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Cairo Erupts in Protests, Violence; Obama Names New Chief of Staff

Aired January 25, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We are taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on right now.

This is central Cairo today. Furious protesters shouting "leave, leave," demanding an end to the near total rule by President Mohamed Morsi. Today is a landmark day to the opposition movement in Egypt. It is the second anniversary of the violent nationwide revolution that threw out President Hosni Mubarak. Well, today's marches and the anger in the street look very much like the beginning of the Arab Spring.

So that was Cairo two years ago. Hosni Mubarak, he was in power. But in just 18 days, he would step down. The country has seen very few calm days since. Egypt's first ever free election put a president in office who has still not closed the gap between the government and a frustrated local and vocal opposition, the population, who want now want even more change.

I want to bring in Reza Sayah, who is in Cairo. Take us to the scene in Cairo there behind you. I understand that protesters have gathered. There are some police officers that are hurt. And this is just in Cairo alone.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Suzanne, there have been some clashes here, although we don't want to blow things out of proportion. Here in Cairo, the violence has been limited to about two streets. Behind us, there's a street that leads to the interior ministry and some other government buildings.

Police have erected a large barrier. What you have is on one side protesters, mostly teenagers, throwing rocks and debris over the barrier at police. Police responding by firing tear gas. Sometimes police themselves throwing rocks at the protesters, which is probably not a strategy you'll find in a police training manual.

A few blocks away, Tahrir Square, much more orderly, although the people are impassioned and intense. More than 10,000 people at least gathered here in Tahrir Square.

Hard to believe it was two years ago when an uprising that started here in Tahrir led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, then the president of Egypt. People came out and said enough with his oppressive regime. They wanted personal freedom, political freedom, jobs, a better economy. Incredibly, Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power. However, at this point, many Egyptians, Suzanne, not happy. The people behind us, they're not celebrating, they're protesting.

MALVEAUX: Reza, I understand you spoke to a number of protesters. What is the issue here? What is the problem with the new leadership? Why are they out in the streets? Why are they upset?

SAYAH: The opposition, these protesters, have many issues. And maybe that's one of their obstacles, not finding one issue to unite over. They're concerned because they say they've been pushed out of the political process. They're concerned about their rights. Here's what that protester had to tell us.


AZZA LAMLOUM, PROTESTER: Everybody's protesting. What did we get since two years?

UN: Nothing.

LAMLOUM: We did nothing. Nothing achieved.

SAYAH: The president says be patient. It is just part of the process.

LAMLOUM: We need a sign. A small -- small thing. And we will wait.

SAYAH: And you don't think he's given you a sign?

LAMLOUM: But, no -- look at the constitution. Look at the constitution. Is this a constitution for all Egyptians? It's not.

SAYAH: He says people voted on it.


LAMLOUM: How many voted? Sixteen million or 52 (ph) millions went to vote. Ten million said yes and six said no. is this -- can this be possible?

SAYAH: Do you trust the president?



SAYAH: What do you do as an Egyptian? If you don't trust -- right now.

LAMLOUM: What do I do? What can I do? I go on protest, protest and protest until forever.


SAYAH: Clearly a lot of mistrust and intense animosity, Suzanne. And the question moving forward for Mohamed Morsi, the president and this government, how do they tack the very real issues and the problems of this country when Egypt is so divided and fractured.

MALVEAUX: All right, Reza Sayah, thank you very much.

I want to bring in Hala Gorani. And you were in Tahrir Square two years ago. Describe for us what you saw back then and the kinds of images that Reza is bringing us today, because it does seem like it is not -- it's not the same thing.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not. What's happening today and what happened two years ago is not the same thing. Egyptians, though, are continuing to express their frustration, Suzanne. When I was there two years ago, at the end of January until the day Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on February 11th, it was a true change in leadership. It was a historic moment where the deeply entrenched dictator was finally forced out of office.

However, if you look back two years, sometimes it appears as though some of the reporting was maybe a little breathless, maybe a little naive. They said that the people have spoken. Now, a true democracy can be the reality of millions of Egyptians.

It has not been the case for many of the critics of the new president, the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi. They accuse him of acting like Hosni Mubarak with a beard. They say on December 25th a constitution was approved that limits the rights of freedom of ordinary people to express themselves freely, to assemble. Some of the articles that have been -- I've highlighted, just looking back at the constitutional text --


GORANI: Article 44, criminalizes insulting of profits. People are worried. This means this is a Muslim Brotherhood president, not an Egyptian president. Article 48 says that media outlets can be closed if they do not meet the requirements of national security. All these are sentences and phrases in the constitution that worry ordinary Egyptians. Is Egypt where it needs to be? No. Is it a true functioning democracy? Critics will say nowhere near it.

