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Deadly Car Bomb Rocks Beirut; Egypt in Turmoil

Aired August 16, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hello, I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, where we take a look back at the major stories we covered this week.


GORANI (voice-over): Remember the Arab Spring? It seems like a distant memory, or maybe just a mirage, given the violence that's sweeping through the region. In Egypt the military that, for all practical purposes runs that country, made good on its threat to sweep away supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsy. In a pretty brutal display of force, troops backed by bulldozers crushed the makeshift communities of pro-Morsy protesters that had sprouted up in Cairo, leaving hundreds dead and counting. And sadly such violence is not confined to Egypt.

The civil war in neighboring Syria spilled over into Lebanon as a massive explosion and a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah threatens to rekindle a deadly sectarian struggle.

We'll get to that story in a moment. But first, the fate of democracy in Egypt. Is it on hold or is it on life support? For answers, I turned to Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Tawfik, who joined me from Washington.


GORANI: Welcome, Ambassador.

Look, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate, interim vice president, even he says I can't just sit here and continue to serve in this interim leadership structure, because it could have been solved differently, hundreds didn't have to die.

Do you agree or disagree with that?

MOHAMED TAWFIK, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I disagree with that. Dr. ElBaradei has -- is entitled to his personal point of view. I feel that if another alternative had been arrived at, such as postponing this for another week or two or month or two, the casualties would have been higher.

So certainly this is not something we're happy with. Any Egyptian loss of life is something that we mourn. Nevertheless, this was the least bad option that we had in front of us.

GORANI: But Ambassador Tawfik, we're hearing reports one of our colleagues, a Sky News (ph) cameraman was shot, his own producer saying it looked like a sniper shot.

Doesn't it look like the military and security forces were extremely heavy-handed in this?

TAWFIK: Well, first of all, I'm very sorry to hear about that tragic event. Certainly, no, I think it's not an objective assessment to say who was responsible for that. We certainly need some time to gather evidence and to reach a conclusion what exactly happened, who shot the shots. We know that some of Dr. Morsy's supporters were heavily armed.

We know that there was exchanges of gunfire. We know that many on the police side were killed. And certainly we mourn everyone who's lost their lives. But we have to move forward. This was necessary, unfortunately. And we have to move forward.

GORANI: How do you move forward when, in the end, like them or not, this party, the Freedom and Justice Party, those Islamists, those political Islam-based parties, do you have some level of legitimacy and popularity in Egypt?

When their leaders are jailed, when their presidents are deposed, how can you then, after that, come out and say but we want an inclusive political process going forward?

Isn't it -- doesn't it ring untrue after all this?

TAWFIK: Well, listen, after today's events, after the attacks on the police stations, the attacks on the churches, after the beheading of policemen, I don't think that the Muslim Brotherhood will have a lot of support in the Egyptian streets.

Nevertheless, an inclusive process is an inclusive process; a political road map is a political road map. And we have to keep the door open, which does not mean that people who have committed crimes will not face justice. It means that it's -- it will be an inclusive process and we will move forward. And Egypt will build its democracy.

GORANI: So now that the military-backed interim leadership is really in charge, have we not returned to the days of Hosni Mubarak, essentially, with generals in charge of provinces and the military imposing states of emergency?

Was this whole revolution for nothing?

TAWFIK: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The events in Egypt are moved and the locomotive for the political motion in Egypt are the Egyptian people, the Egyptian masses. The Egyptian people is firmly in control and the Egyptian people have made their decision. They want democracy. And the Muslim Brotherhood wasn't giving them democracy.

GORANI: And will you support them? And will you support them if they go back out on the street, if the military doesn't give them democracy?

TAWFIK: The Egyptian people is in charge of Egypt. They have a right to guarantee their own future. It's up to me, to the military, to the Egyptian government to serve the interests of the Egyptian people.

GORANI: Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik, thank you very much for joining us from Washington, D.C., on this, I know, a dark day there for your country. Thank you.

TAWFIK: Thank you.


GORANI: Let's turn now to the reaction from the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Dardery (ph) is a member of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Welcome to the show.

DR. ABDUL MAWGOUD DARDERY, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE PARTY: Thank you. Thank you, Hala, for having me.

GORANI: All right. So we heard of this very high death toll in Rabaa al-Adawiya in particular, but was it the case indeed that there are -- Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsy supporters were armed there and that these clashes had such a high death toll because of that?

Let me first send my condolences to the family who lost their loved ones and let me wish a speedy recovery for the thousands of injured Egyptians and let me wish the rest of Egypt their freedom, justice and rule of law.

It's a shame on anyone, including the ambassador, to claim that the peaceful protesters had weapons and sometimes they claim that they had weapons of mass destruction inside the tents. I was there in Rabaa al- Adawiya; the people are peaceful. They've been there for 40 days without an injured -- who would kill himself?

And thousands -- not only that, we heard reports that the field hospital now that the police, the criminal police officer, the criminal army officers are burning the hospital. They're burning the body. That is never heard of in the history of Egypt. Those people cannot be Egyptians killing the Egyptian people by the Egyptian army and the Egyptian police force.


