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Five Days Until National Referendum in Egypt; "Daily Show's" Aasif Madvi Pens New Play

Aired December 10, 2012 - 15:00   ET



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

Tonight, the clock is ticking down in a tense and deeply divided Egypt. It's five days to a national referendum on the controversial new constitution. And Egypt is looking more and more like it did in the final days of Hosni Mubarak. Once again, there's mocking graffiti.

Here, for example, President Morsi is lined up between Mubarak, morphing into the former army chief, Marshall Tantawi. Once again, the army is in the streets with tanks separating angry protesters from the opposition. Cinder block barriers wall off the presidential palace and the army is being called out to protect the referendum scheduled for this Saturday with the right to make arrests through the vote.

Meanwhile, the protests continue, despite the fact that on Saturday, President Morsi canceled parts of his own decree that had given him unchecked power. Egypt's messy transition to democracy continues but is democracy itself now under threat?

I'll ask opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, if he plans to stand by the people's decision following Saturday's referendum.

But first, here's what's coming up later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): A comedian who takes the world seriously.

AASIF MANDVI, "THE DAILY SHOW": But the news isn't always quite so simple.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Himself, not so much.

MANDVI: Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I can do either side.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And imagine a world without "Lawrence of Arabia," or at least the movie.

PETER O'TOOLE, "T. E. LAWRENCE": They hope to gain their freedom. I'm going to give it to them.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Fifty years ago, he charged across the silver screen. Today, the film and the story live on.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, Mohamed ElBaradei has been named general coordinator of the National Salvation Front, a broad coalition of political groups challenging Egypt's draft constitution. And he joins me now from Cairo.

Mr. ElBaradei, thank you for joining me. Let me ask you first, are you going to contest and go to the referendum? Or are you calling on the opposition to boycott?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, NOBEL WINNER AND EGYPTIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, Christiane, it's good to be with you again. We are, as you mentioned, in the tremor of the revolution. We're still trying to see our way through.

We are, we believe that this referendum, you know, coming two weeks after the hurried adoption of a sham draft constitution is not really the way to get the country together.

So we are continuing to call on Mr. Morsi to rescind his call for the referendum on Saturday. He should listen to the -- at least half of the Egyptian people, postpone the decision on the constitution for a couple of months or so until we get a national consensus.


ELBARADEI: If he insists to go through, we continue to vote -- we continue to vote with our feet on the street, Christiane. And either we are going to boycott or vote no, but we are -- we consider the whole process illegitimate and we will do whatever necessary to get back to why this revolution was all about, freedom and dignity.

AMANPOUR: But why not, if this is politics and democracy being played out on the street, why not go to the polls and vote and see whether the vote makes any difference, if you -- if you feel strongly that it should be no? I mean, obviously, I ask you this because many people say that the reason the opposition is not going to go to the -- to the vote is because they know they won't win.

ELBARADEI: No, I don't think that's true, Christiane. I think we might go to the vote. I mean, this is, again, we continue to have a major demonstration tomorrow. We continue to hoping that Mr. Morsi would rescind his decision, would really come to his senses and go listening to the people.

You know, you cannot adopt constitution, you know, with at least 50 percent of the Egyptian people completely opposed to a constitution that defies its basic rights and freedom, that try to have a new dictator in the making. This revolution was not -- was not staged in order to replace one dictator by the other.

However, we are -- we probably would go. We probably would see tomorrow is a major day because everybody is back in the streets. The judiciary, which is now shut down, is going to make a decision whether they are going to observe that referendum.

And you know, the whole Supreme Court is encircled; the whole media city is encircled. Media people cannot go in to do their jobs . So the whole environment is not really conducive to any referendum on any constitution or any law. It's really a messy situation.


ELBARADEI: And it's chaotic. But we hope -- we will continue to find a way to dialogue because we do not want to have to go to a head-on clash as the way it looks right now.

AMANPOUR: Well, that (inaudible) -- that's what I was going to ask you, because you keep talking about, you know, the process being in the streets and we're going to call more people out into the streets.

To me, that sounds like, you know, a recipe for a head-on clash.

And let me -- I want to read you something in this regard.

Quote, "I call on Morsi to appear on television to address the nation, to announce that he's open to national dialogue."

Who said that? Dr. ElBaradei, you said that. And you said it on Wednesday. And the very next day, that's exactly what President Morsi did, went on national television and called for a national dialogue about the constitution.

But you refused to go. You didn't take that outstretched hand. Why not?

ELBARADEI: Well, Christiane, it was not really a serious call for a national dialogue. It was --

AMANPOUR: But he did what you said, sir.

