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Egyptians Protest President's Power Grab; Israeli Defense Minister Quitting; Africa's Gays Being Targeted; Egyptian Intervention Strained; Arafat's Body to be Exhumed

Aired November 26, 2012 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're going around the world in 60 minutes.

Here's what's going on right now. Check it out. Protesters on the streets of Cairo for a fourth straight day. You can see the crowds there. Battle lines are now drawn. We're talking about newly empowered Islamists versus remnants of the Mubarak regime and the country's deeply divided liberals. They're going over at it, the president's new powers now.

Today, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, he is meeting with the country's top judges to explain the extraordinary powers that he granted himself on Thursday. Among the decrees, judges cannot overturn any decision he makes or law he imposes until a new constitution is finalized. Mr. Morsi extended the time to write the new constitution and he dismissed the country's attorney general.

Reza Sayah, he is overlooking everything in Tahrir Square.

Thursday, most of our viewers were all sitting down having Thanksgiving dinner thinking Mohamed Morsi really very much the peacemaker, key to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Dust doesn't even settle with the truce and then Morsi announces this decree. Essentially a huge power grab. What is the significance?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the significance is, until a parliament is formed here in Egypt, until a constitution is drafted, he is the most powerful man in Egypt, and, technically, he can do whatever he wants without any apparent oversight. That's why he's being called Egypt's new dictator. That's why you have thousands of protests taking place behind us in Tahrir Square.

The protesters represent the opposing factions, the liberals, the secularists, women's rights groups, the youth groups. Essentially their position is that we're not going to talk to Mr. Morsi until he rescinds his decrees. And we spoke to one of his top advisors today and he said he'll consider that, but first there needs to be a dialogue. Let's take a listen to the advisor.


SAYAH: What kind of concessions are you willing to make?

DR. ESSAM EL-ERIAN, VICE CHAIRMAN, EGYPTIAN FREEDOM AND JUSTICE PARTY: This decision is up to the president, not (ph) for us.

SAYAH: Is it possible -- is it possible --

EL-ERIAN: We -- we are ready -- we are ready --

SAYAH: To resend his decrees?

EL-ERIAN: We are ready for dialogue with our (INAUDIBLE).

SAYAH: Are you prepared to consider rescinding adjusting some of these decrees?

EL-ERIAN: Decree is up to the president. We are accepting (ph) it. We may have some reservations, but, as a whole, we must take a step forward, not two backward.


SAYAH: That was Mr. Morsi's top advisor, who's saying that he wants dialogue first. In the meantime, Suzanne, the opposition facts are saying they want Mr. Morsi to rescind the decrees first. That's where the dilemma is.

MALVEAUX: All right. So what are we talking about here? I mean what are people most concerned about? You're there on the street. You see them. They're coming out in numbers here. This is very reminiscent of what we saw before where there is simply a populist movement, an uprising, if you will. What are they so worried about if he has this much power? What do they think he's going to do?

SAYAH: Well, this is a critical time for Egypt, of course. The all- important new constitution is being drafted by a panel of 100 individuals. The future of Egypt, the future of democracy is going to depend on that particular drafting of the constitution. And right now, many opposing factions are saying that panel that's drafting this constitution is being dominated by Islamists. And one of his decrees last week said no one can dissolve this panel.

Well, there's been a lot of conflict. A lot of liberals have quit the panel in protest. He seems to be, according to these opposing factions, trying to push through this process, and the opposing factions are describing this as an undemocratic power grab, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Reza, we're going to get back to you. You let us know how things develop in the street there. If it heats up at all.

There's also a dramatic change taking place in Israel. The leadership there, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he is now quitting. He says he's going to spend more time with his family. His resignation is going to take effect in January. That's where Fred Pleitgen is following this story from Jerusalem.

First of all, Fred, it's kind of funny to hear him say that, because everybody says that, want to spend more time with the family. Is there a back story to this, or is that the real deal?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly seems as though there is one. It is definitely a shocker here in Israel. Of course, Ehud Barak has been part of public life here for decades. He was the prime minister and now, for the past seven and a half years, was the defense minister. A very prominent person.

Also, of course, a big military figure here in this country. He says, for his part, that it is, as you say, for personal reasons. That he wants to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren. But there are many people here in this country who believe that it is, indeed, for political reasons.

He is currently really riding a high in public opinion polls after the military campaign that Israel waged against Hamas in Gaza. Of course, he was the head of that military campaign, being the defense minister. That really bolstered his ratings.

