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Reflections of an Arab Spring Correspondent; 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 3, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. And ahead, we take you from the towns that dominate Trump's American heartland
to the restive streets of Egypt, reflections from "New York Times" correspondent and author David Kirkpatrick on the birth and death of the
Also ahead, one married couple, one small plane and 100,000 miles of epic adventure. James and Deborah Fallows on their revealing journey into the
heart of America.
Hello, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Bringing democracy to the Middle East has proved a thorn in the side of every American administration for the past 70 years. It finally looked
like it would happen from the inside during the Arab Spring eruptions of 2011.
In a wave stretching from Tunisia to Egypt, repressive regimes were challenged and dictators fell like dominoes.
The United States found itself tied up in knots, though, unsure of who to back in the face-off between its longtime allies and the people power
rising from the streets.
David Kirkpatrick had arrived in a sleepy, sweltering Cairo the previous summer. He'd been dispatched to Egypt as bureau chief for "The New York
Times" and nonchalantly been told by experts in Washington that nothing much would happen on his beat.
Six months later, he was reporting on the spark that ignited the Arab Spring in Tunisia to the downfall of President Mubarak.
"Into the Hands of Soldiers" is his account of the Egyptian revolution from the early optimism of Tahrir Square to the military coup that swept away
the country's first democratically-elected Islamist president and returned a general to power.
I sat down with Kirkpatrick recently to discuss 2011's seismic uprisings, its idealistic origins, it descent into chaos and its lasting impact on the
David Kirkpatrick, welcome to the program. How was it that you became the accidental Arab Spring correspondent?
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, AUTHOR, "INTO THE HANDS OF THE SOLDIERS": Well, my first week on the job as a correspondent in Cairo, I heard that a young man
had burned himself to death in Tunisia.
And I thought, oh, well, I'll travel there and write a story about the psychology of suicides. The next thing I know the whole country had blown
up and they closed down the airports.
And my editors in Washington, I later learned, were thinking, oh, my gosh, what are we going to do, this guy has no experience whatsoever as a foreign
correspondent covering the kind of situation. We've got to send in someone with more experience.
But it was too late, they closed the airports. And that's really how I got my start.
AMANPOUR: And that was the spark that lit the whole Arab Spring.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes, that's right. It all took off from there, then into Cairo and off to Libya.
AMANPOUR: And did you have any idea that Bouazizi's suicide, setting himself alight, was going to ignite something all over the region.
KIRKPATRICK: None whatsoever. I had heard that there were copycats. And I imagined that I could write a story about people imitating other
AMANPOUR: I was also in Cairo for the Arab Spring, the Tahrir Square. But just as a precursor, even before you got there, President Obama, one of his
first trips, if not the first trip of his presidency, was an unprecedented reach out to the Arab and Muslim world.
And he chose Cairo to make that famous speech. Just going to play a little bit of it and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, THEN US PRESIDENT: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world. One
based on mutual interest and mutual respect and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.
Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it was an extraordinary speech at the time. And now, all these years later, it's perhaps even more extraordinary. What did you
think when you heard that? I mean, you weren't there yet, but did you focus on that speech?
KIRKPATRICK: Yes. Well, I was studying Arabic at the time here in Washington DC rather. And it was an amazing speech. He gives great
[14:05:02] One of the things in retrospect that's notable about it is there was really very little talk of democracy. He really soft peddled any idea
of political reform. He was reaching out to recognize the people of the region, but trying not to challenge Mubarak or the other rulers.
AMANPOUR: What do you think when you were in the middle of it?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, I mean, I have to say, very frankly, I'm probably the luckiest journalist alive today to land in Cairo right before the uprising.
I would be dishonest if I didn't acknowledge that it was thrilling. It was breathtaking. You were there. You saw what was happening in Tahrir
AMANPOUR: I think I was the luckiest journalist because none of us expected this. And I finally got to Mubarak, I was the last one to see
him. I'm really proud of it. And I actually just want to play a little clip because it was so amazing that moment and it was off-camera, but then
I talked to Diane Sawyer - I was at ABC at the time - about that encounter and then we'll just chat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: When I walked in, I asked him how he was. He said, I feel strong. He said I am not the kind of person to run and he said I will die
on Egyptian soil. When I asked him about whether he would step down now. He said to me, you know, Christiane, I've been in public service for 62
years and now I'm fed up and I want to retire. But if I resign now, he said, there will be chaos and I'm afraid the Muslim Brotherhood will take
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Pretty prescient.
