The Ed Show for Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
Guests: Richard Engel, Brian Williams
ED SCHULTZ, HOST: Live at Cairo, Egypt tonight, as we start our ED SHOW. It is 5:00 in the morning in Cairo.
Americans, can we now say that we are witnessing a full-blown revolution in the country of Egypt?
Two pressing questions tonight—number one: can it be negotiated? Can it be stopped? And also, we can only wonder if this is going to be a fight to the death. Neither side seems to be willing to give in.
Tahrir Square where in the last hour, that has been the scene where the fighting has become very intense, public desperation, utter pandemonium, violence, shootings. There is a report of another person being shot tonight. Life was lost by three people earlier today.
And this train is out of control now. That‘s how an unnamed senior U.S. official described the turmoil in Egypt to NBC News earlier.
Heavy gunfire broke out in the heart of Cairo. Anti-Mubarak protesters in both Cairo and Alexandria were attacked by waves of pro-government mobs today. These counter-forces arrived in plain clothes—some carrying machetes, razors, stones and clubs; very primitive fighting to start with. Others were riding through crowds on horses, and camels.
“The Guardian” newspaper in the United Kingdom is reporting that some pro-Mubarak demonstrators were identified as police officers. According to “The New York Times,” some were recruited right off the streets, given the equivalent of about $8 to carry pro-Mubarak signs.
Protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. And as the evening started, the Egyptian health minister reported 638 wounded in the fighting, and three confirmed dead. Another confirmed shooting tonight and another fatality. Although the independent reports that the—other independent reports put the injured at more than 750.
It is pandemonium on the streets. It is a full-blown revolution in sight.
Let‘s go now to Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent on the scene.
Richard, I have to ask you right off the top tonight: are you and Brian Williams—do you feel safe, where you are and where you‘re reporting?
ENGEL: I think we‘re fine. Obviously, this is a chaotic situation.
But the gunfire is clearly not directed at us.
What we‘re seeing right now is the climax of a day of clashes. In the center of Tahrir Square, you‘re looking at the edge of Tahrir Square, and you can see protesters, in your screen right now, those protesters have been in Tahrir Square for days. They want President Mubarak to leave.
In the last several hours—they have been in running battles with—they seem to have come right back. They have been in running battles with supporters of President Mubarak, who almost all evening have been taking a position right on that bridge. About an hour ago, the protesters overwhelmed the Mubarak supporters, forced them into retreat.
We saw the army for the first time intervene to try and keep the two sides apart, because once they broke out of this battle zone, this confined space, it turned much uglier. There was what looked like a lynching under way right below our camera. They were chasing each other down the street. So, the army had been firing a great deal of cover fire and warning shots to try and prevent even more mob violence.
So, now, the situation—what will happen over the next few minutes, few seconds, I frankly can‘t tell you. It‘s a developing situation.
SCHULTZ: Richard, that is constant gunfire we‘re hearing in the background. Is that right down on the bridge? Or off to the side? Can you locate where that gunfire is taking place?
ENGEL: The fire seems to be coming from the northeast of where we are right now, firing toward the south. But it is not firing, or does not seem to be firing into the crowds. We‘re not seeing people drop. We‘re not even seeing people scatter.
We‘re also in an urban area. So, it is very difficult to determine exactly where the gunfire is coming from, as the shots will reverberate and the sounds will reverberate off the buildings. But they don‘t seem to be firing at people. But they are having sustained gunfire.
SCHULTZ: Also, with Richard Engel tonight, Brian Williams, NBC News nightly anchor.
Brian, from what you can tell, your vantage point. You‘ve seen a lot.
Have you ever seen anything like this?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, NIGHTLY NEWS: Well, Ed, when you consider that the red brick building across from us is the repository of the major antiquities of human history from 5,000 years ago, at the beginning of civilization, and when you consider that it were daylight and this height above Cairo, we could see the tops of the pyramids, which are really in a suburb of the city, this is pretty extraordinary.
This is a kind of heavy caliber automatic weapons fire Richard became inured to after six, seven years in Baghdad. We both heard it in Afghanistan. You don‘t expect it in Cairo.
They are—I‘m peeking my head around the corner. Your question about our safety. Nobody‘s interested in us up here. This has to do with what‘s going on down on the ground. We‘re absolutely almost perversely safe looking over this gunfire.
I‘d like Richard for one moment to talk about this culture. The story of the looting, this kind of lawlessness has been wrenching for expats, Egyptians, people all over the world, because there is little or no rate of crime here.
ENGEL: And that could be part of the reason that entire scene is taking place. Egyptians, like all people, (INAUDIBLE) love stability. You talk about their ancient history. Egyptians have always prided themselves on how stable their country is and how stable their government is—although they don‘t like it now, and they‘ve had issues with it for a long time.
It is an area where you can leave your doors open. There are no muggings. You never hear about rape. You don‘t hear about pickpockets.
