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Arab Spring: Revolution Interrupted

Aired May 25, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, a special Report, Arab spring: revolution interrupted.

It's not off than correspondents who risk their lives covering conflict for CNN are in the same room at the same time anywhere.

Tonight they are, and we're going to spend the next hour taking an up-close look at the uprisings still playing out across the Arab world.

But first, a reminder of how we got this point. In December of 2010, you may remember, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire. He hadn't been able to produce the proper permit, and when he refused to pay a bribe, a local inspector slapped him. That was the final straw. The final indignity for this street vendor. He died from his burns.

After his death, Tunisians' fed up with high unemployment, corruption, and repressive conditions filled the streets. It was 28 days later, the Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia.

A wave of revolutions followed in neighboring countries, but more than a year later they've hardly run their course.


COOPER (voice-over): February 1st, 2011. Egyptians are celebrating across the country. After 18 days of intense protests, president Mubarak has stepped aside. Hopes are high for free and fair elections as the world looks to Egypt, hoping it might become a model of democracy in the region.

HILARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This moment of history belongs to you. You broke barriers and overcame obstacles to pursue the dream of democracy.

COOPER: It quickly becomes clear the future of post-Mubarak Egypt is anything but certain. Dreams of prosperity have yet to be realized as the economy worsens. Discontent with the Pacer reform in the ruling military council leads to renewed protests in Tahrir square.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Eyewitnesses show they're actually breaking the cease fires sometimes that are arranged here and just venting their fury. And there's another round of tear gas. I've got to put the gas mask back on. Venting their fury at the police.

COOPER: By January 2012 Islamists have the political niche shift the Muslim brotherhood winning a majority of seats in parliamentary elections. Clashes between the military and protesters are again violent and deadly.

Just one country away, another revolution, an upsizing are Libya that began in February of 201 quickly turns into a civil war.

In March, opposition fighters are aided by NATO bombs, and the battle intensifies.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is proving to be a much tougher battle than anyone had anticipated. This city, key territory, should the pro-Gadhafi elements be able to push in here, the concern is that this could potentially turn into a bloodbath.

COOPER: Seven months of fighting ends with the fall of Tripoli in August.

Two months later, Gadhafi is captured and killed. Libyans celebrate the possibility of a newfound freedom. But the sudden vacuum of power leads to a rise in regional militias of the transitional government's struggles to control. Citing decades of neglect from the central government, the oil-rich eastern part of the country calls for a measure of autonomy.

In March this year, clashes between rival militias threat on the break apart a country held together largely by Gadhafi's dictatorship while weapons from Gadhafi's bases spread instability beyond Libya's borders.

In Syria, the Arab spring ignites the discontent that's been brewing for years against the oppressive regime of Bashar al Assad. In March of 2011, demonstrations break out in the poor southern town of Dara and quickly spread.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The level of anger and passion here is absolutely palpable. We're just a few miles from the center of Damascus and the crowd here -- thank you. Thank you.

This is a crowd here of perhaps several thousand people. They've taken over this whole area. They've put rocks in the road to prevent police coming in here.

COOPER: The government response is swift and violent. But the protests continue to grow even as the military begins to use artillery against civilians and government militia murder and torture countless numbers of Syrians.

In a country with no independent media, ordinary citizens are risking their lives to show the world what's happening, uploading amateur videos of the uprising. The regime insist they're not targeting protesters and repeatedly blame a small group of terrorists for the violence.

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTE, STANFORD: The government allowed peaceful demonstrations to take to the street, and they are protected by the police --

COOPER: That's not true. You know that's not true. You're a very educated man. You simply know that is not true.

Despite a peace plan put forward by the United Nations in the presence of a few hundred U.N. monitors, the violence in Syria continues with no end or solution in sight.



COOPER: CNN's Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon, Ivan Watson and former CIA officer Bob Baer join me now.

Nic, we talk about the Arab Spring, but it is more than one season. It still continues.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Bahrain is a project unfinished. The population there are still clamoring for better rights. Syria, the free Syrian army has emerged. There is an element of almost civil war creeping into the fighting there. This is Syria and just beginning. Libya, for example, we don't have a centralized government there -- elections in Egypt. It really is the first phase that we saw last year. This is just -- it's going to keep going step by step by step.

COOPER: And each of these -- Arwa, you've reported in each of these places. Each is obviously very different. You were most recently in Syria when you snuck into Homs.

