Egypt very closely, and we'll 7have more to say as this plays out. But what is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold.

It's a moment of transformation that's taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change. They've turned out in extraordinary numbers representing all ages and all walks of life. But it's young people who have been at the forefront -- a new generation -- your generation, who want their voices to be heard.

And so going forward, we want those young people and we want all Egyptians to know America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.

Now, as we watch what's taking place we're also reminded that we live in an interconnected world. What happens across the globe has an impact on each and every one of us. And that's why I've come to Marquette today. Not only because it's beautiful and the people are really nice, which is true.


OBAMA: But I've come here because in the 21st century, it's not just the big cities where change is happening. It's also in towns like this where the jobs and businesses of tomorrow will take root and where young and talented Americans can lead. It's towns like this where our economic future will be won.

On the short term, the best thing we can do to speed up economic growth is to make sure families and businesses have more money to spend. And that's exactly what -- I got a little applause there.


OBAMA: That's exactly why we passed those tax cuts in December. That's what it's doing. Because Democrats and Republicans came together, Americans' paychecks will be a little bigger this year and businesses will be able to write off their investments and companies will grow and they'll add workers. But we've got more to do.

Our measure of success has to be whether every American who wants a job can find a job.


BLITZER: All right. So there he is, the president of the United States, he's moving on to domestic, economic issues right now. He's got his prepared remarks, but we heard just now the president saying this is a historic moment in Egypt right now, a moment of transformation.

The people of Egypt are calling for change and he promises that the United States of America will do everything it can to help the people of Egypt with an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.

Hala Gorani is here with me, as well. Hala, Nile TV, the state TV in Egypt, it's fascinating. They were broadcasting live what the President of the United States was saying just then about Egypt.

It indicates to me and as a longtime observer of what's going on in Egypt, once state television -- the state media begins to report stuff that normally they wouldn't want to report, especially live, it's a sign of the end of the regime over there for all practical purposes. We saw that cracking yesterday with the workers at the Suez Canal with other union workers. We saw it with the state TV and all of a sudden now it certainly looks like it's over for Hosni Mubarak.

GORANI: Well, when state television decides to air live a speech by President Barack Obama saying that we're watching history unfold and that the people of Egypt have asked for change, and that the United States will support an orderly transition of power in the country, it certainly seems to indicate that protesters have won a battle there in Egypt.

We saw it with the promo, Wolf, you saw it earlier with the Egyptian people there featured in Tahrir Square shaking hands with the military. State television and the state through the state television there, Nile TV and others, signaling that a change is about to happen. The big question is when will Mubarak speak? What will he say, as well?

Is he going to step down? If he does step down, who takes over? Is it the military? If the military takes over, who will then lead the country? Will it be the military transitioning and helping the country transition into a true pluralistic democracy? Or, will it be something of military rule for the foreseeable future? It is a big question, and we, you and I, Wolf, the protesters in Egypt, and the world are waiting for this speech.

BLITZER: Yes, there's no doubt that this is going to be historic, whatever President Mubarak says. We don't know precisely what he'll say but there are indications he will announce he's stepping down, indications that his vice president, his personally appointed vice president Omar Suleiman, will become the acting president, if you will. We don't know if that will happen. We're just going to have to wait and see.

But you heard the President of the United States speaking, for all practical purposes, as if this is the moment right now, this is the key moment where all of this will unfold. They're shouting in Tahrir Square and you can see the live pictures, "Down, down, Mubarak, always be free, Egypt." That's the translation from Arabic.

And, Hala, you're absolutely right. That one of the heroes, if, in fact, this happens the way that pro-democracy demonstrators want it to happen will be Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who came back after, what, 10 days in captivity and inspired so many people, that remarkable interview he gave in Egypt.

All right. Let's take a quick break. We'll reassess what's going on. We'll continue to await the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. We'll see what he says on this very historic day.


GORANI: Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani along with Wolf Blitzer in Washington following the historic events unfolding in Egypt.

We are expecting the Egyptian president to address his face and the world live. We don't know exactly when or exactly what he will say, but fully expecting some sort of transition of power in Egypt, 2 1/2 weeks into demonstrations that have rocked the country.

BLITZER: It's really an amazing situation that's unfolding, Hala, and I don't think we can overly exaggerate how significantly potentially the developments in Egypt are. It's one thing for there to be a revolution, if you will, in Tunisia, as important as that north African state is, let's be honest, it's no Egypt.

Egypt is the largest of all of the Arab countries, 80 million people. Militarily it's the most significant. Strategically controlling the Suez Canal. It's got enormous power. Economically it's very significant. Culturally throughout the Arab world it is the leader in terms of films and everything else.

