Guests: Richard Engel, Brian Williams
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
The 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square happened about a year and a half ago. You don‘t exactly celebrate an anniversary like that, but it was widely commemorated, I guess, all over the West, all over American media, all over European media, pretty much everywhere. Where it was not covered was where Tiananmen Square is, where that happened.
What the Chinese people, especially young Chinese people, think and know about that massacre in 1989 is actually quite different from what we think and know about it.
When Americans think about the Tiananmen Square, we mostly think of this image, right? A lone Chinese protester facing off against a column of military tanks. This is this iconic image of the heroism and bravery showed by those protesters before they were massacred by their own government in Tiananmen Square.
But if you were born in China in the last 20 years, this image probably means nothing to you.
Check this out. This is from an interview that the PBS show, “Frontline” did with young Chinese students fairly recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me what that picture says to you. Pass it around.
They were baffled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I can‘t tell anything from this picture. There‘s no context.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Is this just a piece of artwork? Did you make this up?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Chinese students completely confused by what we think of as an iconic and universal image. There are, of course, dissidents in China today who continued to try to keep the truth alive about what actually happened in Tiananmen Square.
But the government there has really effectively maintained the 20-yearlong lie about Tiananmen—a 20-yearlong lie that Tiananmen was no big deal. There certainly wasn‘t anything heroic about it except maybe on the government side. From the government‘s perspective, they say they were criminals and thugs causing chaos and anti-Chinese uprising. The government just had to restore order, that‘s all. They had to.
One Chinese college student interviewed about this by “The New Yorker” recently said this, quote, “The Chinese government had to use any way it could to put down that event.”
You know, in the uprising in Iran a couple of years ago, after the bogus presidential election there in 2009, we saw that government take pretty much the same line in terms of propaganda, in terms of labeling the opposition movement as dangerous thugs from whom the government had to protect the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The message the government wants to convey is clear: the demonstrators are foreign-inspired rioters, looters and terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Demonstrators are rioters are rioters, looters and terrorists. In Iran, the government didn‘t just describe the protests as violent—in Iran, they sent government forces out into the streets in plainclothes to make their own propaganda come true, to, in fact, make the streets turn violent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: With clubs, tear gas and axes, witnesses say Iran today crushed demonstrators who dared take to the streets. The militia, often in plain clothing and loyal to Iran‘s supreme leaders, has used crude weapons, including sticks, axes, chains and machetes. In Baharestan Square today, demonstrators say the militia attacked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In order to cement the idea that the protests in Iran were criminal, that the population needed the state to come in and establish order against these criminal mobs, the Iranian government went one step further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They are among the most chilling images out of Iran. Public confessions allegedly from demonstrators broadcast today on Iranian state television.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We set public property on fire. We threw stones and attacks cars and broke windows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We misused the crowds and riots and started to steal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Videotaped confessions from protesters saying, “We‘re
criminals, we‘re criminals.‘
You know, there‘s a very slim playbook for how you survive a revolution, when all or almost all of the people in your country are against you. It is a very slim playbook but it sometimes works.
And this is the main play in that playbook. This is option A for what authoritarian regimes do to try to hang on to power when their people turn against them. It‘s the “I‘ll protect you from the criminal mob” strategy. You need the firm hand of government to restore order against these protests because these protests aren‘t just protests, they are lawless thugs.
That strategy is at work right now in Egypt. But right from the outset, in this case, it has seemed clear that it will not work this time.
While Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was speaking last night, calling the protesters looters, arsonists—he said, “Those who intimidated unsuspecting citizens of Egypt,” while Mubarak was railing against these supposed angry mobs who are actually the protestors against him, all of the press reports coming from press who were out actually covering those protests were describing protest scenes instead as jubilant, as joyful, as having a carnival-like atmosphere.
So, when President Mubarak said the protests were violent mobs, was he describing reality? No, he wasn‘t. But he was telegraphing very clearly his strategy, what he was about to do, what was about to happen.
We were even able to report last night, the last thing in our reporting on Egypt last night was essentially here it comes. We were already getting reports at that point that President Mubarak‘s people would be out in the streets today looking for blood, looking to make the propaganda come true, looking to make the protest seem violent. That‘s what we reported last night as what to look out for today. And we weren‘t able to say it in advance because we‘re geniuses, it‘s because the Egyptian government was telegraphing that they were going to do it.
And then sure enough today, as planned, as telegraphed totally transparently, they started the violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: For hours, they fought running battles in the streets. What begun as an exchange of chants and insults quickly became much worse. At one point, pro-Mubarak supporters on horses and camels plowed through the crowd using whips and sticks. Some answered the call to prayer, the cameras picked up what crowd (INAUDIBLE) opponents separated from their group.
Soon, they were swallowed up in a sea of anger and hate.
The army had initially kept both sides apart. But then they let Mubarak supporters into the square. The violence erupted soon after. While the fighting continued, there has been no hint of army intervention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pro-Mubarak forces took to the streets of Cairo, as you saw some riding camels and horses, wielding sticks and machetes, whips, attacking the antigovernment protests.