So, when this is happening in the center of Cairo, people are deeply disturbed by this time. And that may be the point, getting back to what I said initially—there is a degree of orchestration here. It may look chaotic, but there was a protest here this morning. After the protest, they were attacked by mobs of pro-government supporters, goon squads.
The goon squads moved in and created a situation where there is now pandemonium. This is the kind of pandemonium that terrifies Egyptians. And President Mubarak is looking to stay in power and is looking for a reason to crack down, to bring calm to this terrified citizenry, is exactly the kind of pretext he needs.
SCHULTZ: Richard, explain where these goon squads are coming from. Are they paid hit men? Are they paid to protect Mubarak? Describe what their origin is.
ENGEL: I‘ve seen them in operation. I used to live in Cairo. And I covered local politics for a newspaper here.
And I was covering an election. I‘ll give you an example of how they can use these goon squads and how I‘ve seen them in practice. Many are members of Mubarak‘s political party. I was here covering a local election, and I went out and these are people who get paid in food, get paid in a small amount of money to stuff the ballots in ballot boxes. They get paid to scare other candidates. They are hired muscle.
Everyone in Egypt knows how the government has used them for a very long time. And the demonstrators believe firmly, and even non-demonstrators believe that these irregulars that the army has used to carry out unpleasant missions, the people who are sent in an orchestrated way to create chaos this morning.
But it must be said, they just appear to have been driven away. They may come back. Most of the protesters suspect they will come back. But tonight—at the very least, as you can hear, to a degree, the protesters pounding on their shields, they‘ve been defiant. Earlier on, they were celebrating what they considered a victory.
But now, we‘re seeing this very chaotic, and I think very dangerous aftermath of what had been a controlled or contained fight.
SCHULTZ: Brian, it‘s just after 5:00 a.m. there in Cairo. If this is any indication about what the day is going to be like, it is going to be a very long day.
Do you see these people determined? Do you see any backing off at all, any crowd backing away? Or do they continue to engage?
WILLIAMS: Well, considering some of the protesters in the main square that we reached today, told Richard that they were assuming or intending to die there, because leaving the square, giving up after these hard-fought games, getting this close to perhaps changing Egypt, anything but that was unacceptable to them.
And there are still—you can still hear the noises from down in the crowd. They‘re still at it. They‘ve had numerous volleys over their head. I just watched a tracer, while Richard was talking, find its way into the window of an apartment building. It‘s not intentional.
Tonight on “Nightly News,” NBC News got an e-mail today from a man who said my mom is trapped in Cairo, 76-year-old woman from Fort Worth, Texas, has lived overseas for years. I interviewed her by telephone. She‘s up there with a rolling pin, hot water.
Twelve goons came out and broke out her front window glass. She fended them off twice. And was—we were both trying to get her to a safe place and trying to get some attention to defend her building. It borders on the square. It was once terrific real estate to have. It will be again some day.
SCHULTZ: Richard Engel, taking a look at the military right now, do you sense that they are going to be getting more aggressive to push back the anti-Mubarak protesters? How would you describe the military‘s action right now?
ENGEL: The military has been very nonpartisan so far. It has not been with the protesters. It has not been against the protesters.
It has so far—and we were hearing them all day long, soldiers on bull horns, telling people on both sides to go home, not to do this, not to be involved. The only real military intervention we‘ve seen today was this -- the tanks driving by, trying to create a smokescreen so that one of the sides here, in this case the pro-Mubarak demonstrators, could exit. And now it is firing warning shots, because this is not over.
We‘re seeing crowds running on the bridges. I see crowds running—chasing each other down on side streets. In many ways, this is potentially the most lethal part of everything we‘ve seen all day, because the crowds, both sides are right on top of each other and chasing each other down.
The military has realized that there is a potential for Egyptians to be catching up to Egyptians and carrying out revenge attacks. For the first time, we are seeing enemies developing in this conflict. Not just in opposition. There was—the pro-Mubarak supporters, the anti-Mubarak supporters, but from what we‘re seeing today and what we‘re seeing right now, they have become—they have become enemies.
SCHULTZ: This is undoubtedly the height of this revolution, protest. You have not seen it this intense. And what has unfolded in the last 90 minutes is probably the eye of the storm so far.
ENGEL: Where this will go is very hard to know. But what we have seen now are Egyptians attacking other Egyptians. They were fighting all day in Tahrir Square. Now—right now, you can see them running, they‘re scattering out, clearly looking for people on the bridge.
It looks like I see someone dragging another person, dragging either a wounded or dragging someone that they have just captured. These are ugly scenes we‘re looking at right now.
As protesters, they‘re tired. They‘ve been in there all day. They were penned up. They were on the brink of defeat. They feel victorious. Some might feel vengeful.
The other side, they also were in an incredible fight all day. (AUDIO BREAK) they could feel embarrassed, angry if they retreated.
This is a—this is an uncertain time right now as the protesters and other side are scattering, hiding in the side streets, looking for each other.
