'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, January 31st, 2011
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Guests: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Abderrahim Foukara, Martin Indyk
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hey, Lawrence. Thank you very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
All right. Are you ready? It‘s 1859. Imagine it is the year 1859 and you have something that you want to move from India to England. How do you move that box of tea or whatever from Bombay to London?
Since it‘s 1859, if you want to send it by boat, you will be sailing that boat with your thing on it all the way around Africa. You can take a right at the Cape of Good Hope and then 12,000 miles later into your journey, you will find yourself in England. It‘s 1859. Packed some limes, you‘re going to get scurvy. It‘s a long trip.
But in 1859, they also started digging. They started digging a shorter route. And so, 10 years later, that meant you had a new option.
Tada! You just saved yourself 10,000 miles of transit. And for that, you can thank the shortcut that was dug through Egypt. You can thank the Suez Canal.
Today, the Suez Canal transit is nearly 10 percent of all the ocean-going freight in the world. And it maybe an 1800 kind of idea, but if you wanted a tanker full of crude today from Saudi Arabia to Houston, you can go through that canal or you can add 12 days to trip—your trip around the bottom tip of Africa.
And as Egypt now undergoes what really and truly looks like a revolution, the Suez Canal is still open. Even as we got reports of other ports in Egypt closing, of shortages and price spikes in food and gas and even cash, Suez is open. And at Suez, America is first in line.
It‘s true. Of all the ships in the world that want to take Egypt‘s celebrated, save you 5,000 miles shortcut, vessels of the U.S. Navy get to jump the line. American military vessels get expedited processing through the Suez Canal. Why is that? Because America and Egypt, we are way more up in Egypt‘s business than most of us think we are.
When the protests, the uprising broke out on Tuesday, it was clear pretty quickly that these protests were big enough to call the question of how much force the Egyptian government would use to put the protests down.
Where was the chief of staff of the Egyptian military when those protests broke out? He was here. He was at the Pentagon, our Pentagon. It‘s not like anybody else has one.
The chief of the Egyptian military and a lot of their top brass were in the United States meeting with our military when the protests broke out. That was not considered particularly newsworthy before the protests broke out because all of the top Egyptian military brass meeting with all the top American military brass is a normal thing. It happens all the time. Every other year, Egypt hosts war games that we participate in.
Spencer Ackerman wrote about that at Wired.com today. It happens every two years. The Egyptian military flyovers to spook the protesters in Tahrir Square that you may have read about this weekend, those flyovers were made in American made F-16s, which they bought from us. Also, American made Chinook helicopters that they bought from us as well. In fact, they bought so many M1A1 Abrams tanks from us that we started shipping tanks to them in parts so they could assemble them in Egypt. They are still American tanks, but some assembly required.
The only country in the world that buys more weapons from us or who gets more money from the United States is Israel. Egypt is second only to Israel.
That was set in motion in the late 1970s when Egypt signed a peace deal. Our part of that deal that endures three decades later is the $2 billion we send to Egypt every year, most of it for their military. Also, us getting to go first in line at the Suez Canal. And also, well, us calling this guy president, as if we really think the way he stays in office is by elections.
The protesters in Egypt these last few days have reportedly been screaming the same chant as other protesters in Tunisia over this past month. They‘ve been saying the people want to bring down the regime. The people want to bring down the regime.
In Alexandria and in Cairo, Al Jazeera and the “Associated Press” reporting protesters who are defying the curfew orders, those protestors were chanting, “Illegitimate, illegitimate,” because that‘s what they think of their supposedly elected president, Hosni Mubarak. They think he is an illegitimate leader.
As America watches unfold what looks like a revolution in Egypt, that question of Mr. Mubarak‘s legitimacy as a leader is the fulcrum on which the drama, and the politics, and frankly ethics of all of this tilt.
When President Obama on Friday spoke about the situation in Egypt, he spoke in generally supportive terms of both the Egyptian people and the Egyptian protesters ear demands. He said that governments must derive their power from consent not from coercion.
If that‘s true, then on days like this, you have to answer the question: does the United States believe that Hosni Mubarak holds power legitimately? Is he the legitimate leader of Egypt? Or as the protesters say, is he illegitimate?
