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Interview with Libyan Prime Minister; Middle Eastern Protests Examined

Aired September 13, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

After a day of escalating anti-American protests over the release of that U.S.-produced Internet film that denigrates the Prophet Mohammed, calm has mostly returned to violent flashpoints around the Arab world.

Earlier today in Yemen, thousands of protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, climbing over the security wall. Yemeni police fired on the crowd and four people were killed and at least a dozen injured.

In Egypt, protests continue around the U.S. embassy in Cairo, although police have pushed them back from the embassy wall. In clashes throughout the day, hundreds of people were injured as the crowd threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who then fired warning shots and tear gas to keep them away from the compound.

And what we're going to be looking at now, indeed, is a live picture of the scene. There's still a large crowd, but as we say, it's quieter and mostly calm now.

And finally to Libya, where calm has also returned to the streets in Benghazi while the investigation into the assault that killed four Americans is forging ahead. As the United States deploys warships and surveillance drones, we've just learned that Libyan security forces have made their first arrest.

So let's go straight to my first guest for the very latest. He Libya's new prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, elected just last night to the position by Libya's national assembly.

Mr. Prime Minister, firstly, congratulations and thank you for joining me today. I wanted to ask you what is the latest in your investigation? What arrests have been made?


At the beginning, I would like to send my sincere condolences to the families of the -- of the ambassador and his companions, who were killed in the attack on the consulate yesterday. It is -- has been a sad day for all of us here. This is a criminal act, acted by some individuals.

And we are really sorry to see this happen, especially clearly Mr. Stevens, the ambassador, he was with us throughout the revolution in Benghazi. And he provided so much support for the Libyans overall. And we were so grateful to him for all his efforts and we're very sad that he died in Benghazi.

Of course, since the act took place yesterday, this criminal act, we (inaudible) as part of the investigative trying to find out who are the ones who have committed this crime. And up to now, we have -- some individuals have been already arrested. And the investigation will continue until we've found out all who has been involved with this act.

(Inaudible) they are going to be punished for their actions, because this is not acceptable to the Libyan people. This is not acceptable by our all (ph) values. And first, for these people that are our guests here in Libya, they were our friends and partners and before they were diplomats. But we very unfortunate to see this happen here.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, please give me details, if you can, as to who you've arrested, who are these people, what details can you give me about the arrests that have been made?

ABUSHAGUR: Let me -- currently, I mean, we still -- I mean, there have been arrests today. But we don't know exactly the -- who those people are. I mean, this is under investigative and I have no right to provide their names and what exactly they -- the group they belong to.

I mean, we -- there are suspicion that those people belong to some extremist group here. And, but again, this is something we don't know until the investigation is being true (ph) and I expect that to happen in the next couple of days at the most.


AMANPOUR: Were they arrested --

ABUSHAGUR: (Inaudible) will be brought to justice.

AMANPOUR: Were they arrested in Benghazi?

ABUSHAGUR: Yes, yes. Yes, and they were arrested in Benghazi, yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: How many? Can you tell me?

ABUSHAGUR: Early this morning, and there is others, who right now they are being pursued.

There's one who was arrested this morning and there is other -- I think about three or four are currently are being pursued. And I think they might have been arrested the last few minutes. I haven't talked to the person in charge for the last hour or so.

AMANPOUR: Can you give me the evidence that you had to arrest these people?

ABUSHAGUR: I can't -- personally, I don't have the evidence. Of course, the -- when I talked to the person in charge, they said they have pictures and, then of course, also the -- some people, I think, they came forward with some names and so I think the evidence itself is based on mostly pictures that were taken around the compound at that time, and also through some witnesses.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, let me carry on, then, to the bigger problem. It's not the first time there have been attacks in Benghazi. Obviously, it's the most severe and it has caused the most terrible bloodshed and loss. But there have been attacks against U.S. facilities, U.K. facilities and other such things in Benghazi before and elsewhere.

There are some, I'm afraid, Mr. Prime Minister, who are saying that the Libyan government bears its own share of responsibility, not because you encourage it or are behind it, as we know, but because you have not done enough to rein in these extremists and that you have not done enough to bring these diverse and disparate militias under the framework of a rule of law.

What will you do now you're elected to this position, to really make moves in that direction?

ABUSHAGUR: I mean, clearly, (inaudible) as you very well know. I mean, we came out from an armed (ph) revolution that continued for about eight months. And there was a very wide spread of arms around the country. There is a lot of -- I mean, militias who they have been formed even after the revolution itself.

