'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Friday, January 28th, 2011
Read the transcript to the Friday show
Guests: Richard Engel, Chuck Todd, Jamie Rubin, Chris Hughes, Cleo Brock-Abraham, Talal al Haj, Rep. Dennis Kucinich
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: Three days ago, unnamed U.S. official expressed the Washington consensus that the situation in Egypt was not likely to threaten the repressive government, but today that same official said, quote, “this could go either way,” and that somebody has to do something and fast.
Shouldn‘t the Tea Party have intelligent spending at the top of its budget-cutting list since the best way to know what‘s really happening in places like Egypt now is apparently social networking?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Few things surprise me.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: The anti-government protesters are clashing with Egyptian police.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Cairo.
SCARBOROUGH: I‘m really surprised that this is happening in Mubarak‘s Egypt.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): Egyptian tanks roll into the streets of Cairo after police retreated from what protesters are calling a day of rage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rubber bullets and tear gas.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, MSNBC HOST: Authorities cut Internet and cell phone service.
O‘DONNELL: Why didn‘t Washington see this coming?
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is live for us in Cairo.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: They are men in black armed with clubs. They are firing tear gas rapidly.
SCARBOROUGH: This is a youth-led revolution.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Calling for an end to President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei is under house arrest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ElBaradei called on Mubarak step down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want freedom and we want dignity.
O‘DONNELL: But the protesters want more than just government reforms.
ENGEL: This protest is against Mubarak, but it‘s also against American policy. Excuse me, there‘s still a lot of tear gas here in the air. Some of them were holding up the canisters in my face, and I could read clearly on the canisters the kind of gas it was, and it said “made in the USA.”
GUTHRIE: You can see how difficult a position this is for the United States.
O‘DONNELL: The White House‘s choice, support an ally who rules like a dictator or support the will of the people.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House has not taken sides.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is kind of a classic foreign policy dilemma for the U.S.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not about picking a person or picking the people of the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What‘s the alternative, chaos?
SCARBOROUGH: Its most volatile state since 1979.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier this afternoon during the 12:00 hour when Hillary Clinton spoke.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATES: We are urging that there be a restraint on the part of the security forces.
OBAMA: Know that we will be learning more tomorrow when day breaks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happens when the sun comes back up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, we don‘t know.
O‘DONNELL: The time is now 3:00 a.m. in Egypt where recently most Internet and phone service has been restored, as tens of thousands of protesters entered day five of an uprising demanding a new leader and political reform. So, right now, some protesters are ignoring the countrywide curfew, even after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak broke his silence tonight in a televised statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPT (through translator): I, shouldering my first responsibility to maintain the homeland security and the citizens‘ safety, cannot tolerate, cannot allow this fear to grip our people, and, therefore, I wouldn‘t allow this to halt or future and our faith.
I have requested the government to step down today, and I will designate a new government—a new government as of tomorrow to shoulder new duties and to account for the priorities of the upcoming era, and I state once again that I will not be lax or tolerant. I will take all the steps to maintain the safety and security of all the Egyptians. I will safeguard the safety of Egypt and the aspirations of our people.
It is the duty and responsibility for which I had taken the oath to safeguard and maintain. May God save Egypt, its people and may guide our steps all, and may peace be upon you all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Mubarak vowed to replace his government tomorrow, but it‘s the 82-year-old Mubarak himself that protesters want to leave after ruling that country for 30 years. The possible removal of one of the U.S.‘s strongest allies has the Obama administration doing a delicate balancing act tonight.
After a day full of briefings, President Obama spoke out in a brief speech at 6:32 p.m. Eastern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt, and we‘ve cooperated on many issues, including working together to advance a more peaceful region. But we‘ve also been clear that there must be reform—political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people. In the absence of these reforms, grievances have built up over time.
When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech, and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now with the latest live from Cairo, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Richard, what does it mean that the Internet and phone service has been largely restored?
ENGEL: It is also unclear at this stage if it has been restored. There was a brief moment when messages started to flow in, but we are still not able to access sites like Twitter and the—the cell phone services intermittent at best. Just a few minutes ago, it was cut—it was cut again. So, it is not—it is not clear that that issue, what people are calling freedom of communication, has been resolved.
