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Special Report: Arab Spring: Revolution Interrupted

Aired May 25, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: a special report, "Arab Spring: Revolution Interrupted."

It's not often that the 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 that are still playing out across the Arab world.

But, first, a reminder of how we got to 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 permits, 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 Tunisia's 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 have hardly run their course.


COOPER (voice-over): February 11, 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.

HILLARY RODHAM 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 a post-Mubarak Egypt is anything but uncertain. Dreams of prosperity have yet to be realized as the economy worsens. Discontent with the pace of reform in the ruling military council leads to renewed protests in Tahrir Square.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Eyewitnesses show that 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 have got to put the gas mask back on -- venting their fury at the police.

COOPER: By January 2012, Islamists have the political initiative, with 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 uprising in Libya that began in February of 2011 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 that the transitional government 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 of this year, clashes between rival militias threaten to 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 Daraa 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 this here is a crowd here that perhaps -- thank you. Thank you.

This is a crowd here of perhaps several thousand people. They have taken over this whole area. They have put rocks in the road to prevent the 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 a 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 insists they're not targeting protesters and repeatedly blame a small group of terrorists for the violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government allowed peaceful demonstrations to take to the street, and they are protected by the police.

COOPER (on camera): That's just -- oh, come on, sir. That's not true. You know that's not true. You're a very educated man. You simply know that is not true.

(voice-over): 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 many now.

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

ROBERTSON: Absolutely.

Bahrain, it's a project unfinished. The Shia population there are still clamoring for better rights. Syria, the Free Syrian Army has emerged. There's an element of almost civil war creeping into the -- creeping into the fighting there.

This is -- Syria is only 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 have reported in each of these places. Each is obviously different. You were most recently I guess in Syria, when you snuck into Homs. How is that different than what you saw in Libya and Egypt, elsewhere?

DAMON: The dynamics to every single country are incredibly different, which is why the way that they're all playing out is also phenomenally different, as is the international community's attitudes towards them.

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 seeing across the region. COOPER: Ivan, when you look at the map and with all the reporting you have done in Turkey, in Jordan, in Syria, also obviously in Egypt during the revolution there, in 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're 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, people telling us and our correspondents there that they used to just talk about soccer or 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 talk about each country, and Syria, and 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?

ROBERT BAER, INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, TIME.COM: No. I think we're heading toward chaos in the Middle East.

COOPER: More than what we have seen?

BAER: More than what we have 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 be always in place, replaced by one general after another, it would never change. Clearly, that's not the case.

We have now that Saudi Arabia has effectively annexed another country, Bahrain. King Abdullah controls that country and the national guard. We have Libya, which is an 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. And 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: We're -- this is very serious stuff.

COOPER: And no one in 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 you, 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 so many of these places, their willingness to repeatedly go out in Syria and demonstrate, knowing they're going to get fired upon.

BAER: They would have never done this.

I was in Hama right after it was hit in '82. And the Syrians were terrified. They were terrified of the regime, the secret police. They wouldn't say a word, nothing, nothing. They were terrified. They're not terrified anymore.

COOPER: So, what changed?


ROBERTSON: I was going to say, it's a new generation.

And some of the things that we have 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 -- it's, you know, the parents of these young people who are risking their lives, who are losing their lives, they're saying, it's a shame we weren't strong enough to rise up and do this.

COOPER: And we really -- 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 graffitiing on the streets in Daraa that the protests began.

DAMON: And Syria has one of the youngest populations in the Middle East. So it's not entirely surprising.

They're also incredibly savvy. But when you look at the entire region as a whole and what has happened in it 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 have seen there was so much talk of democracy. And you had essentially a cross-section of the population in Tahrir Square. And, you know, people would give interviews in English saying things will never go back, and we're going to be a democracy, or we want freedom.

And then it ends up being Islamists 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 have 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 to do 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 just 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 leader is holding on tighter, though, than Syria's Bashar al-Assad. He's still slaughtering his own people.


