What's Beyond Egypt?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thousands of Egyptians gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square heeding a call by the opposition for a 'march of a million' on February 1, 2011 (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and the man behind the popular political blog, "The Washington Note," discusses the uprisings in the Middle East, Washington's response, and how it affects politics and people in the region. 

The protests in Egypt continue to escalate, becoming violent on Wednesday as government supporters hit the street with a dramatic entrance (some even rode in on camels). After President Mubarak's announcement on Tuesday that, after nearly 30 years in power, he won't run again in September's election, it's hard to know what will happen next.

As we speculate about the next steps Egypt's government and protesters will take, Steve Clemons said there's one key element we're not talking about: Mubarak's son. And Mubarak's not talking about it either.

It certainly does matter in the signaling and framing that Egyptian citizens are talking about. I'm hearing it from a number of people that there's is great rage and frustration that Gamal Mubarak is the one that, even more than his father, who's looked at as the one who engineered the electoral fraud in the last election...Gamal Mubarak has been refusing to resign his position in the NDP [National Democratic Party]...I think people should be talking about Gamal and expecting Gamal to come out and resign his post and position.

Clemons said, based on his sources, it's also likely that Gamal Mubarak has organized the pro-government outlash against protesters on Wednesday.

They've begun to mobilize and use money to basically hire thugs to come in...and the biggest thing that concerns me right now are reports coming in to me from various other people that I know who are in Tahrir Square but also in Alexandria, who are telling me that...the army is sitting and watching by while people get beaten badly and dragged through the streets by some of these thugs and the army is not intervening to defend those who are peacefully protesting.

Of the many unknowns, one question has been, which side is the military on? Clemons said we still don't have an answer to this. 

The army is hedging...the army is saying we're the backbone of the country, we're the soul of the nation, protectors of the state, we have a foot in leadership and a foot in the public. They've committed, it's very clear, to a process. It doesn't feel very democratic at all to those of us who are watching on the outside, but...they're trying to impose order and structure despite near anarchy and chaos everywhere else...and fundametnally what's going to happen, I fear, and I think it's the bind President Obama is in, is whether or not that incremental change...will be something that the broad public, that's invested so much in disrupting their economy and their lives...whether that will be acceptable or not...we just don't know the answer to this.

In response to smaller government protests in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on Wednesday that he will not run in the next election, nor will his son.

As other Arab governments respond and the demonstrations in Egypt become more violent, the momentum in the region will likely continue, Clemons said. But it's all speculation right now, he added, especially since we're still catching up.

There are so few people that expected to see what we've been seeing, and I think underestimated the impact of what was seen in took a while for the US media to realize, there's a trend going on and I even think in the US government that's true. One person I was with...General Brent Scrowcroft, made the comment that there's something very infectious, very viral about what we're seeing and no matter which way it goes, this is potentially going to have an impact throughout the region. A violent crackdown that kills lots of people, if that's the direction we're going to go, could be animating an anger.

As we think about what's next, it's important to understand the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Clemons said is often misunderstood. He said they play an important role in the region as these governments begin to shift.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the backbone of political opposition in many of these countries in which there are totalitarian leaders. Most of them have moved away long ago from violent tactics, from so-called terrorism...They also have been the ones that have been most talking about democracies in these countries so it's hard to distinguish between protesting democrats and those tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In closing, Clemons confirmed that amidst all the speculation of what will happen next, we do know this fight is long from over for the Arab world. 

I suspect that what we're seeing in Egypt is not going to be the end of this story. It's not going to be the last earthquake in the region.


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Comments [16]

Herb E from NYC

Encourge the President & members of Congress to change the nature of the aid to Egypt from military credits to economic and social credits. This is a win for America, a win for American allies in the area, and a win for Egypt. The massive military buildup in Egypt is destabilizing. With the acknowledged precarious nature of Egypt's government and the ever-present danger of its growing fundamentalist movement (Brotherhood), it is far more in America's interest to attend to the political, social, and economic needs of the Egyptian people so our country can help create a less desperate situation.

The economic impact to America is neutral, since the money comes in the form of credits to buy US goods. It would be better to let the Egyptian people buy our cars, our computers, our construction equipment, and other American goods. This policy would encourage peace and a more stable Egypt. It would also produce demand for American products beyond the scope of foreign aid.

Feb. 03 2011 09:30 AM

the question above was "" Of the many unknowns, one question has been, which side is the military on? Clemens said we still don't have an answer to this. "
We do know. The army is the sole and real power in Egypt and the true representative of the alliance between US and Egypt. Has been so for half a century at least and is poised to step and "select " who will be the puppet who stands to the crowd while they pull the strings. They are the reason , democracy never had a place in Egypt, and they will use the current demonstrations as evidence they need to continue their military rule. In the end the demonstrations and counter demonstrations will be the excuse used not the have the elections that are planned for September 2011 and could have been the first election with a real representation of large segments of the population.