GORANI: Dr. Dardery (inaudible) -- I'm sorry to jump in, but the government is saying -- and you heard from the ambassador and we've spoken to and heard from other officials, they're saying we didn't have a choice. You can't just block major streets for weeks and weeks on end, barricade yourself, create mini-cities in the middle of the city.

You can't just do that. The city needs to start functioning again.

DARDERY: Yes, which government are we talking about? The coup government? The government that violated all human rights agreement, that violated the rule of law, that deposed the president, suspended the constitution and removed an elected body? They give lip service to democracy.

Those people, if they want democracy, it is the right of the Egyptian people to protest peacefully. They were peaceful protesters. They could have stayed there for weeks and months. They're not damaging anyone; they're not hurting anyone. But that criminal mentality of the coup and of that government, that is trying to serve the interest.

I wonder how the ambassador talk about serving the interest of the Egyptians? Does it mean to kill the Egyptians, to be able to serve their interests?

But in spite of this, Hala, we will continue to be powerful. We will continue to have sit-ins. We will continue to be in the streets. We condemn all forms of violence against all Egyptians.

That is not the Egyptian way after January 25th revolution. We want democracy. That's what we all want. We want the freedom and the justice for all Egyptians and the only way to do this is through the ballot box, when Egyptians go and vote, whether it be vote for the Freedom and Justice Party, or vote for any other Egyptian. We would welcome the result of the vote. And that is democracy.

But the unfortunate fact is the corrupt leaders of the army, the corrupt leaders of the police force never got used to democracy. We cannot live with democracy with transparency, where we can be held accountable.

They would like to consider Egypt -- I mean, look at what the military junta (ph) in doing in Syria, very similar to that, when 100 Syrian were used to be killed in a day. We in Egypt would still grieve, but in nine hours, they killed more than 2,000, injured more than 10,000. And look at what is happening now in the streets, an emergency law --

GORANI: Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, thank you very much there for joining us, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, from Luxor -- you're traveling in the United States right now. Thank you for joining us there with your take on things and certainly a different set of numbers, certainly different interpretations of what happened today, based on who you talk to. And we've provided both sides.

We'll be right back. Stay with us.


GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane.

Now to the other devastating story unfolding in the Middle East, you're looking at the scenes of that huge explosion in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday. The massive blast rocked an area which is a stronghold of Lebanese Shiite military group, Hezbollah.

And after that car bomb exploded, a YouTube video surfaced in which three masked men holding weapons claimed to be part of a group responsible for that deadly attack.

They're in front of a sign that says, in Arabic, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah."

The group calls itself the Brigade of Aisha, Mother of Believers. And they accuse Hezbollah of being the aggressors. Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group in Lebanon that has moved into Syria to fight along Bashar al-Assad.

In the video, the men warn Lebanon to avoid any alliance with Iran.

Joining me to discuss this and the widespread violence across the region is CNN's correspondent in Beirut, Nick Paton Walsh, as well as CNN's correspondent in Istanbul, Ivan Watson.

Thanks to both of you.

And we're all here together in New York to discuss something happening half a world away, but two very important stories.

And I want to start with Lebanon here, yet another giant car bomb in the southern suburbs.

Is this going to turn into something bigger? Because that's the biggest fear.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the worst in terms of numbers so far, because you've seen these explosions; weeks there was rockets that hit the presidential palace. No one even reported on it. It was kind of swept under the carpet, like a lot of the violence in Lebanon over the past few months.

But the real fear has been if you get a blast of this scale in what should be Hezbollah's securest stronghold, they have to respond somehow.

That doesn't suggest any escalation to civil war or anything, but they have to stand up again, show their military prowess, show the fact that they can control areas like that. And that's the fear. They may push into some kind of action which --


GORANI: Was it the case the last time? Did they respond after the last car bomb to hit? So in this case, you think there was some point they're going to have to say, hey, we have to show that we're capable and that we're --

WALSH: (Inaudible) complex one, because they're in a very precarious situation inside Lebanon anyway, the decision to intervene in Syria is deeply unpopular with many Lebanese. The decision to veer away from their original cause of being in the resistance against Israel, that's confused some of their loyalists.

So they're caught playing a complicated game. And many were surprised by the openness of them saying we're fighting with Bashar al-Assad until the end. They've made a very existential line in the sand and crossed over it.

GORANI: Certainly. I remember a time after the 2006 war with Israel, when Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah movement was this pan- Arab hero. No more. I mean, there are sectarian lines drawn here across the region that are very clear.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he's lost so much of that pan-Arab kind of appeal that he had.

And you very well know that Lebanon has always been this kind of battleground for the proxy wars of neighboring powers. And Hezbollah turned it around by becoming a participant in the proxy war in Syria. And I think we're very much seeing the consequences of that right now.

GORANI: Egypt now, and you reported you were there during, I think, the initial overthrow of Mohammed Morsy. We heard this announcement by President Obama, that this joint military exercise in the Sinai would be canceled.

Does the Egyptian military care, really? Or not?