O‘DONNELL: And what is the situation where you are now?
ENGEL: Well, and this is going to sound like an odd point, but could
have a big impact on tomorrow. It is just starting to rain here, and the -
that has a big impact. It doesn‘t rain often in Cairo, and when there is a weather situation, rain, when it comes in Cairo, can be very torrential, and that could have an impact on if there are many protesters out on the streets tomorrow.
There aren‘t protests scheduled like there were today. Everyone was organized and ready for major protests that started with the—with the Friday prayers. Tomorrow is a work day. There will undoubtedly be some protests, but it‘s unclear how widespread they will be, particularly if it starts raining.
O‘DONNELL: Richard, I assume television service has not been interrupted—President Mubarak addressing his people by television tonight.
ENGEL: Television service hasn‘t been a problem. We‘ve been able to broadcast. Other international broadcasters have been on. State TV has been on.
It has just been the SMS messages, the social networks that were particularly important in the early days to get out the word that today would be a day of rage, telling people which mosques they should go to. And once they were at these mosques, the social networking factor didn‘t really play any factor because people already knew where they had to go, and then once the protests began this morning, they were not going to be spending a lot of time on the telephones anyway. They were out on the streets clashing with police.
O‘DONNELL: So, Richard, in the efforts to cut the communication and cut off the internet, did—was that decision in effect if it was going to work, was that decision made too late? Are the people already collecting in ways independent of this electronic communication?
ENGEL: It certainly was too late, and I‘m not trying to give strategies on how to conduct an efficient crackdown, but if they were trying to prevent people from organizing, then cutting off the communications after they‘ve already organized and are gathered in place seems like—seems, well, inefficient at the very least.
O‘DONNELL: Richard, this is one of those difficult situations for the United States where an ally who runs a repressive regime is under siege, a previously reliable ally. The United States government does not have a great record on managing these kinds of transitions.
Is there a way through this for the United States government at this point?
ENGEL: Well, the United States has been nervous about pressuring Egypt because it is worried about what will happen in this country. The United States started to pressure Mubarak about Democratic reform, and then Iraq fell apart. So, the idea of spreading democracy in the Middle East suddenly seemed like a very bad idea.
Egypt said, listen, if you push this country too hard and you open the floodgates of democracy, the world will not be happy with the result.
It is the same argument Turkey makes. Turkey has a stable government, generally secular government, and it has a people that are much more religious and tend to be much more reactionary. And the Turkish government has said, don‘t push us too far on democracy. You won‘t be happy with the result.
Egypt has long said the same thing. Egypt might be right on this point, but the United States is now caught in this difficult situation. It doesn‘t want to just turn a blind eye and allow Mubarak to crush these protests and to have a very violent moment.
But does the United States really want a popular revolution in Egypt?
Many people think that the United States does not want that.
O‘DONNELL: Richard, with your experience in the country and talking to people on the ground there this week, how would you summarize the essence of what they are protesting?
ENGEL: Jobs. They are angry with the economic situation. Prices have gotten very high. It is hard for Egyptians to earn a living. So, when you add the insults to the injury—and the insult being the lack of democracy, the lack of political change, but people are furious because they feel that they don‘t they have the opportunity to offer their children a better life, and that is what is driving the largest groups of protesters on to the streets.
The people who are organizing online, on Twitter—sure, those are people who are activists. They want to see a different kind of society here.
The people we saw in the streets today, the students breaking up paving stones, the middle-aged men in their 40s, I don‘t know if that‘s middle age or not, but men of that age group, they have jobs. They have families, but they feel that if they don‘t have a voice and they don‘t—and they aren‘t able to change this system, then they simply can‘t survive. That‘s what‘s motivating them.
O‘DONNELL: Richard, what indications might you have observed, and what would you look for to indicate that Mubarak and possibly his family could be preparing an exit from the country as we saw in Tunisia?
