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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Egypt Erupts; Crisis in Egypt

Aired January 28, 2011 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: We are coming up on sunrise in Egypt right now, waiting, along with the rest of the world, for what happens next. Israel's neighbor, America's ally, capital of the Arab world in crisis, under curfew, the government in flux, the man who has run the country for decades apparently on the ropes with his people and clearly on notice from Washington.

What we have seen today has been extraordinary, Egyptians taking to the streets en masse today and late into the night; a day of rage that began in the mosques and spread into the centers of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt's second city, and all across the country.

In some places, it resembled a human wave that rolled over police. Just listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like the police are retreating, doesn't it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Those are police trucks pulling back in a cloud of tear gas, a picture, for the moment at least, of a dictatorship in reverse.

Elsewhere, smaller groups fought running battles with the police well into the night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They hurled slogans, paving stones, and Molotov cocktails, sacking government ministries, destroying the headquarters of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party. As night fell, the army rolled in right in front of CNN's Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you right now, four army tanks and at least as many Armored Personnel Carriers have just pulled up outside our building.

And this actually has been to the satisfaction of many Egyptians, because the worry is that the police have seemed to have completely disappeared. With them gone, that there's the specter of real chaos.

It was interesting. We were watching as the police station right behind our building was attacked by the protesters. All of the police had put on civilian clothing and ran away. And we're hearing reports of all the major police stations around Cairo have been sacked.

So, really, there is no longer a police force. It's the army and the Republican Guard that seem to be in control of the streets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, late tonight, Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, went on television announcing he'll be forming a new government, but himself remaining in power.

Shortly afterwards, President Obama spoke with him, and, shortly after that, Mr. Obama went before the cameras to issue a warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And when President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech. And I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And when I was in Cairo shortly after I was elected president, I said that all governments must maintain power through consent, not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A measured response from President Obama, but we hear from our own John King, who's at the White House, there is deep disappointments with the comments, with the statement that President Mubarak made. We'll talk to John King shortly.

A lot to talk about throughout this hour. We're going to have correspondents on the scene -- Nic Robertson in Alexandria, and in Cairo, Ben Wedeman who are joining us live right now.

Ben, what's the latest in Cairo at this hour?

WEDEMAN: Right now, Anderson, it's very calm, very quiet. The army has taken up positions. We're right next to state TV. The curfew is, in theory, in effect, but what we've seen is, during the night, lots of people are coming out, coming to greet the soldiers, coming to take pictures of themselves in front of tanks.

But we're not hearing any gunfire, no tear gas being fired. There's been scattered looting around the city -- the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party utterly torched, completely ransacked, police stations around the city in flames as well.

It appears the police force had utterly disappeared. Anderson, that was a police force widely hated by ordinary Egyptians, hated for their corruption, their brutality, their torture.

So, for most Egyptians, seeing the army arrive on the scene and the police leave was a source of a lot of joy and excitement.

COOPER: But, Ben, we've seen plainclothes policemen, thugs basically, beating protesters, taking them away. And, as you said, I mean, there -- you know, it's well known about torture and -- and other things that have gone on with the security police in Egypt.

Are those plainclothes guys, are -- are they off the streets as well?

WEDEMAN: It's difficult to say, since they're almost indistinguishable from anybody else.

But the assumption is that they may realize that this regime is tottering. And there's not much for them to defend at this point.

So, they may have just sort of disappeared back into Egyptian society, along with all the other uniformed policemen, who have somehow disappeared into thin air.

The feeling is that President Mubarak made his speech today, but we're in a period of transition. It may not be much longer that he's the president. The army's in control of the streets. The protesters will come back. They will come back, because their one single demand throughout the last four days -- and it's only been four days of protest -- is, down with Mubarak. And they probably will not stop until they see that achieved.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Nic --

WEDEMAN: Anderson.

COOPER: Nic, you're in Alexandria, to the north, along the Egyptian coast. What's the situation like there right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The only few people we've seen out on the streets this -- this time of night, when we were out an hour or so ago, were looters going into some of the burnt-out police stations, pulling out whatever they could get, tables, chairs. There wasn't a lot left.

But what was really interesting, the handful of army troops that are on the streets here in their Armored Personnel Carriers are right -- positioned right outside those burned-out police stations. Not clear what they're defending, because there's nothing useful left in those buildings, certainly no police to secure or even security for -- security -- apparatus for security.

