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Full Circle in Egypt?; Egyptian Scholar Targeted in Crackdown; Mexico's Movement for Change; Imagine a World

Aired January 31, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, another look at two of the major stories that we've been following this week.

And we begin with the intensifying crackdown on public dissent in Egypt. Egyptian prosecutors say they're charging 20 Al Jazeera journalists including four foreigners with, quote, "influencing international public opinion against Egypt's military regime," in essence simply reporting on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is now seen as supporting terrorism.

It is an unprecedented crackdown on a global news organization. Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsy, was back in court, charged with orchestrating a mass breakout from prison in 2011 as well as the murder of prison officers. In an unprecedented attempt to silence him, authorities constructed a soundproof glass box. Still, when his mike was briefly turned on, he shouted at the judges.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

AMANPOUR (voice-over): "Who are you?" he said. "Do you not know who I am?"

Now Egypt seems to have come full circle, three years to the week since Mubarak was overthrown and Egypt looked like it was on a triumphant march to democracy. After a brief and flawed period of that democracy, military rule is back. And Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has been cleared to run for president.

The majority of Egyptians do yearn for security, stability and better economic conditions. But the price they are paying in freedom is very, very steep.

And in a moment, I'll speak to an internationally acclaimed Egyptian scholar who now faces espionage charges as he, too, gets swept up in this broad crackdown on dissent.

But first, I spoke to Leila Fadel, who's the Cairo bureau chief for National Public Radio in the United States. I asked her about the perils of reporting the news there now.


AMANPOUR: Leila, thank you very much indeed for joining me. Let me ask you first, describe that scene in the court.

LEILA FADEL, NPR: Well, today we saw the ousted president, Mohammed Morsy, behind a glass barricaded cage in this makeshift courtroom screaming that he is still the legitimate president, telling the judge, who are you? Do you know who I am? And the judge responding, I'm the chief of this court, putting him in place -- in his place.

And it's really become -- come full circle. He was a prisoner; he was elected president and now he's in that prison jumpsuit again.

AMANPOUR: So where do you think this is leading? Because even as we've seen the violence leading up to the three-year anniversary, we've seen this Cairo court appearance now, but also the announcement today that an interior ministry official was assassinated.

Who did that? And is that sort of just simply deepening the violence and the uncertainty?

FADEL: Well, at this point Egypt seems to be the -- facing the beginning of a low-level insurgency. We saw a spate of bombings over the weekend being claimed by an extremist militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and today the assassination of a top interior minister official.

And so -- and this -- this is all being blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, but there's really little evidence that they're actually doing any of these attacks. These attacks are being carried out apparently by this group that's based in Sinai. And it's unclear if the state is ready for this scale of violence towards the police and the military here in Egypt.

AMANPOUR: So the question is, is a backlash happening against the ousting of the president and also declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization?

I guess in the midst of all this, what does General al-Sisi's potential run for the presidency, what does this do?

Does this deepen this -- the crisis or will it lead Egypt out of this crisis?

FADEL: You know, it very well could deepen the crisis. Egyptians are expecting so much from Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. They expect him to fix every problem in this country from the battered economy to the violence that we're seeing.

But what we've seen since the ouster of Morsy is consistent protests from day one that turned quickly violent, clashes that are killing dozens of people. We saw 64 -- between 49 and 64 people die in one day on Saturday.

So people are saying will this lead -- people want this to lead to stability, but critics and analysts say this will likely lead to more violence and less acceptance of any kind of dissent.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you as a reporter, obviously for a foreign news organization, but as we see some of our colleagues in jail and we see broad dissent being punished, whether it's in media or academic circles, how are you actually covering this story?

And under what threats are you operating?

FADEL: Well, there is an intense suspicion of the foreign media now. There's constantly on local treatment and state television foreign conspiracies that the United States, that Qatar, that Israel, that think, you know, fill in the blank with a country, is trying to destroy Egypt instead of dealing with the domestic issues.

So when we go out to report, there are times that people view us with suspicions. There were a huge amount of attacks on foreign journalists on Saturday during the celebrations because people suspected journalists of being from Al Jazeera, the Qatari-funded network.