According to the latest reports available, three Egyptians were killed in the clash today, over 600 were wounded. Protesters on the ground as well as reporters described the pro-Mubarak forces today as plainclothes police officers, some of whom are being paid by the government to create violence, to disrupt the protests.
Anti-Mubarak protesters held up for the cameras what they said were police ID cards that they say they pulled these pro-Mubarak forces.
Again, the official story here is that protests just organically became violent today because anti-government protesters are bad people. They are looters and thugs. That is the official story. That is the way that President Mubarak is apparently trying to stay in office.
But the difference here—the difference between here and Iran is that really nobody believes it. And why does nobody believe it? Because the official story here has competition, because the perspective of the people on the ground who can actually see what‘s happening, it has a way of getting out, because there‘s something other than state-controlled media able to operate in Egypt and actually say what is going on.
The official story is very important to Mubarak strategy to stay in power and defeat the revolution. The official story in Egypt this year, in this revolution, it has competition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES: President Mubarak decided to stage a crackdown not in the form of sending police in or sending soldiers in, but by sending thugs in.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: We spoke with the demonstrators. They say that a lot of these people are paid thugs, enforcers for President Mubarak‘s political party. They say a lot of them are plain-clothes policemen.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: Our sister network, Sky News, is reporting lynchings have been widespread. Lynchings. We‘re told there is evidence that the government has been paying Mubarak supporters to go on the attack.
UIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people who believe that among the protesters on the pro-Mubarak side, there might be some people who are actually members of the police.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: A member of parliament went on Al Jazeera today and admitted business associates close to the regime did, in fact, pay some of these pro-Mubarak protesters to hit the streets. Does that surprise you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the purpose may have been to intimidate the people in the streets, may have been to create a real sense of crisis to force the army‘s hand.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: The only way President Mubarak survives this revolution is if people do not believe the kinds of reports you just heard or if the people in Egypt do not have a way to hear it.
Mubarak‘s official story is that the protesters against him turned violent today. The official story is evident bullpuckey and it cannot survive real reporting and the protesters being able to speak for themselves. The official story cannot survive the competition of the real story.
And so, now, as predictably as the rest of it, the Mubarak regime is apparently attacking the competition for their official story. They‘re attacking journalists. It is not an accident that so many journalists were caught up in violence today. They are singling journalists out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We‘ve also noticed a very distinct change in the mood here, because there was a feeling that we could go out safely in previous days. But, today, there have been a number of attacks on foreign and British journalists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Journalists across British today became the subject of attacks from pro-Mubarak forces. A journalist with “Gulf News” in Dubai reporting today, quote, “Protesters are hunting down Al Jazeera journos. I keep having to clarify that I‘m not one of them.”
One reporter from Al Arabiya TV went missing for part of the day today and was later found severely beaten and taken to the hospital.
American journalists, like two “A.P.” correspondents, our own Richard Engel, and Anderson Cooper of CNN, also found themselves under attack today from pro-government protesters—kicked and punched and otherwise obstructed as they attempted to do their jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ENGEL: The goon squads also appeared to have orders to hunt journalists. They chased us down.
The clashes have started to spread outside of Tahrir Square. There was a lot of angry people who are angry at the journalists.
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: When our crew went out to film beauty shops early this morning, with no idea that the situation was now different. They were confronted by soldiers and plainclothes agents. They were armed. They were intimidated and bullied, and in fact marched at gunpoint through the streets all the way back to our hotel.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: I talked to some British journalists who were held for four hours today, hooded, tied and questioned, interrogated because someone saw them with a camera.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Hooded. Today, the Committee to Protect Journalists described the turn of events as the Egyptian government, quote, “employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions.”
This is not journalists being caught in the cross fire. This is journalists being specifically targeted. Why? Because their ability to put out an alternate version to the plainly absurd official story is probably the difference between President Mubarak surviving this revolution or not surviving it.
We are all concerned for our colleagues who are there covering the events in Egypt. But this is also one of those times when it is clear how important it is that they are there.
Richard Engel joins us live from Cairo, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS (voice-over): This is what happened as soon as we arrived here and encountered with hundreds of supporters of President Mubarak. They (INAUDIBLE), blaming the foreign media for not telling their side of the story. “The president should never step down,” one of them screamed. We turned off our camera and fled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: NBC‘s Ron Allen reporting from Alexandria today. Reporters on the ground in Egypt found themselves under attack today.
Joining us now live from Cairo is NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Richard joins us now by a somewhat dodgy satellite connection.
But, Richard, we can see you. What can you tell us you‘re seeing and hearing right now in Cairo?
ENGEL: You can hear much more gunfire going on right now. There‘s a developing situation. The protesters who‘ve been calling on President Mubarak to step down who are in the center of Tahrir Square appear to be winning if not have won this incredible standoff here.
And as the pro-Mubarak supporters are leaving, and we‘ve been watching them run away from the scene. They have retreated back to positions and have been firing, some firing in the air; some firing apparently toward the crowd of protesters.
