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Interview with Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO; Shifting Sands: Power in the Middle East; Did U.K. Government Try to Stop the Press?; "The Guardian": Journalists in Danger; Twilight of the Generals

Aired August 23, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


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

We begin in Cairo tonight, where just over two years ago Egyptians took to Tahrir Square and ousted their long-time leader, Hosni Mubarak.

Back then, streets were mostly filled with joy and hope.

But today, a much different and darker story. Hosni Mubarak is free from prison. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is on the run and Mohammed Morsy, Egypt's first democratically elected president, is still in custody in an undisclosed location.

An Egyptian government official told me on this program that these are quote, "bumps on the road to democracy," but as the political chaos in Egypt continues, its economy is in shambles.

Egypt's unemployment rate, which was a major driver for Egypt's young revolutionaries, is now worse, much worse than it was in 2011. It has soared to 13 percent from 9 percent back before Mubarak was ousted.

More than 25 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line and tourism, which usually generates more than 10 percent of Egypt's GDP has ground to a halt.

Mohamed El-Erian is CEO of PIMCO, a global investment firm. He's Egyptian and therefore is paying very close attention to the events unfolding in his country. He joined me now from California.


GORANI: Thanks very much for being with us. You look at the current situation, and you said, in one piece I saw you quoted in, "This is the dark side of political awakening."

What do you mean by that?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CEO, PIMCO: So if you look at what happened in January 2011, it was a fundamental political awakening of the Egyptian person.

After feeling like a landless peasant in a country that was ruled for a privileged few, suddenly the average Egyptian was empowered. And empowered and feel -- to feel ownership for his or her country and to be able to control his or her destiny.

That's why they came back on the street in 2012 when they felt that the previous interim military government wasn't handing off quickly. And that's why they came back to the street again in June -- on June 30th. So there's a process of empowerment and, Hala, that's why there is no going back.

I think the question is how do you go forward from here?

But there is no going back to a culture of fear and a culture of repression.

GORANI: But you say that. However, if you look at some of the most recent developments, those who are afraid that things might be going back, we'll point to Hosni Mubarak perhaps released, also military rulers in power. The freedom of the press, in many ways, is very much threatened, having to register with intelligence services in order to get permits to report.

I mean, all these things are a throwback to the Mubarak era, no?

EL-ERIAN: So they are and you have to understand whether they're going to persist or not. So this is a country trying the most tricky of all revolutionary pivot, which is to go from dismantling the past to building a better future.

Now normally that process is helped and facilitated by institutions and strong leaders . Egypt today, unfortunately, has neither of these. So the system will try and go back. But I don't think the people allow it to go back. So it is, unfortunately, a very messy process. And it's a very tragic process.

You know, almost 1,000 people have lost their lives in the last few days. So I think that collectively Egyptians have to realize that they have to come together. I, who look at the economy, worry, because every single day that we stay in this regime is much harder to pull the economy back out. And the economy was fragile to begin with.

GORANI: And that's always usually very much a threat to national security when such a large portion of young people are out of work.

When you look at the Egyptian economy today, what -- in the current context, what goes through your mind?

What do you think should be done?

EL-ERIAN: So I'm torn, Hala, between the tragedy of today and every element in the economy is under strong pressure, growth is almost nonexistent. There are no jobs being created. There are jobs being lost . And the budget and the balance of things are coming under pressure against the reality of when you empower people, when people feel that they can control their destiny, you see great things.

So if you go to Egypt at the micro level, you see people, entrepreneurship and other things happening. So it's a question of trying to get that pivot done.

GORANI: Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of PIMCO, great pleasure talking to you today. Thanks so much for being with us.

EL-ERIAN: Thank you.


GORANI: As the battle between the military government and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt continues, is Western and Russian influence in the region declining?

To discuss this, Michele Dunne, who was formerly at the State Department and is now director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Dimitri Simes, an expert on Russian foreign policy and the CEO of the Center for National Interests, a think tank here in the U.S.


GORANI: Thanks very much for joining us. I want to first ask you about the United States. It's not just outside Egypt, but inside Egypt as well that there's this perception that what the U.S. wants if it only has the will, it can achieve.

But are those days gone?

MICHELE DUNNE, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, first of all, I think, it was probably a myth that the United States ever could call the shots in the region.

I think part of the reason the United States is facing the crisis it is with Egypt right now is that the United States hasn't stood clearly by the principles that President Obama himself articulated at the time of the Egyptian revolution, that the United States would support the growth of a democracy there.