ENGEL: And as we saw in Tunisia, the key institution to watch is the army. President Mubarak exists because of the army and came from the armed forces himself after Sadat was assassinated on the 6th of October, 1981. So, the—the Mubarak—the army has been the backbone of the society here.
Now, if the—if the army turns against Mubarak, then I think his time in power could rapidly come to a close. So far, the army has listened to him. He called the army out into the streets. They came out into the streets.
The people welcome them. They did not want to confront the army. As long as that relationship exists, this triangle where the people like the army, the army backs Mubarak, Mubarak remains in power.
If that triangle breaks, there is a rapidly different or a dramatically different situation.
O‘DONNELL: Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent—thank you very much for joining us live from Cairo.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up: the delicate diplomatic position the United States is in. President Obama addressing the situation earlier tonight and calling on Egyptian forces to not resort to violence against protesters. I‘ll be joined by Jamie Rubin, formerly of the U.S. State Department, about what the U.S. has to do next as we watch the events in Egypt unfold tonight.
O‘DONNELL: Our live coverage of the protests in Egypt continues on MSNBC. President Obama spoke with the president of Egypt tonight. We‘ll discuss how difficult the situation in the Middle East is now for the United States with Jamie Rubin, formerly of the Clinton State Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights, and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now, NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd.
Chuck, on Tuesday night, when we were all covering the State of the Union address in which the word Egypt does not appear—
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes.
O‘DONNELL: -- none of us knew by the end of the week, there would be a larger story coming out of the White House and from Egypt that we are covering now tonight. How has the president‘s tone and approach to this changed over the last three days?
TODD: Well, it is striking actually that that was just three days ago. I mean, it proves a little mantra that we have here—every day is a week and every week is a day here sometimes here in the 21st century.
But to going specifically and to watch the evolution, first of all, today the White House was very much like the rest of us, Lawrence, just searching for information. You know, they were having secure video links with the ambassador in Cairo, but they really weren‘t getting any—that much more information than us. We were watching Al Jazeera. They were watching some Egyptian television, and that was it.
And it was at a 4:00 meeting with Vice President Biden—frankly Vice President Biden and Tom Donilon, was running the NSC, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton, they were all there. The president stopped by and the decision was made, look, the president has to say something publicly. He has to do so tonight, and then that‘s what they decide that the president needed to call Mubarak and tell him what he was going to say first, that they owed Mubarak that.
So, then, that‘s organized. And in between that time, that‘s 4:00, Mubarak gives his remarks to the Egyptian public. Then they have their 30-minute conversation and then the president comes out earlier this evening and basically warns Mubarak and says, you know, as you—as we all now know, look, the U.S. is going to get—is going basically to be on the side of these protesters. You better get it together, and you better get on the side of the protesters.
O‘DONNELL: Chuck, we have a photograph taken during that phone call with the president to the president of Egypt.
What do we know about the call? A 30 minute call, president to president is a long one. There‘s a lot—
TODD: It is.
O‘DONNELL: - of ground they could have covered. How much do we know about what they covered?
TODD: Well, I can tell you what the administration wouldn‘t tell me. I said, well, was there any conversation about ElBaradei, you know? Did the president, you know, press him to like make sure he‘s not under house arrest? And I‘m like, look, we‘re not getting into presidential candidates, we‘re not getting into the domestic politics right now. What we‘ll tell you is what the president said publicly, which is simply he was pressing him on that and that he would publicly press him on that, and that‘s the thing.
Lawrence, let‘s be honest—telling him to turn on the Internet, that‘s three minutes at best of the conversation. What happened in the other 27 minutes? How defensive was Mubarak? How aggressive was President Obama? I think this is pretty transparent for the most part but, clearly, there‘s a big chunk of that conversation that we don‘t know about.
O‘DONNELL: Chuck Todd, NBC News chief White House correspondent, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Chuck.
TODD: You got it, sir. All right.
O‘DONNELL: Joining our live conversation of the situation in Egypt, the executive editor of “The Bloomberg View” and former assistant secretary of state for public affairs and chief spokesman for the State Department, Jamie Rubin.
Jamie, 30-minute call, president to president—there‘s some translation involved. So, that‘s a long one in a situation like this, isn‘t it?