ELBARADEI: (Inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: You went out and you said it and he did it.

And nobody turned up.

ELBARADEI: And we are ready for a national dialogue and we -- no, no. We continue to call for national dialogue, but we continue to call for a national dialogue on a level playing field. Postpone that -- postpone the referendum, rescind all your draconian measures, which he did, then, by the way, some of them -- some of it's still remaining.

And I'll be talking to him tomorrow, me and my colleagues. It is not -- I mean, we are not going to, you know, a dialogue on a -- under Damocles' sword. We are not going to a dialogue at the sort of the Israeli sort of thing, establish sentiment and come and split the difference. We want to have an Egypt that's free and dignified.

And we want to have our freedom and dignity. And there is no compromise. You know me, Christiane. I'm not for confrontation. I'm -- I spent all my life for dialogue. But we are not going to dialogue and compromise on our principles.

AMANPOUR: Well, this --

ELBARADEI: We are at a cross in the road. Either we're going (inaudible) a country that is several countries that respect women's rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, children's rights, a balance of power, or we are going to have a new dictatorship with a religious flavor. And obviously that's not the way we would like to accept. And we'll never accept.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let me ask you, because these are fighting words. We will never accept. These are fighting words, particularly if votes have been taken.

I mean, I assume you believe that President Morsi was elected freely and fairly, in a democratic process.

Yes or no?

ELBARADEI: Yes, we (inaudible) contest that, except again he was -- no, no. He was elected under very peculiar conditions when the country was completely not ready, even for -- without a constitution in place. And when that -- all the liberal parties were not -- were two months old. But he was -- yes. He was elected. We're not contesting that.

But being a freely elected president does not mean that you can elect yourself or make yourself a dictator with supreme powers, all the power -- legislative, executive and (inaudible) the judiciary. Sure, he is elected; but he is elected in a democratic process and all we're asking him is to continue then the democratic process. It is not one election one time, you know.

AMANPOUR: OK. Yes, I mean, let's get back to the constitution, because it seems to be the constitution is what's worrying you the most, you and the opposition.

So the constitution and the draft has been out there. The most scholars who look at it and most independent analysts who look at it, certainly outside the country, certainly here in the West, don't believe it's so radically different from what was under President Hosni Mubarak. But clearly, what you're saying, is that you just don't trust the Muslim Brotherhood.

So what is at the very base, at the very heart of your issue?

Because they're saying that they have moderated --

ALBRIGHT: It is not --

No, it's not moderated. It's a very convoluted document. Christiane, as you know, the situation is a contract. It has to be clear-cut. It has to be precise. We need to make sure that women's rights are guaranteed. It is not. We need to make sure that freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed; it is not. We need to make sure that freedom of expression is guaranteed. It is not.

And the way it is done, you gave supreme power or a veto power for the religious institution to have the final say in the legislative process. Well, that is not really the making of a democratic, free, civil state. So it is, on the face of it, it looks fine. But if you really look at it as many lawyers here, 99 percent of the lawyers, Christiane, here, the legal community, is completely opposed to that.

It is not the -- it violates the basic human rights values, universal values. So it is not that we are fighting for the sake of fighting. It's not where -- that we are sore losers. We recognize Mr. Morsi to be the legitimate president of Egypt.

We will never accept meaning also that we can identify some of the peaceful means to have a constitution that we can all of us live under it and move Egypt into a modern, model state, talk about science and technology, talk about a decent standard of living and not talking about, you know, people going to the streets or, you know, insert saying that the media is blasphemous.

You know, that did not -- that's not the kind of Egypt we would like to see. It's really a question between whether we're going forward, catching up with the 21st century, or going back to the Dark Ages, if I want -- you want me to simplify it, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: I hear what you're saying, but how do you -- I guess what I want to know is how you feel this is going to be resolved, because the vast majority of the votes and the political sort of system is now Islamist. And it's not just the Muslim Brotherhood, it's the even more conservative and it's the Salafists as well.

So how do you -- how do you get to a different document?

ELBARADEI: Well, Christiane, I think, you know, if you -- if you really look now at enough estimate, we don't really have a scientific polls here. I think people who are non-Salafis, non-Brotherhood -- and at least 70 percent of the country. And these are the people who are revolting again today, or are very angry, or is very apprehensive.

And however, it -- we are not -- and if need be, we probably will go to the -- to the polls and make sure that this document will not pass. But even if it did pass, because of all the conditions for a fair and free election are not there, we will continue to fight. And that's what I mean.

We'll continue to fight through legal process, through peaceful means and that's why instead of going through this lengthy process, which takes us back -- the economy is falling far, Christiane. We are going to default in six months.