But the United States has really not vigorously supported that. It didn't really marshal a lot of economic aid for Egypt as it was trying to make this transition.

The Obama administration failed to criticize President Morsy when he took undemocratic actions and now after the military carried out a coup, the United States failed to observe its own law, which would have called for a suspension of assistance until Egypt got back to a democratic situation.

GORANI: And Dimitri, what about Russia? It's supporting for instance the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Its allied -- it's arming the regime. What is its position? What does it want out of the Middle East, Russia?

DIMITRI SIMES, RUSSIAN POLICY ANALYST: Well, first, Russia is not unfortunately in play in Egypt since the overthrow now by President Sadat back in the '70s. They really lost influence in Egypt and it's good that the minions (ph) in the United States doesn't have to worry about Russia as a play in Egypt.

What they do want clearly is for the United States to look at the situation in Egypt, to do whatever it takes to promote stability in Egypt, if for no other reason that they have between 40,000-50,000 Russian tourists in Egypt. And also the Russians are very concerned about Islamic threat inside their own country.

So certainly they have no love lost for the Muslim Brotherhood. But let me make one more general point.

The United States now has to deal with a government in Egypt, which we pretty much already had. And President Obama helped to throw President Mubarak under the bus, told the Egyptian military not to use force at that time. And you have to see where we are, and we have very difficult choices.

I agree with Michele that we have to suspend military aid because we have a requirement under the law, and we should take them seriously.

GORANI: And Dimitri, I just want to just jump in and ask Michele that question. I mean, we're -- you both agree that military aid should be suspended. But if you look at the region, I find it interesting that it's this proxy battle that we're describing inside Egypt that you could also apply to other conflict zones such as Syria.

It's going to be that tug-of-war, isn't it, Michele, between some of these countries in the Gulf and other parts of the region?

Who ends up winning out?

Who has the most influence?

DUNNE: Well, first of all, I don't think there's any player on the outside right now who can dictate to the Egyptian military what they're going to do. So that's not really what's the question here. I think that's unrealistic. This has turned into a very hot fight unnecessarily I believe. But at this point, they're in this hot fight and no one's going to get them to stop it immediately.

However, it really becomes a question over the longer term, can the United States continue to associate itself with a government that's doing this, that is carrying out killing on this kind of a scale? And it's a question for Egypt, really, also what kind of a question it wants to be.

You hear a lot of talk about the Gulf assistance and how the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid can easily be made up for, for example, by aid from Saudi Arabia.

But these are two completely different things. Egypt, up till now, has been a country that has had a close security relationship with the United States, close trade and diplomatic links with Europe, all of that is at stake right now.

And the billions that the Gulf can pour in while they can help the budget of the Egyptian government, they cannot replace the kind of security relationships, trade relationships, et cetera, that Egypt has had now with the West for decades.

GORANI: All right. There was a piece this week on how Egypt doesn't matter. I disagree; I think Egypt matters actually a lot. What happens there is going to determine many things in the region.

Thanks very much, Michele Dunne and Dimitri Simes for joining us both on this important topic.

And it isn't just the Muslim Brotherhood that's been targeted by Egypt's interim government. Freedom of the press, as we discussed there with the advisers, increasingly under attack. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, several reporters have been detained and threatened with expulsion.

Still others have been attacked by angry mobs, egged on by state media. And after a break, we will look at another story where detaining a journalist poses some serious questions about press freedom, not in Egypt but in a British airport. That's when we come back.



GORANI: Welcome back to the program, a look back at the major stories we're covering this week, I'm Hala Gorani sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Revelations about America's secret government surveillance programs are now taking on epic spy novel proportions.

The editor of "The Guardian" newspaper says U.K. government officials demanded the destruction of hard drives containing sensitive material and that orders for all of this came from the highest levels of the British government.

Now is the British government waging a war on journalism? I spoke with the paper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, about what he himself calls one of the most bizarre events in his newspaper's history.


GORANI: Alan Rusbridger, thank you for being with us today on CNN.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER, EDITOR, "THE GUARDIAN": I'm pleased to be here.

GORANI: Well, we've read over the last few days your account of what happened in the basement of "The Guardian" newspaper in London and the destruction of some of these hard drives that contain the material, some of the material, leaked by Edward Snowden.