SCHULTZ: If you just joined us here on MSNBC, you are looking at an exclusive live picture, Cairo, Egypt. It is about 14 minutes past 5:00 a.m. in the morning in Cairo.
Reporting live is “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, and NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, giving us an eyewitness description of what has become public desperation, utter pandemonium, violence tonight, report of one person being shot. There were three deaths earlier today.
In the last 90 minutes, it has become very intense. And this is a full-blown revolution, sitting here watching it on the screen as you are at home. And it doesn‘t seem like either side is going to be backing down anytime soon.
And, Brian Williams that—that is really the question tonight at this point: is it too far gone? Can it be negotiated? Your insight.
WILLIAMS: Well, you have to hope. Think of—I mean, not to attempt of being poetic at this late hour and with live gunfire beneath us—but think of what is represented here. The soil we‘re standing on. “A,” the largest Arab nation in the world, and “B,” as I said earlier, the cradle of civilization.
This is Egypt, after all. They have threaded the needle and managed their way politically, interesting alliances and conflicts in a very dangerous neighborhood. This is now a challenge that they‘re for, after 30 years of corruption one way. Hosni Mubarak, the man standing next to Anwar Sadat the day of his assassination in a parade ground not far from here.
Is this what the new direction looks like? (INAUDIBLE). And, Richard, we‘ve still got—this is retail hand-to-hand combat on this bridge short distance between these protesters.
ENGEL: There‘s no front line anymore. They had a front line in Tahrir Square. They‘ve broken out. And there‘s not that many protesters left, maybe just a few hundred of them. The pro-government supporters—and you can tell them, because the protesters have taken the low ground. They are down in the square. The Mubarak supporters have taken the high ground. They are up on the bridge.
But, now, if you‘ll notice, some of the protesters who are charging forward right now are trying to drive back completely out of the entire area the last remaining of the pro-Mubarak supporters. And if they catch them, it will be a very ugly scene indeed because just a small group, an angry group, they are fighting, and trying to fight to the finish here on this elevated highway in Cairo.
WILLIAMS: Just one point of information, Ed, we‘ve been wondering about all these rounds we‘ve heard. Whether where they‘re coming from, what they‘re being aimed at. The last volley I saw (INAUDIBLE) made its way along the cement, the guardrail on the outside of the off-ramp. If we can all visualize highways in the States, chipping away at the cement as it goes.
But the lesson there is it was precision aiming to come very close, make a big malaise and scare and disperse—there‘s a tracer going past.
WILLIAMS: Yes, Richard‘s absolutely right, this is the desperation fighting now. In some cases, 20 feet separate these two sides. It looks like rounds are being fired from a vehicle down on the Nile. The sun can‘t come up fast enough for Cairo.
ENGEL: We were hearing gunfire like that earlier, as people who were retreating back to the edges, in anger, apparently. They were firing back toward the crowd. Not the same kind of heavy (AUDIO BREAK) weapons that had been used in the last—well, recently. But earlier as this was breaking up, there was also a lot of vengeance fire from different protesters.
ENGEL: Now, it seems like the protesters got what they wanted. They firing a huge amount of gunfire, warning fire to try to stop them. But they are still chasing down the last of the Mubarak supporters. The warning shots are clearly got what they wanted, having no apparent effect on what is happening as the bullets fly over their head.
SCHULTZ: Richard, the people that we‘re looking at right now on the bridge, are they pro-Mubarak or are they the protesters?
ENGEL: And this is the absolute danger of it. I‘m not even sure if the protesters know who is who at this stage. The crowds start running. Somebody starts running away. And if you run away, they assume you‘re an enemy.
So, there were very clear front lines earlier. They were contained. Now, we‘re just seeing small bands of people that are chasing other small bands of people. And it is a very chaotic situation.
Generally, it is the protesters who are doing the chasing. But I am sure that people who are—there is a lot of confusion on both sides here.
SCHULTZ: Are either one of the sides engaging with the military? It sounds like the military is just there witnessing all of this, and not engaging. It‘s almost like they‘re a referee.
ENGEL: Not even a very—not even a referee. Referees intervene. The soldiers who are here are all inside armored vehicles. They don‘t have any communications with the protesters.
So, inside the armored vehicles, the visibility is also very poor. So, these soldiers are trying to figure out what is happening. They are firing warning shots in the air. The warning shots don‘t have much impact.
But, no, I don‘t see either side coordinating with the military. Except earlier, we did see some of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators run and take shelter behind some of the vehicles. But I think that was just an act of desperation. They were looking for something big and solid that they could hide behind.
SCHULTZ: If you just joined us here on MSNBC, you‘re looking at an exclusive live picture from Cairo, Egypt. It is 22 minutes after 5:00 in the morning. Reporting live on the scene: Richard Engel, NBC chief news foreign correspondent, and also Brian Williams, “NBC Nightly News” anchor. They are witnessing the violence unfold right on the bridge in Cairo, Egypt.