JAMIE RUBIN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes and no. Look, it‘s taken a long time for that call to happen, and the previous discussion he had with Mubarak, the alleged, this wasn‘t the topic. The administration has evolved a lot in the last 48 hours, and had they been saying the kind of things that they have said tonight a couple of days ago, you wouldn‘t have so many questions being asked in Cairo and around the world whether the United States was on the right side of history here.
Remember, we are a country that people look to when they are promoting their rights. President Obama hasn‘t talked about their rights of Egyptians, the way he enumerated tonight in previous discussions about Egypt. He chose Cairo as a place. He‘s been friendly with Mubarak. He‘s tended to support Mubarak‘s involvement in the peace process. He‘s resisted all the calls from various quarters to be tougher on Mubarak with respect to democratic change.
He‘s gotten I think to the right place. But just as it took a week in the case of Iran back in the spring of 2009, where every day you saw a slow evolution of the administration‘s policy, and then by the end of the week, he finally got to a comfortable place, it‘s taken a long time. He should been saying these things to Mubarak in advance.
There have been contacts, but I think they finally realized when they saw the television, whoops, we‘re about to get on the wrong side of history and they were afraid of that and did some last-minute twists.
O‘DONNELL: The United States government doesn‘t have a great record in these kinds of transitions and finding themselves on the wrong side of history sometimes. In the room now, in the Oval Office, and as always in these governing situations, these deciding situations, everyone has a best-case scenario in mind and everyone has a worst-case scenario in mind. What are those two scenarios in this situation?
RUBIN: Well, I think the worst-case scenario right now is that the protests evolve, that there is a massive use of force of some kind, that the revolution continues and that somehow, some way, the Islamic—the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, and you have an Iran situation again where middle class reformers started the revolution against the shah and then it ended up in the hands of Khomeini.
I don‘t think that‘s likely to happen. I really don‘t. I think there‘s a very small chance of that. The Islamic Brotherhood got caught flat-footed. They were trying to get on the train today and yesterday where they weren‘t part of this in the beginning.
The best-case scenario is that Mubarak announces that he‘s not running again, that the family isn‘t running, that there‘s no Gamal Mubarak, that an interim government is established later on in the year to allow his passing from the scene, and proper elections are taking place with American support and change comes to Egypt without the kind of regime that I described as the worst-case scenario.
In other words, a moderate regime that may have elements we may need to get used to but is not Islamic in character.
O‘DONNELL: “Washington Post” this morning had a former unnamed CIA officer with experience in the region saying one of the dangers in these situations is the longer the protests go on and the more violent the attempt to suppress the protests, the more reactionary a government you will end up with at the end of that process, that if the Mubarak government is going to fall in effect, the sooner the better.
RUBIN: Well, I think that‘s right. We are facing over the next 24 to 48 hours a very, very crucial moment. We‘re not there yet. That moment comes when people come out in the streets tomorrow. They reject the curfew. The numbers grow.
President Mubarak hangs tough the way he is tonight, orders his generals in the military who are currently siding with him to crack down and prevent this from getting out of hand. Generals issue those orders to commanders on the scene.
What happens? If they shoot—
O‘DONNELL: It‘s a Tiananmen Square moment.
O‘DONNELL: Do they or don‘t they?
RUBIN: If they shoot, they probably can control it, massive bloodshed, a horrible moment for Egypt, recriminations for years to come. If they don‘t shoot, that‘s the end of Mubarak.
O‘DONNELL: Jamie Rubin with the best and worst-case scenarios—thank you very much for joining us tonight.
RUBIN: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: The intensity of the protests in Egypt catching exports around the world by surprise. How is the Arab world reacting, and will the actions of the Egyptian people lead to other revolts in the region?
We‘ll talk with a member of the Al Arabiya network and the coverage of unrest in Egypt continues on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: This is MSNBC‘s breaking news coverage of the turmoil in Egypt.
Late tonight in Egypt, that country‘s president, Hosni Mubarak, finally addressed his people. He fired his government while also striking a defiant tone against the protesters. We will talk about how social network sites like Facebook and Twitter have played a crucial role in popular uprisings in the Arab world.