KIRKPATRICK: In some ways.
AMANPOUR: And which ways was it not because that's exactly what happened? I mean, then he didn't stay for an extra six months. The Obama
administration essentially pulled the rug from underneath their longtime ally right?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, I think there's a lot of nuance to this story. I think when you look closely at Mubarak's final days, the White House stuck with
him until it was pretty clear that his body was on the stretcher.
The White House didn't begin to break with Mubarak until it was already clear, if you were paying attention, that the generals in Egypt had broken
with Mubarak. So, he was a goner by the time Obama gave him a nudge.
And as for his prediction, it's a glass half empty, half full. In some ways, it was a tumultuous period. In other ways, Egypt did OK. Egypt
managed to hold several free elections successfully during their brief 30 months of freedom before there was another military takeover.
And so, whether we're going to call that chaos, as he predicted or not, I think will be for history to judge.
AMANPOUR: I mean, would you agree that the promise of a democratic revolution and the promise that the young people in Tahrir Square believed
in once their leader stepped down just hasn't come true?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, there's no doubt that this is a tragic story. I mean, the hope that we both saw in Tahrir Square has been crushed. That is over.
That's disappointed. There's no way to sugarcoat that.
But what happened after that is still an interesting story to me, and not as simple as the brothers were evil and they were ousted. I think there's
an alternative course where the brothers might have been voted out of office and events superseded to make that impossible.
And that's a complicated story, a story in which I think the American role is somewhat ambiguous. I think the White House was emitting mixed messages
through that whole period.
AMANPOUR: Fast forward a year after Morsi won, you were in that area, right, where then he came under attack by the military.
KIRKPATRICK: I think you're talking about the massacre of Rabba el Adwia on August 14, 2013.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes, five years ago, that is some -
AMANPOUR: But it put an end to the Brotherhood's leadership.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes. It put an end to the Brotherhood's leadership and it put Egypt firmly back on the course to a dictatorship.
And what's astonishing to me is it's a large massacre. It's a bigger massacre than Tiananmen Square. And we don't remember it that way. It's
And I think some of that has to do with American attitudes towards the Arab World and towards the Muslim Brotherhood. I think people are reluctant for
some reason to believe that this was a mass shooting of largely unarmed and non-violent demonstrators, which it clearly was. That's 1,000 people
killed there that day.
AMANPOUR: Were you afraid? Did you think you're going to get out of it alive?
KIRKPATRICK: Of course, I was afraid. It's a terrifying thing. In the moment, you don't focus on your own death so much, but it certainly was a
scary, scary experience.
And I will never forget the amount of bloodshed I saw that day. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to go back and write this book.
AMANPOUR: And this book is "Into the Hands of the Soldiers" and that is what happened. That was the day democracy died in Egypt, although even me
saying that, if any Egyptian government official hears that, they will be furious because they believe that the Brotherhood hijacked democracy and
that they are the guardians of some kind of democracy for Egypt today.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes. It's a funny sort of a thing. They insist that they needed to depose the president and cast aside a newly ratified constitution
in order to preserve the rule of law.
[14:10:09] The truth is, they didn't really have their hands around the government. They weren't really in control of the government.
AMANPOUR: The Muslim Brotherhood?
KIRKPATRICK: The Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had been in office for only a year. And it's telling that, after his removal, the defense minister kept
his job, the interior minister kept his job, the foreign minister was still on hand, pretty much all of his cabinet, it turned out, had been working
And that tells you that not only were they far from having implemented a tyranny. They weren't even very close to controlling the actual
AMANPOUR: And when you say the defense minister, that was General Sisi, who is now the president.
AMANPOUR: What went wrong?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, as you know, the Muslim Brotherhood has been feared for a long, long time. President Mubarak, as he did with you, has been holding
up the Brotherhood as a kind of boogeyman for decades. And so, is every other autocratic Arab leader.
And clearly, I'm not an advocate for the Muslim Brotherhood. I mean, if I were to (INAUDIBLE) it would be the non-sectarian sibling, but I want no
part of that at all.