DAMON: To get to the upper floors, you really 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 farmers, 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. brokered 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 have 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 have gotten recently -- or I have gotten recently was 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 where fled to other nearby countries.

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

Arwa, you were just in Syria, in Homs. 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: Yes, 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, you have the Free Syrian Army, this rebel fighting force, and now you have 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 great risk now is that this third force will begin to gain even more and 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 narrative that the Assad regime has been repeating all along, that this is al Qaeda, that these are jihadists who -- that they're fighting against, even though when this uprise in Syria began in Daraa 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. Yes, yes.

Some of these revolutionaries who started out with their peaceful protests waving olive branches are saying they're being pulled over at checkpoints by people asking them if they have gone to pray at the mosque today or ask them why they haven't grown a beard.

And these were the ones who 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 Alawite 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, in insurgencies, in opposition movements, that more radical elements come forward? Because some are saying, had the U.S. gotten involved or...



COOPER: ... NATO gotten involved, that would have maybe forestalled that.

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

But the point is that 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, an 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: But Daraa 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 it into becoming one, and I don't think we should ever forget that.


ROBERTSON: This is the narrative that he wanted to create, as you say, to draw those people in the middle ground who were sitting on the fence...

COOPER: That it's either me or the flood.

ROBERTSON: It's me or the flood.

But I remember talking to people when I was there earlier this year. 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. We're afraid that there might be an Islamist element in there. We want to know that sort of us, the Christians, will be respected and taken care of, the minorities will be respected.

And they didn't hear that. And it's those very people now with the rise of groups that are sort of sounding and acting like they have 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.


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


COOPER: We have seen twin suicide attacks a number of times here in Damascus, in the capital.

The regime is saying, well, look, this is al Qaeda. These are al Qaeda jihadist groups. The opposition says, this is actually the regime who is setting off these bombs to make people believe it's 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 regime's claim that it is, in fact, fighting foreign- backed Islamist groups might up being a foregone conclusion, because that is beginning to emerge.

One also has 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 Syrian regime allowed even 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 have some very good friends in Tripoli -- Lebanon is dumping money into Tripoli to fight the Salafi 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's interesting because we're seeing these surrogate wars.

The Iranians are putting money into Lebanon, and you have got the Qataris and the Saudis putting money into Lebanon as well, supporting the Salafi groups. And the explosions on Monday were a result of this, where this -- these surrogates are fighting each other in Lebanon. So, what we're seeing is the Syrian mess move outside the borders of Syria.

COOPER: Want to talk more about the regional instability that could happen that 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COOPER: A family of eight lives in this tent. It's actually two tents that have been place together. Each is pretty large, about 10 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 have tried to recreate their lives as best they can.

They are unfailingly polite to visitors. They offer tea, they offer coffee. Whatever they have, they will 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 when we were in Turkey 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 earlier, more than 70,000 Syrians have so far fled to Turkey and Lebanon, even some into Iraq. Those who have taken refuge in Lebanon are now facing the same shelling and gunfire that they ran from.

Intense street battles have broken out in Beirut, Lebanon's capital, after the killing of 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's 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, which you have done a lot of reporting on, Ivan, we're seeing 23,000 Syrians now in Turkey, but also just a lot of internally displaced people within Syria, more than a million or a million-and-a-half at last count that I saw.


People are moving, running away. And they have these family networks, so they can move in with relatives for a while, but it puts immense strain on society.



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

COOPER: And those are Sunni neighborhoods?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not going to be able to go back, either.


ROBERTSON: These are infrastructures that are decimated. You look at collapsed buildings. Pools of water in the road. That tells you that the water supplies have been interrupted there. 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.

They're 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 in that way to reach, say, the scene of a massacre where they're just trying to retrieve the bodies.

And what you're 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; they've seen Afghanistan. Bob, why does Syria matter in terms of the region, in terms of the situation? Why should people pay attention?