How is that different than what you saw in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere?

DAMON: The dynamics to every single country are incredibly different which is why the way that they are all playing out is also phenomenally different as is the international community attitudes towards Syria is much more complex because of its strategic location, because of the various ways that historically Syria really for the last few decades has managed to position itself in such a way that it is regionally and internationally relevant. Those factors play greatly into how various global leaders are going to be approaching Syria.

And you also have these other dynamics bleeding in from Iraq. You have the Lebanon dynamic, Turkey, of course, heavily involved. So it's no great surprise that Syria is playing out very differently and also potentially in a much more bloody fashion than any of the other revolutions that we have been seen across the region.

COOPER: Ivan, when you look at the map and with all the reporting you've done, Turkey, in Jordan, in Syria, also obviously Egypt during the revolution there, Libya, as well, what really stands out at you from the past year, year and a half?

WATSON: I think just Arab people across the world standing up and saying they don't want their dictators anymore, these sclerotic systems that have been in place. And they are all doing it their own ways, but they feed off of each other. And then of course once the dictator falls, it's what's next. And each country is wrestling with that question differently. And some are handling elections, in some cases the dictators are still clinging to power. In Syria's case, trying to kill as many people as possible who say no to them. And they're all struggling with this next phase that's coming next, and that's what's fascinating.

The elections in Egypt right now, I mean, people telling us and our correspondents there that they used to just talk about soccer or, you know, TV shows. And now, all they can talk about is the politicians that they can now choose from. And that was never an option before.

COOPER: And we want to, in this hour, had talk about each country, in Syria, in Libya, and Egypt, and what we're seeing in each of those places now as well as what happened.

But, Bob, are you overall - I mean, as you look at the region, are you optimistic about where things are now, about where they're going over the next 12 months?

BOB BAER, FORMER C.I.A. OPERATIVE: No. I think we're heading toward chaos in the Middle East.

COOPER: More than what we've seen?

BAER: More than what we've seen, absolutely. Something's got to pop. We have to understand how cataclysmic these changes are.

I worked in Syria for many years, and we always assumed that that regime would always be in place, replaced by one general after another, it would never change.

Clearly that's not the case. We have now this -- Saudi Arabia has effectively annexed another country, Bahrain. King Abdullah controls that country and the National Guard. We have Libya, which is unfinished revolution. You're going to see it break up in a couple weeks between east and west. You're going to see a fight over the oil facilities. We don't know.

Now you have Lebanon, the mess in Syria has come across the border. You have truly a sectarian conflict in front of us there between the Sunnis and the Shia. And to predict where this is going to go is -- is fruitless. You can't.

COOPER: No one can.

BAER: This is very serious stuff.

COOPER: And this administration or any country's administration can really predict. BAER: I have spent my whole life in the Middle East, and I have never seen change so fast or so significant and at the same time so dangerous.

COOPER: Does it surprise -- having worked for so long in the Middle East, to see the amount -- that fear has kind of been put away by people? People seem no longer afraid in is so many of these places. They're willing to repeatedly go out in Syria and demonstrate knowing they're going to get fired upon.

BAER: They would never have done this. I was in Hama right after it was hit in '82. And that Syrians were terrified, terrified of the regime, the secret police. They wouldn't say a word. Nothing. Nothing. They're not terrified anymore.

COOPER: So, what changed?

ROBERTSON: It's a new generation. Some of the things we've heard people say in Egypt, in Libya, and I think in Syria to a degree, as well, is it's a shame my generation, the older generation, is what they say, you know, the parents of these young people who are risking their lives or losing their lives, they're saying it's a shame we weren't strong enough to rise up and do this.

COOPER: And we saw the young generation in Egypt being the ones who really came forward in the early days of the revolution. Even in Syria, it was children being arrested after graffiting (ph) on the streets of Dara that the protests began.

DAMON: And Syria has one of the youngest populations in the Middle East. So, it is not entirely surprising. They're also incredibly savvy. But, when you look at the entire region as a whole and what has happened historically, the entire region was this massive festering cauldron of discontent to say the least. It was eventually going to boil over.

The status quo in the Middle East could not last. And I think we're just beginning to see it starting right now. This is going to be a very prolonged revolution or whatever we want to call it, and it is going to redraw the map of the region.