Hosni Mubarak‘s party is called the National Democratic Party. There were parliamentary elections in Egypt this past November, 518 seats were at stake. When Mr. Mubarak got done counting the votes, what do you know? Five hundred of those 518 seats went for his own party.
The election before that two years earlier, more than 50,000 local council seats at stake. And what do you know? When Mr. Mubarak got done counting the vote, 92 percent of those seats went for his own party.
The election before that in 2007, a third of the upper house of parliament was at stake. There were 88 seats being voted on -- 84 of the 88 went for Mr. Mubarak‘s party. OK. So, there‘s four that didn‘t. No, wait, of those remaining four, three of them went to other members of Mr. Mubarak‘s party who ran as independents. So, Mr. Mubarak‘s party won 87 of the 88 seats in that election when he was done counting. Not bad for a supposed democracy.
The United States does not only support governments around the world that are legitimate in the eyes of its people. We don‘t talk about it a lot but it‘s true.
And, now, today, the people in Egypt are, in effect, calling us out on that. They are saying out loud: we know our leader is illegitimate. We do not support him. We want him gone. They are saying does America agree?
As the sun rose over Cairo today, hundreds of protesters were still camped out in Tahrir Square, Liberation Square. Thousands more people joining me them throughout the day to demand the resignation of Mr. Mubarak, a scene repeated today in Egypt‘s second largest city in Alexandria.
As the focus of the protesters rage, as Mr. Mubarak swore in his new government today, two days after he fired his entire old cabinet, Mr. Mubarak‘s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, announced on state television that he intends to talk with the opposition. In an opposition movement as organic and apparently grassroots as this one, no one is even quite sure to whom Mr. Suleiman was making the offer to talk.
Regardless, none of the government‘s promises has yet stopped the protests. Nor have they stopped hundreds of foreigners from lining up at the airport trying to flee the country.
On the streets of Cairo, after all but disappearing over the weekend, the police were back today. Some people welcome them back. Others accuse them of being part of Mr. Mubarak‘s corrupt regime. They chanted, we don‘t want you.
As for the army, well, they have cordoned off Tahrir Square, Liberation Square. And they have gotten into a few altercations with protesters. They also crucially promised in an official statement today that they will not use force against peaceful protesters on the streets. They will not turn their guns on their own people if the demonstrations are peaceful. That announcement could be a turning point for the viability of the uprising.
Demonstrators say thy want a million to take to the streets tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is getting to be stronger every day.
Tomorrow, there is an announcement. Although they cut off (INAUDIBLE). But people are telling everybody, we are telling each other that there will be over 1 million Egyptians tomorrow demonstrating and we will never subside. We will never ever abate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All Internet providers in Egypt are reportedly down. Almost all were down before today. Now, all of them were down. We‘ll have more on that later on in the show.
Egypt‘s Information Ministry says it plans to shut down all mobile phone networks ahead of tomorrow‘s march, interestingly giving advanced note of that. But protesters are still out in Tahrir Square tonight. Hundreds of thousands are expected to join them tomorrow morning.
This is a big deal. The world is tilting on its proverbial axis. This is the biggest country in the Middle East. The biggest country in the Arab world.
And our country, the most powerful country in the world, we plated our trough for 30 years with the man in charge there who may now be getting overthrown by his own people.
And the force in that country that we are inextricably—really inextricably linked with, the military, that is the force that signaled today that they may let the overthrow happen.
Multiple live reports from Cairo ahead. We‘ve got al Jazeera reporters joining us this hour. Our country‘s former ambassador to Israel joins us this hour. Lots going on, lots to learn. This is a big hour ahead.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, Nobel Peace Prize guy, torture guy. Nobel Peace Prize guy, torture guy. It turns out that choice isn‘t just for American politics anymore.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: It is our self-centered American curse that we look for the American connection in every international news story. It leads to distorted amounts of excitement over things like, say, Twitter and how important Twitter is to what‘s going on in Egypt right now.
For the record, I think Twitter is awesome, but I do not think that Twitter is the key to the uprising in Egypt right now—particularly because for the most part, Egyptians haven‘t had access to the Internet for days.
But it is an American angle. And we tend to look for recognizable American angles on news events that take place far, far away. I am as guilty of it as anybody. It is, I think, an understandable thing. It is also a little embarrassing.