They are—they were chased as one stage by the protesters. But if you look down here, there is a large bridge. The 6th of October Bridge, and you can see people running across it. These people who are running are generally pro-Mubarak supporters. They were covering that bridge, but it was several thousand of them just a few minutes ago.
They have all just run in this direction. Some retreating back and that gunfire which are now mixed with fireworks that you can hear has been the result of that.
This, for the protesters, is the moment that they have been waiting for, the moment they have been fighting for all day, Rachel.
MADDOW: This is live imagery that you are seeing right now from Cairo. This is not on tape. This has not happened earlier.
Richard, as you are looking at the scene right now, when you say it looks like the anti-Mubarak protesters have won, tactically, how are they winning—by greater numbers, by the tactics that they‘re using? How is this fight actually playing out?
ENGEL: Now, as you can see people running now, making a counter attack, a counter charge. The bridge has been the high ground in this. And we‘re really talking about old fashioned battle tactics here.
The pro-Mubarak supporters were lined up on this elevated highway. And they were taking this position and then throwing down Molotov cocktails into the crowd.
Now, originally, the pro-Mubarak protesters were in much greater numbers and they had squeezed all of the demonstrators who want Mubarak to step down deep into Tahrir Square. At one stage, the demonstrators were even completely surrounded with all of the exits and entrances to Tahrir Square blocked off. Slowly, over the last several hours, the protesters are then pushing out, moving their barricades further and further to where we are broadcasting right now.
And just in the last few minutes, they crossed a threshold and got evidently too close and the pro-Mubarak supporters on this bridge pulled out and are now once again running away from the scene. As we‘re watching this, as we were talking, (INAUDIBLE) is not being filmed by the camera, a man who was hit by a Molotov cocktail, he fell to the ground. He was on fire. Other supporters managed to put him out.
This situation clearly is not over. But it may have turned a corner, at least for the night.
The pro-Mubarak supporters will likely get more reinforcement and they also seem to be very angry that they were forced to pull back, which is why I think, Rachel, we‘re hearing so much gunfire right now.
MADDOW: Richard, in terms of that gunfire, it sounds, at least from here, like automatic weapons fire. Are we at a situation here where this battle is between professionals versus amateurs where we got actual security forces acting as the pro-Mubarak side and it‘s civilians who are acting as the anti-Mubarak side? Is that too simple?
ENGEL: The pro-Mubarak supporters, as has been widely reported, we were just talking about are believed to be thugs, gangs of orchestrated group that was gathered together by the government to break up these protests. Some of them would be from the police forces. Others would not be.
They wouldn‘t necessarily have a high degree of military training. They would just like a rent-a-mob. And it appears that some of them were clearly armed and as they pull back from this demonstration, they are using their weapon. The protesters don‘t seem to be scattering at this stage.
So, it would be premature to say that the demonstrators are firing into the
crowds. We‘re not seeing bodies and people dropping. But there was a lot
of gunfire as these pro-Mubarak supporters were forced back to take a more
an even more defensive position.
MADDOW: Richard, are you able to see tanks or any other sign of the military being involved, getting in between these two sides, or having any role in this battle?
ENGEL: That is something we‘ve been watching closely. We‘re just looking over my shoulder, there is a tank here. It has not moved. It has not turned its turret.
In fact, some of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators were running behind it and appeared to be taking position behind it to fire in the direction of the protesters. The tanks are not moving between the protesters. I think you can see a tank right now.
I stand corrected. It has now just turned on its engine. This could be another—yet another turning point if that tank moves to change the situation. It is just turning on the engine now. It is not moving.
But you could see people running in the direction of the tank, running for shelter, running for safety, trying to leave this area. The protesters, however, are still back behind the Egyptian museum.
And you can see the main building here in the center of Tahrir Square in front of us is t he Egyptian Museum. There have been many fires over the course of the day that have been set right by it. The museum now appears to be the main blocking point that could be saving a lot of lives because most of the gunfire we‘ve been hearing has been from one side from the museum, of the museum, by the retreating pro-government demonstrators, while the targets apparently, the protesters, are on the backside of the museum.
MADDOW: Richard, as you know, the whole world is watching. And the rest of the worlds is trying to figure out at this time whether or not this is protesters versus protesters. Whether or not this constitutes state violence against their own citizens. I don‘t want to ask you to report beyond what you can tell.
But you‘ve been in a lot of war zones. Can you tell what type of weaponry is being fired? Are these—is this the kind of weaponry that would be in civilian hands? Is this large caliber stuff that would be military grade or police grade stuff? Can you tell from tactics who is who?
ENGEL: The weapons are fairly common. They appear to be—and this tank is creating a smoke screen to get people cover as it heads toward a different position. I‘m not sure if they are going to go all the way into Tahrir Square. But it does seem to be taking up a position to prevent what is a rapidly escalating situation.
It could be doing what we all seem to be one of the more responsible things right now, which would be to create a barrier, albeit one of smoke between the demonstrators and protesters. That is what, in fact, is going on, creating this line of smoke in order to allow people to escape, allow people to have some cover.