COOPER: Are all these revolutions being co-opted? I mean, in Egypt, we've seen -- there was so much talk of democracy and you had eventually a cross section of the population in Tahrir square. And, you know, people would give interviews in English saying things will never go back, we're going to be a democracy. We want freedom. And then it ends up being -- battling it out.

BAER: You know, Islam is the default position in all of this, because in times of chaos, people turn to religion. It happens in this country. And they will in the Middle East.

WATSON: We're seeing a pendulum swinging. I mean, you've had these generals and these families, these so-called, you know, secular regimes that had been in power for 20, 30, 40 years who crushed political Islam and tortured its activists for decades. And now that is the natural kind of reaction. Let's give these guys a shot.

And I think it will be interesting to see as they come to power one by one through elections in different countries how are they going deal with those unemployed young people who have been leading the protest movements and the revolutions? You guys try to govern this youth bulge in these Arab countries and see how you do. And maybe some of the glamour or the excitement will wear off of these Islamist movements after that.

COOPER: Because a lot of them are not necessarily built for -- they're not built for running a city.

BAER: The Koran is not a constitution. It's not going to work. But they're going to try it.

COOPER: We have got a lot more ahead in this hour.

More than a year after the Arab uprisings began just three autocrats have been fully ousted in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. No leaders holding on tighter than Syria Bashar al Assad. He's still slaughtering his own people.


DAMON: To get to the upper floors you have to hug the wall because there's one window that's exposed, but this is where you really see the full impact of the damage that was caused by the incoming rounds. I mean, this right here, it just speaks for itself.




WATSON: This is a rebellion of carpenters and university students. The men here describe themselves as members of the free Syrian army, but it would be much more accurate to call them an impromptu village guard. Many of them are defending these olive groves that surround their community with little more than hunting shotguns.


COOPER: That was Ivan Watson reporting from Syria back in February before the U.N. broker the so-called cease fire that was never more than mere words.

The killings, of course, have continued unabated, and the Syrian government is still telling the same lies that we've been reporting on for more than a year now. They're still refusing to grant visas to international reporters to travel freely throughout the country so that we can see for ourselves what's really happening.

The closest we've gotten recently or I got recently when I visited a refugee camp along the Turkish/Syrian border. More than 20,000 Syrians have now taken refuge in Turkey alone. Tens of thousands more were fled to other nearby countries.

I'm back with Nic, Arwa, Ivan, and Bob Baer as well.

Arwa, you were just in Syria, in Homs. I mean it was interesting to see Ivan's report about back in February the so-called free Syrian army. Have the forces changed over time?

DAMON: I think what we're beginning to see now is a growing fringe element of radical forces.

COOPER: Jihadists you're talking about.

DAMON: Islamist forces, whatever you want to call them. The sort of third entity that has emerged if you want to say on the one hand you have government forces, on the other hand this free Syrian army, this rebel fighting force, and now this third entity that is emerging that is more of the Islamist force whose ideology, whose desires for the country don't necessarily mesh with that of the opposition but they're sort of latching themselves onto the opposition's cause of wanting to topple this regime.

But their long-term goal for Syria and the thoughts and what they want to see the country become is not what the opposition wants. Of course the risk is this third force gains more power as the opposition continuously feels abandoned by the west, by various international players. Who do they have left to turn to, to protect themselves at this point in time?

COOPER: And that of course fits into the nary they've the Assad regime has been repeating all along that this is al Qaeda that these have jihadists they're fighting against, even though when this up-rise in Syria began in Dara and elsewhere, it was just regular people demonstrating in the streets, not even calling for the overthrow of Assad. They were calling for reforms.

You just snuck into Syria again with a group of free Syrian army. Are you hearing those concerns about Jihadists, about --

WATSON: Yes. I mean, some of these revolutionaries who started out with their peaceful protests waving olive branches are saying they're being pulled over at check points by people asking them if they've gone to pray at the mosque today or asking ask them why they haven't grown a beard. And these were the one who is started the uprising.

So, as this has gone into its 15th month, the uprising is morphing, it's changing, and it's impossible for it not to if you consider the amount, the incredible atrocities that have been committed over the past year and a half. That is going to warp Syrian society. It has.

And, you know, Bob brought up earlier the sectarian element. You know, one scenario could be Bashar al Assad's sect, there could be none of his people left in that country when the dust finally settles, when this is all done. COOPER: Is this just inevitable, Bob? I mean, insurgencies, opposition movements, that more radical elements come forward? Because some are saying had the U.S. gotten involved or --


COOPER: -- that would have maybe --

BAER: I don't think we could have ever gotten involved at the beginning. We didn't have any appetite for it. We didn't know what sides were fighting.