But sometimes, it can be helpful, like today when the newly appointed vice president of Egypt declared on TV that he would talk with opposition leaders about government reforms and that the government will redo some disputed elections this fall. When Omar Suleiman appeared on television this afternoon to say those things, it was helpful to remember the American context in which you might have heard of this guy before.
“The New Yorker‘s” Jane Mayer wrote about this this weekend, reminding us that Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice president of Egypt, was the CIA‘s point man in Egypt for renditions. The covert program in which the CIA snatched terror suspects from around the world and return them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.
And reporting for her 2008 book, “The Dark Side,” Jane Mayer was told by the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt that Omar Suleiman was cognizant that there was a downside to, quote, “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”
So, from an admittedly, chauvinistically America-centric perspective, the two choices that we understand right now for the immediate future leadership in Egypt are the guy to whom we outsourced torture and imprisonment of people without trial when we didn‘t want to do it ourselves during the Bush administration—or this guy, Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for being right about WMD in Iraq when the Bush administration was wrong.
From this great distance, from, which what, 5,600 miles between here and Cairo, looking from America, that‘s what those choices look like. That says more about the way that we look at things than it does about them probably. It is also means it‘s probably wise to get a view of things from closer up.
Joining us now by phone from Cairo is Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He is a senior producer for “Democracy Now.” He grew up in Cairo. He‘s been back in the city reporting on the uprising there since Saturday.
Mr. Kouddous, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS, DEMOCRACY NOW (via telephone): Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Most of the reporting coming out of Egypt right now says that this protest movement, this uprising is pretty organic and leaderless. It is not being led by any one group.
Having been on the ground there all weekend, is that the impression that you have?
KOUDDOUS: I would have to agree with that, Rachel. This is a leaderless movement that cuts across political lines, cuts across class lines, cuts across gender lines. And it has brought tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to the streets of Cairo and other cities across the country in a mass popular uprising, the likes of which many Egyptians including myself never thought we would see during Mubarak‘s reign.
In your intro, I heard you talk about almost Suleiman and Mohamed ElBaradei. Those are not the two polls that people here are considering for a change. What the demands of the protesters have been since day one, since January 25th, when this all started, is the ouster of the Mubarak regime. That regime includes Omar Suleiman.
And, you know, the people say they didn‘t ask for Mubarak to name a vice president. They didn‘t ask him to reshuffle his candidate.
What they‘re calling for is the removal of this political order. This political order that suppressed them, that kept them poor and hungry, that imprisoned them and tortured them and that has completely silenced their voices. And what they are doing now is making their voices heard.
Mohamed ElBaradei is a certainly respected speaker. His reputation is untarnished. He‘s a Nobel Peace laureate. He‘s the former head of the IAEA. And Egyptians are eager to hear what he has to say.
But many that I speak to here say they he‘s left out of the country for a long time. That he didn‘t join earlier street protests. And what a lot of people are calling for is after Mubarak‘s ouster, which they are sure they are going to achieve, is to have some sort of coalition transitional government that will include all groups, that will include Mohamed ElBaradei, that will include the Muslim Brotherhood, that will include Ayman Nour, that will include the April 6 Youth Movement and other opposition groups.
And just to clarify, I—all of the main opposition groups have stated they would refuse to negotiate with the Mubarak cabinet. And so, the step one of this whole process is the ouster of the Mubarak regime.
And, you know, I‘m speaking to you right now, it‘s about 4:20 a.m. Cairo time. And Cairo is quiet. The streets are empty. But in just about five hours from now, they are going to be filled for what is expected to be the biggest march of this uprising, the biggest gathering. Hundreds of thousands are expected to gather a few hundred yards from where I‘m speaking to right now in Tahrir Square.
And as you said, the communications have been cut off. It‘s hard to know exactly what is being planned. But one of the—what I‘ve heard is that in addition to gathering at Tahrir, they‘re going to stage a march towards Mubarak‘s residence, which is in another part of Cairo. Mubarak is in Sharm el-Sheik in Sinai. But this is a big act of defiance that is being planned.
And as you have said also, we have been cut off from the digital world since Friday. I mean, Cairo is one of the biggest cities in the world. It‘s 18 million people. And we haven‘t had Internet access since Friday. There was one ISP that was open, which is called Noor, and it was available in a couple of hotels and some other places, that was shut down just a few hours ago. We are expecting cell phones—the Egyptian cell phone networks to be shut down also.