This would be the first action we‘ve seen all day of the army to try and intervene and prevent Egyptians from attacking other Egyptians. As this situation unveils—develops and involves much, much more gunfire than we‘ve seen really throughout the course of the entire day.
MADDOW: Richard, are there other tanks nearby? Is this tank on its own?
ENGEL: There are other tanks. For now, this tank, which clearly is setting some sort of smokescreen, is the only one that seems to be moving right now. There does not appear to be a coordinated military action. And the tank has now passed the Tahrir Square. So, it is not going in.
It just seems to have helped to allow the people who are the pro-Mubarak demonstrators to retreat and exit the area. To look down on the bridge now through the smoke, there is nobody down there. That area was full with just as we were talking, it was emptying out with people who are throwing Molotov cocktails at the protesters retreated and there was this.
It may have been the exchange of fire. I think would be unfair to say that only the pro-Mubarak demonstrators who are firing into Tahrir. I don‘t know if there are some armed people in Tahrir Square among the protesters as well.
MADDOW: In terms of what the tank just did, Richard, can you smell—does the smoke have a chemical smell or does it seem like it just something that was put up as a visible smoke screen? I‘m wondering if it‘s some sort of tear gas or crowd control.
ENGEL: No, no, it‘s not tear gas. This is the kind of smoke—military used it all the time. It can be of any color. You pop smoke in order to do what they just did, soldiers sometimes will carry small canisters of smoke on their uniform in order to leave an area, they‘ll pop smoke, drop it, create a cover and leave and it doesn‘t (INAUDIBLE).
MADDOW: What‘s that—what‘s that we‘re hearing?
ENGEL: That appears to be more gunfire. As this situation is scattering now, the protesters are staying concentrated right in the middle. Initially, we were hearing gunfire to the west, and the Nile is to my west. And that‘s where the initial gunfire was.
As we saw that tank started out, now, we‘re hearing much more gunfire in a position where I cannot see because the building is in the way, but to the east, deeper into Cairo, away from the Nile. And we are hearing similar kinds of things, gunfire as the—from the positions where the pro-Mubarak supporters pulled back apparently in retreat.
MADDOW: Richard, in terms of Tahrir Square and what‘s going in that actual sort of plaza right now, are there still a lot of people there staying out overnight? Are there still wounded people in the square? What‘s the scene there? What we‘re seeing right now is happening around the square. But what‘s happening inside there?
ENGEL: Well, I can tell you what‘s happening right now because we are high up as you can tell from the perspective here. I can hear clearly they are shouting, “Erhal, Erhal.” That has been the chant of this demonstration so far. It means “Leave, leave.”
And it is a message, a word that is directly directed only at one person, President Mubarak. It is their victory cry right now. They have been shouting this all day.
But, now, as this situation happened, and the people who attacked them earlier have left and once again resorting to that battle cry, that cheer, “Erhal,” “Leave, leave, President Mubarak, leave.”
MADDOW: We can‘t hear the exact words that we‘re using, but we can hear how loud it is. It makes me feel like, despite the hour there, despite being the middle of the night and a predawn hours, there‘s a huge number of people there. Are people not going home?
ENGEL: They don‘t seem to be—they don‘t seem to be going home. They have—they are afraid if they go home and leave, they won‘t be able to come back. They have been working in shifts according to organizers that we‘ve spoken to.
So, people who now that they have a little bit more freedom of moving, people who are in the center would take somewhat of a break, get a little food, get a little water and then come back and replace. They are organizing themselves. They have been here now for many hours and have been able to develop something of a sustainable pattern.
Many of the protests say they will stay in the morning. They also are concerned that perhaps in the next few hours, perhaps the next few minutes, they think when sunrise comes, the government supporters will come back once again.
MADDOW: Richard, from what you saw with that tank, everybody is wondering what‘s going to happen with the military. Whether they are going to stay in a sort of relatively passive position, passive but visible position they have been in, or whether they will actually intervene actively to stop when violence breaks out. Do you feel differently about that than you did earlier today, keeping in mind that you‘re hearing a lot of gunfire right now?
ENGEL: Well, if this continues, the army will have no choice but to intervene. This, the army could accept open gun battles in the main square in Cairo. Molotov cocktails, the army was obviously in a very difficult position.
And they were shouting or were shouting. We could hear soldiers on (AUDIO BREAK) appealing to both sides to stop. They were saying, for the sake of Egypt, stop this. Go home. We don‘t need this. Egypt is better than this.
So, the army has been making these verbal appeals all day. This was the first physical intervention that we‘ve seen sending the smokescreen right through to the center. If these gun battles continue, the crack of high velocity rifles. These are automatic rifles that are being fired. Semi automatic rifle, (INAUDIBLE) to the rifles, I know the sound very well.
If this continues with military grade weapons happening, firing at the center of Cairo for much longer, the army will absolutely have no choice but to intervene.