Who called "The Guardian"? Who called you and said we would like to pay you a visit?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, we had a call in mid-June from a senior official. He's now been named as Sir Jeremy Hayward, the cabinet secretary. He said he was acting on behalf of the prime minister. And for a while, it was, i.e., for about a period of a month, it was a cordial conversation. But at some point, in mid-July, it became an explicit threat of legal action if we didn't either return the disks or destroy them.

GORANI: So why did you comply, then? Because people are saying, well, you should have protected this material because it came from your source and is used in your reporting, in your paper.

RUSBRIDGER: Well, the point which I explained to the British officials was that Glenn Greenwald, "The Guardian" reporter who lives in Brazil, he has a copy and we already have another copy in America.

So destroying a copy in London wasn't going to stop us from reporting and the other side of the -- of my calculation was that if I were to hand it over to the government, I would be returning the material or I could have waited for the legal action, in which case the courts would have taken control of the material.

So it was no skin off my nose; I would simply transfer my reporting to America, where there is better legal protection.

GORANI: And I wanted to move onto the arrest of -- or to the detention, I should say, at Heathrow of David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, who's been doing much of that reporting based on the leaks of Edward Snowden.

Do you think he was targeted because he is the partner, the spouse of Glenn Greenwald?

RUSBRIDGER: I don't know that, but I would strongly suspect that he was on some kind of watch list and it seems that various people were tipped off in advance that he was likely to be detained.

GORANI: I'm sure you've seen some of the opinion pieces out there over the last several days, saying David Miranda essentially is not a journalist; he was carrying possibly some material that was secret government material and therefore why should he not expect to be detained and questioned about it?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, I think the disturbing thing is the use of the Terrorism Act. And there's a former Lord Chancellor, the most senior legal officer in Britain, writing in "The Guardian" today, saying that is not what the Terrorism Act is for. And I think there's a great danger if you start confusing terrorism with journalism.

GORANI: And do we know what he was carrying? Is there something that can be made public now?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, I think he was carrying material to do with the Snowden story. I don't know exactly what that is and I don't think David Miranda himself knew what that was.

GORANI: So going forward, one of the questions there coming from the officials that are seizing the material, that are confiscating the laptops, that are keeping the cell phones is this is all compromising Western security. That is their argument.

Do you ever have a concern that possibly some of the material could do that?

RUSBRIDGER: Of course. This is sensitive material and in all our reporting, we've been conscious of that and, in fact, the British officials who came to see me said "The Guardian" had been very responsible in its reporting. So I don't think there's any anxiety on that cause.

But the bigger picture is how on Earth do you keep a public informed about the ability of the state and the intelligence services and large telecommunications companies, large I.T. companies?

The picture that has emerged of millions and millions of people having their data kept, stored and analyzed, is one that people did not realize was going on.

And that is part of a very vigorous debate around the world. So I have no doubt about the public importance of being able to write about this.

GORANI: Right. And you hinted at the notion that reporting can be done from anywhere and if you destroy a hard drive in one place, it can exist somewhere else in the digital age.

So what are the implications for reporters, for journalists, for investigative journalists in countries like the U.K. and the U.S.? Is it safer for them to operate from outside those countries, do you think?

RUSBRIDGER: Well, what I like about the digital world is that you can harness your reporting to the highest and most permissive legal regimes. And in America, I know there are anxieties about whistleblowers and so on and so forth. But you do have a written First Amendment and you don't have the kind of prior restraint that the British government was threatening against us.

So with WikiLeaks, as with this, the ability to root yourself in the American First Amendment and enjoy the kind of protection that American journalists have, I think is one of the good things about the way digital information works these days.

GORANI: Alan Rusbridger, thanks so much for joining us today.

RUSBRIDGER: Thank you.


GORANI: So is the British government confusing journalism with terrorism? Brooke Gladstone is host Brooke Gladstone is host and managing editor of "On the Media," a highly influential program on National Public Radio here in the United States. I spoke with her earlier this week.


GORANI: Thanks for being with us. So when you heard about the detention of the partner of Glenn Greenwald at Heathrow Airport for the maximum allotted time of nine hours under a particular paragraph of the Terrorism Act, what went through your mind, attack on the media or justified detention?

BROOKE GLADSTONE, NPR HOST: Well, initially, what I thought it was simply a case of bullying, that somebody really wanted to go after Glenn Greenwald just as the American government had gone after Laura Poitras, who was Glenn Greenwald's partner in reporting a lot of these Snowden leaks, and was the person that his partner was seeing -- that Miranda was seeing after -- just before he got detained at the airport.