Brian, we‘re told that the Americans have been told that if you want to leave the country, you need to get to the airport. Is there any organization at all amongst Americans traveling within the city trying to get to the airport immediately? What do you see? How many Americans do you think have left, and how many are still behind? Any sense of that?
WILLIAMS: Well, we were given numbers that have since changed from the State Department. When we got here a few days ago, new State Department employees were arriving just to help with that job. I met a naval attache—another car got torched down here—I met a naval attache down at the airport who was just going to live at the airport, a public servant. He had been assigned to get Americans out of here.
On the other hand, Ed, during our travels here in the last couple of days, we‘ve visited Cairo‘s suburbia, vast suburbia. Beautiful gated homes, palm trees, swimming pools. Windows were papered over to avoid being too enticing a target for looters. All—virtually all the stores have been closed steadily this whole time, along with schools and banks.
The banks reopened today. You could withdraw small amounts. But there are some Americans, my colleague Lester Holt set out to cover this story today, but sadly, it was interrupted by the pro-Mubarak sponsored violence.
There are some Americans who are going on about their lives. This is where they live now. And they live—they‘ve got children in private schools and they live in the suburbs.
We‘ve got rounds being fired perhaps from an APC, about 300 yards down in front of us. Another group just lit an automobile that had the sole misfortune of being parked out here on the ramp. A lot of this is just so random, and Richard has the right word for this violence, which is final throes of this particular day-long battle. And this is desperation.
SCHULTZ: Brian Williams reporting. I think you made a very profound point, Brian, that the sun can‘t come up fast enough for Egypt.
The State Department is now telling all remaining U.S. citizens who wish to depart Egypt on a U.S. government flight to report to the airport immediately, and that further delay is not advisable, as the situation continues to deteriorate in Cairo, Egypt.
Gentlemen, can you tell us if it is this—the same situation in other cities and in other parts of Egypt? Has this begun to spread throughout the country? Or is it centrally located in Cairo, and at Tahrir square? A sense of what is happening throughout the country.
ENGEL: Tahrir Square is certainly the home address for this protest. But there have been angry, very large demonstrations in Alexandria, violent demonstrations and clashes in Suez, others in Port Said. So, it has taken place in several cities.
So far, it is an urban conflict. The rural communities in Cairo and rural communities Egypt have not been involved in this—the farmers, the people who don‘t live in the giant cities. And I think that has to do with poverty and frustration that you feel in a place like Cairo -- 18 million people live in the city. Many of them live—about half the country lives at the poverty line or just below the poverty line.
And when you‘re living in poverty in an urban situation, with intense drought (ph) and your government doesn‘t perform well, it can create explosive frustration.
SCHULTZ: Brian, what is, do you think, the response of some of the people that you‘ve come in contact with in Cairo in your reporting about how they view the United States and President Obama‘s statement yesterday that action should be taken now? And, of course, today White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said now was yesterday. How is this all being received by the people? How is the United States being viewed in all of this?
WILLIAMS: Well, a couple of things. Since Cairo‘s a different city today than it was yesterday—yesterday, everyone in Cairo wanted to be on camera. Today, they wanted our cameras.
The population that we come in contact with down in the square (INAUDIBLE) had changed. The entire story line changed. We were seeing, and through the help of people who speak the language like Richard and (INAUDIBLE) working with us, signs that said, “U.S. stay out of Egypt,” tougher language than that. Some of the protesters showing the faces of our last five American presidents making the point that these were Mubarak friends, sponsors, helped to prop him up. And it was getting a little more vehement.
The pro-democracy protesters who filled this square wanted one thing -
they wanted a full-on Barack Obama endorsement. They wanted to hear Barack Obama tell Hosni Mubarak the time to go was yesterday. And, of course, diplomacy being what it is, the U.S. has other friends and allies in this region watching very closely to see what happens to longtime rulers, who have a friend in the United States. That didn‘t happen.
And now, today this changes the tenor. I spoke to a senior White House official today who expressed just great frustration over this situation, how much they were scrambling internally, as everyone was.
Ed, we were on “Today” show, we were on “MORNING JOE” this morning, horses went by and so did camels with men on top.
I made eye contact with one of the men leading the column of horses. He was a big broad-shouldered guy with a yellow shirt. I later saw him on videotape arriving in the square, busting up the defensive lines of the other protesters. He was ripped off the back of his horse. His horse was beaten. He was beaten. He entered the square whipping other humans.
This turned from kind of another protest day. I woke up to the sound of drums this morning, these various groups coming through town. I thought it was going to be a day that looked like the day before. But that‘s the first rule these days in Cairo, but everything changes every couple of hours.
SCHULTZ: And these people are determined. They‘re not going to back down. It has escalated here in the last several hours in Cairo. And one can only imagine what‘s going to unfold and how intense and how violent it‘s going to be today.