MADDOW: Richard, just to be clear what you are experiencing right now, is there any indication that the anti-Mubarak forces, the anti-government forces, are shooting back, or that they are also armed with guns?
ENGEL: I don‘t think I‘m in a position to answer that. We have heard crackling of gunfire. It appears to be coming from the west and from the northeast. These are areas that have been taken over by supporters of President Mubarak. We have the supporters where they went in retreat.
If there are—I don‘t know who is firing the weapons and whether they are protesters who are also firing. But logic would dictate the gunfire is coming from the areas where the pro-Mubarak supporters have been concentrating.
MADDOW: OK. Richard, let me also just ask you—in terms of your job as a reporter right now, has it changed in the last 24 hours? Have you been targeted? And what do you think that‘s all about?
ENGEL: I think we‘ve definitely been targeted. There was a clear order today by whoever sent this organized group of demonstrators - a mob, a group of thugs, however you want to describe them.
The people who came out in the streets en masse, at the same time, with the same objective, which is to break up the protest in the center of Tahrir. They were very angry with reporters and were looking for us.
They were hunting down reporters, and we were swarmed - every foreign journalist was swarmed almost simultaneously. It happened just around 2:00. And journalists who weren‘t able to retreat back into their hotels - well, some of them had very bad experiences.
There are reporters are still missing tonight. There was a reporter was stabbed today. There was a reporter was detained for a long period of time. So this was clearly not just popular anger against journalists.
Many cameras were taken. Cameras were smashed. There was a message, “If you see a reporter with a camera, either harass them, take his camera. Don‘t let them film.”
MADDOW: Richard, let me - we are going to let you get to a safer position or better position if you need to. But I just want to - in summing up what you have seen in this sort of battle in Tahrir Square tonight with this tank intervening in a way we have not seen, what do you think this means for the overall of the protests and what seems to be a revolution?
ENGEL: I think it means right now that we are in a stage of conflict here. And if this escalates and continues when more reinforcements from the pro-Mubarak camp arrive, it is no longer Molotov cocktails which can kill. And it is no longer shouts and stones, but can mean gunfire in the center of Tahrir.
I think things will escalate quickly and dramatically. There will be full intervention. There will be too much pressure on the army not to allow this country to disintegrate even further.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent, reporting tonight remarkably from just above this battle of Tahrir Square which doesn‘t sound over, although it seems to have taken a dramatic turn. Richard, stay in touch with us and we‘ll see you soon.
ENGEL: They are cheering now, the army. So I think people here did appreciate what the army did. And they are appearing - they‘re saying the army and the people, hand-in-hand.
And that is also a common theme that we heard really from both sides of this protest. They don‘t want the army‘s image to be sullied by this. I think a lot of people would like the army to step in and stop this.
MADDOW: Given that we have just seen the army step in, in the first way that we have seen, we are going to try to get some official U.S. Government response to what we just broadcast.
Richard, thank you. We‘ll see you soon. You‘re watching live coverage on MSNBC. What you just saw was not tape. It happened live as we were talking with Richard in Cairo. We will be right back.
MADDOW: We are continuing to monitor an ongoing story right now in Cairo. These are live images. NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is live on scene looking over what is happening right here. Richard, what can you tell us?
ENGEL: Some of the protesters chose to chase down the anti-Mubarak - excuse me. It‘s developing just sort of right below us. It‘s difficult to figure out what is happening.
What we saw just moments ago was a group of protesters at Tahrir Square and they were chasing down the pro-Mubarak supporters. And as they were running, there were exchanges of Molotov cocktails right now below us out of Tahrir Square.
And there were several volleys of gunfire. As you mentioned, this is totally not over. And it is clearly no longer contained in the Tahrir Square. The question is how far will the protesters go?
Will they continue to chase down and hunt down the people who were penning them - penning them into Tahrir Square and firing firebombs and raining firebombs on them all afternoon?
So I think you just saw someone hit by a Molotov cocktail who is trying to put himself out. They are no longer contained. This is what we would be describing as a running street battle.
MADDOW: Richard, when the antigovernment protesters are catching the pro-Mubarak forces, what are they doing? Are they beating them? Are they trying to kill them? Can you tell?
ENGEL: I have not seen that happen yet. But I can only imagine that it would not end well. There are tensions very, very high. And they are throwing Molotov cocktails at each other. There‘s terrible gunfire. I think these two (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mix hand to hand. It will end in bloodshed undoubtedly.
MADDOW: Can you tell us the numeric balance of the two sides and how far apart from each other they are?
ENGEL: Now, almost all the pro-Mubarak supporters have retreated. At one stage, there were 10,000 to 15,000 of them.
They have pulled back and are almost all gone. And it just seems like the stragglers are the ones who are being chased down now, the ones who weren‘t able to get away fast enough.
The pro-Mubarak supporters -I think we may have seen the last of them chased out here with these exchanges of Molotov cocktail. Whether they will come back remains to be seen. Or whether they will pull back and (AUDIO GAP) to safer positions and then try and fire with weapons onto the protesters.