On the other hand, though, it looked as though, in the upcoming election, which are going to happen on January 22nd, that he probably would not get back into Israel's parliament because the faction that he leads in parliament is simply so small and doing so badly that they probably wouldn't get in. So it seemed as though the chances of him remaining defense minister were very, very slim.


PLEITGEN: And that now he's seeming to take the high road out of office, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, some people were definitely reading more into this. Hanan Ashrawi. She's a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee. And here's what she said. She said she "hopes this signals recognition of the futility of the military approach and the adoption of violence as means of dealing with the Palestinians." Do you think, in fact, that by him leaving this is a message that perhaps that is true, that that is not the way to go?

PLEITGEN: Absolutely not. I mean one of the things that is definitely true about Ehud Barak is that he looks obviously very fondly back upon his own military career. He was, of course, a part of the special forces unit in the Israeli military. He is someone who led the defense ministry for a very long time, and he was also very close to Benjamin Netanyahu, not only on the military policies towards Gaza, but also, of course, towards Iran, which was, of course, the major issue in the past couple of months really before the Gaza offensive happened.

And if you look at public opinion polls here in Israel, it's certainly not the case that people believe that the military effort in the Gaza operation was futile in any way, shape, or form. In fact, most people believe that it should have gone on longer than it actually did. There were a lot of people who wanted to expand the air campaign. There were people who were for a ground invasion. But certainly there are very few people who believe that some form of military intervention in Gaza was need. So it certainly isn't that Ehud Barak would believe that Israel's military policies were in any way futile, Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And, Fred, real quick, because we spent a lot of time together last week as these rockets were being fired back and forth. There's since been a ceasefire. Has it held? Is it pretty quiet where you are?

PLEITGEN: There was an incident at one of the border crossings earlier today where a Palestinian was shot. There were also a couple of smaller incidence as well where the Israeli military opened fire. By and large, though, the ceasefire has held. There haven't been any additional rocket attacks. There were a few in the early days of the ceasefire.

But by and large, it is holding and it seems to be a lot morrow robust than many people would have thought. So it looks as though, at this point in time, the prospect of another escalation seems to be fairly slim. Of course, you can never say when you're looking at that conflict, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. We certainly hope that it holds. Thank you, Fred. Appreciate it.

You know, the future is so uncertain in the Middle East. We're going to take a look at a few lessons the Egyptian president can actually learn from the past.

And this. Pretty cool. It looks like a regular pen. But in the hands of a spy, it is a deadly weapon.

And look out, Tiger Woods. Twenty-two-year-old Rory McIlroy is dominating the world of golf.


MALVEAUX: To Africa right now. The Congo is now slipping into chaos. Rebel fighters are taking the country by storm. They call themselves M23. And the Congolese government is desperately trying to convince them to leave Goma, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels captured the city last week. It is in the heart of an area that is rich in natural resources. Now, thousands of people have already left the city to escape the fighting. The fear is, is that things are only going to get worse.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The most important thing for us is peace. We want to go back to our homes because we grow our own food and do not depend on anyone. The food is too little here, and we are meant to share it for three days.


MALVEAUX: The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping force actually in the Congo. Also in Africa, politicians in both Uganda and Nigeria, they are targeting the country's gay population with now new legislation. Critics say that these new laws would single out gay Africans for persecution and violent attacks. CNN's David McKenzie has the story.


DAVID MCKENZIE, ABC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's become a rallying cry for the gay community in Africa, the brutal slaying last year of Uganda activist David Kato, bludgeoned to death at his home. The state blamed a robbery. His friends said it was this, Kato's front page photograph in a tabloid calling for gays to be hanged. I met Kato just months before his death. He was afraid.

MCKENZIE (on camera): Is there space in Uganda to be a man and openly gay?

DAVID KATO: No. Public space, we don't have that. We don't -- by the way, the problem here is identity. I can do with you and my friends the whole year (ph). Well, you do know that I'm gay. It's fine. We can drink and eat together. But the moment I identify that I'm gay, that's where the problem comes.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Now it could get even worse. Despite international condemnation, both Uganda and Nigeria's parliaments are set to vote through harsh anti-gay laws. Uganda's maximum penalty will be life in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're outraged because this goes beyond the principle of nondiscrimination. It goes against the principle of privacy of individuals. And sexual orientation is really a question of the right of an individual to choose how they want to live their lives.

MCKENZIE: David Kuria, a prominent Kenyan activist, says it goes further. He says gays are often denied the right to health care and legal help. Their only option is to hide.

MCKENZIE (on camera): Being open about your sexuality has caused people to be killed?