But, I mean, the point is Bashar al Assad brought this on by turning the tanks loose on population centers. He asked for it. This started out as a fairly benign movement, almost, you know, the incipient democracy, and he opened up with the artillery. Anybody could have told him that. And what's happened, the result of this is that the Christians and the Alawites have had to rally around him, which is about 30 percent of the population, give or take, and that's a Syrian number.

They don't like Bashar al Assad. He's not very competent. He doesn't know what he's doing. The generals are the most important. But you only have 30 percent of the population. But you look at -- I mean, anything could turn tomorrow. The Kurdish area over here could break-away. They're talking about it now. They're in discussions with the Iraqi Kurds.

COOPER: Dara is really where the first demonstrations were.

BAER: Yes. It's a heavily Sunni Muslim area, but it's also tribal. But it didn't start off as an Islamic movement. It's the Alawites forced into becoming one, and I don't think we should forget that.

ROBERTSON: This state you wanted to create, as you say, draw those people in the middle ground --

COOPER: The me or the flood.

ROBERTSON: It's me or the flood. But Arwa and I have talking to people earlier this year, and they were just saying, we just want to hear from the opposition. We want to hear what it is their view for the future of Syria, because we're afraid there might be an Islamist element in there. We want to know that sort of, you know, us, the Christians, will be respected and taken care of, the minorities will be respected.

And they didn't hear that. It's those very people now with the rise of groups sort of sounding and acting like they've learned from al Qaeda's playbook with their terrorist acts that are taking those people who were sitting on the fence in the middle, who might, who might have gone to the opposition firmly into the Assad camp.

And that's what he wanted to create. That's the strongest position for him, divide and conquer, and he needs a strong a block on his side as possible.

COOPER: We've seen suicide attacks, a number of time, here in Damascus and in the capital. The regime are saying well, if it is al Qaeda. These are al Qaeda the Jihadist group. The opposition says this is actually the regime, who, is setting off these bombs to make people believe its Al Qaeda. What do you think is the truth?

DAMON: Well, I think the truth is probably -- exists in a gray area that is somewhere in between. The issue is that with the action that the Assad regime is taking, the regimes claim that it is, in fact, fighting, foreign-backed Islamist groups might up being a foregone conclusion because that is beginning to emerge.

We also have to remember the ties that exist between Syria and Iraq. Very tribal. And when the Iraq war was taking place, there were a fair number of fighters that went from Syria to Iraq. They were trained on how to build roadside bombs --

COOPER: The Assad regime allowed fighters in.

DAMON: Exactly. They opened the border. These fighters know how to blow up an American tank using things that you would find in your kitchen. They now went back, reportedly, and this is what's interesting. When they went back, a number of them were, in fact, detained by the regime but then released in the summer and early fall with the regime's knowledge that they would then eventually carry out these types of attacks against the government itself.

Yes, but allow the Assad government to say, look, we are fighting these foreign-backed groups.

COOPER: What's the role that Iran is playing in Syria, and how important is Syria to Iran?

BAER: Iran right now, I've got some very good friends in Tripoli, Lebanon, dumping money into Tripoli to fight the Muslim brotherhood groups. They're defending Hezbollah. They want to hold onto this regime in Damascus at any cost simply because they do not want to lose Lebanon, which might happen if there was some sort of real revolution in Syria that succeeded.

And it is interesting because we are seeing these surrogate wars. The Iranians are putting money into Lebanon, and you have got the Qataris and Saudis putting money into Lebanon, as well, supporting the Salafi groups, and the explosions on Monday were a result of this, where these surrogates are fighting each other in Lebanon.

So, what we're seeing is the Syrian mess move outside the borders of Syria.

COOPER: I want to talk more about the regional instability that could happen and what we're already seeing and what may spill over into Lebanon and elsewhere.

Also want to get everybody's take on that. We have more, ahead.



COOPER: A family of eight lives in this tent. It's actually two tents that have been placed together. Each one is pretty large, about ten feet by 15 feet. In between the two tents is the cooking area that the family uses to prepare all their meals.