MADDOW: Richard, if you are hearing our signal go in and out there, it‘s just because of the difficulty of keeping the signal hot from Cairo right now.
Richard, I‘m not sure if you can hear me right now, but if you can, if we can come back to you, can you tell if there is any further military involvement in what‘s going on here?
ENGEL: There is some military movement right now. It is (AUDIO GAP) trying to do what an APC, an armored personnel carrier, is moving toward the area where the fighting had escalated, which is on the 6th of October bridge, no longer in Tahrir Square.
An ambulance is moving to the area. They are not sending out any kind of smokescreen like they have before. It almost seems like the army is as confused by this as we are and doesn‘t know exactly where to position the camp.
They have been moving around. I think they would, at this stage, like to get between the remaining pro-government demonstrators and the significantly large and very angry crowd of protesters. But they are on a bridge and (AUDIO GAP) shoot the footage out in between them.
MADDOW: Richard, you described an ambulance on the scene. Are you actually seeing anybody who is hurt?
ENGEL: I saw one person who was hit by a Molotov cocktail. He was on fire. I have not seen anyone bleeding or who seems to have been shot from this vantage point.
MADDOW: We have been trying to follow as best as we can live blogs and other reports, tweets, for example, from producers who are in the scene.
Al-Jazeera English has staff describing the Tahrir Square as being filled with people who are injured still at this point. What is the physical distance between the scenes we‘re seeing here of the bridge and Tahrir Square?
ENGEL: The bridge is really right in Tahrir Square. And joining me, right next me, standing here, is Brian Williams. And he has been watching this development as I have.
And Brian, what have you seen over the last few minutes here that strikes you as different?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have a different angle on some of the gunfire than you did. I have only seen firing coming from tanks. These U.S. tanks - a few of them on the overpasses.
Not small arms, but it‘s close to our location, what we are hearing now. The big (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cacophonous blasts, sometimes in bursts of three, sometimes in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), is from the APC mounted .50 caliber.
And they‘re firing. They‘re crush shooting. Watch them chew away at an underpass. I watched pieces of cement fall. I think these are still rounds intended to be attention-getters and square clearers in this case.
But it‘s just been a downtown Baghdad-style barrage of gunfire. And I, like Richard, have seen a couple people hit. A couple of canisters fired and a couple of blazer rounds just to get everybody‘s attention.
MADDOW: Brian, in terms of what you are able to assess about the situation overall, what is the overall momentum of this battle? And what is it that they are fighting for? Are they trying to hold territory on that bridge?
WILLIAMS: They are making shields out of sheet metal. They have a whole workshop area where they have a central fire going where they are making Molotov cocktails off of that.
Like most armed conflicts after awhile, especially when viewed from a distance, it‘s hard to tell what they are fighting over. What the army is interested in fortifying is 5,000 years of human history.
How bizarre that this fight is taking place alongside the great treasures in antiquity. (AUDIO GAP) And it‘s being fought with stones and fire. But here we are in the middle of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MADDOW: Brian, just to be clear, what you said a moment ago when you were first speaking about seeing the gunfire all coming from one side, I couldn‘t quite make out what you were saying over the sound of the gunfire. Were you saying that it appears from the military or from the pro-Mubarak forces?
WILLIAMS: I‘ll let Richard answer that for me. I‘ll be curious to see what he‘s seen. And I‘ve seen no arms in the hands of protesters, of pro-Mubarak forces.
The only rounds of all the gunfire you have heard tonight, the only ones I‘ve seen expelled were from army vehicles for what I assume is crowd control and suppression, not designed in any engagement I have seen here tonight to strike human beings. Richard, I don‘t know if you have seen anything?
ENGEL: It‘s been difficult to see who has been firing. And we‘ve talking about that. The gunfire comes from the areas where the pro-Mubarak supporters were retreating. And they were retreating in the direction of the army vehicles.
They were outnumbered. They were overwhelmed and they were running back and taking cover behind some of the vehicles. So perhaps, if you saw the vehicles firing in the air, they were firing it give them cover.
We haven‘t seen anyone hit, so if they were shot in the air, that would be a very encouraging sign. But also, it shows the level of how quickly things have deteriorated here. But we have not seen anyone hit at this stage.
MADDOW: Can you tell what the effect was of the line of smoke laid down by the tank that we saw?
ENGEL: I think - yes, as Brian just pointed out, that tank is, once again, on the move, ejecting this smokescreen as it goes. And it did have an impact. It did allow some people to escape. Emotions are clearly very high.
This has been many - an all-day battle, really, with protesters trapped in the square. Many people getting injured. At least 600 hurt probably on both sides.
So as it was breaking apart and as old battle lines no longer became clear, it was obviously apparent to the army that this was about to become a serious event of bloodshed, perhaps even a massacre and that it prompted them to do the action that you are seeing now and laying down the smokescreen, and as Brian reported, firing warning shots.
MADDOW: What we are seeing that looks like the material effect of this is to make people who may be using weapons, either Molotov cocktails or guns if they‘ve got them, foreign stones, if they‘ve got them, to not be able to aim essentially.
