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Pro- And Anti-Morsi Demonstrations Rage On In Egypt

Aired July 2, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


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

The walls appear to be caving in on the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as we look at pictures of the massive demonstrations against him at Tahrir Square and at the presidential palace as well as large pro-Morsi demonstrations going on in a Cairo suburb.

President Obama has called Morsi and the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in touch with his Egyptian counterpart. The United States is calling on Morsi and the opposition to resolve this crisis politically.

But the opposition seems determined to stay on the streets until they force their first democratically-elected president to step down. And even if demonstrations continue, Morsi's ministers and spokesmen are turning away from him; nearly a dozen have resigned since yesterday.

And the clock, of course, is ticking to the end of the military's 48-hour ultimatum. The army has now published the four-point plan that it'll follow unless the president and the opposition resolve this by tomorrow.

The Armed Forces said it will suspend the constitution and dissolve the Islamist-led parliament. It'll establish an interim ruling council and draw up new constitution and hold new presidential elections.

Now last night, Morsi had rebuffed the military's ultimatum and some of his allies had warned against a coup.

But the presidency released this picture of Morsi meeting again today with the army chief as well as with his prime minister.

Morsi himself has not spoken much publicly since Sunday but now an opportunity to hear from someone close to him, and she is Sondos Asem, Morsi's communication adviser, and she's joining me on the phone from Cairo.


AMANPOUR: Sondos, thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, these huge, huge demonstrations taking place in Cairo; no doubt you've been listening to the headlines as well. They're saying this is the last hours of Muslim Brotherhood rule. They're saying we want the army.

What is going to happen, Sondos?

SONDOS ASEM, MORSI ADVISER: Well, first of all, thank you for joining me. As you also may see, there are massive demonstrations for the legitimacy and for the presidency taking place across the country and for security in Upper Egypt.

The governors and also in Cairo (inaudible) districts (ph), there are millions of people in the streets respecting the democratic choice of the majority of Egyptians expressed in their first democratic election in history.

Since the president's address last Wednesday, he has been working part in concert with all actors in the political scene. He's considered various initiatives (inaudible) huge dissension in the country, but unfortunately, he was faced with a lot of intransigence and from the side of the opposition.

AMANPOUR: All right.

ASEM: Thinking the army's (inaudible) yesterday, we believe that the business of yesterday has actually increased polarization and escalated tension in the Egyptian streets, which is precise like army need to stay out of politics.

AMANPOUR: Sondos (ph), Sondos (ph), do you believe, does the president believe that there is a military coup on the way?

ASEM: Well, the president's -- his -- that statement, as I told you, it has escalated tension in the streets (inaudible). It's actually - it's led to fears of an impending military coup. We cannot undo 21/2 years of our revolution and turn back the clock by going back either to the military, either directly or indirectly.

AMANPOUR: Will the president step down as the opposition is calling?

ASEM: This is the first democratically elected president in the history of Egypt and Egyptians will be able to defend their democratic choice by legitimate and constitutional means.

AMANPOUR: Sondos (ph), you know, the president told me and he told all Egyptians just before and right after his election that he was going to be the president for all of Egypt. Now clearly millions and millions of Egyptians don't believe that that's the case. They're also very upset about the mismanagement of the economy, very upset about the lack of security and, frankly, incompetent governance.

Does the president admit that this last year has been squandered and some change needs to happen?

ASEM: Christiane, you know that in a democracy, it's normal that people differ. But (inaudible) in Egypt we believe that polarization can only be defused through (inaudible) through elections. We have been committed to the democratic transition in our country (inaudible) building our democratic modern (ph) and civil state. And this is something we have warned (ph) to protect.

AMANPOUR: So tell me then, Sondos (ph), what is the president's next move? Clearly he has an ultimatum, as does the opposition, to resolve this politically. You've seen now the military's four-point road map if this doesn't happen by tomorrow, including dissolving the parliament, getting rid of the constitution and writing a new constitution and calling for new elections.

What is the president's next move? What is he going to do to try to resolve this politically?

ASEM: We are not aware of any such proposed road map. Currently the president is (inaudible). He is undertaking the negotiations and there are consultations with different political actors in the Egyptian (inaudible). And until there is the initiative on which there is consensus by all -- by all the actors, tendency (ph) will publicly announce it.

AMANPOUR: So he met with General Sisi again today. We saw a picture that was released on the presidential website.

What is he talking about with the general?

ASEM: Today this was the -- a normal (ph) meeting between the president, the prime minister and (inaudible). It was (inaudible) to follow on the developments on the political scene. Basically the president, prime minister and the minister of defense were on the same page, that now we need to agree on a solution and come up with an inactive (ph) that is met with the approval of the -- of everyone.