And so, this is another form of repression that has not been talked about at all. The Obama administration spoke briefly about it when they first shut off Internet access. But it has not been talked about since.
And if the State Department can call the Mubarak government, the government for the release of those six journalists that were arrested this morning, then they can certainly call the government and ask them to turn the Internet back on.
MADDOW: Sharif, let me ask you: looking ahead to the protests tomorrow, is there worry or expectation or anxiety about the prospect of state violence either from the internal security forces from the different police groups or from the army?
KOUDDOUS: Well, the internal security forces were overwhelmed last Friday. They were beaten. This was a battle between the interior ministry and the demonstrators, and the demonstrators won on Friday. And we haven‘t seen any police since then. They have been completely taken out of the city.
There are some that have reappeared today. Some traffic police. What has replaced them is the military. But, really, the spies, police and state security forces have been beaten. And what has replaced them is the military.
And the Egyptian people are very close to the military. Do not feel about them the way they feel about the police. They haven‘t been tortured and repressed by the military. The last time they had an interaction with the military was 1973 when there was a war with Israel.
And so, a lot of the chants in Tahrir Square are the army, the people on one hand who have seen protesters carry military—soldiers on their shoulders through the crowds in Tahrir, cheering them on. And so, they are very convinced that the army will not harm them. The head of the military today said they would not fire on the protesters. So, it‘s—while it remains to be seen what will happen exactly, it‘s hard to imagine any kind of real violence coming from the military from what I have seen in the last few days.
MADDOW: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, senior producer for “Democracy Now,” thank you so much for joining us tonight and for sharing with us your perspective on this. It‘s really good to have you, Sharif.
KOUDDOUS: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We‘ll have more to come, including more detail on what Sharif was just talking about there in terms of communications being cut off. This is something that was sort of covered intensely last week. It has since changed. It‘s changed dramatically today and heading into tomorrow. Again, those big protests expected to start in about five hours in Cairo.
We‘ll have more details on that.
Plus, the next big thing to watch for in this ginormous and still unfolding story.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Do you remember Thursday when we said that Friday was going to be a big day in Egypt? And then Friday turned out to be a really big day in Egypt, a huge day of demonstrations that activists and organizers called a “day of rage.”
Well, organizers now are calling for another huge day of protests tomorrow in both Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt‘s two largest cities. Organizers are calling tomorrow‘s march, the “march of a million” in the hopes of attracting their biggest crowds yet.
On Thursday, many people would have predicted that whatever happened on the streets of Cairo on Friday, the uprising would surely be over by now. But surely, a nearly 30-year-old regime with emergency powers it‘s been renewing for decades. Surely, that regime would have by now stuffed out any embers of revolution, that has not happened, not a by a long shot. I will admit that I am not always the brightest bulb on the tree, but even I know enough not to predict what will happen tomorrow in Cairo and Alexandria.
But I can tell you that it‘s crucial, that we‘ll be watching, and we will keep you posted on all of it here on MSNBC.
MADDOW: Last week, it was widely reported that Egypt had essentially unplugged the Internet. And that was essentially true. Almost all of Egypt‘s Internet service providers had the plug pulled. And they had all their Web traffic go dark just about all at once. It was eerie.
But it was all by one of Egypt‘s ISPs. As our guests earlier this hour noted, one small ISP in Egypt that‘s called the Noor Group, that ISP was still up and running.
The Noor group services about 8 percent of Egypt‘s Internet, including several businesses and the American university in Cairo. It also powers the Egyptian stock exchange. So, on Friday, when I tweeted a link to the Egyptian stock exchange, the link I tweeted still work even though Egypt‘s Internet had supposedly gone dark, even though just about every other Web site for everything else in Egypt was down.
Well, today, the suspense over. That went down as well. That is according to an Internet monitoring firm. In addition, CNN said today that it‘s been told by Egypt‘s information ministry that, tomorrow, the government will be shutting down all mobile phone networks in Egypt.
Again, this is in advance of the next big planned mark, which is due tomorrow - which is due tomorrow in Egypt which is about seven hours ahead of us.