GORANI: But then you have others who say, look, here's a man traveling with a briefcase full of what the intelligence community -- because it's their job; they probably were surveilling him -- know were probably top secret documents.

is it not in their right to then detain him and ask him questions and keep that material?

GLADSTONE: That's when the indignation of black and white comes a murky shade of gray. I mean, Miranda was coming from Laura Poitras. It was known; he said it himself, that he was ferrying information back and forth.

Whether or not he knew what it was, of course the procedures under which he was detained ,the fact that he didn't get a lawyer until the eighth hour of this nine-hour detention is all something that bears an enormous amount of scrutiny.

GORANI: And it's hard to argue that this has anything to do with terrorism in the way it's commonly understood. I mean, this is a partner of a journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who is very high-profile right now because his reporting revealed so many secrets from the United States and Britain.

And now Glenn Greenwald is saying you wait; I have a lot more, coming up. You wait.

GLADSTONE: And it was -- he says that he told "The Huffington Post" later, I wasn't threatening anybody; but actually he was threatening them. He said, "I'm going to put my focus on the British government now." I'm going to start revealing all this stuff. I know about England and so on and so forth.

But the fact is that whether or not he himself had anything to do with terrorism, Miranda -- and I think it's quite natural for us to assume he had nothing to do with it, that material may arguably damage national security. I don't think it does. I think there's way overclassification.

But it is reasonable for authorities to assume -- coming from a different perspective -- that this stuff does pose a national security threat in the wrong hands. That doesn't mean he was a terrorist. This act doesn't detain people because they're terrorists.

GORANI: Right and they're not (inaudible) in any official way when there's detention takes place for nine hours and can be renewed, by the way. So it's nine hours where you are in a situation where you don't know exactly what's going to happen to you from that standpoint.

But he -- Miranda's not a journalist. Let's be clear. So does that change anything?

GLADSTONE: I don't know. I mean, does it change the rhetoric about this being an attack on journalism? I don't think so actually, because he was helping Greenwald; Greenwald said, it, "The Guardian" said it; Miranda has said it.

So he was helping the dissemination of material that is arguably of public interest through journalism institutions. Or even if they were just doing it through a blog, it would still be about the material, not about the man.

GORANI: So should all journalists then be concerned? But now in the digital age, essentially, you can't hide your sources, that you're a target for governments who don't want you to reveal certain secret programs, government programs, that this is now in this day and age, almost impossible to keep a source confidential and also that you're always a target?

Is this a legitimate concern?

GLADSTONE: It's a legitimate concern but this detention at the airport doesn't make it any more or less of a legitimate concern. The fact is, as Alan Rusbridger, "The Guardian" editor said, we don't even have to do it here in England where the rules are so much stricter.

We can report this out of New York, where the American First Amendment and laws against prior restraint would allow this reporting to proceed. And so just as you can be tracked everywhere, you can avoid the laws of your locality and do it elsewhere.

GORANI: Right. Brooke Gladstone, great talking to you. Thanks very much -- of National Public Radio joining us here in the studio in New York.

And after a break, imagine the last pharaoh returning from the grave. No, it's not a tale from the crypt. It's the political carousel in Egypt, turning once again, when we come back.



GORANI: A final thought tonight, imagine a world where a freely elected president is overthrown and detained indefinitely while the military dictator he replaced is released from prison.

As we mentioned earlier, Egypt's revolving door of justice keeps spinning as Hosni Mubarak receives his get-out-of-jail card, at least for now.

Two years ago, the man once known as the last pharaoh was politically dead and buried in the euphoria of the revolution that drove him from power and into a prison hospital. But in a return from the grave worthy of the legendary King Tutankhamen, the 85-year-old Mubarak who ruled Egypt for 30 years still lives to haunt the political landscape.

And it's not the first time he's cheated death, literally or figuratively. In 1981, he was seated next to his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, when assassins struck. Sadat, of course, was killed; Mubarak became president.

Fourteen years later, he narrowly escaped assassins again while on a state visit to Ethiopia. And even though the crowds in Tahrir Square cheered his resignation back in 2011, loyalists continued to venerate his name and beat the drum for his return. The last pharaoh may never sit on the throne again, but like the ancient kings who came before him, he refuses to disappear into the desert.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us at our website, And you can follow me on Twitter @halagorani. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.