What happens in Egypt has dramatic ramifications, and as we will see in the coming days and weeks, whatever happens to President Mubarak presumably will have ramifications in other Middle Eastern countries, as well. We don't know what the next country will -- that will have this kind of domino effect. Will it be Jordan? Will it be Syria? Will it be other countries in the region, north Africa?

But as you well know, Hala, what's happening right now is clearly dramatic and could be potentially a major international game changer.

GORANI: Absolutely. It started quietly and tragically in Egypt with the suicide of one young unemployed man, led to protests -- rather, I should say, in Tunisia, led to protests for several weeks. The president of Tunisia Ben Ali forced to step down to seek exile.

After Tunisia, we saw Egypt, street demonstrations then clashes then more demonstrations, reenergized by one activist, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was in detention for 12 days.

Now we are expecting the president of Egypt to take to the podium and address his nation and all of us live with more on what he expects to do and whether or not he will step down.

Arwa Damon is among the protesters in Tahrir Square. They were chanting earlier, Arwa, "Down, down, Mubarak. Always be free, Egypt." I imagine there is a huge sense of anticipation in Tahrir Square right now.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, definitely, it is, Hala. It's something of an electric atmosphere. People really hoping, waiting for that speech. Hoping that this is going to be the moment that they all have been waiting for, they will see the president finally relinquish power. This is what they have been calling for all along or one of the main things that they have been calling for.

But at the same time, many people telling us they don't want to get their hopes up too high, because this is, after all, a president that has disappointed them time and time again and they simply do not trust him.

One young musician who we spoke to says that if he does step down, the cheer of the crowds will be louder than a volcanic eruption.

We were also speaking with an older businessman who said, I've already learnt something from all of this (INAUDIBLE). He said he used to go through life with blinders on, but that the youth down in Tahrir Square have taught him how to be positive again. He says the regime made us all (AUDIO GAP).

A lot of divided opinions down here, Hala, about what should happen afterwards and whether or not people would find it acceptable should President Mubarak decides to hand over the reins of power to Vice President Suleiman. A handful of people saying that that would accept that, but a lot of people saying that that would not go over well with the crowds here. They say that after Vice President Suleiman made that statement on Egyptian television when he said that Egypt wasn't ready for democracy, people do not want to see him in power either.

There does seem to be consensus, though, that there should be some sort of military takeover at least for a transitional period until elections can be held, Hala.

GORANI: You know, Amir Ahmed, one of our producers there on the ground, just tweeted -- we're learning so much about what's going on there in Egypt through social media -- just tweeted, this is the loudest I've heard the crowds in the last two weeks.

Let's listen to the crowds in Tahrir Square right now as they all await the president's address.

There, Wolf, just chants that are overwhelming Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. It's pretty much -- it's a very festive mood, and it's the loudest it's been, according to our producer Amir. People are really, really in a state of anticipation hoping that this means victory for them, that what they've done over the last 2 1/2 weeks will finally pay off.

BLITZER: But, Hala, you think that if Mubarak does announce that he is stepping down, let's say he's going to even leave the country, but he's handing over power on a temporary basis to Omar Suleiman, the vice president, is that going to satisfy that crowd in Tahrir Square?

GORANI: I have stopped making predictions, I can tell you that, because so many of the predictions we've made, what we thought would happen based on events in Egypt have not materialized.

Of course, him stepping down -- leaving the country, that is not even what protesters say they want. They want him to step down, they want him not to be president of Egypt anymore. They want an orderly transition to democracy.

Some protestors say, well, Suleiman in power is more of the same. Others say, well, at least they can prepare the country for a transition to democracy.

So you have several reactions which we heard from our reporters there about what they want and what they will accept. It's just going to be a question of after the speech, Wolf, and tomorrow and the coming days, what form will this Egyptian leadership takes and will those prodemocracy activists be satisfied.

BLITZER: Hala, I want you to join me in questioning an expert, a real expert on what's going on in Egypt right now, Professor Tarek Masoud of Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. He's joining us on the phone.

Tariq, tell us what you think right now. I don't know if you have any inside information on what President Mubarak is going to do. Give us a little sense of history.

PROF. TAREK MASOUD, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Yes, I don't have any sense -- any inside information, but if in fact the president is planning to resign tonight, this is pretty historic.

Look, this is a guy who's been in power for 30 years. The idea that he would step down and in this fashion, it's never really -- the last time something like this happened in Egypt, it was in 1952 when King Farouk left power. And I'll note that King Farouk went a lot more quietly than Mubarak seems to be going, but it would it be pretty remarkable if that's what happens tonight.

BLITZER: Will the crowd there be satisfied if he A, leaves, but B, the vice president, Omar Suleiman takes over?