It is of material importance to the sustainability of this revolution whether or not people in Egypt can communicate with each other to organize. But it may be just as important that what happens in Egypt can be made known to the rest of the world.
That‘s why it‘s important for understanding this story to know how incredibly difficult it has been to journalism from Egypt these last few days. Al-Jazeera‘s Arabic network had its license to broadcast revoked by the Egyptian government.
Al-Jazeera also says they have had six of their reporters arrested and detained in Egypt. The six were ultimately released, but they say it was without their cameras, their laptops and their phones, which, if you are a journalist, makes it pretty hard to do your job.
Joining us now is the Washington D.C. bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, Abderrahim Foukara. Thank you very much for you tonight, sir. I appreciate it.
ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, WASHINGTON D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, AL-JAZEERA: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: How concerned are you for the safety of your staff in Egypt.
Do you think that they are safe and able to do their jobs?
FOUKARA: I think a lot of news organizations that have people there in Egypt are concerned about their crews. We are suddenly concerned in recent days some of our people there have been arrested. They‘ve beaten. They‘ve been harassed, some of them hiding.
So it‘s a very difficult situation. But they‘re still able to do the story they all know how important it is for people, not just inside of Egypt, but throughout the Middle East and beyond, including here in the United States, to know what‘s going on inside of Egypt.
MADDOW: Are you expecting a further escalation of some of the censorship that crow have already been subject to?
FOUKARA: Well, the measures that the Egyptian government has so far resorted to are quite drastic as they are. switching off the frequency of Al-Jazeera on Nile site, the satellite which is owned by the Egyptian government, was one such measure.
Al-Jazeera had to switch its broadcasting, its frequency to another satellite, Arab site. Look, you know, what they are trying to do, despite the reasons they give that Al-Jazeera is inciting this or that, but trying to ban any news organization at this particular moment in the country‘s history is basically just like trying to hide from the sun behind a sieve, because Al-Jazeera and other news organization continue to cover this story in all sorts of different ways.
Al-Jazeera has not stopped its coverage of Egypt. There are contacts inside of Egypt, inside the crowds, communicating information to Al-Jazeera, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Al-Jazeera‘s screen.
So it just increases the suspicion of the public of what that government is doing. And on the other hand, it somewhat enforces the popularity of a channel like Al-Jazeera at least in that part of the world.
MADDOW: What is your response to the claims, the accusations from the government in Egypt and from other sites, mostly of the government, that you have, in a sense, taken a side in this conflict, that by publicizing the marches, the demonstrations, the uprising, both in Egypt and in other places like Tunisia and the other intrepid reporting that you‘ve done in so many of these other cases, that you are essentially making the case of the demonstrators for them?
FOUKARA: You know, Rachel, this is an accusation that al-Jazeera has heard before. And true or not true, it has over a decade now adjusted to and learned to find a way to do its job, the job that viewers want it to do despite these accusations and despite the measure that actually follow those accusations.
We saw similar, for example, situation in Iraq way back in 2004 in Baghdad. But Al-Jazeera continued to provide coverage. And we‘ve seen now this similar situation in Egypt.
But the fact of the situation is that this is a momentous time in the history of Egypt. This is a massive story of consequence, not just to Egyptians, but to the whole world, including the United States.
In one way or another, if you were a news organization or if you are Twittering or Facebooking or whatever, you‘ve got to find a way to actually deal with the story and bring it to light.
MADDOW: Because you have done - your staff has done so much of the on-the-ground reporting at considerable danger in some cases, I feel like you have to ask you if you feel supported by American media organizations, by western media organizations, especially with the history that you were describing during the Iraq War, the U.S. government so demonizing Al-Jazeera.
Do you feel now that other media organizations stand with you in solidarity? Or do you still feel like you‘re sort of doing this on your own?
FOUKARA: There‘s always been - luckily, there‘s always been some support. They‘re always been some solidarity, not just from news organizations, but actually from organizations that deal with the concerns of the media as a whole.
I think such organizations are making quite a big noise. The situation that Al-Jazeera faces today is in the context of events happening in a country which is really pivotal to a lot of people in the region and beyond.
In the specific case of the crew of Al-Jazeera that was detained
as you know, the six were detained in their hotel. And it took a reaction from the U.S. Government, from the State Department actually telling the Egyptians that they had to release them and, luckily, that happened.