This family owned a fishery in Syria that they say was destroyed by the regime. Two of their sons were killed protesting against Bashar al Assad last June. That's when the family fled here. They tried to re-create their lives as best they can. They are unfailingly polite to visitors. They offer tea. They offer coffee. Whatever they have they'll offer anybody who's visiting. And they try to keep the tents immaculately clean.

But the truth is, their lives are in limbo and they know it. They want to return to Syria, but they see no sign they will be able to go back anytime soon.


COOPER: That's what we found in Turkey, I just recently along the Syrian border, that refugee camp now home to thousands of men, women, and children. It's just 300 yards or so from the Syrian border. You can see the lights on the other side of the border at night.

As we said, more than 70,000 Syrians have so far fled to Turkey and Lebanon, even some into Iraq. Those who have taken refuge in Lebanon now facing the same shelling and gunfire that they ran from.

Intense street battles have broken out in Beirut after killing an anti-Syrian cleric and his bodyguard. There have also been violent clashes in the second largest city, Tripoli.

The political and sectarian ties between Lebanon and Syria are complex. There is growing concern about violence spilling over Syria's border not just to Lebanon but beyond.

Back with Nic, Arwa, Ivan and Bob Baer.

Just in terms of the humanitarian situations, you've done a lot of reporting, Ivan. We're seeing 23,00 Syrians now in Turkey. But also just a lot of internally displaced people within Syria, more than a million or million and a half at last count that I saw.

WATSON: Yes. I mean, people are moving, running away, and they have these family networks so they can move with relatives for a while, but it puts a strain on society.

DAMON: Just add to that, too, if you just look at the city of Homs in and of itself, people who are living in Baba Amr fled Shobar. They then got targeted there. They fled somewhere else and got targeted. Some of this footage that is being smuggled out from us from the activists when they're interviewing these residents that are fleeing of one neighborhood, that's the fourth or fifth time they've had to do that.

COOPER: Those are Sunni neighborhoods.


ROBERTSON: They can't go back, either.


ROBERTSON: These are infrastructures that are decimated. You look at collapsed buildings. You look at the water supplies that have been interrupted. The electricity, of course, is gone from those neighborhoods we know. So this is just an increasing -- it's an increasing number of people who are --

COOPER: And the Syrian regime has not allowed the Red Crescent to go into these neighborhoods to give humanitarian relief.

DAMON: They've been able to access some of them, but it's in no way, shape, or form even beginning to meet the demand, not to mention that many of the activists are wary of approaching the Syrian Red Crescent that is viewed as being an arm of the regime.

So they tend to stay well away. But you'll also have the emergence, especially in a city like Homs that is so diverse when it comes to the various sects that exist.

These fault lines that are emerging that are very reminiscent of what would emerge in Baghdad where Baghdad split along Sunni and Shia. And you see that in Homs between the Sunnis and the Alawites. And along these front lines you have complete massacres to the point where activists in some cases have to bash massive holes through walls, crawl from building to building.

And that way to reach, say, the scene of a massacre where they're just trying to retrieve bodies. And what you are increasingly hearing, for example, is activists that we speak to a few months ago that were talking about the need to keep a lid on these sectarian tensions.

That we're talking about the need to have forgiveness and amnesty in the future. They have seen so much that they have completely snapped and now say no, we just have to slaughter them all.

COOPER: A lot of people in the United States are obviously wary of any kind of intervention at this point. They've seen Iraq and Afghanistan. Bob, why does Syria matter in terms of the region, in terms of the situation? Why should people pay attention?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Because the entire region is in one way or another involved in the fighting there. When you see Libyan fighters and Libyan weapons going to Syria, going to Lebanon, and you see the Qataris and the Saudis coming in, they intend to fight this war there rather than Bahrain or even in Saudi Arabia.

And who wins in Syria and who loses matters to the entire region. As the Alawites tell me, all the Saudis want to do is, when we lost Iraq we the Sunnis lost Iraq in 2003. So we're going to take Syria and Lebanon in recompense. It's this kind of thinking.

COOPER: Why Qatari money is going to --

BAER: They truly believe this. It's a balance of -- well, terror in this case pip's a proxy war with Iran. And we, the United States, can't decide which side to come down on. I mean, how can we come down on the side of the Iranians?

COOPER: Are there chemical weapons in Syria?

BAER: Syrian chemical weapons in Syria. This is not like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We've followed this for years. It's deliverable by missile

It's very sophisticated and spread out in Syria. If these chemical weapons were lost, it's very, very alarming thing. And this is a serious threat. This is not -- this isn't imagined and it's out there somewhere.