It is coming up at 30 minutes past the hour, at 5:00 in the morning in Cairo, Egypt. If you‘re just joining us, this is THE ED SHOW on MSNBC. Full coverage with Brian Williams and Richard Engel standing right next to that camera, as the violent riots continue. We have Reports of three people dying today. And then another person dying tonight from a gunshot.
And obviously from the last 30 minutes, gentlemen, that we‘ve been talking, very little has changed. There doesn‘t seem to be any simmering at all from either side. Do I have that characterized properly, from viewing this screen, gentlemen?
ENGEL: It is a very dangerous thing to say, but it does seem to be winding down right now. The crowds aren‘t in Tahrir Square anymore to the same degree we saw them earlier. The pro-Mubarak demonstrators who they were battling with have mostly retreated. There are now just people wandering around, leaving Tahrir, looking for people that they‘ve been fighting, sometimes finding people they suspect they‘ve been fighting, lighting cars on fire.
Occasionally we‘re seeing on the edges still some running battles of Molotov Cocktails. When they get too intense, the army fires warning shots. But this round of fighting right now may be over.
SCHULTZ: It may be over. And it‘s not far away from sunrise. And are there—is there communication amongst the protesters, Richard? Has that been pretty stable? Or are they basically winging it?
ENGEL: They are excellent communicators. We‘ve been communicating with them. We‘ve been communicating with all sides in this. They are sending Tweets and cell phone messages from the middle of Tahrir Square. Not the people who are on the front lines, but Tahrir Square is quite large. So you could be on the front lines and then other reinforcements would be back in the square and then they would replace.
They definitely had people who were communicating, communicating with the world. They have an organizational hub, a group that is running the communication, that is organizing protests. We met one of the founders of that group. It was actually a 36-year-old English teacher, a woman who spoke obviously very good English, a single mother. She has a 10-year-old daughter.
She just said she was fed up with the way things were going in the situation, and was going to use her organizational skills to organize things here.
Now, we are hearing small arms fire, rifle fire from—it doesn‘t seem to be directed at anyone. But unclear why that was transpiring. We have been hearing lots of gunfire over the last two or three hours, as these protests have broken apart into smaller and potentially much more dangerous roving bands of opposition groups chasing each other through the streets of downtown Cairo.
SCHULTZ: And this word from the Statement Department moments ago:
“after Thursday, U.S. government flights out of Egypt unlikely.” This may change the game for a lot of Americans who remain in Egypt. That is the word moments ago from the State Department, that U.S. government flights, after Thursday, out of Egypt are now being termed as unlikely.
Brian Williams, what does that mean, do you think, for a lot of Americans? They‘re at a decision point, are they not?
WILLIAMS: Well, look, Fortune 500 companies have quietly been getting the people out who feel they need to get out, getting their dependents out. They are good at it. And in the post-9/11 world, most big companies have a contract with a security firm. Here comes another column of ambulances into the back of the square at about 9:00. This has been going on all night.
A lot of people—when you live overseas as an American, perhaps in business or academia, you develop a network of friends. You kind of have an out. You have an escape plan, or you decide that you‘re going to stick it out. As I said earlier, this is your new home and your new reality and you live far enough outside the city center to make a go of it.
Again, Richard is right, small arms fire, close range. Looks like it‘s just crowds suppressing, not aimed at anyone or anything in particular. It continues.
I have a question for Richard. We‘re not far from hearing over the loud speakers throughout the city the morning call to prayer, and I‘m wondering if that will have any effect, or be noticed at all over the din of what‘s happening?
ENGEL: I think it actually happened, Brian. It was so faint and there was so much confusion and gunfire that few people heard it. This has not been a religious group. But people have been religiously stopping to pray.
The earliest morning prayer, the one at 5:00, of the day, that seems to have taken place. I heard it. But it did not have any impact on the people.
You‘re hearing some little explosions. They set a car on fire. And perhaps the fuel tank in that car is exploding. There are few people here. The protesters have told me that they will sleep in Tahrir Square. They‘re afraid if they leave it, they won‘t be able to take it again. They‘re also worried that more reinforcements are going to come.
I don‘t know how Egypt will react when daylight comes and they look at the mess that the main square in this city has become. It‘s often compared to Times Square. It‘s much bigger than that. It‘s more like Red Square in Moscow. It is the center of the city. It is the only place where you could have a demonstration like this, the only place in this densely packed urban city that has a wide enough place for people to gather.
There have been hundreds, if not thousands of Molotov Cocktails thrown here tonight. It will be—it will look like a war zone when the sun comes up here.
WILLIAMS: Richard, I just got a text question from a friend of mine here from my hometown in New Jersey, actually, asking “who‘s fighting who? I thought the army had been sitting this out.” And while it‘s true that for days our coverage has described—going back to Friday, has described members of the Egyptian army still largely venerated in this society, as opposed to regular police officers, taking a very casual, peaceful stance, accepting congratulations, well wishes from everybody who stopped by. People have been treating these tanks and APCs like pieces of furniture, like permanent planters.