I call on Mr. Morsi again to, you know, listen to the people, get into a dialogue. If he decides today to rescind, postpone this referendum for two months and look for a -- to sit down together and look for a consensus constitution, we will be able to do that. It's the only way.


ELBARADEI: You remember, I -- this is my thinking in all the different issues.

AMANPOUR: I just --

ELBARADEI: Dialogue is the only way.

AMANPOUR: Yes, sir. I want to just clarify one thing, because we're running out of time now.

Did you say you will meet with the president tomorrow?

ELBARADEI: Sure. If we -- if he postpone the --

AMANPOUR: Ah. But you don't have a meeting tomorrow?

ELBARADEI: -- reach a consensus, all --

No, we don't have a meeting. But we are ready to meet. So it's bogus to say that we are (inaudible) spoilers. We need to meet and we have to meet and we should meet if we want to get this country moving forward.

AMANPOUR: Dr. ElBaradei, thank you very much for joining me.

ELBARADEI: Pleasure to be with you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And before we take a break, there's still room for a bit of humor in Egypt's protests. Egyptians are passionate about football. And here one demonstrator gives President Morsi a red card, a penalty card in effect, removing him from the game. When we come back, a comedian makes a serious point about race ethnicity after 9/11.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is not just a U.S. phenomenon, but it is a global phenomenon. The fake news program, a satire of actual newscasts, is sometimes more influential even than the real thing here in the U.S. And other countries, like Egypt, for instance, are so inspired by the show they're making their own versions.

Aasif Mandvi joined "The Daily Show" team six years ago. One of his many titles is Senior Muslim Correspondent. That's meant to be a joke, a send- up. But it also happens to be true. And Mandvi, who was born in India and raised in England and the United States is not afraid to use his ethnicity to make a joke and a point.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aasif Mandvi is brown.

MANDVI: This color doesn't run from a story (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White guys cover white stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three hundred 20 to 325 basis points.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Black guys cover black stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An emotional tribute today to Rosa Parks from Oprah Winfrey.

MANDVI: But the news isn't always quite so simple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes it's full of brown.

Cab drivers on strike?

MANDVI: I got it covered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MANDVI: I can do either side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indian prime minister caught dancing with a cat?

MANDVI: I'm on it like brown on basmati.


AMANPOUR: But this "Daily Show" correspondent isn't just going for laughs. In his new play, "Disgraced," Mandvi is taking a serious look at the tensions between Muslims, Jews and Christians that linger still in the post-9/11 United States. Aasif Mandvi joins me right now.

Thank you for being here.

MANDVI: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: Does it bother you when we say fake news?

MANDVI: No. It bothers me when you say news, because that's maybe the word that's a little devious but --


MANDVI: -- but, yes, no, it's -- we are a fake news, I guess. I mean, it's (inaudible) news --


AMANPOUR: -- right into the jugular.

MANDVI: Right. But it is -- we do deal with the real news. We just take a very specific comedic slant on it.

AMANPOUR: So is there any line beyond which you won't take your ethnicity, your religion, your brownness?

MANDVI: Oh, I'll exploit the brownness as far as I can, you know. No, I mean, you know, I think that there is a kind of satire that we're making. We're making a point about the fact that I am brown, Muslim, South Asian (inaudible) and so somehow I am more qualified to cover those stories than anybody else. But you know --

AMANPOUR: Are you?

MANDVI: Probably not. But I think just for -- I mean, one thing I do -- get to do on "The Daily Show," which I think is actually legitimate, which is that we do cover, like I said, real news stories.

And so sometimes, through satire, I get to sit on that fence between cultures, between East and West and comment on it and just by virtue of the fact that I am ethnically who I am, it gives a different take on it than, say, if a different correspondent was to cover it.

AMANPOUR: You know, this is obviously a global audience and you've grown up in other parts of the world, including England. And you said that England actually -- Britain was at least a decade if not more ahead of the United States when it comes to Asians, when it comes to Muslimness, when it comes to --

MANDVI: Well, I mean, you know, Britain has the empire and there's been a relationship with the India and the South Asia and the Middle East through that for many, many years, you know. So you know, tandoori chicken is the national dish of Great Britain (inaudible).


MANDVI: -- got it back, the empire now.