We‘ll have an exclusive reaction from one of the co-founders of Facebook—ahead on THE LAST WORD.
O‘DONNELL: A short time ago, NBC‘s Richard Engel reported that some cell service is working in Egypt now, but access to Twitter and Facebook may not be working. The government removed access to Internet and cell service last night. This graph shows the dramatic drop-off that happened around midnight Cairo time last night. Today, the president urged the Egyptian government to reverse its decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they have taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Today, the hacker group Anonymous responded with old-school technology. They began faxing thousands of copies of Wikileaks State Department cables revealing human rights abuses under Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to schools in Egypt, hoping the students will distribute them to other protesters.
So what is the role of new and old technology in the popular uprising in Egypt? Joining me now is Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and founder and executive director of Jumbo.com, a social network that aims to connect individuals and organizations working to change the world; and Cleo Brock-Abraham, who taught at an American school in Cairo for a year.
Chris, I was wondering who saw this coming. And what we do know is it started to move on Tuesday. And Twitter—Twitter caught this before any other news operation caught anything, right?
CHRIS HUGHES, CO-FOUNDER OF FACEBOOK: Yeah. Well, we actually saw the people in Egypt self-organizing across Facebook, Twitter, on Youtube, across the Internet days ago. And particularly on Tuesday when people came out into the streets, they coordinated their actions to start using Facebook events. And then once they were in the streets, using Twitter to communicate with one another.
And then, of course, they documented what—their protests and everything they were doing using Youtube. So particularly on Tuesday, this began with social media. Of course, now it‘s exploded and it‘s—it‘s become something that‘s much larger, you know, than any single piece of technology. But I think it‘s fair to say that social media was a spark.
O‘DONNELL: Cleo, you tout fifth graders in Egypt. And what kind of access do they have to Facebook?
CLEO BROCK-ABRAHAM, TAUGHT IN EGYPT: They are all on Facebook.
Everyone is on Facebook.
O‘DONNELL: Addicted to Facebook?
BROCK-ABRAHAM: I would definitely say addicted to Facebook.
O‘DONNELL: And so the government is shutting this down—did they do it too late, or is it something that—what do you think the reaction would be to people that—the kids that you know and others to this being shut down?
BROCK-ABRAHAM: Well, I think so many of them, especially those in their 20s, live their whole lives on Facebook, because they don‘t have the kind of access to, you know, social interaction that we do. They don‘t go to bars. They don‘t go to parties. So their whole, you know, start of day-to-day life, a lot of it—
O‘DONNELL: This society has becoming more conservative, moving more in an Islamic conservative direction.
O‘DONNELL: At the same time that Facebook is rising.
BROCK-ABRAHAM: Yes, yes.
O‘DONNELL: Because Facebook allows a kind of communication that would otherwise not be possible?
BROCK-ABRAHAM: Exactly, because women can‘t go out on their own. Women can‘t go on dates unless they are engaged, so all of their—so, you know, quote, unquote, dating is all online, all on Facebook.
O‘DONNELL: Where would we be today, this week literally now, without this electronic communication in Egypt? What do you think?
HUGHES: Well, I think it‘s really important to contextualize the role of Facebook and Twitter in a much broader sort of telecommunications revolution that‘s happening globally. And what we keep seeing is democratic movements using all of these different tools to—the activists find one another. They will communicate, organize their actions. And then actually put pressure on governments to change.
We saw that in Tunisia. We saw it in the protests in Iran. We‘ve even seen it in places like Burma. I think what‘s also really interesting is that it is possible to turn off the Internet in a lot of these places. Of course, it happened in Burma during the revolution there a couple years ago. And it seems like it‘s happened today in Egypt, which is, you know, important to bear in mind.
Technology is a really important piece of any democratic movement. I was happy to see the president making that clear call for Mubarak to restore access.
O‘DONNELL: If you were in the Oval Office with the president before that phone call, would that have been your number one suggestion, is get the Internet turned back on?