Until tonight—tonight, the army, we heard—I was back at the hotel. I heard the sound of tank engines starting up. We‘ve kind of been waiting for it. And tonight, they went into a crowd control mode. That‘s one of their jobs. And firing again, in some cases, very heavy caliber weapons, that could be heard, and would get noticed.
Obviously, you can‘t have urban firing of a tank gun. It was never intended for that. People have asked why isn‘t the army engaging, stepping in. The army of 450,000, yet they‘re here are in individual pieces of armor. Just not here that—why a footprint. What they can do, though, is fire their weapons and get a lot of attention.
SCHULTZ: Gentlemen, I find that absolutely—I find that amazing that—the tremendous restraint that the army has shown. As you said, Richard, not even being referees, just letting it go. And at small times engaging in crowd control. They just basically want the crowd to disperse, is that correct?
ENGEL: They don‘t want to take sides in this conflict. And the army has very noticeably not deployed infantry troops in large numbers. There was an expectation that they would do that at one point. They never brought in the troops who could stop individuals from attacking other Egyptians. That never happened.
Instead, they brought in APCs to protect government infrastructure. Tonight, they were forced to move and take non-violent action primarily, putting down a smoke screen and firing warning shots, but not personally standing between protesters, trying to keep them apart.
The army has decided, up until this stage, that that is a role that it does not want to take.
SCHULTZ: What does tomorrow bring for Hosni Mubarak in the wake of tonight‘s violence and intense fighting, Brian?
WILLIAMS: You know, we‘ve got—we ask every day about his whereabouts, about how much he knows, about how much he sees, who he‘s talking to by phone, how small his circle is getting. His behavior is a mystery, though, as Richard pointed out tonight on “Nightly News,” if you go back with all this—in light of all this we‘ve seen today, if you go back into the text of the speech he delivered here last night on television, you can find the clues sprinkled throughout, but especially in one particular section, that a crackdown was coming.
Now, we‘ve said that this was a crackdown achieved through almost freelancers. There‘s a story here today and tonight; one of the guys apprehended by the so-called pro-democracy protesters, one of the guys on the Mubarak forces was found by some officials in there. And he said, I was told if I took part today, I didn‘t have to go back to prison.
So it was under that cover, and not using uniforms, that the other side was able to shift the balance of power. What Hosni Mubarak will do tomorrow, who he‘ll hear from, how much of this will sink in, that‘s a terrific question that only tomorrow can answer.
SCHULTZ: You are looking live at Cairo, Egypt, an exclusive live shot here on MSNBC. It‘s coming up at 42 minutes after 5:00 in the morning. Reporting live on MSNBC, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams with us, and also NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who have had a ringside seat to what appears to be a full-blown revolution taking place in the country of Egypt.
And to update, again, the State Department is now telling all remaining U.S. citizens who wish to depart Egypt on a U.S. government flight, to report to the airport immediately, and that further delay is not advised. Following that statement came another statement from the State Department saying that after Thursday, U.S. government flights out of the country of Egypt are being termed and described as unlikely.
So tomorrow may be the last day, as far as the government flights are concerned, that they would chance getting Americans out.
I mean, Brian, doesn‘t that make quite a statement, that the United States government is only going to shuttle people out of the country not further than Thursday? What do you make of that?
WILLIAMS: That‘s a tough one. I think because—Ed, not to make this about economics; when we came in, we saw these aircraft. We saw aircraft with American commercial aircraft markings. And they were on the tarmac, sitting there empty, engines cut.
But the crews were here with them. They were waiting for their assignments, to get loaded. People show up at the airport. They fill out about six hours of forms. They wait in lines for hours. Then they learn where they‘re going.
A family from Illinois we met was headed to Cypress. They were here on vacation.
And I‘m reading U.S. embassy advises U.S. citizens in Egypt who plan to continue evacuation efforts on Thursday are assessing the need to continue flights after that. So I think perhaps they‘re telling people to look at Thursday as a target date. Do not wait for a call from the U.S. embassy, this advisory reads that I‘m reading, further delay is not advisable.
I think it falls under the category, Ed, since we‘ve been at this for a couple of days, of a real good faith effort. And by the way, there‘s no free evacuation in this world. You have to sign one of the forms saying you are good for the equivalent air fair. The family we met from Illinois was about to be out 1,700 bucks times two for their unscheduled trip to Cypress.
SCHULTZ: So for a fee, if you‘re an American, you can get out of the country? You‘re going to have to pay the fare of 1700 dollars?
ENGEL: That was one flight. This is Richard Engel, Ed. If I could just pick up on something you asked about earlier, how will Mubarak react to what he‘s seeing right now, if he sees what is happening right now, or if he sees Tahrir Square when the sun comes up, and sees Tahrir Square that is damaged, where there have been fires, fires very close to the Egyptian Museum.