DAVID KURIA, KENYAN ACTIVIST: Exactly. And in many cases it's not even an option really. It's either that or death.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): But on the streets of Comparla (ph) in Legos (ph), there are supporters of the bills.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our culture, our traditional culture, has no room for gays. And besides that, when we add on the Christian values, which have been obtained by the nation, then certainly there's no room for gays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, man to woman. Not man and man. It's bad. So I don't know where they get (INAUDIBLE). It's a bad idea. We don't like it in Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a law against gays in the constitution. So definitely they don't have a place. MCKENZIE (on camera): Many countries in Africa have laws against homosexuality on the books. Even here in Kenya. But often they are holdovers from the colonial period and rarely enforced. The problem comes, say activists, when new laws are pushed by politicians. Then it becomes very dangerous for openly gay Africans.

KURIA: In this day and age, if we really believe in human rights, we shouldn't be sitting back and looking at our country engaging that for whatever reason.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Ugandan politicians could vote on the anti-gay law in a matter of days. If passed, the gay community in Uganda could live even more in the shadows.

David McKenzie, CNN, Nairobi, Kenya.


MALVEAUX: There's a ceasefire in the holy land, at least for now. But the future is still very much uncertain. The future of the Middle East, of course, hanging in the balance.


MALVEAUX: Want to take a closer look at a very fluid situation going on in the Middle East now, some unchartered territory as Israel tries to nail down the details of the cease-fire with Hamas who they've labeled a terrorist organization.

The Israelis are not speaking directly to Hamas. Both sides speaking to the Egyptian negotiators. That's happening in Cairo.

Well, Egypt, as you know, was key to brokering the cease-fire that happened last week along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but now the cease-fire talks, they're going on taking place amid growing unrest now in Egypt over the president's new power grab.

Our Jim Clancy knows the region very well. I want to bring you in to talk about this.

First of all, I want to show some live pictures of what we're seeing out of Cairo. The crowds are now gathering here. It is dark. A lot of frustration.

Our Reza Sayah say people are very afraid of this power grab by the Egyptian president. What is the significance? Why are they afraid of what is taking place there now?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's not even all about Egypt. This is really all about the Arab Spring and what's to come of it.

Already deep frustrations inside Egypt about not having attained anything for this revolution, not really seeing substantive change.

Suddenly, Morsi, on the heels of this whole Gaza mess, comes along and declares all these authoritarian powers.

Clearly, some Egyptians, specifically the liberals as well as those that supported Mubarak, are worried that he is consolidating power now and he will never give it up.

He says he will do it after the constitution, but how much is he going to control of that constitution? Who is going to write it?

MALVEAUX: Jim, could he be more dangerous than the late president, Hosni Mubarak? Is that possible?

CLANCY: This is what the people on the streets of Cairo are chanting. They're saying Morsi is the new Mubarak and they don't know the limits of his power.

It raises up the diplomat -- U.S. diplomat, Edward Derrigien's (ph) famous line that the problem with the Islamist governments is that it is one man, one vote, one time, and they're afraid that they will never get their revolution that they wanted.

MALVEAUX: All right. So the Egyptian president, he negotiates this cease-fire. There seems to be relative calm here, but he is aligned with Hamas that is in Gaza, so is he powerful? Is he powerful inside Israel as well?

Is there really a concern on Israel's part now that you have the Egyptian president, an Islamist, Hamas, out of negotiations even more empowered after the cease-fire?

CLANCY: Well, you know, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Israel well knows, it won some important points here. It got the international community's support that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli military, had a right to defend Israelis from the barrage of rockets coming from Gaza.

The Iron Dome proved itself to be very effective as, you know, a technological way to deliver -- to, you know, deter all of this.

And, finally, Israeli intelligence had identified some of those long- range FAJR-5 missiles, tracked them all the way as they were smuggled in, had their -- pinpointed them, destroyed them.

The question now, can you keep the resupply of arms from coming in? Already there are reports that new shipments are on the way from Iran.

Some are believed to be located in Sinai right now just waiting for the tunnels to be repaired to push them through.

It is up to Mohamed Morsi to stop that from the Israeli view.

MALVEAUX: Is there anything -- we saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She went over there, you know, part of this negotiating the cease-fire, so that was -- you know, that came out of all those meetings.

Does she need to go back there? Does the Obama administration need to get involved?

Do they need to be worried that you have the Egyptian president now who seems to be a heck of a lot more powerful than he was three days ago?

CLANCY: Seems to be. It depends. We'll see what the outcome of the talks are today.

You know, certainly, the U.S. officials have to be concerned not only -- again, just for Egypt, but for the entire Arab spring.