HUGHES: Absolutely, because for a couple of reasons. I think if you don‘t turn it back on, then it is much more difficult for everyday people to communicate and find any way to express their frustration. I mean, we can even imagine here in America, if we didn‘t have cell phones, if we only had limited access to land lines, no Twitter, no Facebook, none of this stuff, we wouldn‘t know how to find a mass group of people in a small town or a city.
So the technology is a lifeblood of what‘s going on there. And I
think it‘s the most important thing to make sure that it‘s taken care of
O‘DONNELL: I mean, it sounds to me, Chris—you‘ve thought about this more than the rest of us—that turning off the Internet could actually lead to more violence, because people could find themselves with less ability to organize peacefully and their actions would start to become more random.
HUGHES: Yeah, that‘s absolutely true. But what I worry with it being less organized, it‘s much more difficult for people to really make their voices heard. It becomes random acts of violence, rather than a coherent political message, which I think is much more what it‘s about.
O‘DONNELL: What would you say to Hosni Mubarak after turning off the Internet? You know, what would you say to him in terms of what he should do going forward, without regard to the politics of it or whether he should leave office, but in terms of being able to—to keep his country functioning?
HUGHES: I think—
O‘DONNELL: I mean, there‘s all sorts of commercial transactions, all
sorts of other things that you lose when you do this. You don‘t just get
to stop the kids from talking to each other
HUGHES: Exactly. When you turn off the Internet, it makes it really difficult for tourists to come. It makes it difficult for money to move across borders, even the stock market. It sounds like there‘s one ISP that‘s still up that the rumors are is up because it has something to do with the financial transactions in the country.
So, you know, it‘s not just about the political tools, but it‘s what our economies are built on. And it can‘t stay down for long if Egypt is going to continue to thrive or even survive economically.
O‘DONNELL: Cleo, two-thirds of the country is under the age of 30. They are in your demographic. What does that mean in a situation like this? And what does it mean in terms of the speed of the electronic communication?
BROCK-ABRAHAM: It means they are all online, and they are all frustrated. And they all don‘t have, you know, the economic opportunities that they are supposed to have at that age. So they are all, you know, frustrated and angry. And that‘s the way they are communicating, communicating online, because that‘s what they have access to.
O‘DONNELL: In your experience in the country, with the efforts that some have suggested that Egypt make towards economic liberalization, does that go hand in hand with democratization? It doesn‘t seem to have happened?
BROCK-ABRAHAM: Not necessarily, no. I mean, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, starting with Sadat actually in the ‘70s, there was the Infanta, and that was supposed to be economic liberalization, the opening, as it was. And actually, it was sort of just not in name, not in spirit. And the economic liberalization didn‘t go as far as people were hoping. And it led to very sort of limited opening up of democratization.
O‘DONNELL: Chris, if there is to be a new government, an entirely new government, not just new appointees for Mubarak in Egypt, do you fear that what might be the next regime is learning the wrong lessons from this week in terms of how to handle the Internet?
HUGHES: Yeah. That‘s certainly—that‘s certainly a possibility. But I also think it‘s important to bear in mind that there are things that we can do and people outside of Egypt can do to make sure that the Internet is accessible. I mean, there are groups like Access, which is working really hard to make it possible for people inside the country to get around some of these blocks, access Twitter, document what they are doing and spread it on Facebook, on Youtube.
And so even if a new regime comes in, hopefully people can continue to self-organize and get the message out and lead towards a more just democracy.
O‘DONNELL: Somehow the French managed to have a revolution without Facebook or Twitter. We may be seeing more of that in the rest of the week. Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, and Cleo Brock-Abraham, thank you very much for joining me tonight.
BROCK-ABRAHAM: Thank you.
HUGHES: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: The president of Egypt promised to bring more democracy to his country and fired his government, promising to establish a new one tomorrow. Will that go far enough. Analysis of Arab reaction is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Tonight, President Obama went on television after a half-hour conversation with Egyptian Leader Hosni Mubarak. The president urged Mubarak to take what he called concrete steps to expand rights and avoid violence against peaceful demonstrators. He said the U.S. is committed to working with both the Egyptian government and people to achieve peace.