And so it is getting harder to do our jobs because of that hostility. But also it's really interesting to see these divisions, on Saturday on one side, people are dancing and you're standing there and they're telling you what a great day it is. This is a celebration of the future of Egypt. And they want Sisi to run for president.

On the other side, you're standing with protesters who are coming under fire from security forces, saying that they want to change this back to a democratic path, saying this is not the way forward, bringing back a military regime.

AMANPOUR: Leila Fadel, thank you for joining me. Thanks for your reporting, and we'll obviously keep watching this.


AMANPOUR: Turning now to the political divisions that are obviously in sharp focus, Emad Shaheen is an internationally respected political science professor at the American University in Cairo. But he was charged two weeks ago with espionage and conspiracy to undermine national security.

He's obviously caught up in this ongoing crackdown on dissent. And he's been an outspoken critic of the military crackdown. But he was also a critic of Morsy's leadership and he was a critic of President Mubarak before that.

Dr. Shahin left Egypt after learning of the charges against him, and he joins me now from Washington.

Welcome to the program. Thank you for being here.

EMAD SHAHIN, EGYPTIAN ACADEMIC: Thank you, Christiane, for having me.

AMANPOUR: First of all, I want to know, because obviously it's important what America does in regard to what's going on here in Egypt.

What is your mission on Capitol Hill?

SHAHIN: Well, it's not actually a mission. That's of course -- and I'm personally concerned about the position of the United States regarding this particular crisis in Egypt and also regarding the military junta that has been to a large extent oppressing freedoms and expression, the right of expression in the country.

So I think this has to be raised. And this has -- this issue has to be explained through the American policymakers as well as the American public opinion. We don't want to be on the wrong side of history.

Once again, I think we had precedence before. We had the Iranian revolution and the support of repressive and autocratic regimes and also the consequences that this brings to U.S.

AMANPOUR: OK. You have been, as I said, a critic of all the excesses of all the regimes that we've seen in Egypt over the last 30-plus years, including the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.

Some people are now saying it's come full circle; but actually they're saying it's even worse, the crackdown now, than it was under President Mubarak.

And you yourself are a victim of this.

What is going on?

SHAHIN: Yes, this is what is going on. There is a road map that the regime has -- the military, that government has put forward. And of course in order to implement its phases, they are suppressing any voice of dissent --


AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you --

SHAHIN: -- mine included.

AMANPOUR: I'm sorry; I interrupted you. Yours included.

What is going to happen to you?

SHAHIN: Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen to you -- to me because simply, simply this situation, allegations and fabricated charges could be brought against someone. And we do not have a proper recourse or a due process, a legal process, even to defend ourselves.

I was outside the country attending an academic conference when I learned about these accusations. I went back to hopefully defend myself. I consulted with lawyer and he said you have to leave the country as soon as possible because even us lawyers do not feel secure in a situation like this.

Believe it or not, the case is going to be reviewed February 16th, and I don't know the exact charges. I've not seen the exact charges. Nobody has interrogated me. Nobody has subpoenaed me. And all I have is that I have been listed as a fugitive.

There was a huge difference between the process and between the true constitution. The process was totally different. I don't want to go into this because this would take a long time.

But I think -- I think the process in the first one, the 2012, was of course still lacking. But it was more representative and more open and more public.

AMANPOUR: Will you go back to Egypt?

And do you believe Sisi will be president?

SHAHIN: I will go back to Egypt if I am guaranteed a due process and fair trial.

Whether Sisi will be president, if he decides to run, yes, of course. Definitely he will be a president in the manner that other autocrats have taken over power, feasting on the divisions within society, instilling fear inside and trying to portray themselves as the only rescue, the general who's going to lift up the country from the ashes of civil war, of division and of violence.

But if you look on the record, actually, his record has been provoking more violence, leading the country into a high level of polarization and escalation.

AMANPOUR: Emad Shahin, thank you very much for joining me from Capitol Hill there in Washington.


AMANPOUR: Egypt is the Arab world's powerhouse. It's the region's political and economic touchstone. And in a moment, we'll cross continents to look at another powerhouse, one that's also plagued by poverty but where ambitious reforms are helping it turn the corner.

I'll speak with Mexico's strategic guru, the finance minister Luis Videgaray, when we come back.