COOPER: A lot of people hear, wait, there are chemical weapons --

BAER: No. This is -- I covered both Syria and Iraq, and we had this stuff nailed, and it's very dangerous stuff. And, you know, if someone were to put on a missile and fire it into Israel, who knows where the war could go from there.

ROBERTSON: Something occurred to me very strongly last week. Last week, I was sitting in a trial of a Bosnian Serb war criminal accused of the biggest mass slaughter since World War II, killing of 7,000 Muslim men and boys.

There was laid out almost 20 years after his crimes ethnic cleansing as the government -- the government that Bosnia dictated it should be and implemented when for three years the world closed its eyes and it knew what was happening from the satellite imagery and it was getting the pictures from the ground.

And I sat there in that courtroom thinking this is what's happening in Syria. Today, we know what's happening. We have the images. There is this sectarian split that's happening. There is a cleansing of people from neighborhoods where Assad doesn't want them anymore.

And it's -- one day we're going to -- one day he may end up in The Hague in the court himself. And how many -- I wondered to myself how many tens of thousands of people will die before we reach that point.

COOPER: Well, also, you know, the world cannot say that we didn't know what was happening in Syria. Some people said that in Rwanda, well, we just didn't know the details of it or Cambodia.

We've all seen if it's not Arwa, you guys being there, it's activists who have pointed their cell phone cameras and turned them on and hit record and who have recorded their own deaths, recorded their own slaughter.

WATSON: The frustration, the resentment that you hear from Syrians about -- about this is incredible. I had a guy in a refugee camp come up to me. He said where are you from? I said I'm American. Tell his president shame on him. His election is not more important than the slaughter that's happening inside Syria.

ROBERTSON: Twenty years later at The Hague, the women who lost their husbands, and wives, the 7,000 who died, when we asked them, isn't it good that he's on trial? Isn't that good? The answer comes back every time, no, you should have stepped in at the time and stopped this slaughter.

COOPER: I remember year two or year three of the war in Sarajevo, you'd go there as a reporter, and people would the first year of the war, people wanted you there and wanted you to see what was happening.

They'd bring you to the hospitals and the operating theatres. By year two or three, they would yell at you, what more pictures do you need? Why should we show you more? Nobody's paying attention to anything you're doing. You're just ghouls. And I understand that argument.

BAER: This is a lot worse. The potential for genocide in that part is much higher now and much more serious consequences. And we do have to get serious now.

COOPER: We have to take another quick break. We'll have more with Nic, Arwa, Ivan and Bob. Up next, Egypt's uprising. The violence continues even after the fall of Mubarak.


WATSON: I predict both sides are going to start fighting again within a matter of minutes.



COOPER: The protest in Tahrir Square broke out almost a year after Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Egypt today is a country in a critical juncture facing an uncertain future. Mubarak was the second Arab leader to be toppled in the uprisings of 2011.

He stepped down after 18 days of protests handing power over to the military. It was a heady moment for the young protesters, the blogger, the tweeters, and all those in Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo who drove him out. Several months later, Egyptians are now choosing their first democratically elected president. But those young liberal voices of the revolution have mostly been sidelined. The election is widely seen as a battle between Islamists and holdovers of the Mubarak regime.

Back with Nic, Arwa, Ivan and Bob Baer. Ivan, you covered the protests in the run-up to the parliamentary elections just recently in Egypt. I think a lot of people sort of stopped watching after Mubarak failed, but there's a real battle going on now in the streets of Cairo.

WATSON: Absolutely. And once Mubarak stepped down, a lot of people started calling that initial Tahrir Square revolution a military coup because he and his family were pushed out and the generals took over and didn't do a great job of governing.

COOPER: So what's happening there now?

WATSON: So now presidential elections are taking place. The parliamentary elections led to a surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, kind of hardcore Islamists, won the majority of seats in parliament, which was kind of a nightmare scenario for many people.

And particularly for the protesters that we met in Tahrir Square who many seemed secular kind of internet-savvy revolutionaries.

COOPER: It was interesting, though, in Tahrir Square when push finally came to shove and it became -- you know, the dead of night and it was the people grabbing corrugated steel shields, it was a lot of guys with beards.