If you ask the protesters, this breakdown of law and order, mobs running through the streets, fires in the center of the city, this is exactly what President Mubarak wanted. It is exactly why he sent in goon squads to provoke what had been peaceful demonstrations earlier in the day, so that a martial law could be imposed, so that there could be a greater breakdown.
Egyptian television—I‘ve been watching it for years—no doubt will be broadcasting sad images of downtown Cairo in chaos, with the hopes of trying to convince the broader Egyptian population that stability through Mubarak, what they he had up until two weeks ago, is better than what they have right now.
SCHULTZ: You know, Richard, that‘s a very profound point, and a definite strategy by Hosni Mubarak. But the fact is that these people are destitute. They don‘t have a job. They don‘t have money. Forty percent unemployment. Resources are bad.
Brian said earlier tonight—and I believe you did, too—that the ATMs are out of money. They‘re down to nothing. This is a conflict that those who oppose Hosni Mubarak, they‘re going to have to make a decision whether they‘re going to back down. Because it sounds like Mubarak is not going to back down.
ENGEL: It sounds like it. And that kind of equation is the equation that President Mubarak, according to the protesters, and according to many Egyptians, wants the people of this country to make. They want to look at this whole situation, not necessarily understanding how it began, who exactly provoked it, how it‘s been playing out, but just to turn on their television sets in cities outside of this country, and look at Tahrir Square as it is right now, and think to themselves and decide, this is not acceptable, and therefore label the protesters as instigators, label the people who have been asking for change as troublemakers, which is exactly what President Mubarak was calling them last night in his speech.
SCHULTZ: Are the basic needs of the people that desperate, Richard?
ENGEL: Half of this country lives on or below the poverty line. The basic needs of this country are profound. People in Egypt, they‘ve watched prices go up. They‘re angry. A lot of the region—there‘s two real reasons that people have come out onto the streets right now.
It‘s gotten too expensive to live and the government has been unresponsive to their needs. And adding insult to their injury that they feel every day when they go to the supermarket, the president made it very clear that after almost 30 years, he was going to hand over power to his son. When they heard that, it was effectively a breaking point. And that‘s why they don‘t trust when Mubarak says I‘ll step down in September, that there will be real change.
They think Mubarak will just find if not his son, some other favorable sensitive candidate who will continue the Mubarak tradition, continue to protect him, won‘t prosecute him. And they don‘t want that. They want a real change. And they still feel that they have the momentum on their side. They worry that these images that you‘re seeing right now will paint them and the people that provoked this fight, who were not the demonstrators, with the same brush as those interested solely in chaos.
SCHULTZ: You said a very interesting word, trust. It appears from the coverage tonight that trust is something that‘s going to be hard to instill in the people who are protesting. They seem to be very determined.
Brian Williams also with us tonight in our coverage here on MSNBC. Brian Williams, “Nightly News” anchor, NBC, and also Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent with NBC News.
Brian, can you speak to the resourcefulness of the country? Is it a wealthy nation, where the money has been hoarded away by President Mubarak? Could he provide for the people? Or is it a nation that does not have the resource of the other Arab countries in the Middle East?
WILLIAMS: It‘s not the oil dome that neighboring nations are. But they—you know the interesting topography. You know that the population takes place up and down the Nile. However, as Richard would tell you as well, there is a system of corruption so deeply embedded in public life, where if you‘re living in Cairo, in the simplest and largest transactions, police, up and down the line, your daily tasks, in ways that we can‘t get our arms around in the United States.
That‘s part of the issue. So many multi-layered issues behind this smoke screen tonight, literally, over this city, this kind of acrid smoke from just a hint of tear gas. You can feel it in the back of your throat, but mostly burning cars, burning tires, a little Cordite gunpowder from all the ordnance that‘s been blown off.
When this smoke clears, how much systemic change remains behind this -
and Richard, it‘s hard to describe, and hard to underestimate the extent of the corruption.
ENGEL: It is a place where many Egyptians were—thought they couldn‘t survive anymore. They had the government boot on their neck. If you want to go to a hospital, if you want to go to a police station, if you want to go to the post office, you have to pay bribes constantly. You have to pay the police bribes. That, over time, when you can no longer afford to feed your family, and then the president tells you, after 30 years, he‘s going to nominate his son to take over—
And then you saw your next-door neighbor, Tunisia—almost next-door neighbor, rise up and quickly turn over their very similar situation, their very similarly-minded president, this was—this could be—you could see this coming.
SCHULTZ: Brian Williams, if I may ask you, we are also witnessing the Obama administration dealing with its first real big foreign crisis. And the White House press organization has communicated to the White House that there is a level of frustration that the White House has not been forthcoming with as much information as the media would like, but also the access to the president has been extremely limited.
Is this just the way it‘s going to be? Is it a snapshot of how the personality of this administration is going to handle this crisis? And is it such a hot tin roof right now for the United States, it‘s just best to have not very much information going out? Your insights on that, Brian?