Earlier tonight, Mubarak went on TV himself, announcing he‘d fired his cabinet, to replace it with one that would speed up reforms. But that promise came with the warning to protesters that violence won‘t be tolerated.
Many protesters are said to be even angrier now, believing Mubarak is merely trying to dig himself in rather than defuse the tension.
Joining me now Talal al Haj, New York bureau chief for the al Arabiya News Service. Talal, Hosni Mubarak rarely goes on television. The pictures of him within the country are from 40 years ago when he was 40 years old. For him to, at age 82, take to the television tonight obviously is yet another statement of how stark this crisis is.
TALAL AL HAJ, AL ARABIYA: It is indeed a very, very dangerous situation for him and his government. His government has falling now. The president—some people were expecting him to come out earlier in the day to deal with the situation in Cairo, in particular.
But this hasn‘t just been in Cairo. It‘s been in many cities in Egypt, in Suez, and Smylia (ph), even in the south in Comumbo (ph) and Alexandria. There was a similar thing that happened in 1977, a smaller riot for food. I was there in Cairo and I witnessed it had myself. I was trapped in an Arab bank actually. It has been ransacked today.
But it was small numbers, 20,000, 30,000. This is a big protest. The Arab leaders are watching. Many prime ministers and ministers are watching the television stations instead of attending meetings, because everybody is worried. And if you noticed, there have been statements from the White House, from France, from Germany, but hasn‘t been any statements from the Arab leaders.
They are all watching. They are all worried.
O‘DONNELL: Speaking of Arab leaders, how does this relate to what we saw happen in Tunisia, where the president of Tunisia had to flee?
HAJ: Well, you remember that the Tunisia president also was troubled by—I shouldn‘t say also, because Mubarak is still in power, but not for long. Ben Ali—
O‘DONNELL: You believe this is the end for Mubarak?
HAJ: I believe his days are numbered. The thing—the best thing I could advise him to declare tomorrow morning straight away that he will not run again in September elections, that he will stand down and that the government he is forming, which he announced today he will form, will be a comprehensive, inclusive government.
I would advise him to talk to opposition leaders, include them. Let‘s have an inclusive government. I think he will do very well if he can survive till September. If he acts up, that will stand against him. The only way he can stay in power really if the army come out and use force to keep the demonstrators—further demonstrations. If that happens, he‘s in trouble.
If he acts with a soft stick, again, he might be seen weak and encourage more of the demonstrators and the people are calling upon him to resign. The call in the street is not for reform. The White House does not understand that yet. Talking about reform is actually a lifeline that Obama is—that President Obama is throwing to Mubarak to help him maybe as a last resort. The call is for him to step down .
O‘DONNELL: Should President Obama have said something else tonight?
Or did he go as far as he could?
HAJ: I think he went as far as he could. Don‘t forget, Egypt is a very important strategic partner in the Middle East. You have many issues of extreme importance for the American interests, including the Iran nuclear problem, the Middle East peace process. The whole stability of the allies of the United States actually is anchored in Egypt.
Egypt is a very—it‘s not Tunisia. So President Obama has no choice but to play it safe. And I think he did. He also spoke about—wanted to be on the same side of the Egyptian people and spoke about reform. There must be reform. He spoke about not using violence, restoring the Internet, the telephone, the cell telephone.
But at the same time, he was hedging his bets. He said that the American government will stand beside the people‘s right and will work with the Egyptian government. But he didn‘t—he didn‘t determine which government he‘s got to work with.
He‘s very careful. He also said that the United States will be a partner in Egypt‘s future. That‘s the fear that there might be a cut of three billion dollars of assistance to Egypt. He‘s very careful. But I think the events on the street might overtake all the politicians‘ speeches.
O‘DONNELL: Talal al Haj of al Arabiya, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
Our MSNBC coverage of the unrest in Egypt continues. Up next, Congressman Dennis Kucinich reacts to the face-off between the Egyptian people and its government. What more, if anything, should the U.S. do in the region?
O‘DONNELL: While the president does a balancing act between the Egyptian government and the protesters, Congress is beginning to react. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has sided with the protesters. Today, she said in a statement “for far too long, the democratic hopes of the Egyptian people have been suppressed. Their cries for freedom can no longer be silenced.”