BAER: Because the entire region is in one way or another involved in the fighting there. When you have -- 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, "Well, 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: And that's why so much Qatari money is going to...

BAER: And they truly believe this. It's a balance of -- well, terror in this case. And it'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 WMD in Iraq. We've followed this for years. It's deliverable by missile. It's very sophisticated, and it's spread out in Syria. And if these chemical weapons were lost, it's a very, very alarming thing. And this is a serious threat. This is not -- this isn't imagined. And it's out there somewhere.

COOPER: Because when a lot of people hear, wait, there's chemical weapons...

BAER: No. This is different. 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 Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian 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 sit -- 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 in Cambodia. We've all seen. If it's not, you know, 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, have recorded their own slaughter.

WATSON: And 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."

He said, "Tell your president his election -- shame on him. His election is not more important than the slaughter that's happening inside Syria."

Twenty years later at the Hague, these women who have lost their husbands and wives, the 7,000 who died, when we asked them, isn't it good that Mladic is 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 -- you know, whereas the first year of the war, people wanted you there and they wanted you to see what was happening. They would bring you to the hospitals and the operating theaters.

By year two or year 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 of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is much higher now and much more serious consequences. And we do have to get serious now.

COOPER: We've got to take another quick break. 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: I'll be right back.


COOPER: That protest in Tahrir Square broke out almost a year after Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Egypt today is a country at a critical juncture facing an uncertain future. Mubarak was the second Arab leader to be toppled in the uprising 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 bloggers, 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 the 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, in 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 white is the people that want democracy and those young people that we saw in Tahrir Square.

But I mean, if you just 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 in the U.S. that somehow the U.S. could have controlled events or changed events. But this -- my sense was this was happening whether or not the U.S....

BAER: Oh, 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 -- 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 tied to is tourism. I mean, if we were to hypothetically assume that the Islamists would take over and kind of change the way that one could operate inside Egypt, and if they weren't able to get the economy going, if they weren't able to satisfy the demands of the various youth, they're not going to survive.

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

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. Islam in its true form is not the Islam that we necessarily see being practiced or applied today.

A quick break. More with Arwa, Nic, Ivan, and Bob.

Up next, Libya. Tribal clashes are still a fact of life. Six months after the death of Moammar Gadhafi, can there be peace in Libya? Will the country actually survive as one country?


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. They're demanding cash and jobs in return for the role they played toppling Gadhafi. 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 Niger and 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 that 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 actually going to break up as a country?

BAER: Absolutely.

COOPER: Absolutely.

BAER: I think it's going to be east and west.

DAMON: 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 exist 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 helicopter in pieces that had been broken down, put on the back of a truck, and driven out to Niger. A helicopter.

If you can take something that big, the organization, it's not ten little people running around with stuff. It's a serious organized train of places to take them, people with money to buy them.

ROBERTSON: 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: It hasn't played out yet. 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/functional 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 risks being fractured.

COOPER: But isn't that the process? I mean, we saw that in south Africa as well, you know, 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. And 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 countries, 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: Hey, welcome to our special. We're back with our panel, Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon, Ivan Watson and Bob Baer. I want to get just your final thoughts on where you're going to be looking in the next 12 months, what the future holds for the region.

ROBERTSON: I think Syria is going to be a big focus and how that spoils, as we've seen it recently into Lebanon, the impact that it has 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: And at this point in Syria, neither side can win. Assad can't wipe out the opposition. And the opposition can't overthrow Assad.

DAMON: There will 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. If that process were somehow taken out, step-bound tomorrow, that would still not avoid that scenario.

And I think the debate needs to be about how to mitigate the spillover 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.

That's still playing out. The Ottoman Empire is 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 have 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.

BAER: Especially not now.

WATSON: 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're 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, multisectarian, and that may be the casualty of this spasm.

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. BAER: 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'll 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."