AMANPOUR: Sondos ASEM, thank you so much for joining me. And of course we're going to be watching this very, very closely and we're going to turn now to Ben Wedeman, CNN's Ben Wedeman, who is there overlooking Tahrir Square.

Ben, thanks for being there.

What do you read into what Sondos (ph) told me? I mean, you know, she's saying that they cannot overturn the democratically-elected government. This is Egypt's first experiment with democracy and it has to be resolved politically and not on the street.

What are you hearing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly from this vantage point overlooking Tahrir Square, Christiane, that isn't the position held by many of the people here. Yes, it is correct that a democratic election brought Mohammed Morsi to power one year ago. But if you recall, even that election was really not cut and dried.

It was the second round of a presidential election in which Egyptians were given the choice between Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafiq, an official from the former regime of Hosni Mubarak. And a lot of people who voted for Morsi voted for him because they didn't want to bring in a figure from the old regime.

So, in a sense, they held their noses, as one told me back then, when they went to put their ballot in the ballot box. And so there was already a bedrock of hesitation about Mohammed Morsi.

And then people look at what has happened over the last year with the stagnation of the economy, with this constitution that was really rushed through and admittedly passed in a referendum that many secular liberal and Christian Egyptians really felt did not express their feelings regarding women's rights, freedom of the press and so forth, and really sort of the icing on the cake was this fuel crisis of the last few weeks, where Egyptians were lining up for hours and hours to get gas.

So it really was a cumulative effect that has culminated in this. People say yes, he was democratically elected but then -- they then will tell you he has not ruled democratically and that may explain why all of this noise and commotion behind me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And, Ben, lastly, do you think -- how do you think this is going to play out? I mean, look, there are these huge crowds, pro and anti, and yet thankfully violence has been kept to a minimum.

Does it look like it's going to stay vaguely peaceful like this?

WEDEMAN: I would not be so sure. And we're already hearing the possibility of several people already killed in clashes in Cairo this evening. We do know there have been fights. I wouldn't call them (inaudible) clashes in various parts of Cairo and in the delta and Upper Egypt.

So, really, the temperature is rising. So far, I mean, for instance on the 30th of June, many people were talking about Armageddon, of absolute, you know, street warfare at the beginning of the civil war. That hasn't happened. But really there's just less than 24 hours left in the ultimatum issued by the military. There's still a long way to go and it seems hour by hour the level of tension is rising.

So so far, so good. But one should not rule out the possibility of more violence.

AMANPOUR: Ben, thanks a lot. And of course, in less than 24 hours, this military ultimatum runs out. And we're turning now to one of the members of the opposition because these massive anti-Morsi demonstrations happening all over Egypt were planned by young Egyptian activists. They're part of a group calling themselves Tamarod, which means rebellion.

Their campaign states that Egyptians' basic needs, such as bread, freedom and social justice, have not been achieved. And they add, quote, "There is no work, no security, no state. There is rebellion."

In truth, of course, the opposition has been divided and even the U.S. says it doesn't really know its bottom line.

So with us now, Ahmed el Hawary, who is one of those young activists and you join me right now.

Ahmed el Hawary, thank you for being there.

Are you staying on the streets until -- ?

AHMED EL HAWARY, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: -- are you saying that you're not going to try to resolve this politically? You're not going to try to compromise with the Morsi administration and you're just staying there until you bring him down?

EL HAWARY: A month ago we would have been in negotiation. A month ago, if President Morsi had realized how much he's being hated by his people and how much his -- and then people of Egypt wants him out of office, we could have resolved this peacefully. The calls for resolution and the calls for compromise and political negotiation has been there all along, and he refused it.

I think now at this stage there's no way that we would and actually should resolve or negotiate with Mohammed Morsi. When you see the throng behind me, when you see the Egyptian, millions and millions of Egyptians in the street cheering happily, "Morsi is down. Morsi is over." He's the only person that does not realize that till now.

And he's driving the country with his proclivity into a more chaos and into a more violent that these millions of people behind me have actually tried their best to resort to peace rather than violence and I think -- I think he should realize by now that the more than 30 million people marching in the streets against him is a clear sign that he has lost his presidency.

AMANPOUR: But here's the thing: you are calling for the military to enter this arena. And I mean, I'm sure you remember; I remember at this time last year, there were huge demonstrations by yourself and others against military rule and Morsi put the military back into the barracks.

Are you really ready for military rule again?

EL HAWARY: We are never going to concede to military rule. We are not calling for a military coup. The NSF has just released a statement saying that they're not calling for a military coup and nobody's going to accept a military coup.

