Return to Transcripts main page


Military Coup Underway; Army Erects Barriers Around Morsi Building; Interview with Mona El Tahawy

Aired July 3, 2013 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're following major, major breaking news out of Egypt right now. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. The president under siege, an important U.S. ally in crisis, an advisor to the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi saying a military coup is now underway. A deadline and an ultimatum from the military has come and gone and we're waiting to see what happens next. Protesters on both sides continuing their massive demonstrations. President Morsi today called for dialogue and compromise in a statement he posted on Facebook but he also said he has no plans to step down.

Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us. He's in Cairo at a huge pro-Morsi rally. Two major rallies underway, Ben. There's an anti-Morsi rally in Tahrir Square, a pro-Morsi rally where you are right now. You've covered this story for years. What is the very latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The very latest is that the army has deployed vehicles, military vehicles, in all the entrances to this area, this major intersection. Nonetheless, we understand people are still entering the area. Some people telling us that soldiers had deployed on the roof top (INAUDIBLE) here. And certainly, what we're hearing from the very loud speaker behind me is that the people here say they're going to stand their ground. They do not accept that the Democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi be ousted in a coup even though I must point out that the numbers here are really dwarfed (ph) by what we're seeing, not just in Tahrir Square, but also outside the Ittihadiya Palace where another huge anti-Morsi rally is taking place.

In fact, one poll was published just a few hours ago. They found that 80 percent -- 83 percent of Egyptians are in favor of this so-called what they're calling here in Cairo as the invited coup. This coup that basically has been slowly materializing for the last 48 hours. But a coup that, with the exception of the faithful, of the Muslim Brotherhood, seems to be widely supported by many Egyptians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Quickly, one more question, Ben. It looks like the military is taking control of the largest state-run newspaper in Egypt, "Al- Ahram ." What about state-run television? Has the military taken effective charge of those broadcasts as well?

WEDEMAN: Well, we understand that they may have deployed additional forces around the T.V. station. But I have to point something out to you, Wolf. What we've seen over the last few days is that the state media clearly saw which way the wind was blowing so the nature of the coverage went from trying to be somewhat even handed to quite clearly take a -- taking a position in support of the protests in Tahrir Square.

The headlines were clearly indicating that the newspapers are in favor of a military coup. And I don't think the military is going to have to do much to instruct the state media to change the nature of the coverage. The coverage has already changed several hours, if not days, before the events of this afternoon and this evening in Cairo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Ben Wedeman knows. He's fluent in Arabic. He totally understands what's going on. He's covered this story for a long time. Ben, stand by.

Christiane has covered this story for a long time with us as well. And, Christiane, you just had a fascinating interview with a top advisor to President Mohammed Morsi who acknowledged and it was very telling to me. He does not know where the Egyptian president is right now.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed and went on to stay that they're going to stand their ground. The Muslim Brotherhood and the presidential tactic over the last several days has been to cloak themselves in the legitimacy, and they used the word over and over again, of being the first democratically elected president and the first democratically elected government.

But as you say, he said to me and you heard that all communications have been cut off. He doesn't know how to reach other members of the government or indeed the president. What we understand is according to "Al-Ahram," according to sources who are talking to "Al-Ahram," the newspaper that is attacking very close to the military is that he is, President Morsi, apparently under Republican guard protection in Republican guard headquarters. Now, those are the elements of the armed forces that are deployed to protect the president. We don't know what his fate will be.

"Al-Ahram" also in the last few minutes said that president Morsi is no longer a part of the decision making process. It also said that the military is postponing its final statement to the people, trying to give a few more hours to reach some kind of national consensus. And we don't know what that will look like. At the moment, while people are, you know, using the word coup here and there, what we don't see yet is a full-scale coup and we don't know what exactly the military is going to do. Whether it's going to put a military general in charge of Egypt or whether it's going to stand to the side and have a hand-picked group of people to run some interim reality.

Just before the original deadline passed, which is two hours ago, President Morsi put out a statement on his Facebook saying that he would compromise, that he would bring in, quote, "a national reconciliation government," have members of all various different political factions. He would hold new parliamentary elections. He would have a whole new cabinet. But he wasn't going anywhere. He would even amend elements of the constitution that have been so troublesome for so many people. So, that's where we are right now. We still do not know, in the face of these massive crowds, these huge people power, what the military is going to say and exactly what Egypt is going to look like tomorrow and who's going to run it.

Interesting watching those green laser lights. You've seen them used, game over. And they have spread that over various facades. And I remember that being the slogan against Mubarak two years ago.

BLITZER: And, you know, it's amazing when you look at these two huge gatherings. And as Ben Wedeman points out, others unfolding as well. What was really telling to me, Christiane, the other day, just, what, 48 hours or so ago, maybe not even that long, when the new building, the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, was virtually destroyed, ransacked by anti-Morsi elements and the Egyptian military and police, for all practical purposes, didn't do much in trying to prevent what was going on. That was very, very indicative of the trends underway. I want you to weigh in.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes, indeed. And, look, it's no secret that the military has been, you know, against the Muslim Brotherhood and vice versa for the last 80 years. I mean, these are historic foes. And President Morsi put the military back into the barracks just after his election. And that time, that was hailed around the world and in Egypt. In fact, the last massive demonstrations that took place in Egypt were against military rule.