AMANPOUR: And what do you make of Egypt, for instance? And you may have met the gentlemen, Bassem Youssef, who's made his own program very much inspired by "The Daily Show"

MANDVI: No, I think it's great. I mean, you know, satire has existed for a long time. I don't know why we don't have more people copying us in the United States. Maybe that's -- I think there have been attempts, you know. But what Jon does at the show and those writers and -- it's a very, you know, it's lightning in a bottle kind of thing. It's, you know --

AMANPOUR: So let's get serious now (inaudible) serious, because your new play, "Disgraced," which I've seen, which is very, very powerful, breaks just about every taboo. And on the one hand, you're sort of an interface between East and West culture. And here you are in this living room, a Muslim, a Jew, a black woman, a white (inaudible) --

MANDVI: (Inaudible) sounds like a setup for a joke.

AMANPOUR: But it is brutal.


AMANPOUR: The level of stripping away these tribal part and then getting to the heart of the matter.

Explain to me what you meant in this line that maybe people can understand, when you said to your Muslim nephew that this is not a neutral world, not now, not for you.

MANDVI: Right. Right, right. Well, I mean, I think that is the case for many Muslim Americans and Muslims throughout the world, probably, that the identify of Islam and the way Islam is viewed by the West has changed after 9/11, you know.

And it isn't a neutral world. I mean, you know, you can't -- every time you go through the airport, every time, you know -- I know in my own experience, you know, that when I have family members who are, you know, where the kufi and the thing and the whole -- and when they go out, you know, it is a different way that people perceive them, you know.

So yes, America has a very complicated relationship with the Middle East and the Muslim world. And --


AMANPOUR: What inspired you to do this then?

MANDVI: Well, when I read this play, and Ayad Akhtar, who wrote the play, who's a brilliant playwright, this is his first play and he really doesn't hold back in this play. And it's -- And I -- and he sent me an earlier draft about two years ago.

And I read it and I thought, wow, this is an amazing play and very rare are there roles for brown actors and especially Muslim American actors that sort of deal with the identity issue in this way and in such a sophisticated, nuanced way as this play does. So when I read it, I was like, this -- I have to do this play. And so --

AMANPOUR: How would you sum it up? Because I think the most uncomfortable and the most controversial thing is admitting that, yes, there may be some Muslims who, in the back of their mind, think.

MANDVI: Right. Well, I think -- I think it's not just Muslims. I think what's been amazing about this is that when we've done the play, I feel like Jews and other -- Christians and other people have come up to me and said, I identify with this Muslim character on stage and his own identification with his tribal identity. And the fact is that, you know, the way we were raised and the things we were taught shape us.

And you know, it doesn't mean that we have to act on them; it doesn't mean that we -- you know, it -- like I think -- but I think those things are there inside of all of us.

And you know, if you -- if you look at the world and those things play out in a living room, as in on this stage, but they also play out geopolitically, our prejudices, our racism, our sense of like what we think we know about the other determine how we respond to them and often determine geopolitical moves in the world.

AMANPOUR: And you're not just a comedian, you are a dramatic actor as well. And you won an Obie award.

MANDVI: I did, yes.

AMANPOUR: For a play?

MANDVI: For a play that I wrote called "Sakina's Restaurant." It was a one-man show where I played six different characters, all within the South Asian Muslim family. And it's interesting, because we did that play way before 9/11 when Americans really didn't know what a Muslim was.

And then subsequently we made it into a movie called "Today's Special," which is out and also -- and that was after 9 /11 and suddenly the fact that these characters are Muslim became immediately so that in some way politicized by -- not that the movie has anything to do with jihad or anything like that, but it's just these Muslims -- it's about an Indian restaurant.

And you know, but it -- just by virtue of the fact that they were Muslim, it suddenly changed the conversation, you know.

AMANPOUR: It's raw and brutal --

MANDVI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: -- really, really engrossing.

Aasif Mandvi, I think it's very brave.

MANDVI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. Thank you for being here.

MANDVI: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: And 100 years ago, the map of the Middle East was drawn in large part by white men representing governments far way in Europe. One man tried to bridge the gap between those two worlds. He lives on in film and in legend, and even in today's headlines. That's when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally, imagine a world without "Lawrence of Arabia." Fifty years ago today, director David Lean's epic film had its premiere with a majestic score and incomparable photography, filmed on location and without computer graphics.

This sweeping desert saga went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and made stars of Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. But the story didn't end with the closing credits. As we been discussing here tonight, the story is still being written.

In 1916, a young British officer named T. E. Lawrence came to the Middle East with a vision: to lead disparate Arab tribes in a revolt against the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Lawrence remains a controversial figure, recalling a time when European powers drew lines in the sand and on maps, carving out new nations such as Jordan, Iraq and Syria, with borders that still are being contested.

Across the region European colonialism eventually was replaced by decades of dictatorship. Dictatorship is now being replaced by democracy and it's messy. But in the words of Lawrence of Arabia's colleague, Winston Churchill, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others."

That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York and keep watching us at