But by the same token, they were also demonized. They were demonized by the countries in the Gulf and by many others who were hostile to this kind
of change in Egypt and fearful, frankly, of the Brotherhood's call for elections.
If someone comes out and starts saying, you know what, the Quran requires us to have democratic elections, that is especially troubling. And, over
time, that became the message of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in other places like Tunisia.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes. But Tunisia seems to be the poster child for success. And the fact that the main Islamic party, Ennahda, then did this
amazing about turn and renounced a religious identity and said that it was going to be a political party. It's pretty amazing.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes. Tunisia is an interesting case because they reached a very similar impasse to the one that happened in Egypt and they managed to
get out of it with non-violence.
They managed, at the last minute, after a long standoff to push through a constitution and then the Islamist party left power and they had their
first non-violent political transition.
It's not impossible to imagine that that could have happened in Egypt, at least I think so. I think it's safe to say it's not impossible.
AMANPOUR: What do you think the West could have done better?
KIRKPATRICK: They emitted mixed signals from the start. They were saying, or the president was saying, we're for democracy. Democracy is the only
road to lasting stability, the people have spoken and we're with the people.
And at the same time, they were saying, not so fast, we got a bet on the generals. And in the case of Egypt, we want to stay friends with the
military over the long term, no matter what happens.
And so, during those crucial final months before they remove Morsi from power, I think when you look closely, and that's part of what I've done in
the book, you see a pattern of mixed messages that probably allowed the generals to feel fairly confident correctly that they would suffer no
consequence whatsoever for removing Egypt's first elected government.
In many ways, I think, looking back, the events of that summer five years ago in Egypt were almost a foreshadowing of the policy we now see with the
Trump administration where he has really firmly embraced the idea that all Islamists are a problem and that the only possible response to extremism is
not to try to change hearts and minds or democratic reform, as Obama talked about, the only response is really brute force, that that's the answer.
And that's precisely the answer that they advocate in the Persian Gulf states, in the monarchies.
AMANPOUR: Let's not forget that President Trump loves Sisi.
KIRKPATRICK: President Trump does love Sisi. And I think Sisi feels very warmly about President Trump as well.
AMANPOUR: And look at Libya and Syria. There were equal hopes in those countries that they would sort of also have their Arab Spring and it
devolved into a hotbed of the worst kind of violence and terrorism.
KIRKPATRICK: To my mind, it's telling that both of those countries really headed south after the coup in Egypt. The coup in Egypt really sent a
message around the region. But, as you say, your choices here are extremists or authoritarians. We're back to the old framework.
The possibility of a third way of a more democratic and pluralistic future that we both felt in Tahrir Square was crushed that day.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, some Egyptians say we were better off under Mubarak. I mean, they compare Mubarak favorably with not just Morsi, but with Sisi as
KIRKPATRICK: Oh, certainly. If you talk to liberal and secular moderate Egyptians, they look at the last years under Mubarak as the glory days.
That was really an apex of freedom in Egypt and also probably prosperity. There's no way to sugarcoat it. It's a heartbreaking story.
AMANPOUR: David Kirkpatrick, thank you so much indeed.
KIRKPATRICK: It's a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And now, from the Middle East to Europe to Asia, my next guests have covered it all. James and Deborah Fallows have spent their married
life chasing a world in constant motion. James as a journalist and Deborah as a linguist.
Their careers have enabled them to dig deep. And now, they've turned their attention to home in the United States, flying around in a single-engine
plane, gathering information on the so-called flyover States, way before the rise of Donald Trump.
[14:15:02] They spent five years collecting stories that we seldom hear. It was for their new book, "Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey Into The
Heart of America" and they join me from one of their case studies, Charleston, West Virginia, to talk about what they've learned.
James and Deborah Fallows, welcome to the program.
JAMES FALLOWS, AUTHOR, "OUR TOWNS": Thanks so much.
DEBORAH FALLOWS, AUTHOR, "OUR TOWNS": Thank you, Christine.
AMANPOUR: So, you have made something like a 100,000 mile journey around the United States deliberately avoiding the elite coasts and you've been in
the what maybe disparagingly called the flyover States. What made you do it?
James, I know you've been doing a lot of the flying. So, let me ask you what made you do it?