And even today, I asked one of the key members of the opposition yesterday, I said, well, what are you saying? That you actually want a military coup? You want the military to run the country? Because that is what you've been saying. And they said, no, we don't a military coup. We want the military to be on the side of the people. And remember, the military was roundly sort of dismissed by the people after 17 months of running the country as being incompetent itself in trying to re-launch the economy, trying to, you know, have some kind of Democratic reality after the fall of Mubarak. So, this is a very fraught moment.

There are crowds, obviously much of the country, for Morsi and for that conservative religious style of government but there are massive crowds against. And the consensus is that Morsi has through basic incompetence and through tacking solely to a religious base, that's what he is perceived to have done, and for that, he is considered to have squandered his Democratic legitimacy. But, again, presents a very difficult problem for the west, for the United States. What do they say if the military comes back to take over? This was a democratically elected president.

BLITZER: And there seems to be, at least among the anti-Morsi elements out there, Christiane, some anti-American feelings because the suspicion being the U.S. was too supportive of President Morsi and some specific attacks against the U.S. ambassador, specifically in Cairo and Patterson (ph) as well.

We'll pick up that. We'll continue to watch what's going on. Ivan Watson has now moved to a different location. We'll have much more of the breaking news, historic news coming out of Egypt right after this.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear what the military, the all- powerful institution in Egypt, may be saying about what's going on. A top advisor to the Egypt President Mohammed Morsi saying, in effect, a military coup has begun, trying to remove the President Mohammed Morsi from power.

Ivan Watson is in Cairo for us. Ivan, you were there when Mubarak was removed. You're there right now. Tell our viewers right now where you are, Ivan, and what you're seeing.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Wolf, I'm walking across the Jumma (ph) Bridge in the center of Cairo, across the Nile River. And I'm looking at about, I'd say, 40 or 50 they appear to be army soldiers with riot-controlled shields who have formed a line across this bridge next to several military vehicles. And they have blocked all vehicular traffic across the center of the bridge. And they're on this bridge in the direction of the University of Cairo where there was a protest sit-in of the Muslim Brotherhoods, supporters of Mohammed Morsi. In that direction, I see another line of about 50 security officers. They are in dark uniforms, probably of the police with riot controlled helmets and shields. And I see a tan (ph) military truck wheeling around the rotary there. We basically are seeing the military deploying across at least parts of Cairo right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because there is another report that is emerging, and it seems to be accurate, that the Egyptian military has begun establishing barriers around the palace, the building where the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi seems to be located right now may be working, may be holed up. What, if anything, have you heard about this?

WATSON: Well, Cairo is an enormous metropolis. So, I'm at some distance from that area. What I can say is in this area, very close to where there were deadly clashes last night between supporters of Morsi who were holding a protest sit-in and anti-Morsi activists that left 18 people dead, according to the health ministry. That the military appear to be setting up coordinates in the direction of that Muslim Brotherhood encampment. I was at that encampment this morning. Men that I talked to who are supporters of the Mohammed Morsi, they said they would lay down their lives to keep their democratically elected president in office. And they predicted there would be violence if the military tried to remove him.

At this point, I don't see any signs of violence, Wolf, but I definitely see a substantial amount of deployments of the Egyptian military and police being deployed in the heart of this city. And I've seen them at least another major direction also next to the Nile River. So, we are definitely seeing the military flexing its muscles after several days of rival protests and deadly clashes.

BLITZER: I assume they will be flexing more of those muscles in the coming hours. And we're awaiting a formal statement from the Egyptian military. It's now, what, 7:15 p.m. local time on the streets of Cairo. You see the anti-Morsi protests, the pro-Morsi protests. We'll continue the breaking news in one moment.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're watching what's happening on the streets of Cairo. Right now, massive protests for and against the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. In the left part of the screen you see what's happening at Tahrir Square. Those are anti-Morsi protesters. On the right you see pro-Morsi protesters. They're not that close, about a 20 minute drive apart, but there's enormous fear thatif the military does take further steps to remove Morsi from power, the reports of this coup that apparently seems to be underway as some are describing it, that this could get even more violent. Mona El Tahawy is joining us from New York right now. She's been watching for years what's going on in Egypt. What's your bottom line? What's going to happen?

MONA EL TAHAWY, EGYPTIAN COMMENTATOR: I'm waiting like everybody else is waiting. I want to make something clear. The revolution was about ending military rule. Egyptians will not allow the military to take over again. We lived in the sixties (ph) of military rule.

We're in the situation we're in now because of Mohammed Morsi. Last year in November he assumed tremendous powers for himself to rush into effect a constitution that's brought us to this. Let's not forget that that same constitution that Morsi rushed into effect is the one that has allowed the military to remain this powerful.