I mean, it was harder-core elements than some of the more liberal people you saw during the day before it got really, really violent. You were traveling in --

WATSON: Yes. I mean, those guys have been some of the real foot soldiers of the riots and the protest movements in Cairo, too. You have Islamists and also fans of soccer teams with deadly results when there have been some real killings in the last year.

So now you have a presidential election under way, and there have been calls for symbols from the old regime from the Mubarak old guard running for president.

DAMON: And I think there's a tendency to want to oversimplify things and sort of block it off into black and white and, you know, black is the Islamists and the radicals and the Salafis.

And the radicals that want democracy and the young people we saw in Tahrir Square. But, I mean, if you looked at the population of Egypt, it is a very complex, colorful, multifaceted population and it is going to play itself out.

COOPER: There's also a belief I think in the U.S. that somehow the U.S. could have controlled events or changed events. My sense was this was happening whether the U.S. -

BAER: It was happening. Our worst mistake, Anderson -- I think you're absolutely right -- is to look at the Muslim Brotherhood, equate it with al Qaeda. It's just not. The Egyptians have run through their streak of violence against foreigners. The head of al Qaeda today is an Egyptian, but he's essentially irrelevant.

DAMON: This was not a religious revolution in Egypt. It was people wanting their basic rights but also people wanting jobs. A lot of what Egypt's economy is tie to its tourism. If we hypothetically assume the Islamists would take over and change the way one could operate inside Egypt, and if they weren't able to get the economy going and satisfy the demands of the youth, they're not going to survive.

COOPER: I remember going to Cairo in the early '90s and interviewing Muslim Brotherhood guys in secret in the shadows and their slogan had been Islam is the solution. When Americans hear that --

DAMON: Because Americans are terrified of Islam because it's somehow developed into this entity that absolutely causes your average American to quake in their shoes.

That's not necessarily reality. Islam is incredibly complex. There are so many different dimensions of it. In its true form, it's not the Islam we see being practiced or applied today.

COOPER: Got to take a quick break. More with Arwa, Nic, Ivan, and Bob.

Up next, Libya, tribal clashes are still a fact of life. More than six months after the death of Moammar Gadhafi, can there be peace in Libya? Will the country actually survive as one country that's next.


COOPER: It took opposition forces in Libya almost eight months to topple Moammar Gadhafi. He was captured and killed last October. The country he ruled for 42 years is scheduled to hold its first free elections in June. Voters will choose an assembly to draft a constitution.

That's the plan on paper. But with Gadhafi gone, Libya has been consumed by clashes and violence. Gunmen recently attacked the prime minister's headquarters in Tripoli killing at least one person.

The interim government is struggling to rein in disgruntled militias that refuse to disarm. And there's growing concern that weapons are being smuggled out of Libya. No one is sure exactly where they're going to end up, but there are reports of weapons reaching Sudan.

Let's bring your panel back in. How big a concern, Bob for you are those weapons? BAER: Extremely. There are a bunch of weapon depots that were seized by disparate groups in Libya, and they were quickly moved through Niger over into Mali, and now they are up with surface-to-air missiles or with al Qaeda in Timbuktu.

So, you know, what happens to these missiles. I've been told there's talk of bringing them to Chad, to Cameroon, to Nigeria there. They're operational. They can bring down civilian airliners.

COOPER: You think Libya is going to break up as country.

BAER: Absolutely.

COOPER: Absolutely.

BAER: East and west.

DAMON: And the oil is all in the east pretty much so you have your ideal battleground that would potentially be laid out. What I do also think when we look at what's happening in Libya, giving everything the country has been through, we do need to cut it a little bit of slack.

Right now, post revolution there's an estimated 125,000 armed people. There's anywhere between 100 to 300 different separate militias. There are absolutely no institutions that exists whatsoever. Within all of that, it's actually holding together at this point in time pretty well.

COOPER: Amazing, isn't it.

ROBERTSON: When we talk about the weapons, a few months ago we were in Niger, and I remember talking to a local journalist there, very well plugged-in guy. He said the people had seen coming through the town there on the back of a big truck that had driven across the desert from Libya.

A helicopter in pieces that had broken down, put on the back of a truck, and driven out to Niger, I mean, a helicopter. If you can take something that big, the organization, it's not ten people running around with stuff. It's a serious organized train of places to take them, people with money to buy them.