J. FALLOWS: We started about five years ago. We had just come back from living in China for a long number of years and we thought what if we tried
to apply the same approach we've done for many years in China of getting away from the big cities to our own homeland of the US and what would be
the texture and mood and temperature of the country, if we didn't ask people about national politics, but instead said, here in Fresno, here in
Duluth, here in northern Mississippi, here in Charleston, West Virginia where we are at this moment, what are people hopeful about, what are they
concerned about, so that's what we've been doing.
AMANPOUR: What do you guys think? I mean, if there's one sort of conclusion, what can you conclude?
J. FALLOWS: So, I think there is a main message, which we've tried - which we came to gradually and by force of being in dozens of these places
- and the places we wrote about at length, we'd stay usually for two weeks or so.
The main message was a disconnect between the tone of national politics that we are also very well familiar with, that tone being polarized,
divisive, increasingly angry, very little gets accomplished, if I win, you lose, all the things that we know in US national politics and some other
national politics to be the case, that city by city around the United States, there seems to be a much different attitude that people have a
range of problems from economic dislocation to opioids to all sorts of other things, which are well familiar on the US scene.
But most places feel that, in the parts of the US, they can experience firsthand, they're making some progress. They are having innovative
schools. They're finding ways to engage people without partisan divisions. They're dealing with experimental ways to cope with drug addiction.
They're finding ways to train people for new jobs.
So, the portrayal where we're offering of what's out there in America is very different from one after the election of suggesting that people may be
missing how much experimentation, how much collaboration, how much avoidance of the bigger partisan fights is actually going on city by city
across the country.
AMANPOUR: So, listen, it brings me to the next question, which you guys identified and wrote about. After you sort of ask people their names,
there's a second question. And in each place that second question is different. What were the second questions that came up?
D. FALLOWS: The second questions are so interesting because they really reflect the currency of the town.
In Greenville, South Carolina and Waco, Texas, it's what church do you go to. In St. Louis, Missouri, it is always where'd you go to high school.
In Washington DC and New York, you could probably guess, it's where do you work or where do you live, which kind of divides people along the socio-
In Los Angeles, the question is how do you get here? Well, I took the 405 to the 10. In places like Atlanta and Seattle where there are lots of
people moving for a new business and companies and industry, it's where you from.
In Alaska, you never ask where are you from because a lot of people go there to get away from something in their past life.
AMANPOUR: That is really, really fascinating. Honestly, I would have been lost if somebody had asked me that question in LA. I don't know about the
405 and the 10. That's double Dutch to me.
So, let me drill down a little bit then because some are finding it hard to square the heartland that voted for Donald Trump, who speaks about carnage
and speaks about divisions and fosters divisions, how do you square the people who voted for that with the optimistic can-do people who you're
J. FALLOWS: And that's, of course, a fundamental and crucial question. I'll give you a bit of anecdotage, a bit of data and then a possible
The bit of anecdotage is really almost every place we went, and we'd offer this as a test to your viewers to try it in places they don't know about,
if you didn't ask people about national politics and simply ask them what's happening in the schools here, what's happening in the downtown, are there
any startups, et cetera?
[14:20:00] Anecdotally, most places we went, even as troubled as San Bernardino, California or Mississippi or Coastal Georgia or whatever, most
people said we feel as if we're getting some traction.
My bit of data would be, consistently, over the last 15 or 20 years, almost all polls show that fewer and fewer Americans think that the country is on
the right path. It is down now like to the low 20 percent of people feeling that the country is on the right path.
But in the high 70s to 80 percent, people say that their communities, they feel, are on the right path. It doesn't mean they have no troubles.
Detroit has big troubles, so do many other places, but they feel as if the path is correct.
And, I guess, my bit of theory is that something has happened to national politics and the way we discuss it in the United States that it just is
untethered from the stuff of real life.
For example, we describe in our book western Kansas, which has become a majority Latino area because of the beef packing industries where the Anglo
people there, they are voting school bonds to educate mainly Latino schoolchildren. They are really glad to have a city manager who is here on
a DACA waiver in Dodge City, et cetera. That is his parents were brought him when he was undocumented.
But when they talk about national politics, it's something different. It's almost religious or tribal.