So that‘s the bright side of this situation. The brighter side is that this is a time that news organizations like Al-Jazeera are doing everything they can to bring to light this important story and to help people keep up with it and understand its complexity, because it‘s obviously a very complex story.
MADDOW: Abderrahim Foukara, Washington Bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, thank you very much for your time. Good luck with your coverage and we wish all safety and good luck to your staff.
FOUKARA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you. So we are Americans, so that means we support the will of democracy-loving humans everywhere, right? Also, we can‘t seem to stop ourselves from propping up dictators all over the globe for decades.
That is the awkward and precarious situation from which President Obama has tried to address the situation in Egypt. He now finds himself on the eve of what is expected potentially be a million protesters flooding Cairo‘s streets. What Mr. Obama can do, what he probably cannot do and what we think he might do, coming up.
MADDOW: If your assignment were to stand on your tiptoes on a piece of yarn strung across the Snake River Canyon with a 60-mile-an-hour wind swirling in all directions, you would have some sense of the Obama administration‘s diplomatic position as events unfold in the largest Arab country in the world. That‘s next.
CHUCK TODD, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As far as Mubarak is concerned, when you say orderly transition, why is that you are hesitating? It‘s clear that you‘re calling - the United States position is you want an orderly regime change, is that not correct?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I want to be
careful because I don‘t - I don‘t want you to put words in mouth any more
than I want -
TODD: That‘s why the orderly transition - I mean, it seems - you are calling for a change in government.
GIBBS: No, we are calling for a change in the way the country works.
HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy.
TODD: But it seems to be that many of the protestors were upset at the perception that this government is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
GIBBS: I do not think that those protesters would be assuaged by the notion that somebody, in a series of buildings several thousand miles away, has determined the extent to what that means for them. That is for the people of Egypt to decide and determine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One time, in a job interview, I tried to use the word “assuaged,” but I had only ever read it. I had never heard it and I said “assuaged.” In an interview, that really happened.
In 2006, the Bush administration very publicly pushed for parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. The Israelis and some Palestinian leaders wanted a delay, but the Bush administration was very clear - get on with it.
And then, the Palestinians voted and the Palestinians elected Hamas rather than the political party the Bush administration was hoping they would elect. And then, for a while, you didn‘t hear much from the Bush administration about those elections.
Ultimately, a couple of years later, it was Liz Cheney, Vice President Cheney‘s daughter and a State Department official at that time, who said that those Palestinian elections had been a bad idea. The elections were a mistake, she said, because they did not produce the United States‘ desired electoral outcome.
There‘s the rub. Democracy is a process, not an outcome. The other rub is that the administration, right now, is trying to be on the right side of history, as they say, to be on the side of the people.
But the people are saying, pretty clearly, they‘re against the strongman who we‘ve been propping up there for nearly 30 years. Not enough tension there for you? Then also consider the prospect of backlash.
If the administration overtly supports what appears to be a revolution in Egypt right now, is it possible that that support would then taint that revolution as pro-western or pro-American, which could actually doom its chances rather than help them?
The specter of what happened in Palestine looms over the Obama administration and its Egypt strategy as do a lot of other complicated diplomatic ideas.
America loves the idea in theory of the Arab nations becoming places where people freely elect their representative leaders in fair elections. The United States Government loves that idea in theory - in theory, though. That‘s the important point.
Joining us now is Martin Indyk. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Clinton. He is a Mid East peace negotiator. And he is now the foreign policy director at Brookings Institution. Mr. Indyk, thank you very much for your time tonight.
MARTIN INDYK, FOREIGN POLICY DIRECTOR, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: You‘re welcome. Nice to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Unlike the Obama administration which has really tiptoed around prescriptives here, you have been quite vocal in what you think should happen in Egypt right now. You say that President Mubarak and the new vice president should go.
You‘ve said that the military should guide the country to free and fair elections. Why can you say that as a former ambassador to Israel but the U.S. Government can‘t say that?
INDYK: Well, because I don‘t speak for the U.S. Government, pure and simple. I think you articulated the dilemma they face very clearly.
And on the other hand, they have moved quite rapidly from the position early in the week, last week, of saying, you know, we‘re for reform to Sunday. The clip you showed from Secretary of State Clinton saying we‘re for transition.