And this is being of a very challenging time for us, for the begins (ph). And of course, we are inherited a country where there is no institution. There is no police force. There is (inaudible) quite some time to be able to get there.

I mean, right now it is our priority at this time, is to build a very strong police force.

We have started some of that, but also the same time for the army and also the same time, we are -- have a very -- a comprehensive program, which will be looking into getting, collecting the arms, really disarming all these militias and also providing a lot of programs to be able to integrate or reintegrate many of those people into the society.

We have a program which some of them will be able to join, giving the option to join and giving them a lot of incentives to come back and join the police force, as well in the army. And also the same time, we have a comprehensive (inaudible) training to join the civil services and also be able to -- because we need all those young people to join us in building the nation.

And we are very committed to that. I mean, and of course, this incident took place. I mean, the Libyan people over the -- all over the country, they condemned it. They don't want to see anything like this happen, especially to -- happens in our country, especially to our friends, who we are -- supported us throughout the difficult times we have gone through. And so --


AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister --

ABUSHAGUR: -- we are very determined to be able to bring things back to order.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, some of these people don't even recognize the legitimacy of the new Libya. They don't like democracy. They want to have nothing to do with it, some of these extremists. I hope you can hear me.

What will you be able to do to bring, again, these people under your - -


ABUSHAGUR: -- (inaudible).


ABUSHAGUR: Oh, yes, I mean, clearly we have to approach this in many different ways. I mean, clearly one of it is we going clearly where creating a program to dial up (ph) right and because a lot of those have been there misguided. And of course, if we cannot -- those people, they have to abide by the law.

And if they don't, then clearly we have to use all means to do that. I mean, this is -- will not be accepted by us as a government and is not accepted by our own people. So we have to take every measure possible really to (inaudible) take control of this situation.

AMANPOUR: And finally, on this issue, what was the nationality of the person who's been arrested, the people who you're pursuing? And will you hand these people over to the U.S.? Or are you conducting the investigation?

ABUSHAGUR: I mean, we are conducting the investigation and we have a high level commission, which is I am right now heading, which is also contained -- also have the foreign minister, the minister of defense, interior and the intelligence and also members from our new congress.

So we are taking this very, very seriously, because as I said, this is something which we will clearly we don't accept, that this is something like this would happen again in Libya.

AMANPOUR: Quickly, the nationality of the person you've arrested? Is it a Libyan?

ABUSHAGUR: They are all Libyans. They're all Libyans, yes.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Abushagur, thank you so much for joining me, and we will check in with you again. I hope you'll come onto this program again. Thank you for being with me.

And when we return, have the violent demonstrations in Cairo damaged relations between the U.S. and Egypt? I'll ask a voice for the Muslim Brotherhood and I'll also get the perspective of a noted Islamic scholar.

But first, take a look at this. It's just one of the Facebook pages popping up in Arabic around Libya. This group has taken down its Facebook cover photo and replaced it with a tribute to the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and there are many, many such social media memorials. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program as we sort through the fallout from the anti-American protests throughout the Middle East.

When violence first broke out in Egypt, many in the United States asked whether the country's new government had done enough to condemn the attack. And the questions grew louder after President Obama talked about Egypt in an interview with a Spanish language network in the United States. Listen to what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to find its way.

So I think it's still a work in progress, but certainly in this situation, what we're going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected and if they take actions that indicate they're not taking those responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that's going to be a real big problem.


AMANPOUR: Not an ally, not an enemy. When I asked the White House for clarification, whether that meant a change of policy, officials told me, no, not to read too much into what was said, and that Egypt remains a close partner.

But it must protect American and other embassies and personnel. And today, after a phone conversation with President Obama, the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, made his first public comments about the protests. He was on a trip to Brussels.


MOHAMMED MORSI, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): Those who made up their small movie that defames the prophet, we condemn strongly that. And we stand strongly against all those who launched such slogans, who launched such provocations, who stand behind that hatred.

We assured President Obama that we will be keen and we will not permit any such event, any such occurrence in our country against the embassies present in our territories.


AMANPOUR: With me to discuss all this is Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar and author of "Islam and the Arab Awakening."

Tariq, I'm going to get to you in just a moment.

But first, I want to turn to Jihad Haddad in Cairo. He's senior adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Mr. Haddad, thank you for being with me again. Let me get to you straightaway about the protests and what we can expect from the Egyptian authorities. We've got live pictures. They're still carrying on. What is the aim of the Egyptian government and security personnel regarding these protests?