MALVEAUX: And, Hala, we are looking at some of the pictures. We had experienced this all together. We watched it unfold together as people -- thousands and thousands of people took to the streets in Tahrir Square just two years ago. You were in the sea, the throng of people who were there. And we saw pictures of you even being jostled about. There was, at some point, it almost seemed like you were in danger. Can you describe for us what it was like to be a part of covering that story and what you see today?

GORANI: Things have changed a lot for women reporters in Tahrir Square. Some of our female colleagues have been very severely beaten and sexually molested in Tahrir Square. When I was there two years ago, it was still a time when I felt I could, just by myself, venture into Tahrir Square. I took Blackberry pictures of the camel charge. You'll remember that happened in February two years ago.

MALVEAUX: Describe what that was, the camel charge. GORANI: The camel charge was when the tourists operators of those areas around the pyramids, who, you know, charge you money to get up on a camel or get up on a horse, were sent in by some of the government operatives of Hosni Mubarak to charge the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. It led to some major violence in the square that day with people getting very badly hurt.

I was lucky. I got out of that situation unscathed. But many of our female colleagues, to this day when they report out of Tahrir Square, even if they go with their male colleagues and security, can get pulled into some very difficult situations.

MALVEAUX: And, Hala, you said there was a certain naivety, if you will. I mean there was optimism, there was hope, but these things take a lot of time for change because Hosni Mubarak was somebody who was in power for decades.

GORANI: Right.

MALVEAUX: This transition is really relatively new.

GORANI: Right. It is. It's only two years old. Historically, if you look at revolutions, including the French revolution if we're going to go back that far, though nobody tweeted that one out, it takes decades for things to change. I think in the initial days of February 11th and February 12th, the day after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down, there was optimism, there was excitement. And I think Egyptian people had the right to feel that excitement. They had gotten rid of their dictator.

But then very quickly after that, and especially, I think, since the election of Mohamed Morsi, there has been a lot of pessimism and perhaps people thinking, you know what, did we replace one autocrat with another. And Mohamed Morsi, right now, is going to have to prove to his people that he's not president of the Muslim Brothers, he's the president of all Egyptians, including Coptic Christians, who are concerned with persecution and isolation.

MALVEAUX: All right, Hala, thank you so much. We went through it two years ago. I think we're going to be follow this and just watch to see what happens --

GORANI: For several years.

MALVEAUX: Many, many years to come.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Hala.

Iraqi soldiers, they opened fire on thousands of demonstrators. That happened in Fallujah today. Health officials and witnesses say at least four people were killed, a dozen others wounded. The Sunni demonstrators, they were demanding that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki step down. They say they are getting second class treatment by the Shiite dominated government. Well, some witnesses say the shooting started after soldiers ordered protesters to stop filming security forces on the rooftops. Others say it began after protesters threw things at the soldiers.

Just ahead on NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL, we are waiting for President Obama to speak any minute now. You see the room there. He's going to be announcing his pick for chief of staff. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens.

And, of course, if you're enduring this cold weather right now, we're going to show you some of the hot spots to visit.


MALVEAUX: Let's go to President Obama at the White House, announcing his pick for his new chief of staff.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, everybody, have a seat.

Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the announcement of one of the worst kept secrets in Washington.

Now, as president, I rely on an extraordinary team of men and women here at the White House every single day. And I rely on my chief of staff to keep up with them and our entire government, making sure that we're all moving in the same direction. Making sure that my priorities are being carried out and that our policies are consistent with the commitments that I've made to the American people and that we're delivering progress to the American people.

As I said earlier this month, I could not be more grateful to Jack Lew for his amazing service first as our OMB director, then at the State Department and ultimately as my chief of staff. As he prepares for his confirmation hearings and the challenge of leading our Treasury Department, I am pleased to announce my next chief of staff. And a great friend to me and everybody who works here at the White House, Mr. Denis McDonough.

I have been counting on Denis for nearly a decade. Since I first came to Washington when he helped set up my Senate office, along with Pete Rouse. You know, he, you know, was able to show me where the restrooms were and, you know, how you passed a bill.

I should point out that even then Denis had gray hair. I've been trying to catch up to him. But at that time, I relied on his intellect and his good judgment and that has continued ever since. He's been one of my closest and most trusted advisers on my presidential campaign, on my transition team. He has been an indispensable member of my national security team as well.

You know, Denis has played a key role in every major national security decision in my presidency, from ending the war in Iraq to winding down the war in Afghanistan, from our response to natural disasters around the world like Haiti and the tsunami in Japan, to the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, to countless crises in between day and night and that includes many nights.