Well, transition clearly means transition away from Mubarak to a new era brought on by democratic elections. So I think they‘re signaling very clearly in a whole lot of different ways, Rachel.
I mean, they said very early on that they would be reviewing military aid. That was a signal to the military not to dare to use force against the demonstrators. Today, when Mubarak announced his new government, they said it‘s not good enough.
And it‘s reported to not - they have sent Frank Wisner, a veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Egypt to Cairo where, as I understand it, his job is to speak to President Mubarak.
Perhaps, privately, he will be telling him that it‘s time to go. But for the United States Government to publicly pull the rug out from under Hosni Mubarak would be to, number one, get ahead of the people to say Washington decides these matters.
And there‘s also the demonstration effect. You know, there are a lot of other Arab authoritarians who happen to be our allies in the Middle East, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia and the other gulf emirates.
And they‘re wondering tonight whether they can rely on the United States. So, as you said, we are walking a very difficult line. But I think the administration is making it clear that it is on the side of change. It‘s on the side of new democratic elections for a new leadership in Egypt.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about one tactical question in this diplomatic dance, I guess. Are American officials making appearances on Arabic language TV channels at this point? Should they be prioritizing doing that right now?
INDYK: Probably. I don‘t think they are doing a lot of that at the moment, partly because the Arab interviewers are likely to be a lot more pressing than polite people like you.
MADDOW: I think that is a great insult, thank you.
INDYK: No, that was meant as a compliment.
MADDOW: In terms of those hard questions, though, I mean, there is the - there is the great atmospheric problem here, which is that the United States saying that it is, in effect, in support of the protesters, that it is willing to support regime change in Egypt, is only - is only in the context of the fact that the United States has made the Mubarak presidency possible in so many ways over the past 30 years.
Will the Arab world ever care what we have to say anymore about strongmen given our record of propping them up?
INDYK: Propping them up is a strong word. I mean, Mubarak is the pharaoh of Egypt. He didn‘t really need us to prop him up. He stands at the top of a military regime that took power in 1952 in a revolution when they overthrew the former king.
And you know, he stands on his own two feet. But the United States has worked closely with him for a number of very good reasons that served American interests very well. His predecessor, Anwar Sadat, made peace with Israel.
That was the critical breakthrough which made it impossible for other Arab leaders to consider making war with Israel. It began the peace process. I think you would agree that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is a good thing.
And Mubarak has played a very important role in that regard. When it came to taking on Saddam Hussein, Mubarak was very supportive, gave us political cover and logistical support.
When it comes to Afghanistan, the way that we can use Egypt as a transit route and through the Suez Canal is very important. So there are many strategic interests which are served the relationship with Hosni Mubarak.
MADDOW: He has also been very well-served by $2 billion a year, though, since the Camp David Accords. I mean, the Egyptian military is the 10th largest in the world because it‘s full of F16s and M1 Abrams tanks and Chinook helicopters and missiles and all the rest of it.
I mean, we may not be propping him up, but I‘m not sure that he is standing on his own two feet, given that that is the second largest recipient of U.S. arms and U.S. aid after Israel.
INDYK: Well, it‘s even more bizarre than that because he is receiving the military aid because he made peace with Israel. It‘s all part of the peace treaty deal. Israel gets $2 billion and Egypt gets around $1.3 billion.
But the silver lining, if you‘re looking for it in that military relationship, is that that does give us considerable influence with the Egyptian military today. We train, equip, pay for, exercise with, and have built a military-to-military relations for 30 years with the Egyptian military.
And so now I think that the word is coming from our generals to their generals, “Don‘t even think about firing on the demonstrators.” And because the military in Egypt today is so critical to what happens there now, I‘m assuming the vice president is a military man.
He is - if things are going to go peacefully, then he is going to have to, at a certain point, break from Mubarak and tell him that it‘s time to go and then oversee, hopefully, an orderly process, a peaceful process of holding democratic elections for a new president.
MADDOW: It is subtle and fraught and complicated and fascinating. Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel under President Clinton, Mid East peace negotiator, now a foreign policy director at Brookings, thank you so much for your insight, sir. I really appreciate it.