JIHAD HADDAD, SR. ADVISER., MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: I think the aim is clear and as President Morsi reiterated it, it's to protect the embassies, the vicinities, the physical building and the staff. I think that the police force on the ground has been up considerably since the past two days.

They are being -- they are escalating their numbers. They (inaudible) counter these violent actions that are happening. And I think that if they keep this going and if all embassy staff and buildings remain safe, they should (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: I can hear a little bit of what sounds to me like perhaps gunfire or rubber bullets; I'm not sure whether I'm accurate. But clearly it's still tense and there is a big protest planned for Friday by the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the purpose of that? Could that not inflame the situation?

HADDAD: Certainly. Well, the situation started in flames since that movie reached the Arab public opinion and the Arab mass media, which is unfortunate that it did, because it strikes a lot of anger. Now the problem is it has already ignited in flames.

These flames, when they started with the angry mob protests on last Tuesday, which the Muslim Brotherhood did not either participate with in the beginning or the end, they resulted in vandalism and violent action, which we all condemned.

Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood is resetting the scene and getting the proper direction of how Egyptians should express their anger within a peaceful context that does not abuse international law and that protects the -- or protects the laws of civil, peaceful expression of opinion.

And thus, the marches that were called for and the demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood will happen tomorrow, Friday, distributed across all mosques in Egypt, much more controlled and peaceful in nature, because this is a slogan that we never jeopardize.

AMANPOUR: And as we still hear that gunshot, I mean, I know you're talking to me and you probably don't know what's going on, but if you do, let me know. I want to ask you what about this --

HADDAD: I can explain to you what's going on now, if you need to.

AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead.

HADDAD: Well, at the moment, there's between 100 and 500 scattered individuals, unrelated to any of the political parties or social grassroots movement in Egypt. They are currently throwing stones, throwing the smoke bombs back at the police forces and trying to penetrate the barricade leading into the U.S. embassy.

What we don't know is their motives. They're -- the Egyptian authorities have arrested six individuals last Tuesday, but no details have been released about who they are or what -- how they're related to it. But what we understand is that they were part of the vandalism that happened at the U.S. embassy.

And I think that -- they made sure that these protesters did not penetrate the barricades and they should be investigated afterwards and how this escalated to this level, we should be able to give a clearer picture on the motivations that escalated this from a peaceful demonstration into such violent and vandalism actions.

AMANPOUR: Well, we will -- we'll go to you, hopefully, when you know more about what motivated them.

But let me ask you, finally, this business about whether Egypt is an ally or not, you heard me say the White House told me that this does not signify a change in U.S. policy. Does the -- does Egypt worry about whether the United States is going to, I don't know, downgrade relations?

HADDAD: Well, I think that the effort, the very positive effort that has been pushed (ph) in the past couple of months between U.S. diplomats and Egyptian diplomats on rebuilding and redefining the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is working in the right direction.

It's very unfortunate that all of these events happened specifically on the night of 9/11, which is very symbolic in its nature, and also specifically after the leave of the delegation of the United States businessmen.

Unfortunately, all of these accumulation of events have, let's say, destabilized the image of Egypt in the international world's eye.

But we also, as much as we understand President Obama's comments in their own context as he stated, I think that the understanding also extends to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party's comments in the context of Egypt.

And we cannot let any type of lunatic individuals on one side or angry mobs that turn into violent, active mobs dictate how the strategic relationship between two very significant countries in the world, like Egypt and the U.S. define it.

AMANPOUR: Jihad Haddad, that was a very strong affirmation of what you hope will happen. You certainly got your work cut out for you and we'll be watching closely. Thank you very much for joining me.

And I want to turn now to Islamic scholar, Tariq Ramadan, as I said, author of the book, "Islam and the Arab Awakening."

You've heard all that's going on. You've heard what the United States has said, too, this has got nothing to do with the U.S. government. Actually, I just want to play what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today about this movie.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: To us, to me, personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage. But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.

We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms. And we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.


AMANPOUR: It's categoric. There's no room for wiggle there. She's very, very strong about denouncing this video and denouncing the violence.

Is this situation that has erupted now going to put the Arab Spring and the United States on a -- on a difficult path? Is it derailing the Arab Spring?