AMANPOUR: So, those who are desperate to understand the heartland that you've spent so much time in now, say precisely what you're telling me
right now. They find it sort of a bit - sort of on the periphery.
For instance, "The Wall Street Journal" says such sobering issues like the one you've just been talking about, along with the fraught topic of
national politics, stay on the periphery. And you've explained why they stay on the periphery and why you did that.
But you have said given the places we were traveling, I imagine that many people we interviewed with Trump supporters, but it just didn't come up.
So, "The Wall Street Journal" says, perhaps so, but the authors themselves allude to national politics so many times that a lack of actual local
commentary makes their narrative feel incomplete.
Their optimistic, upward striving America sometimes feels like a Potemkin Village ready to tip over. I mean, do you think there's some merit in that
FALLOWS: So, as you can imagine, I took a different view of things from that review, but I would invite that author, anybody else, to go out and
see some of these places.
And so it is - again, we think there is a news arbitrage here, in that people are very well aware of things that have happened in a bad way over
the last generation, whether it's industrial dislocation, whether it's gun violence or whether it's opioids or whether any of the other things which
are genuine, genuine problems.
And I think there is an under awareness of the ways in which people are sort of - are trying to deal with those things. There's a picture in my
view from most of the media of the interior of the country a sort of a two- dimensional place that things happened to, as opposed to a three- dimensional, five dimensional place where people are trying to respond. So, I don't know how much that reviewer has been on the road, but I would
invite her to be on the road more.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you then. These good people, who you've described as innovative and concerned and looking for solutions and trying to avoid the
poisonous national politics that we are all immersed in, what do they say when they are cited?
These very people are cited as the reason for protectionism, for instance, and tariffs and the reason for all sorts of foreign policy things that the
president is doing or the wall or all these things they cite the good people of the heartland.
And now, we hear that actually some of these policies are hurting the people of the heartland, particularly the tariffs.
J. FALLOWS: I'll give you two illustrations. We're in Wyoming the day after the election. Wyoming gave Donald Trump his second biggest majority
during the election, second only to the state where we are right at this moment, West Virginia.
West Virginia was first; Wyoming was second; I think, Utah third. But at the same time, they said, well, of course, we hope that this NAFTA isn't
disrupted because that's the basis of our economy, we rely on immigration for a lot of our farms.
And so, again, there was this disconnection. And so, I think that it's again - some even call this cognitive dissonance. You can call it
whatever, but something strange has divorced these national political emotions from all the complexity of other things including economics.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I think that's so interesting, trying to get a grip on that disconnect. So, finally, it looks like James from the pictures was
your pilot for a good deal of this trip. I wonder whether there were any scary moments or whether this was sort of bonding between the two of you
and how was it spending 100,000 miles as a couple together?
[14:25:00] D. FALLOWS: Well, Jim is a great pilot and here's a very conservative pilot and we had some basic rules of only fly in safe
Nonetheless, when you're in a small airplane up there in the sky, weather happens. And when the air traffic controllers say weather, they mean bad
weather, or surprises happen. There are birds. There are drones. There are other planes in the sky. There are sudden thunderstorms.
It's a wonderful experience being - flying at low altitude over the country where you can see the little Norman Rockwell scenes of yellow school buses
pulling up to white picket fences or see the display of the country across the mighty Mississippi and the approaching Rocky Mountains or the plains or
the kudzu-filled forests of the deep south.
J. FALLOWS: Deb and I first met on a blind date at age 18 and got married at age 21. We've been happily together since then. And this was a real -
it was a wonderful adventure. And Deb is a wonderful guide, companion, ground control for our flying.
And I'll just emphasize what Deb is saying that the privilege of seeing a continent as diverse as North America from 2,000 feet up is really - it's
beautiful in an aesthetic sense most of the time. And you sense sort of the logic of history when you see why the towns are where they are and what
it was like to cross the mountains and everything.
So, we felt very lucky to do this and hope to continue to see more of the interior of the country this way.
AMANPOUR: All right. Well, that's wonderful. You have a great wanderlust and you even spent your honeymoon working in Ghana. I mean, so this comes
naturally to you.
James and Deborah Fallows, authors of "Our Towns," thank you very much indeed.
J. FALLOWS: Thanks so much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at Amanpour.com. And you can follow me on
Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.