Another thing that's happened in the east of the country here around the area, al Qaeda is believed to have set up camps, although al Qaeda wasn't part of the Arab spring. They're looking for ways to benefit, and they know they can tap into perhaps tribal, perhaps more conservative Islamists.

COOPER: So are people better off in Libya now without Gadhafi?

ROBERTSON: Not yet. They have an uncertain future.

DAMON: We don't know what the end game is going to be yet. And I think, you know, these elections that are coming up are going to be very interesting, as is the way that the constitution, what kind of constitution eventually ends up being drafted.

The concern right now, though, is that the country is holding together in this dysfunctional, function sort of way. But everybody seems to believe that these elections are going to be some sort of magic wand that is going to solve all their problems. Once they realize that nothing is ever that simple, that is when the country really --

COOPER: But isn't that the process -- and we saw that in South Africa as well with the first elections there. People kind of talked about it hugely optimistically as if it was going to be some kind of magic wand. That's the process all countries go through.

ROBERTSON: It's great to have a process. But if as a result of that process arms flood this region, strengthen elements of al Qaeda, destabilize other country. Al Qaeda is able to get more of a footprint and a hold here that threatens potentially Europe, great, have a process, but there are consequences with that process.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. What's next for -- not only for Libya but for Egypt, for Syria, for this region? Where is the next uprising going to start?

Will democracy be able to take root in the region? What's it going to look like if it does? Our special report "Arab Spring, Revolution Interrupted" continues in a moment.


COOPER: Welcome to our special. We're back with our panel, Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon, Ivan Watson and Bob Baer. I want your final thoughts on where you'll be looking in the next 12 months, what the future holds for the region.

ROBERTSON: I think Syria will be a big focus and how that spoils, as we've seen it recently into Lebanon, the impact on the border with Turkey.

The sectarian dimension of Qatar, Saudi helping fund the Sunnis here, Iran's involvement with -- I think -- you know -- I mean, Syria is going to be the focus.

But I think the bigger picture is going to develop and the trends of it are going to become clearer. And the sectarian issue, that's just developing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

COOPER: At this point in Syria, neither side can win. Assad can't overthrow opposition and the opposition can't overthrow Assad.

DAMON: It's either going to be a long war of attrition that will be regional consequences, or there's going to be some sort of other factor that becomes a game changer.

But that is also not going to be able to prevent the inevitable scenario of a full-blown war in Syria, even if Assad were somehow taken out, stepped down tomorrow, that would still not avoid that scenario.

I think the debate needs to be about how to mitigate the spill over effect because it is going to drag every single country down into it.

BAER: We haven't talked about Iraq. I mean, you've got the Kurds up here. They are furious with Maliki in Baghdad. They are talking about federating with the Kurds here. Turkey's in on these negotiations.

To me, it looks like we're almost, you know, rewriting the Ottoman borders and that we're going back and trying to fix the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

COOPER: That's still playing out.

BAER: Imperialism, whatever you want to call it, it's still falling apart, and this is going to play out and it could go very bad tomorrow or it could just sort of drag along for a very long time.

COOPER: Is this something the U.S. can really influence?

BAER: No, can't do anything about it.

COOPER: Really.

BAER: It's too big, too complicated, too expensive, and the hates are too deep for us to solve it easily.

COOPER: It just has to play out.

BAER: Let it play out.

DAMON: The Middle East had been victim to western drawing its borders already once. I doubt everything it's been through it will allow western powers to do it once again.

WATSON: Especially not now. I'm too young to have covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of --

COOPER: Stop bragging. Jerk.

WATSON: But I do feel -- to cover that, but I do feel like we are living through that period today and I think your comparison to the Ottoman Empire and those borders and -- sadly, Syria had an Ottomanesque tapestry in society. They're multiethnic, multi- sectarian, and that may be the casualties of this spasm.

COOPER: It is an extraordinary time with, you know, great negatives, but -- and potential for great change, but, I mean, when you think about 14 months ago the start of the uprisings in Syria, I don't really know of any experts who thought this was a real challenge to Assad.

WATSON: Nobody did. Nobody did. I mean, there may be somebody on the margins out there that just happened to be right. We just can't predict where this is going to go.

COOPER: Fascinating times. Nic, Arwa, Ivan, Bob Baer, thank you very much. We're going to continue to watch the events in all these countries. Will the people taking to the streets, demanding change, finally get what they want and what exactly does that mean? Thanks for watching this special report, "Arab Spring: Revolution Interrupted."