TARIQ RAMADAN, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR AND AUTHOR: You know, I am not always in agreement with American policies. But I should say that what I heard from Hillary Clinton on this is clear and this is exactly the right position. Has nothing to do with their American administration and nothing can justify what we are seeing in Libya or in Egypt. And we have to condemn this.

And it's very important for us as Muslim scholars and intellectuals to be clear, that there is an accepted diversity in Islam, but there are things anti-Islamic. And this is not acceptable to start with.

The second point is, yes. We can see people nurturing this and pushing in that direction. And we see that, at the beginning, the people who were demonstrating were mainly Salafis. And we know now the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are in a kind of a competition as to the religious credibility. Are we -- or is the West or are we more Islam?

The Salafi are pushing. They are pushing in Egypt. They are pushing in Libya. They are pushing in Tunisia. And this is what I'm trying to explain in the books. One of the main challenges for the Muslims is really this internal discussion. So if now we have these groups pushing, and it's out of control, because now we don't have the Salafi.

We have people who are coming, young people, they are coming. And they want to show that we are against the West. We are against the Americans. And it could be out of control and change the whole thing.

The answer to this, as to the Arab awakening is to say, don't confuse these people with millions of Muslims, not only many, millions of Muslims, who took into the street peacefully, non-violently, against dictatorships. And they are Muslims, and this is a stand (ph).

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. But how to your point about this challenge of this internal war, if you like, how will these millions, who demonstrated peacefully for democracy, and how will the governments that have come out of that, rein in the hardliners? Or is it a perpetual struggle? They don't want democracy. They don't really want (inaudible).


RAMADAN: This is very important, and this is why, for example, when dealing with all this and trying to understand what was happening, and trying to come with the current challenges after the uprisings and after the dictators were removed, as we are now, what I'm trying to study in the book and coming to the point here, is really to say, OK. What are the challenges?

One of the challenges is really this relationship between the Salafi that were yesterday, not involved in politics and over the last three years, now we want -- we see them involved in democratic process, has been no in Egypt, in the -- in Tunisia. It's very important for the Muslims here to clear this, to take strong position, not to enter into a position.

This is why I can't understand what is said about, you know, having a demonstration today, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't think it's the time. It's a message that it send to the Salafi by saying we also care about Islam. But it's very sensitive --


AMANPOUR: But they say they're trying to take ownership of these demonstrations, and leach out the violence.


AMANPOUR: But let me just ask you --

RAMADAN: -- that's very difficult.

AMANPOUR: -- we should say you're no ordinary scholar or intellectual. Your grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, you know, defied so many expectations by basically coming into power around the Arab world right now.

There are constitutions that are going to be written. Is the Muslim Brotherhood going to be the face of democracy that you can live with, that we can live with, that the majority of people in the Arab world can live with?

RAMADAN: Once again, we have to look at what happened over the last 50 years. They have a bold and now they are saying that we are -- we want to promote a civil state. We want rule of law and all this.

Ten years ago when Erdogan came to power, many people --


AMANPOUR: The prime minister of Turkey.

RAMADAN: -- many people were asking the same question. And we saw that he was dealing with the secular system and promoting now something which is mainly accepted by the world, even though it's not --

AMANPOUR: So you're saying Egypt could be a Turkey?

RAMADAN: Egypt could be Egypt and with the Muslim Brotherhood, it could be a democracy. Now what we want to see is the true challenges. I don't care myself about, you know, Islamists telling me a civil state.

What I want to know now, what -- how -- which type of Islamic preference are we going to have? Which kind of transparent democratic processes are we going to have? What are we going to do for education and the main question is about education, job market, unemployment.

It's not about these very silly, superficial discussions that we have between the secularists and the Islamists. It's deeper than that. It's political and economic policies that have to be (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: How do you see it playing out, briefly?

RAMADAN: So far, I'm not very happy; I think that we are very (inaudible). Me, exactly with what we are seeing now, and this is why, from the very beginning, when I was talking about the Arab awakening, I was saying we have to be cautiously optimistic. This is what could happen when, you know, we have these kind of polarization.

Let us hope that coming from Egypt, coming from Libya and Tunisia, we have a political vision which is transnational, promoting democracy, but also referring to Islam in an open way.

AMANPOUR: Tariq Ramadan, thank you so much for being here.

RAMADAN: Thanks a lot.

AMANPOUR: We'll be right back after a break.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, one last look at those live pictures in Cairo, the situation remains mostly calm as far as we can see. We'll wait to see how these situations develop over the next 24-48 hours. Thanks for watching. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.