They want to leave that area and to keep the two different groups apart from each other. Can I ask you guys - it looks like the tank is moving very fast. Is it going to hit people?
ENGEL: People are running from it. What they do with the smokescreen is to allow people to leave under cover. So if the idea was to allow the supporters of President Mubarak to leave without being lynched by the protesters, then this move appears to have been successful.
We have not seen the level of bloodshed that could have just developed in the last 45 minutes or so.
MADDOW: Is the scene emptying out or is it - or are more people joining?
WILLIAMS: Oh, there‘s no question the population in front of us has dropped. The banging of - just the incessant noise has fallen away. If this was supposed to disperse, it has done their job.
There are still all these souls standing in this face-off. It‘s hard to tell size. It‘s hard to tell what is going on there from here. The smoke is hanging over the river now.
ENGEL: Both sides, of course, do expect that this not the last round. The protesters said if they lost tonight - and at one stage, it looked like they had lost. They were penned in, really, just in a tight circle surrounded by pro-Mubarak supporters.
They told us if they lost, they would come back tomorrow. They would come back again and then have their biggest movement on Friday.
I assume the pro-Mubarak supporters have a similar determination, but I do not think we‘ve seen the last of them or the last of these kinds of face-offs in Cairo.
MADDOW: If indeed there are not large-scale protests tomorrow, if in a sense, there‘s a smaller scale protest only tomorrow and they try to reconvene for Friday, will that opportunity, that timing, offer for an opportunity for a momentum shift in either direction?
ENGEL: One could only hope that this would wake people up and reach some sort of negotiated settlement, although there doesn‘t seem to be room for negotiation. President Mubarak has said he will die in this country.
The protesters say they will die before they give up on their demand which is that he leave the country. So unless cooler heads prevail and some sort of compromise that is acceptable to both is found, I don‘t see how even two days of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before the big event on Friday would allow enough breathing room to have a negotiated settlement.
MADDOW: Brian, let me ask you about the prospect that Richard raised earlier saying that if this continues like it did tonight, if it‘s armed conflict in the streets of Cairo, that will lead to pressure for international intervention. Do you see that as a possibility? And what would that look like?
WILLIAMS: You know, someone said to me tonight, you know, if this were happening between friends and not casual allies and not in the world diplomacy, would you call a friend and tell them the deal is off, it‘s time to step down? Would you step in if you were friends and neighbors?
This economy has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Egypt has largely ceased functioning. And you can‘t get money out of an ATM. You can‘t get food out of a store. They are swarming at a pick-up truck down here.
For a good measure, they‘ve set a car - (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They set a car on fire on the overpass where the tank was. If the truck is being ransacked, that means it has brought fresh supplies of some sort. It‘s mad max.
ENGEL: I‘m having difficulty understanding what is happening to that truck as well. When the truck arrived, it almost ran over several people. I do not - it‘s hard to tell from where we are, what exactly is happening with that truck. It seems to be - they are unloading - they‘re breaking it.
MADDOW: In case you‘re just joining us, what you are looking at right now, live images from Cairo. NBC‘s Brian Williams and Richard Engel are overlooking this scene right now and reporting live on what they understand is happening.
I‘m sorry to interrupt you, Richard. What do you think is happening with that truck?
ENGEL: Yes. They are - you asked a short while ago what would happen if the protesters caught a member of the rival group. And it seems that that is happening right now. The driver of that vehicle has been taken out. He‘s been kicked. He‘s on the ground.
They are probably - they‘ve been attacking the vehicle. And the driver seems to be laying down on the ground now. In this kind of incident, mob justice, if you will, there has been no intervention.
MADDOW: Can you tell if that‘s some sort of official vehicle? It looks like a private - it looks like a private vehicle from this distance. But it‘s your understanding that the protesters that are surrounding this man who was driving this vehicle are anti-government protesters?
ENGEL: That is - from where they were coming from, and where they are heading to, that is the assumption, that these are protesters. These are anti-government protesters who caught - they are putting him back in the car.
I don‘t know why. This could end very, very badly for the driver of this vehicle. If there are lynchings in the streets here, that would be yet another deterioration.
We are now just starting to smell what seems like teargas for the first time today. So there is a greater degree of intervention, and some teargas is clearly now being fired in the area.
MADDOW: Does the presence of teargas mean that there are either police or army forces nearby that may try to take some sort of intervening role here?
ENGEL: Yes, it does. The movements of the tanks, with the warning shots, and now, with the teargas in the air, I think we are seeing for the first time an intervention, because this is no longer just a battle line.
Before there was the frontline, with protesters and government supporters battling back and forth with stones and rocks. Now, it is - it‘s just spilled out of the square with individuals chasing their rivals on the other side and attacking them, potentially even worse than that.
So we are smelling teargas and seeing some kind of intervention, although a relatively small one. There are not many vehicles here. As we pan out live, you can see there‘s not - the square has now been flooded with ambulances or troops. We are smelling a faint whiff of teargas.