I've actually begun to think that Denis likes pulling all-nighters. The truth is nobody outworks Denis McDonough.

And, you know, part of the reason you saw such warmth of applause is that, in addition to being an incredible and such a hard worker, Denis is also a pretty humble guy. To so many of friends and admirers, he's still just a dude from Stillwater, Minnesota.

And, given his humility, I don't think people always appreciate the breadth of his experience and the range of his talents. And it's precisely because of that intellect, that experience, his dedication, his determination, that I wanted Denis in this job.

As a veteran of Capitol Hill where he was mentored by the likes of Lee Hamilton and Tom Daschle, Denis understands the importance of reaching across the aisle to deliver results to the American people, whether it's on jobs and the economy, health care or education, reducing the deficit or addressing climate change. Denis is respected by leaders across our government.

Add it all up and I think he spent most of the past four years leading inter-agency meetings, hearing people out, listening to them, forging consensus and then making sure that our policies are implemented and that everybody's held accountable. And he always holds himself accountable, first and foremost.

And it's no easy task, but, through it all, Denis does it with class and integrity and thoughtfulness for other people's points of view. He's the consummate public servant, he plays it straight and that's the team work I want in the White House.

You know, time and again, I've relied on Denis to help in our outreach to the American people, as well, including immigrant and minority communities and faith communities. Denis is a man of deep faith and he understands that, in the end, our policies and our programs are measured in the concrete differences that they make in the lives of our fellow human beings and in the values that we advance as Americans.

Denis insists on knowing for himself the real world impact of the decisions that we make, so, away from the cameras without a lot of fanfare, he's visited our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan repeatedly, hearing their concerns, finding out what they need and then making sure to follow up.

He travels to Walter Reed, again, without fanfare, to spend time with our wounded warriors, getting to know them and what we as a nation can do to take care of them and their families.

And then he comes back here to the White House and he gets it done. And that's the kind of focus, but also the kind of heart that I want in this White House.

Now, don't get me wrong. Denis can be tough. It probably comes from being one of 11 children. You've got to be tough. Two of his sisters are here today, by the way, Mary and Anna, and I know they couldn't -- well, they are just beaming. They could not be more proud of their brother.

Maybe it comes from his college football days as defensive back under the legendary John Gagliardi. I always tease Denis that he made up for modest talents with extraordinary dedication and a high threshold for pain.

This does remind me of perhaps the one topic on which Denis and I will never agree and that is Vikings versus Bears.

There's another reason we all love Denis so much and that's his decency, his respect for those around him. Ask any of the staff who are here today and they'll tell you that, despite the unbelievable pressures of service at this level, Denis is the first to think about a colleague or to write a handwritten note saying thank you or to ask about your family. That's the spirit that I want in this White House.

And this, of course, is reflected in his incredible love for his own family. Kari, Addie, Liam, Teddy, I know that dad has been at work a lot during the week and on weekends, but -- and I guarantee he'd rather much be with you than with me.

The next job that he's going to have is going to be demanding, too, but the one reason he does this is because he wants to make sure that this world is a better place for all of you.

Dad will probably have to stop riding his bike to work. As chief of staff, I don't think that's allowed, but he is -- you know, he does what he does because he cares and loves you guys so much and he wants to make sure that the next generation is inheriting the kind of America that we all want.

So, I'm grateful to the entire McDonough family for putting up with us.

Denis, you're not just one of my closest friends, but you're also one of my closest advisers and, like everybody here, I cannot imagine the White House without you.

Thank you for signing up for this very, very difficult job, as Jack Lew will testify. I know you'll always give it to me straight as only a friend can, telling me not only what I want to hear, but more importantly, what I need to hear to make the best possible decisions on behalf of the American people.

So, for me, for Michelle, for all of your friends and colleagues who are here today, thank you for taking this assignment. Congratulations.


OBAMA: I just have one other thing to add. You know, we made a number of personnel announcements today. There's going to be an incredible team that Denis will help lead, but I thought I'd take the occasion to just embarrass somebody. Some of you may know that today is David Plouffe's last day in the White House. I had to hide this in the end of my remarks because I knew he wouldn't want me to bring it up.

So, we had secret squirrel stuff going on here to avoid him thinking that we were going to talk about him.

But, as many of you know, David has been with me from the very start of this enterprise, running for president. I can't tell you how lucky I have been to have him manage our campaign back in 2008 and then join the White House during these very challenging last two years.

He's built a well deserved reputation as being a numbers genius and pretty tough combatant when it comes to politics but what people don't always realize because he doesn't like to show it is the reason he does this stuff is because he cares deeply about people.