To be -- to put things into perspective, I have marched against staff (ph), all the period that's capital bear (ph) in power. I've been beaten down by military police. I've shouted and professed against military rule all my life. Now we're not military sympathizers and we're not calling for military intervention. What we're calling for is basically for Morsi to step down.

When you've got millions and millions of people in the streets, marching and calling for a demand and a peaceful resolution, and you've got a president with his supporters that has shrunk to staggering numbers now, resorting to violence and resorting to the ex-terrorist and ex-Islamist militants that he pardoned out of prison and he brought back from a garrison.

The idea of a presence for the military and the presence of the institution that followed the state that is legally binding to protect the Egyptians from such attacks and such terror, this is not calling for them to have a coup. This is the military institution and I must say, the military institution rather -- is rather smarter than ever these days.

We've not actually (inaudible) on them that they have any kind of political mistake. They're aligning themselves completely with the demands of the people and they are calling for a peaceful resolution (inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) --

EL HAWARY: -- peacefully and an intermediate stage according to a road map.

AMANPOUR: Well, precisely, but the road map that you're talking about is one that's been published now by the military. So how do you see this resolution? You say no negotiations; I mean you are in a zero-sum game. You say no way to compromise with the presidency. And you're saying no way should we have military rule.

Well, so what is it that's going to happen? Who is going to step into this vacuum? Because they've already said dissolve the parliament; rewrite the constitution, new election.

Who governs then?

EL HAWARY: Yes. Yes. OK. You've got -- you've got a president that has deceived us, has broken his promises, has ripped the referendum, the results of the referendum. We cannot trust him (inaudible) democratic of early elections. Early elections is part of democracy.

And these protesters actually vowed today that Morsi went into his -- the presidentiary (sic) office, the presidential office, that if he does not comply with his promises that he has written and signed before assuming the president's -- the presidential office, then he will come back to the streets and overthrow him.

And Mohammed Morsi acknowledged that this will happen if he goes away from what he has promised (inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible), Ahmed, Ahmed --

EL HAWARY: -- broken every single promise.

AMANPOUR: Ahmed, you've said this many times. What I'm trying to figure out is who do you think is going to govern in this quote-unquote "interim" period that you envision?

EL HAWARY: Well, that's -- the front, the June 30th front, the NSF and all of opposition forces and now actually we're not opposition; we are the Egyptian people, have declared a road map that we are demanding to be in place.

And we are all gathered around it, first that the head of the constitutional courts, the high supreme court, constitutional court, would be a ceremonial president till the intervening states is over.

The prime minister that is chosen and has the concession of all Egyptians and all Egyptian forces will assume the prime ministry and will have full authority over the government and over Egypt to restore security, restore the economy and oversee the transitional stage and the reelections. A -- we have called for an assembly of a constitutional office and constitutional lawmakers.

The deans of all the faculties of law in Egypt were very pronounced and they are extremely still (inaudible) their trade. We want them to convene and to review all the legislatives that has been legislated for the past year under the Muslim Brotherhood rule and the constitution and rewrite a draft of a constitution to be voted, the people, over a referendum.

So we have told that we because of -- we are in a very direst compromise state with the national security because of the (inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: All right.

EL HAWARY: -- policies of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood towards the foreign policy that we are calling for the national -- for the national council of defense, the national council of defense could be assumed to be assembled and according to the law of 1968 and that would assume all authority and control over the national security matters.

This is a road map. This is a complete road map for six months. And this is the Egyptian people ruling itself again.

AMANPOUR: Ahmed el Hawary, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And we will have more on these critical moments in Egypt when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and we continue our coverage of the massive protest in Egypt. Fawaz Gerges is director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, and he joins me now from London.

Thanks for being with me. This seems to me, Fawaz, Egypt's first experiment with democracy on a knife's edge. I mean, it is a massively consequential moment.

Do you agree?


And for me, Christiane, as an observer and historian, it's amazing what we are witnessing is a play of the dramatic events during the Mubarak basically ouster, removal.

Here you have the spokesperson for President Mohammed Morsi, living in Wonderland, fairy tale, does not really appreciate the gravity of the crisis. Millions of Egyptians are protesting, demanding basically the exit of Morsi. And here, on the other hand, you have another activist who basically very determined, very uncompromising. It's either/or (ph). And this tells you, Christiane, how divided Egypt is today.

There's a fierce political and ideological struggle taking place in Egypt between the Islamist-led government, President Mohammed Morsi and the secular-leaning opposition. It's a testament to how President Morsi has alienated millions of Egyptians.

I mean, to me, what's fascinating, millions of poor Egyptians, middle class Egyptians who voted for Morsi, who basically cheered his elections, who pinned their hopes on Morsi are now saying go, erhal (ph), because basically he has not delivered on his promises, his economic mismanagement, his authoritarian ways, basically pursuing similar policies to Mubarak. It's been a disaster for Egypt and Egyptians, unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: So as we're talking, of course, we're looking at these massive pictures of pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrations.