WILLIAMS: Well, I‘d only look back to the fact that Jack Kennedy smiled and waved at photographers all during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the last thing Richard Nixon was going to do was speak of his plans to open the door to China. This is certainly not analogous, and we can blow holes in the argument.
But I think, in this case, they need to get it right diplomacy-wise. They need to get the hard work right. They don‘t feel the need to show their homework. They realize how many different constituencies are hanging on every different word. They realize that we‘re down to hourly news cycles, if that.
Not defending them here, just kind of framing the argument. There are better foreign policy experts than I am will argue over it when it‘s in the rear-view mirror. And hopefully some day when Egypt is on its way to the future and put back together again.
But it‘s always interesting covering these institutions. The benefit is, you do get to see the machinations, the people who work in the various White Houses become human. You get to see a little bit of what their jobs are like. And then you jump back over the fence to your day job and cover them like a journalist.
SCHULTZ: Richard Engel, is there a need for humanitarian aid in Egypt at this hour, in your opinion, from what you can see?
ENGEL: No. This is not a situation where there are refugees yet. People are not starving. This is not a kind of scenario where you need international intervention, international food programs and things like that.
What we saw today—and I keep going back to it because I think there is a strategy under way here that was pre-organized, according to many analysts I‘ve spoken to, is that there was a group of demonstrators in the square. They were provoked. They started to fight. The fight got ugly. And now President Mubarak, who does consider himself like the father of the nation, wants to come in and punish both of the children for fighting, and not ask how exactly it began, and to convince his country that it is important for him as a paternal leader to come in and put this down.
And I think it shouldn‘t be lost, when you are looking at images of chaos and confusion—and they are images of chaos and confusion—that it also might be a strategy. The same thing I saw happen in Iran. There were demonstrators calling for Ahmadinejad to accept that he had lost the elections. People in Iran—and I was there at the time—thought they won the election.
Goon squads were called in. The Iranians went out on television and said that the demonstrators who were framing their legitimate victory in the election were troublemakers. In that case, the Iranian regime won and put all of those people who won the election on trials and show trials.
It is a classic tactic. Rachel Maddow was talking about it earlier on in her show. When you look at these scenes, I think it‘s important to at least consider that lens, because that is the lens all of the protesters are—or all of the protesters I‘ve spoken to, including all of their leaders, are seeing these events through that lens.
SCHULTZ: So the question at this hour, as the sun is going to be coming up shortly in Cairo, what will be the determination of the protesters, a million strong? This has been the most violent day, yesterday, in Cairo, Egypt. And we can only speculate what it‘s going to be like tomorrow.
Based on what we have seen throughout the night, it could be another tough day for the country of Egypt. And whether that brings President Mubarak to a decision that may have been different from his speech recently only remains to be seen. Will the military engage? Will they continue to stand back and just try to disperse the crowds? Or will they take sides?
And how much will Hosni Mubarak put up with this day after day protests, which obviously is physically ripping apart the country? Whereas hundreds of thousands of protesters seem to be so determined that there is a willingness to fight to the death. And—
ENGEL: There are enemies now, as you mentioned, Ed. Exactly. The protesters say they will fight to the death. What has happened now is that these are not just two opposing camps. They want to kill each other. And we‘ve been watching them through this very blurry camera. We‘re doing the best we can to give you a clear shot.
We‘ve been watching them chase each other down. Emotions are an anger and a desire for vengeance is here that was not here before. This is becoming a conflict, not just a series of demonstrations demanding change.
SCHULTZ: And as our news cycle, hour by hour, continues, my colleague Rachel Maddow will continue our coverage at the top of the hour, in just a few moments here on MSNBC.
But to recap, the State Department is now telling all remaining U.S. citizens who wish to depart Egypt on a U.S. government flight to report to the airport immediately. And that further delay is not advised. There was a later statement within the last hour from the State Department saying that after Thursday, U.S. government flights out of Egypt unlikely. But they will assess the needs of the people as time goes on.
But they want it in the minds of Americans who are behind in Egypt to think about tomorrow as being the day, if they plan on getting out of the country. You are looking live at 58 minutes after the hour, an exclusive picture—live picture from NBC News here on MSNBC, coming to us from Cairo, Egypt.
Reporting, Brian Williams and Richard Engel. Gentlemen, it has been an amazing hour to sit here and witness what has unfolded. I think you have captured it as best as anyone can. And tomorrow, who knows what holds for the country of Egypt? What will be the involvement of the United States diplomatically, if any?
It has to be intense, to say the least. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has played a vital role in all of this for the United States, and has drawn accolades from many in our country on both sides of the aisle for the handling of this situation. And the president, of course, will be under the spotlight 24/7, as this situation affects not only the Middle East, but the world.
And there are so many issues that can spring off of what unfolds, and what could be of an outcome in Cairo, Egypt. Brian Williams, “NBC Nightly News” anchor and Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, gentlemen, thank you for joining us on THE ED SHOW this hour.
I now turn our coverage over MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow. Rachel?
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