He cares about justice, he cares about making sure that everybody gets a shot in life and those values have motivated him to do incredible things and, if it were not for him, we would not have been as effective a White House and I probably wouldn't be here.

I thought it was worthwhile for us just to say, even if he doesn't want us to say it, thank you to Dave Plouffe.

All right. Thank you, everybody.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Want to bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, who is also watching this.

And, Jess, you know, Denis McDonough is somebody you and I have dealt with for years and somebody who was deputy national security adviser and someone who was often briefing the press.

But I think most people don't realize, chief of staff is the one, when they talk about the 3:00 a.m. phone call that the president gets under any circumstances, that is the chief of staff that is picking up the phone and informing the president on what is taking place in the country.

It is very clear that they have a very close relationship, Jess. Describe a little bit about those two and how it is that they work together.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's not just the president who has a trusted relationship with McDonough, but it's also the White House staff.

And I can tell you these events are not usually that well attended by White House staff. This was a packed room of -- even the president's personal chef turned out for this event because McDonough is sort of beloved by the team of people who work inside the West Wing.

And, when the president announced he was picking McDonough, when he just said it up there, everybody knew it was true, but the entire -- everybody inside this room broke out in huge smiles. The people who work for the president trust Denis McDonough. They have known him for years because -- and they like him because he's somebody they believe gets the job done in a sort of no-nonsense way. They can take their issues to him and he sort of makes the trains run.

He's the kind of guy on the transition who would -- he helped run the transition office for national security issues. If there was no one around to do the Xeroxing, he'd stand up and Xerox -- do the Xeroxing himself. So, he doesn't stand on title or ceremony or principle, he just does what needs to be done to get the job done is how he's perceived.

That said, he also can have sharp elbows. He's only 43 and he got the chief of staff job. And he beat out people with much more elaborate resumes and he is -- can be very tough and -- as the president pointed out.

And, you know, on the other side of the ledger, some of the minuses, his entire portfolio is national security. He does not have a background to speak of in domestic policy and that means that people who are domestic policy advisers will have to step up and really fill that role in a bigger way on the staff.

Maybe Jack Lew at Treasury will have an expanded portfolio or even more influence.


YELLIN: Rob Nabors. I'd also point out, Suzanne, that there has never been a female White House chief of staff in the history of the United States and that remains true to this day.

And, so, the president has promoted four women to senior posts in the White House, most notably, now, Lisa Monaco who when -- if and when John Brennan is confirmed as -- to run the CIA, she will be the president's White House adviser on homeland security and she has an interesting resume herself.

MALVEAUX: And, Jess, let's talk a little bit more about that because we saw Valerie Jarrett who was sitting in the front row there in the ceremony, of course, one of the president's closest advisers. Had a chance over the weekend through the inaugural ceremonies to press her on that, whether or not the White House feels that there's a sufficient amount of women and diversity on the cabinet. They keep saying, no, look, you know, when it's all said and done, it will be reflective of the United States.

Do you get a sense in the White House that there are going to be more announcements, that it's going to look a little bit more diverse?

YELLIN: Well, I'm reporting today that Sylvia Matthews Burwell is the top contender -- it's not done, but is the top contender -- to run the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently run by Jeff Zients and was previously run by Lew and, before that, Peter Orzag. I have to double-check this, but she might be, if she gets that, the first woman in that role. She had a remarkable, stellar career in the Clinton administration and then at the Gates Foundation and now Walmart, so that would be one woman.

And then Lisa Monaco is an interesting person. She is currently at the justice department. She was Mueller -- the FBI Director Mueller's chief of staff. She also worked on the Enron task force, helping to prosecute some of the people in the Enron case.

And you know who else did is the current White House counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, and so they have sort of a women's -- you know, they're sort of -- you can talk about a boys' club. They've got a women's power club.

They were both on the Enron task force, prosecuting some of those men and apparently they came up through the ranks also with Elena Kagan, so there's some power women in this town who are making their way now, as well, and she's an interesting one.

MALVEAUX: Good for them. And, real quickly here, Jess, I know that there are three recess appointments the president made and the Supreme Court has now said they are unconstitutional.

Essentially, what does that mean for the White House? He made these appointments while the Senate was out during recess. What -- how is the White House responding?

YELLIN: As far as I know, we've asked them for comment and let me just check my BlackBerry to see if that's come in because it's about to come in, but it means that this now has to go to the Supreme Court again.

That means that this will probably go to the Supreme Court and be battled out there. Effectively, the president can make recess appointments when the Senate is out of session. At the time, the president made these recess appointments, the Senate was nominally in session. They were gaveling in and gaveling out and, so, the court said that didn't count.