(MUSIC PLAYING) AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. It's been a scary few days for the emerging markets as several currencies, the Argentine peso, the Russian ruble, the South African rand and the Turkish lira, amongst others, have plummeted to multiyear lows against the U.S. dollar.

Both the U.S. tapering and reports of slowing growth in China have investors hitting the panic button. Despite living in the same neighborhood, metaphorically speaking, anyway, Mexico's finance minister says that his country is strong enough to battle the storm.

And it needs to as it's depending on a rash of reforms to better the lives of its 120 million citizens, nearly half of whom live in poverty.

Most ambitious is the opening of its oil sector to foreign investors after more than 70 years of complete state control. Luis Videgaray, Mexico's finance minister and top adviser to the country's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, joins me now in the studio.

And we're very lucky to have you. Welcome to the program.

LUIS VIDEGARAY, MEXICAN FINANCE MINISTER: Well, thank you, Christiane. It's a pleasure to be here.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's great, particularly at this time, because you will admit that there is reason to worry in emerging markets with this currency sort of hit that's happened over the last few days.

VIDEGARAY: It's very clear that we're facing an increasing risk aversion surrounding our emerging markets. The base last week make it very clear and as long as this risk aversion remains, it's risk aversion remains regarding the uncertainty of the tapering from Federal Reserve, the events in China, what's going to happen to the growth in China, all these events create uncertainty and increase risk aversion.

But we are firmly convinced that it's going to be the fundamentals of the economies that will differentiate across the emerging markets class. And --

AMANPOUR: Why do you think Mexico, as you said, in -- to a group in Davos, why do you think Mexico is going to be able to, as you said, weather this storm?

VIDEGARAY: Two things: we have better fundamentals in our microeconomic management. And we have a strong reform agenda. We foster growth for the next years to come.

On the stronger fundamentals, take the current account deficits. We are a country that has a very small current account deficit, slightly over 1 percent; whereas Turkey or other countries have close to 6 percent or 7 percent, even Brazil has double of our current account deficit.

We have a low debt-to-GDP ratio. We have a strong banking system, better capitalized than the European banks or the U.S. banks. So we -- and we have a stable inflation. So we are a country with better fundamentals. And of course, President Pena's reform agenda, it's pushing for prospects for growth and creating good expectations.

AMANPOUR: So before I get to that reform agenda, let me ask you, you do also feel that -- I mean, you've suffered some blowback from this. What kind of pitfalls do you think lie ahead for you?

VIDEGARAY: Well, Mexico's a country with small -- with strong fundamentals, because we are still a emerging economy, very open, fully integrated to the financial markets and very open to trade. It's natural that we face some volatility.

But again, our fundamentals are strong. And we believe we can weather the storm certainly better than other emerging market economies.

AMANPOUR: I think everybody took a great big gasp when they saw you announce or it was announced during the Davos meeting that, you know, a group of major companies have basically pledged a $7 billion investment in your country.

VIDEGARAY: You know, pouring direct investment is much less volatile to market interests. And what we are seeing is the good prospects of growth for the Mexican economy, supported by a strong reform agenda, structural reform agenda, by creating opportunities for foreign direct investment in many sectors of the economy.

We saw technology announcements from Cisco; we saw announcements from -- I shouldn't be saying brands; I know that. But we are -- we are getting --

AMANPOUR: I mean, there's a whole load of companies.

VIDEGARAY: -- a lot of companies are --

AMANPOUR: Right. PepsiCo, Nestle, Cisco, as you said.

VIDEGARAY: Exactly. Those are -- and those are only a few companies. Those are very different sectors. But a common denominator is that Mexico's attracting attention because of its growth prospects.

AMANPOUR: Well, before I get to the good news, I just wanted you to tackle some of the bad news, because it is extraordinary for us to see this amazing amount of investment, not because of you're not doing the reforms; you are.

But because of the violence that still exists there. I mean, we know that over the last, you know, year for the third time, the president was forced to dispatch the army to one of your western states, which has practically been paralyzed and held hostage by the bad guys.

Are you not concerned that the inability to rein in the violence, which has systematically plagued your country, might have sort of a knock- on effect on investors?

VIDEGARAY: Obviously security is a top priority for Enrique Pena Nieto's government. Let me share some facts with you, Christiane.