Joining me now, Democratic Congressman from Ohio Dennis Kucinich.
Congressman Kucinich, your reaction to the president‘s statement tonight?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Well, you‘re correct the president is trying to do a balancing act. But I would agree with Jamie Rubin that we can‘t be on the wrong side of history here.
There‘s a tectonic shift in the region of the Middle East affecting the relationship between the Arab world and democracies and the Islamic world. There is a—these protests are the result of 30 years of suppression by Mr. Mubarak.
And the change that‘s happening, Lawrence, is a direct result of Facebook, Twitter and all of these social media that enable people to be able to organize quickly. And there is no stopping this. There is no stopping it.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Kucinich, John McCain issued a statement tonight that‘s actually very similar to President Obama‘s. He has not given up on Mubarak. He says “I hope the current protests serve as a wake-up call for the Egyptian government to undertake reforms.”
We just heard from our previous guest that the object of the protest is not government reforms. It is the removal of Mubarak. How can—how can President Obama deal with trying to balance protesters who want Mubarak out and trying to find a way to see if Mubarak can possibly stay?
KUCINICH: I don‘t think that the president wants to accelerate the move—the events in Egypt. But I do think that the White House is very mindful of what‘s happening, and that the real question facing Egypt, as well as the rest of the world, is if, in fact, Mr. Mubarak is forced out, what takes his place.
The—the development of a democratic structure is really an evolutionary process. And so what takes the place of Mubarak we really have to start thinking about, because the United States may be able to play a positive role there, if we‘re not seen as tilting too strongly towards the government that appears to be going down.
I want to say that I think that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has captured really the mood of many members of Congress in her statement of support. And I would agree with her.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman, in the Egypt experts I‘ve been talking to today, many of them indicate that if democracy was to have its way, the government of Egypt would be a Muslim Brotherhood government.
KUCINICH: Well, the United States should not be trying to pick who should be the government of any country. You know, that‘s been my position for all the time I‘ve been in Congress. And if the government of any country ends up being connected to groups that we—that the United States may not officially approve, you know what? It‘s up to the people in that country to make the choice.
And we‘re learning right now in looking at events in Tunisia, in Lebanon, and now in Egypt and other countries throughout the Middle East, that we‘re at a moment in history where things are pivoting. We have to be mindful of it. We can‘t try to just guide all these forces.
There‘s no more American imperium. We want to go with this flow and find out what we can be to be helpful in setting up democratic structures, but not trying to put a heavy hand in it. That would be a mistake.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman, the other Arab governments are largely silent about this. Is it your sense that the way things are going in the region, one of the reasons they are silent is that they are worried about who is next?
KUCINICH: I think that‘s absolutely right. When you see the kind of protests that have taken place in Jordan. Yemen‘s been percolating somewhat. The—everybody sees what‘s happening in Egypt. There is a behavioral contagion at work here that can have a profound impact on governments throughout the region. So the—the Arab Brotherhood, I‘m sure, is quite mindful of the possibilities of what happened in Tunisia spilling to Egypt, what‘s happening in Egypt spilling to other countries as well.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Kucinich, quickly, do you sense a failure of American intelligence in not seeing this coming?
KUCINICH: No. American intelligence is pretty good. It‘s what we do with the intelligence. We tend to try to protect the status quo, even if the status quo is suppressive. That‘s been our way.
However, when you see young Egyptians who come from a middle class, who have been denied economic opportunities and don‘t have freedom of expression, this then—we ought to be mindful of that. And we might speak on their behalf during times of these huge protests, on the eve of perhaps even a revolution. But we were mindful of that for the last three decades and basically did nothing, helped Mr. Mubarak stay in power because he was our guy.
O‘DONNELL: Congressman Dennis Kucinich, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
KUCINICH: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s THE LAST WORD. A reminder, you can follow us on MSNBC.com and Facebook and Twitter. MSNBC‘s live coverage of the protest in Egypt will continue. It is now time for “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Good evening, Rachel.
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