They see here, you know, power being seized. They're wondering -- they know that they've got a financial sword that they can hang over Egypt's head. Egypt wants U.S. support, diplomatic, too.

And in order to maintain that, it is going have to cut off that supply of smuggled arms that are the source of these weapons.

You know, Hamas right now is asking that the airport in Gaza as well as the seaport be opened up.

I don't think that's going to happen. But I think Morsi is going to be under a tremendous amount of pressure to prove that he can do what's needed.

MALVEAUX: Let's turn the topic here because this is something we're going to be watching very closely tomorrow and it really is getting a lot of attention here, the former head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, long since dead. His body is going to be exhumed.

Why are people so fascinated with whether or not he was murdered or it was natural causes? What do we even expect to learn? Tell us about the interests here.

CLANCY: You know, who killed Yasser Arafat? I mean, it's a pejorative question. We don't know that he was killed.

I knew Arafat. He lived a very hard life. He lived a life on the run. He lived a life constantly battling his opponents and certainly not just the Israelis, opponents on all sides. It was very stressful.

The evidence here, al Jazeera and Suha Arafat have produced his clothes saying there's polonium, you know, radioactive poison in some of the clothing.

I don't know what that proves. A French doctor said it was likely a stroke and a blood disorder. What was all of that? We don't know.

I don't know if anybody can say that, but, you know, this comes, to me, very fascinating, his old cohort, co-founder of the PLO with Yasser Arafat, Mahmud Abbas is going to the U.N. this week to ask for non-member -- official status for a Palestinian state.

And, you know, I knew Arafat pretty well. I think I could honestly say that, if they were to get a state, even non-member status, you know, unofficial, at the U.N., Yasser Arafat wouldn't mind being aboveground for that.

MALVEAUX: Oh, boy.

CLANCY: You know, there's no other way to look at it.

MALVEAUX: Aboveground. It will be -- absolutely. We're going to learn more details about that tomorrow.

Jim, thanks, as always, for your insights. Appreciate it.

CLANCY: Great to be with you.

MALVEAUX: disturbing reminder of the ravages of war, activists in Syria say a cluster bomb, this one was dropped on a playground. We're going to get a live report.


MALVEAUX: In Syria, 10 children in a suburb outside Damascus have become the latest victims in the ongoing violence.

Now, fighting has ripped this country apart. Activists say more than 40,000 people now have been killed since the first pretest 20 months ago against the regime of president Bashar al Assad.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh shows us the scene of this latest attack and what happens when bombs land in, of all places, a playground.

We want to warn you these images are graphic.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These disturbing images show what happens after a children's playground is hit, according to activists, by a cluster bomb.

Refugees with nowhere else to hide apparently hit by a single, deadly device dropped by a jet.

Some cluster bombs release smaller explosives to cause maximum devastation against softer targets.

What do these children have to do with anything, Bashar, yells one man.

At least 10 children killed, according to activists, who said they found the remains of the bomb around the tiny village of Daar al-Safir (ph).

CNN can't verify these pictures or claims cluster bombs were used, although Human Rights Watch say activists' images from the scene show cluster munitions.

But activists say civilians have been hit before when the regime has responded to key rebel successes, like the capture Sunday of this important air base at Marj al-Sultan not far away. ALEXIA JADE, OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN, DAMASCUS (voiceover)L There is actually no logic at all. I mean, it's such a small village crammed with women and children like that.

They're saying, like, this is what you got from us. Well, look what we are going to do.

WALSH: The injuries to these children horrific, no matter what the device used. The toll on the youngest and easiest to kill, constant and unspeakable.


MALVEAUX: Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Beirut, Lebanon.

Nick, this is so disturbing when you see this story. It's almost unconscionable.

First of all, do they -- are they targeting children? Did they know this was a playground? What can you tell us?

WALSH: We can't obviously tell exactly what the motivation of the Syrian regime is, and in the past they've denied actually possessing cluster bombs, but in this particular area, there were ongoing military operations, though it does seem, according to activists there, that this was a specific open area where there were refugees.

Activists say, though, that the rationale, they believe, from the Syrian regime when they conduct this sort of activity it's to punish locals after a significant rebel military success.

Now, nearby there was an air base called Majr al-Sultan taken on Sunday, significant victory for the rebels, and rebel activists are saying to us, not something we can verify, but they're saying that that's the reason why these strikes against civilians happened, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do we have any idea if the Syrian government has responded at all, is even aware of what has taken place on this playground?

WALSH: They've want spoken specifically about this.