Homicide rate has decreased 16 percent since the government started. Homicides related to organized crimes are down 30 percent. Some cities that were experiencing severe violence, like Ciudad Juarez in the border or even the city of Monterrey have shown significant decreases in violence.

We have a problem in the state of Michoacan and the president has taken bold steps by removing all police forces, all local police forces, substituting federal forces, sending a special commissioner for what, to reestablish the rule of law.

This is a long, complex problem that is particularly fortified in the state and the president has taken the actions necessary, as I said, to reestablish the rule of law.

AMANPOUR: And as you said, this is going to be a long crisis. But in the meantime, you are doing these reforms.

What are the most significant? We keep looking at the oil sector; we've said that, you know, it hasn't been privatized for -- it's -- practically its whole existence, more than 70 years.

How important is that? And are you able to, you know, see that through?

VIDEGARAY: Why is the reform agenda happening? Because we want to increase growth and we want to do it by making easier to make business in Mexico, to make the Mexican economy more productive, reducing the cost of energy, reducing the electricity bills by small companies, by Mexican families; by reducing the cost of lending.

We have very strong banks that lend very little. We made a financial reform for that. A telecommunications reform, we need more competition in our telecom industry. We need the access to the Internet, the access to information technology to be of better quality and cheaper.

That's why President Pena put forward a telecommunications reform, anti-trust reform. We need more competition in our economic -- in our economy overall.

These are reforms, such as the labor reform to flex -- to bring flexibility into the labor market or the very important education reform to increase the quality of our -- of our schools, these are all reforms that have one single common denominator, which is productivity. We need to increase productivity to increase growth and the well-being of Mexicans.

AMANPOUR: And you put your finger on my next question, the well-being of Mexicans. We've stated that some 60 million Mexicans, nearly half the country, live in what's officially declared poverty.

Are they seeing the results of these reforms?

Could some of these reforms paradoxically hurt them to an extent, certain taxes, certain things that affect their buying ability?

VIDEGARAY: I was in Davos last week. There was a lot of talk about income inequality. But I think there is no -- not enough talk of productivity inequality. And this is what exactly what President Pena wants to do. He talks a lot of democratization of productivity.

That means the bringing productivity, which is the only sustainable way to improve income to all regions of the country and to all sectors of the economy, we have a class -- a world-class exporting manufacturing industry linked to NAFTA.

But we have regions of the country that are poor and by these reforms I mean that we will reduce the cost of production across the economy, again, all these reforms are trying to reduce the cost of inputs to the overall economy, to increase productivity and therefore increase real wages, not only for a few supporting sectors, but for the overall economy.

AMANPOUR: Luis Videgaray, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

VIDEGARAY: Thanks, Christiane, it's a real pleasure.


AMANPOUR: In a moment, using song as an agent of change. We celebrate the lifelong activism of Pete Seeger when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, with protests and the longing for real political rights convulsing our universe from Kiev to Cairo, imagine a world where the son of privilege became the voice of protest and a musical champion of the common man.

For younger generations, Pete Seeger was that old guy singing with Bruce Springsteen at President Obama's first inauguration in 2009. But the journey that brought him there began 70 years before that in the Great Depression when young Pete dropped out of Harvard.

He went on the road with fellow folk singer Woody Guthrie, hopping freight trains and criss-crossing America, using the banjo and the guitar to raise money for migrant workers and to rally organized labor.

After then serving and singing in the Army in World War II, Pete brought his music to New York's Greenwich Village and there, with his group, the Weavers, he made folk music cool and profitable. And visible to the FBI, because in the 1950s, a brief flirtation with the Communist Party branded him as un-American.

But when he testified before Congress, Pete Seeger volunteered to prove his patriotism by singing to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Instead, he was indicted for contempt and sentenced to a year in prison.

That sentence was overturned and Pete Seeger took up the guitar again, turning folk tunes into top 10 hits and inspiring younger generations for social change, like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and even Woody Guthrie's son, Arlo.

He never stopped singing or fighting for the underdog whether it was transforming an old gospel tune into the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome," or taking on the environment long before that was popular.

Pete Seeger died on Monday at the age of 94 as American as apple pie, but whose songs could have also been anthems from Kiev to Cairo and beyond.