MADDOW: In terms of what we were just looking at that vehicle that, as you said, was set upon by protesters, the driver being kicked or beaten, can you tell if he‘s going to - can you tell what shape he‘s in or what else is going to happen to that driver?
ENGEL: I don‘t want to speculate, but the speculation is that - well, I don‘t even want to go there. But it could end very badly for this driver if they decide to set the car on fire or something like that.
They have set other cars on fire. Hopefully, they won‘t resort to that in this case. But they do seem to have a plan for that vehicle. They‘re apparently rocking it back and forth trying to move it.
ENGEL: Maybe they‘re just helping him escape. We can be optimistic.
MADDOW: We are hearing reports from anti-Mubarak activists at Tahrir Square telling Al-Jazeera that anti-government protestors are guarding all of the entrances of the square in anticipation of what they say another attack from pro-Mubarak forces.
It seems like since we‘ve been covering this evolving situation over the hour, the momentum has not gone away, that this situation continues to evolve. The people are not dispersing.
It is hard to get a grasp on the connection between what we‘re seeing on this bridge and what is happening on the rest of Tahrir Square.
ENGEL: I think what we‘re seeing now is vengeance. They have been fighting all day. They have spilled out. And they are no longer operating as a group.
Before, it seems almost shields that were interlocked. There was a phalanx of protesters and of Mubarak supporters that had clear lines that they were using back and forth.
Now, it is people wandering the streets, searching for someone from the other camp and the army taking some steps, not direct intervention. We‘ve seen them use smoke. We can smell some teargas.
There apparently have been some warning shots, but not moving in, in a major way to prevent this. Hopefully, things will calm down as people‘s tempers do calm down over the next few minutes, the next few hours.
MADDOW: Brian Williams, as you overlook this scene, is it possible for you to foresee how this ends, or even a couple of potential different endings here? Do you see how this wraps up?
WILLIAMS: I certainly don‘t and can‘t guess. Today was - Rachel, if you told me yesterday that I will see on horseback and camelback in front of our camera position in parade style the men entering who would later be ripped from the animals, the animals beaten to the ground.
They were either killed or injured, but they opened the hole in the lines that changed the balance of power here, made the situation toxic. And tonight, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to predict that.
One of our coworkers here said of the uprising, it‘s over. And while that might have been early negative and hyperbolic (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Incredible.
MADDOW: The heavy gunfire that you‘re hearing there, is that again warning shots? Does it appear to be directed at people at ground level, or is it in the air? Can you tell?
WILLIAMS: It appears to be in the air. You don‘t hear the rounds, the other rounds striking anything. We saw a tracer round go over the heads of the protesters. It appears to be coming from an armored personnel carrier that we saw under an underpass.
That‘s big caliber, heavy automatic weapon. It sounds like there‘s two or three shots at a time. You know, in one corner, I‘m watching them take out wounded. It‘s such a bizarre light here in Cairo.
One of the hotels here on the square put out a memo to the guests that the pool would be closed today because of, quote, “current conditions.”
And you know, people are still here. Lester Holt was out doing a story on an American woman‘s life here in Cairo, and she was driving people around, proving to him how normal it was. The car in front of him was stopped by Mubarak supporters in what Lester later learned was out in the suburban part of the city.
MADDOW: In terms of the conditions of life in Cairo right now, are things becoming more desperate in terms of access to the basics, access to food, access to water, access to cash and basic services? Is that driving some of the sense of desperation?
WILLIAMS: Remember, schools -schools have not been opened since this started. That caused a presence of the lot of the children who did come to the anti-government - the first round of protests. And they witnessed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) happening.
Just yesterday, Richard and I were walking through this very plaza, almost having a light moment. We were talking about how many volunteers there suddenly were to help run the protests, help the crowd.
And now, we took that same walk that would take us right through this battlefield.
ENGEL: Rachel, as Brian was speaking, I think I‘ve got a clearer idea of what we‘ve been watching over the last hour or so.
If you go down to the square itself, you can see that that was where the battles were taking place. Those were the front lines. There are two long strips of metal that the protesters and the government supporters were hiding behind. That was the center of the battle.
Before it, it was in the middle of Tahrir Square. The protesters were outnumbered and took to retreat. One group moved to the side of the Nile, where there is still - they moved away.
But it wasn‘t until recently a group of armored vehicles. The other moved to the east where Brian was. They were taking shelter in their retreat behind the armored vehicles. As they were taking shelter, retreating, the tank that we watched together passed through the middle offering them a smokescreen. So we have seen a disorganized retreat under cover fire from the army. And now, we‘re in a very dangerous time, as no one really knows who‘s in charge.
The protesters are looking for people. They found this driver. Who knows who this driver is? This driver may not be a government supporter at all. He may just be someone who got caught up in this mess. They are angry, and this is a very uncertain time.
MADDOW: NBC‘s Brian Williams and Richard Engel are live above Cairo‘s Tahrir Square. You are not watching tape. This is live. This is happening right now.
Ed Schultz picks up our live coverage right now of this breaking story as we stay with it.
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