Fawaz, you say it's been a disaster. But how much of a disaster would it be if the answer to this is a coup against the first democratically elected president of Egypt? I mean, is Egypt really ready for the military to step in and take over?

What do you think is going to happen?

GERGES: I hope not, Christiane. Regardless of what you think of Mohammed Morsi, Mohammed Morsi is his own worst enemy and I -- this is the first time I say it, only on your show. He is the wrong man to lead Egypt at this particular, critical juncture and exit an accidental president. He does not have the sensibility, the skill, the vision and the charisma.

But regardless, basically forcing the first democratically elected president in the modern history of Egypt will plunge Egypt into great turmoil. This would have tremendous consequences on the future of democracy and pluralism in Egypt.

Remember, you and I, all of us, we're talking about the anti-Morsi protesters. Morsi has a great deal of supporters among the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis. You're talking about millions of Egyptians. How will the Islamists respond? How will the political process be basically glued back together?


GERGES: And obviously, as you ask -- as you ask the activists, I mean, now they're cheering the army on, come on, Sisi, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (ph), where are you? That should have, well, look, a few months ago, a year ago, they were basically rallying against the authoritarian ways of the ruling general, the scap (ph), you remember.

AMANPOUR: I do remember.

GERGES: (Inaudible) reminded (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: We were there. That's why I reminded (inaudible) -- it seems almost Orwellian, what's going on. So I want to ask you this: does the military recognize how badly they messed up during their 17-month rule between Mubarak and Morsi?

And do they want to get reinvolved in running the country, number one?

Number two, what does the opposition really want? You heard the activists, yes, a lot of passion. But who do they envision governing if it's not the military and it's not Morsi?

GERGES: Christiane, you're asking so many questions. I wish we had had the time. But quickly, first of all, I think the military appreciates the gravity of the situation. The military also has an institutional memory of the bitter taste it got after the removal of Mubarak.

That's why personally -- and I could be wrong -- I don't think the military will carry out a coup, will basically intervene directly in the political process.

The military has made it very clear they want to pressure both the opposition and Morsi to compromise. And I think this is really the strategy of the military, to get both camps to sit down and talk, because I believe -- and I think the military is correct -- only a compromise, a political compromise will rescue Egypt from greater political turmoil.

What you are seeing now, the problem is, with Morsi, he is deaf and blind to the gravity of the situation. He has been bluffing; he basically has not taken the opposition seriously. He and the Muslim Brotherhood, they have overplayed their hand.

And also the opposition has escalated and intensified demands. Now they want the removal, the forceful removal of Morsi. It's one thing to say they want a competent government; they want checks and balances. They want the constitution to be advised, and they want the new attorney general. They want checks and balances and transparency.

They want -- but it's another thing to say we want Morsi out as a democratically elected government. And we want to use the military as a spearhead to do so. What will be -- as you ask yourself, I mean, the -- your guest, what -- who's going to govern in the interim? What's to happen? Let's say elections are to take place next year.

And my take to you, Christiane -- and you remember my words, under the Islamists might win the presidency. Could be a much more radical Islamist like Hayap Ashapa (ph), much more conservative than Morsi.

So we are back to square one. Only if political compromise engineered by both the opposition and the presidency can really save Egypt from further disaster. I hope the military does not really overthink that basically a forcing Morsi out is the answer.

And I think as you've seen in the last 12 hours or so, both President Obama and the U.S. military are trying to slow down, prevent the -- postpone the inevitable, that is military's involvement, direct involvement in the political process.

AMANPOUR: Fawaz Gerges, always good to hear from you. Thank you for joining me from London.

And we'll be back in a moment with an update on these critical times. Back in a second.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we're watching massive protests right now continuing in Egypt, both for and against President Mohammed Morsi. And the clock is ticking down on the ultimatum that was set yesterday by the military.

If the crisis isn't resolved, now in less than 24 hours, they say they will suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament, draw up a new constitution, call for new presidential elections.

Morsi's allies warn against a coup. And of course, it is a critical moment. Morsi is the country's first democratically elected president. He is widely viewed as not having performed well, not having governed well and also not having governed for all Egyptians.

The truth also is that the opposition is in a zero-sum game. They say there is no room to compromise and they are on the streets, they say, until the president steps down.

You just heard our analyst, Fawaz Gerges, say that the only way to guarantee Egypt's present, its future and its long term are for political reconciliation and national unity.

Stay tuned for more coverage as this showdown continues. Thanks for watching and goodbye, for the moment, from New York.