If he and his supporters now complain about a coup, they have themselves to blame, number one. Number two, the fact that you have millions upon millions of people in the Egyptian street is testament to the fact that Morsi did not build us any institutions to allow us to express our opposition to him. He spent his one year in power marginalizing and sidelining the opposition and left us no option but the street. We do not want military rule in Egypt. We want Egypt to be free of both fascisms - fascists who say they have God on their side, which is the Muslim Brotherhood, and fascists with guns on their side who ruled Egypt for too long, and that's the Military.

BLITZER: This is the latest information we're getting. I'll be specific. I'll read it to you. Morsi, according to this report, is working from the republican guard complex across the street from the presidential palace. This is the Egyptian state media reporting this. Supporters say his embattled government is threatened by a coup. That's the latest information we're getting right now.

It looks to me, as someone -- I was in Cairo, I interviewed President Morsi back in January. I'm surprised how quickly his presidency seems to have unraveled. I thought he would have a little bit more time, but it looks to me like this military has decided they're going to do whatever it takes to get rid of him.

I don't know if you like that or you don't like that. EL TAHAWY: As I said, I do not want a military takeover of Egypt, and I think that the millions of people who have turned out to tell Morsi no, will also turn out if Egypt turns into a military takeover. This is not what we want.

I want to remind you also that the military junta that ruled Egypt tremendously abused its powers. We have not forgotten that we there was a pivotal battle between the revolution and the military and the police in November of 2011 on Mohammed Mahmoud Street that effectively ended junta rule, and forced the junta's hand to set the presidential elections timetable, which brought us Morsi.

So, we have beef with both sides. Don't forget at the end of the day that if the military had wanted to step in and remove Morsi he gave them a blank check to do so. The constitution that he rushed into effect last year after assuming tremendous powers left the military a safe passage so they were not held accountable to their abuses. He left their budget also untouched. So, Morsi has effectively brought this in by not allowing the opposition into his government and allowing Egyptians to be ruled by a presidency Egypt and not a Muslim Brotherhood president which is what he is.

BLITZER: Mona, very quickly. In the statement that the White House released yesterday on President Obama's phone call while he was in Africa to President Morsi that occurred in Monday, there's a line in there saying that the Egyptians have to be very careful and not going after and attacking women who are protesting right now. I'm sure you saw that line. Give us the bottom line. What was going on here? Who in this group were attacking women?

EL TAHAWY: There are groups of men who many of us are set out there in an organized fashion to get rid of Egyptian women from the public space, and Egyptian woman are fighting back tooth and nail. There's been at least 100 women who've been sexually assaulted over the past few days around Tahrir Square. We don't know who they are, but shamefully the Egyptian police do nothing, and shamefully the Egyptian government now, as the regime before, did nothing. This sexual assaults are to get women out of the street, and women will not get out of the street because as you see, the millions include millions of women. They will remain there.

BLITZER: Mona El Tahawy, she's watching what's going on. You can follow her on Twitter, as a lot of us do, as well. Mona, thanks very much. We'll continue the breaking news coverage in a moment.


BLITZER: Let's continue the breaking news coverage. You see on the left part of the screen the anti-Morsi protests at Tahrir square. Thousands and thousands, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people there. It's approaching 7:30 p.m. in Cairo. On the right part of your screen the pro-Morsi forces. They seem to be praying right now at 7:24 p.m. local time.

Ben Wedeman is right near the pro-Morsi demonstrations. This is a fast moving story right now. Enormous ramifications for Egypt and the entire region and the world. At stake Egypt being the largest of all of the Arab countries. What's the latest you're hearing about the president, Mohammed Morsi?

WEDEMAN: We understand he's in this republican guard complex where according to the army he's working. I don't know if he's working or scratching his head wondering what to do. Certainly for the Muslim Brotherhood as a movement, this is a profound crisis, not just for the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, but the Islamic movement - Islamist movement throughout the Arab world because the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest, oldest best organized of the Islamist groups. And certainly for them to have been elected, had one of their men elected as president of Egypt, the first ever Democratically elected president of this country now just one year later to have him under house arrest by the army.

Millions coming out in opposition to him. They've been calling for days. We heard this same phrase over and over again in Tahrir Square. (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) which is Arabic for "leave, leave."

Now, obviously in this crowd, they don't feel that way. They feel that as the democratically elected president of Egypt, he should have the right to rule the country as the head of state. The people around here will tell you that they are going to stay here in the streets, continue their protests open-ended. They don't say what they want. They just want to reaffirm or make the point that he's the Democratically elected president of Egypt. One man was telling me he's been ousted by his defense minister. A defense minister who in theory was supposed to be taking orders from the president. Now it seems to have been reversed. A huge development that will have reverberations throughout the region.

BLITZER: We're awaiting to hear the statement we expect to be coming soon from the Egyptian military on what they plan on doing next. We'll have continuing coverage of what's happening on the streets of Cairo and indeed throughout Egypt. We're also following other important news here in the United States. The George Zimmerman trial is about to reconvene. You see the seal. The state of Florida over there, about 15 minutes or so. They will resume testimony. The prosecution bringing forth witnesses. We'll have extensive coverage of that here in the CNN news room when we continue.