Feb. 02 2011 03:40 PM


yes there are lots of examples just from the last decade where bad actors do bad things in the name of political groups, religions, etc. and ultimately these acts ARE OWNED by those groups.

these are not "thugs." they are mubaraks' thugs just going by a tried and true political playbook

Feb. 02 2011 01:30 PM
Karen Kithan Yau from Brooklyn, NY

I am writing as I am looking at pictures of armed and hired thugs warring with pro-democracy protesters in Egypt. Just because the military or the police is not firing on the protesters (yet) does not mean that blood has not been shed. Or that America and other nations have no responsibility or obligation to stop this blood shed.

President Obama must now act consistently with the forceful message that he has put out that the regime Hosni Mubarak is no longer legitimate. A promise not to run (especially with his son in the wing) is not the same as relinquishing power, changing the regime, and most importantly, instituting a stable democracy.

Memories of Tiananmen Square are still fresh in my mind even after 20 years. Pictures of Tahrir Square have brought back both hope and fear (and tears). As the world watches in hope; heads of repressive regimes are watching in fear and dread.

This is the moment to leverage America’s power, prestige, and dollars to demand democracy in Egypt and peace and reconciliation in Middle East.

Feb. 02 2011 12:56 PM
lee from astoria, queens

what happened today in Cairo is text book anti-demonstration tactics. look at romania through the first half of 1990, culminating with the university square movement.

Feb. 02 2011 12:11 PM
amorris from nyc


Feb. 02 2011 11:28 AM

Not to be overly picky but from my view, a "Pro Mubarak protestor" who is there because he was paid to wield a bat might be a paid thug (and a criminal, presumably), but he is also legitimately a Pro Mubarak protestor, there to promote what he considers his interests, just like everybody else, but from a thug's view.

Feb. 02 2011 11:24 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Jordan was created in eastern Palestine in 1923, and was initially part of the Mandate for Palestine. West of the Jordan river was created the "JEwish National Home" by the League of Nations,. Why do not the Arabs respect that Israel is the Jewish National Home? The Arabs have a Palestinian state called Jordan since 1923.

Notice how your guest talks about peace between Arabs and ISRAELIS but not peace between Arab state and the JEWISH state. Note the absence of JEWISH when the Arabs feign that they want peace with Israel. They want ISrael to eventually become Ishmael. That is the truth.

Feb. 02 2011 11:18 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Once again, the Jew Brian Lehrer will not ask his Arab guest why the Arab and Muslim states will not recognize Israel as the JEWISH STATE! This so typical of LEFT WING socialist " JEws."

Feb. 02 2011 11:15 AM

Mr. Clemons is a knowledgeable guest, not succumbing to the state-spread propaganda that the hired thugs currently invading Tahrir Square are anything but hired government thugs (police, Oil Dept. workers, etc.). Mubarak has done this before -- no one is surprised, except US media, apparently, who wrongly call them "pro-Mubarak Egyptians".

As for Iran, they are shrewd to support the protesters in Egypt, not because they actually do support calls for democracy -- on the contrary. Because they could be next -- they are also an excessively oppressive regime facing great opposition and anger in their population. We must not think it's anything but a move for self-preservation.

Feb. 02 2011 10:56 AM
hazy from brooklyn

and there it is..Brian's last point/question is "Iran is supporting the protesting" Wanting you, the public to think, "ooo, this means that the protesters are fanatics" Brian, stop with your leading interviews/discussions; we're not buying it.

Feb. 02 2011 10:49 AM

Peaceful demonstration, met with countryman against countryman violence -- what a relief for China's regime!

Feb. 02 2011 10:44 AM
CL from New York

This show is a startlingly superficial analysis of what is going on just now in Egypt. Mostly one unsupported "observation" after another. How about getting a couple of real scholars on the show instead of these "bloggers" who add only anecdotal fluff to the conversation?

Feb. 02 2011 10:43 AM
amorris from nyc

pro mubarak? hired thugs surely. bbcs john simpson confirms it on the bbc website, he is there brian.

Feb. 02 2011 10:38 AM
hazy from brooklyn

hmmm. let's see if brian can hide his bias this time. please don't only report (and ask leading questions to get answers you want) on the pro mubarak's. There are still a ton of egyptians that want him to leave.

Feb. 02 2011 10:33 AM
pray for egypt

at what point does the us armed forces decide to save those poor people? or is dying in the name of something considered a god givfen right? in which case can we just go end get our tanks and bullets and leave?

Feb. 02 2011 10:01 AM

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