WATSON: I think the actions that we've seen in the past 24 hours suggests that they don't care at all. I mean, here, you've just had the State Department spokeswoman saying they were considering taking these steps; we were urging them not to and they went ahead and did it.

And they knew full well that there would be loss of life because it's not the first time that dozens of people have been killed in Cairo since Morsy was overthrown. It's happened a couple times.

But here, now we have more than 500 dead as a result of these actions. But I think it's been made very clear that they really didn't care what the --

GORANI: And why not? That's interesting, because the assumption before was, ooh, the Egyptian military is shaking in their boots. Every time the possibility that America would withdraw its military aid or would sort of take some sort of measure like this one comes up. But it -- they're not.

WATSON: Also, I think it's really important to point out that the U.S. aid, which is a little bit over $1 billion, it's not a drop in the bucket, is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount that the Gulf Arab states have pledge to this interim government backed by the military in Egypt in just the last six weeks.

And they show no signs of pulling back that assistance. I think if you wanted to put leverage on them, you'd have to go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the UAE.

WALSH: In many ways, (inaudible) thought this through. This is what they do full time. And this is one of many U.S. foreign policy conundrums right now. They know that the U.S. needs to keep Israel secure; they know that that's the reason Washington and Cairo need to be tight. They need to keep the Sinai calm.

Nobody wants to see that deteriorate on either side. And I think that's the balance, really, that they've made, the calculation they made.

Let's bear in mind, both of these sides have had U.S. mediators around for weeks, trying to bring at the table, trying to stop this inevitable massacre, unfortunately, from happening. And it's almost like they both know this is where they almost feel they need to be right now to prove their point.

GORANI: But what's interesting from what you're both saying is that really the regional actors now that are having the most impact on developments aren't Western countries. It's not the United States. It's regional powers here.

WATSON: Absolutely. We've seen that the --

GORANI: Because when you go to Arab countries, immediately it's the U.S., USA, whatever the USA wants, happens. This is all a conspiracy.


WATSON: I still think it's almost an instinct in the Middle East and in many of these Arab countries to blame the U.S. But no, they are clearly not dictating what's happening on the ground.

It is kind of funny to hear the prime minister of Turkey to -- on the other side of the Mediterranean, castigating Western countries and saying, hey, you allowed this to happen by not calling this a coup in Egypt. But not mentioning the billions that have been pledged by the Gulf Arab states to the military regime in Cairo.

WALSH: It's just remarkable seeing how this region is changing and how little involvement the U.S. is having in Syria, in the turmoil in Iraq and their attempt to try and be neutral in Egypt but always being accused by the other side; they're not perceived to be backing, as backing the opposition. So --

GORANI: I mean, just lastly, what is the future look like for these countries? Each country has a different set of problems. It's not the same everywhere.

But fundamentally, we're seeing conflicts within countries. You know, in Egypt, it's going to be between supporters of Islamist parties and supporters of the military-backed government. In Syria, it's sectarian; in Lebanon as well.

What could -- ?

WATSON: We've had this incredible period of euphoria in 2011 --


WALSH: And I think what's we've seen played out in different ways in Syria and Egypt is that counterrevolution. Bashar al-Assad started immediately to try to crush this uprising and this civil war continues with tragic, awful results to this very day.

And the Egyptian generals, they took a little longer to get around to it. But now there's emergency rule, a curfew in the streets, and the democratically elected president of Egypt and that his party are outlaws and in jail.

WATSON: This, too, is a decades-long process. I mean, you remember (inaudible) former Soviet Union. We're still seeing fallout from that. So to imagine that suddenly tomorrow everything will be fine and dandy is essentially, sadly, a little optimistic.

GORANI: Nick Paton Walsh and Ivan Watson, senior international correspondents based in Istanbul and Beirut, thanks very much to both of you.

And after the break, the more things change, the more they stay the same in Egypt. That isn't just a familiar saying; it's a painful, recurring reality. Back to the future in Cairo when we come back.



GORANI: A final thought tonight, imagine a world where, in the words of the American novelist William Faulkner, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

That is the reality in Egypt, where ancient pyramids coexist with crowded cities and where the military seems to be reenacting a drama that first played out nearly 60 years ago.

Today, the face of Egypt's military belongs to General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. And even as his troops make good on his threat to crack down on what he calls terrorists and extremists, he's become a cult hero to some Egyptians, insisting that he's acting upon the will of the people.

If that rings reassuringly to some and ominously to others, it's because Egypt's military said much the same thing back in 1952. That's when a cadre of officers led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew King Farouk and established the military rule that lasted until the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The echoes and images are actually quite similar. The Muslim Brotherhood and the army may be locked in a fiery struggle today, but it's a conflict that began six decades ago when an attempt on Nasser's life led to the burning of the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters.

Soon after the party was outlawed in the name of the people and that ban continued until the 2011 revolution.

That's it for tonight's program. Meanwhile, you can always contact us on our website, And you can follow me on Twitter, @halagorani. Thanks for watching and goodbye from the CNN Center.