MASOUD: That's a great question, Wolf. I think that a lot of people might be satisfied. Omar Suleiman is somebody who prior to all of this drama had a fair bit of credibility, including with a lot of the opposition figures that you see around Ahmed ElBaradei.

For them, the real concern was that Mubarak was going to hand this over to his son. And so, Omar Suleiman was actually an acceptable option to people several months ago.

I think now, though, now that people have had this taste of the possibility of genuine democracy, will they -- and they -- plus, they've seen Omar Suleiman come out and speak and he really looks like a throwback to the 1960s, will people be satisfied with this? I'm not sure.

BLITZER: Hala, go ahead and ask.

GORANI: Thanks.

Tarek, it just seems as though the government is always -- is always two weeks late with everything that it does. In this case, announcing a transition of power that according to so many observers should have been announced two weeks ago for the protesters to be satisfied.

But what about the military in all of this? I want to ask you about the military. Are they still the entity in the end calling every shot in Egypt right now?

MASOUD: I think that's exactly right, Hala.

First of all, in terms of the time frame, yes, it's been two weeks, but that's two weeks shorter than Tunisia. So in fact, maybe they're a little bit ahead of the game. But I think you're absolutely right, it is the military calling the shots. And that's what we're hearing is that there's going to be a transfer to some kind of military authority in the country.

So one wonders if what's happened here is that the military has sacrificed Mubarak in order to save the regime because you know, this always was a military-based regime. So that may be what's happening here.

GORANI: And just what about the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition groups, the youth movement in the square? With the military in charge, what representation will they have in the end?

MASOUD: it completely depends on what the military wants to allow to happen. So if the military says that we want to engage in a process of dialogue and constitution writing and reform, then it's reasonable to assume that these folks who have been meeting with Omar Suleiman might actually be part of this kind of process.

It's just not clear because, as you know the, the military establishment really is calling the shots right now.

BLITZER: You know, Hala, I want to keep Tarek Masoud of Harvard University, the Kennedy School with us. Stay with us, Tarek. But I want to bring in Ben Wedeman, our correspondent in Cairo, into this conversation, as well.

Assuming, Ben, and this is a big assumption, that Mubarak steps down, Omar Suleiman, the vice president, takes over on a temporary basis, is there someone else, is there one individual, whether the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, or the current head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, is there someone who is a likely future president of Egypt that is emerging as a sort of consensus capped out there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, there isn't. Mohamed ElBaradei has made it clear that he will not be satisfied with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. He wants a completely different political setup.

As far as Amr Moussa is concerned, he also is seen as something as a political opportunist who for years was very much a Mubarak man and only recently, very recently has come out and expressed support for the anti-Mubarak movement.

So this is really the problem, Wolf. There are no figures with adequate political standing who are out there who could run for president at this the point. So really in the new Egypt, if this is the new Egypt we're seeing behind me it, figures will have to emerge, some consensus will have to be formed around certain individuals because at the moment, this is a movement in Tahrir Square that seems to take pride in the fact they don't have a leader, they don't have somebody they have to follow.

And I think that's part of the phenomenon. It's in a sense a revolt against a paternalistic attitude that President Mubarak was very much identified with. Sort of the I know best, you kids shut up and let me do my job. So, the next few months, as the situation evolves, we will see people emerge. But at the moment, there are no clear and likely candidates for the presidency here, Wolf.

BLITZER: But what about Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was imprisoned for about ten days, now has become an inspiration to so many of those protesters? Is he someone, potentially, I don't know if he wants to have that kind of responsibility, but is he someone that would like to emerge as a political leader in Egypt?

WEDEMAN: Well, my impression of Wael Ghonim is that he has no interest and he's made it clear that as soon as this phase is over, as soon as the Tahrir demonstrators achieve their goals, he's going back to his old day job.

BLITZER: He's got a day job at Google, although he's taken a leave.

Tarek Masoud, I know you have to go. Let me thank you very much, but I'll ask you a quick question before I let you go.

Is there one individual in Egypt you see right now as potentially someone who could unite the country and take charge?

MASOUD: You know, that's a very tough question, and I just don't know the answer to it. And again, it depends on what the military is willing to allow to happen.

I will note that Amr Moussa although he has a reputation of a political opportunist, I think on the street of Egypt, he's very popular.

BLITZER: Tarek Masoud has to go, he's an assistant professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Thanks very much.

You can see the crowd. They're still so excited there in Egypt right now, Tahrir Square. They've heard all the rumors, they've heard all the reports saying that President Hosni Mubarak is about -- is getting ready to go on Egyptian television and announce that he will step down.

We'll have to wait for the official statement. Presumably, it's going to be live.