INDYK: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So our foreign wars have not done it. The health and well-being of all Americans definitely did not do it. But an uprising in the Middle East has totally done it. There is a truce in Washington.
There is a truce among most American politicians on this issue of this revolution thing happening in the Arab world. The people who aren‘t part of the truce, turns out, are hilarious. That‘s next.
MADDOW: It took what looks like a revolution, but we finally found an issue upon which Democrats and Republicans do not disagree. What is happening in Egypt right now is the most dominant story in the news all over the world including here in the U.S.
But when something important is happening half a world away, that essentially sidelines the press in the beltway, the press in D.C. And then, the beltway press gets annoyed.
So for the last few days, what you‘ve seen is the beltway press clawing and scratching, trying to find some partisan story to tell here, some red-versus-blue, Republican-versus-Democrat story to tell about this revolution that‘s happening half way around the world in the most populous country in the Arab world.
The problem is that the blue-red divide is not there. It‘s not there now. You can imagine it there if you want to, but if you‘re being honest to yourself, that Republican-Democrat divide is not there now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF
REPRESENTATIVES: I think the administration, our administration, so far, has handled this tense situation pretty well.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): The important thing is I think the president made the right statement. I think the Secretary of State made a good presentation.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER: I don‘t have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am generalizing here, but when it comes to Democratic leadership, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Republican leadership and the Congress, maybe they will disagree later on this.
But so far, politics really has sort of stopped at the water‘s edge. Ah, but the water does have an edge. Here‘s John McCain and Barack Obama together, along with most of the rest of their parties, too, essentially standing united.
But there are boats offshore, off the right wing of American politics, out into that open water. For example, there‘s Tea Party Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who promised that he‘d be an isolationist despite his fellow Republicans‘ wishful thinking otherwise.
Rand Paul is using the situation in Egypt now to call for an elimination of all U.S. aid to foreign countries. Yes, including Egypt and yes, of course, including Israel.
This crisis in Egypt is the perfect opportunity to end that dastardly foreign aid once and for all. What do they need us for?
Rand Paul is not at the water‘s edge. Even further offshore are people like would-be presidential contender and FOX News contributor, John Bolton, and Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, both of whom are now casting aside the more cautious approach of the U.S. Government and openly siding with Mubarak against the opposition movement against him in the streets.
Mr. McCotter saying, quote, “Right now, freedom‘s radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt.” Mr. Bolton, noted proponent of American-imposed democracy anywhere and everywhere, apparently is not a fan of it in this particular case.
If you‘re willing to get even further off the water‘s edge, you will then get to the conservative Web site “RedState.com” which posted this breathless report yesterday about how the unions and the media and the State Department are fomenting chaos in Egypt.
Quote, “President Obama‘s State Department unions as well as left-leaning media corporations are more directly involved in helping to ignite the Mid East turmoil than they are publicly admitting.”
What, no ACORN? Even further off the water‘s edge, right-wing conspiracy theorist, Pam Geller, from the fear Ground Zero mosque fame - Ms. Geller‘s take on what is happening in Egypt is this, quote, “Obama has been secretly supporting this revolution for three years.” Really?
“Anyone who sees this as a good thing secretly dreams of the annihilation of Israel.” Did you know you were secretly dreaming of the annihilation of Israel? Yes. She has really tapped into the secret psyche that nobody in America knew they had, right?
If you want to go even further into the deep, you are welcome to, but it may be dangerous to the health of your computer. Today, we made Kent Jones go out in a life (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to see what he could find way out there.
And what he found was spectacular. It involves Sarah Palin and a Web site called “ChristWire.org.” They say, quote, “The escalating crisis in Egypt could become a defining moment for Sarah Palin.”
“Gov. Palin needs to speak out publicly and forcibly for an American-led invasion of Egypt to protect our interest in North Africa.”
“As the largest recipient of foreign aid next to Israel, the U.S. has a tremendous investment in keeping Egypt stable and relatively terrorist free. Upon her direction, other western nations are sure to join us.”
An American-led invasion of North Africa. To be clear, this is what these folks are asking Sarah Palin to do. This is not Ms. Palin‘s own idea.
This is actually a moment when there is a real center in American policy. The center is a bipartisan thing, but that doesn‘t mean that everybody is in the center.
That does it for us tonight. “THE ED SHOW” starts now.
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