Well, but what they're not doing is, they're not stopping the looters, as they have been very friendly with the crowds that have come to them, and they will be very well aware of what happened to the police today, who were literally beaten off the streets.

It was almost a seminal moment we watched where one man went up against the police with his hands in the air. There were rocks thrown from the crowd behind him at police. The police were throwing the rocks back. And he calmed the situation himself. And the crowds talked to the police, and the police backed off. More rocks flew, and the police fled.

The army will know, those soldiers, those young soldiers in the Armored Personnel Carriers will know that could be the situation that awaits them, because, as Ben says, the people will come back. Mubarak says that he won't go. And the army are there to enforce his rules. There's a confrontation coming, one way or another, with the army. They back off, or the crowds, it seems, are going to inevitably take them on, Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, the speech that President Mubarak made, there was at least one report by "The Wall Street Journal" that it was pre- recorded, that it was not a live speech. A, do we know that? And B, do we know where President Mubarak is right now?

WEDEMAN: It did seem to be a recorded speech, Anderson.

And, of course, President Mubarak is 82 years old. So, normally, he -- he stopped doing live appearances a few years ago. He normally resides in the Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula. It's not clear whether he's there or in Cairo.

Certainly, under normal circumstances, he's there, but his -- his precise whereabouts aren't at all clear. The speech he made really shocked a lot of people. Just reforming a cabinet that is really just technocrats, people who carry out his orders, is not going to impress too many Egyptians.

Everybody knows that the cabinet traditionally has always been sort of yes-men to the president. So, the feeling is, he's just going to get a new group of yes-men.

COOPER: And -- and Ben, these demonstrations we have seen -- and you say there's going to be probably more today -- how are they being organized? How do people know where to go?

WEDEMAN: Well, there are some basic collection points. And, in fact, what's interesting is that, you know, in the past, we used things like Twitter and cell phones, neither of which work at the moment, to sort of find out who's going where.

Now there are certain standard points where demonstrations begin. People understand word of mouth. Landlines still work. So, spontaneously or otherwise, people will join in certain places.

However, I must stress, it's been four days of an unprecedented uproar in Cairo. Tomorrow, now that people -- now that the army is in the streets, people may decide to take a day off tomorrow.

COOPER: We're going to have more with Nic and Ben throughout this hour. They have just been remarkable on the ground, at great risk to themselves. And we appreciate it. We're going to have more with them coming up.

Joining us now, national security analyst Peter Bergen; Mideast scholar Robin Wright, senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Fouad Ajami, who teaches -- he's a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Fouad, would you call this a revolution?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think so. I think this is really an attempt on the part of the Egyptian people, a proud people, an ancient people, 80 million people, to recover their dignity from this man who has demeaned them.

The irony, the -- the tragedy of Hosni Mubarak is, here -- here was the son of the land, a man of middle peasantry. He inherits power, because he was there on the reviewing stand that day in -- in 19 --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: He survived standing on the reviewing stand when --

AJAMI: Absolutely.

COOPER: -- when -- when Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

AJAMI: Absolutely.

And I think there is -- of course, the rumor has always in a way trailed to him that the assassin, the lead assassin, told him to get out of the way. "I want to get this dog," he said, about President Sadat. He got out of the way.

He survived. He had every chance to bond with his people. The bond between -- between Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian has been severed. The bond between his wife and the Egyptian people has been severed, between his son and the Egyptian people have been severed. I don't know if he can come back from this.

COOPER: You think -- you think this might be the end of him?

AJAMI: I think -- look, Hosni -- I mean, I listened to the speech. And I want to tell you something, as someone who -- whose language, native language, is Arabic. I was listening for the cadence of the man, for the seriousness of the man. He's a very uninspiring speaker.

The crowd wants him. So what he did is, he threw overboard to them, he offered them the prime minister. The prime minister means nothing. It's really about the regime.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: To offer up his cabinet means nothing. I mean, Hosni Mubarak is the power in Egypt and has been for 30 years.

AJAMI: And the question now, if you will, his relations with the officer corps, because, at the end, this is a regime; the spine of this regime is the officer corps.

And will the officer corps want to fight for Hosni Mubarak, or are they the sons of Egypt, who represent the spirit of Egypt? That really is the test.

COOPER: And -- and Robin, do we know the answer to that? I mean, the military is now on the streets. According to Ben, the police have retreated, even some of the plainclothes ones. Do we know what the military plans now?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Well, I think you have to remember that the military is not just one body. It is a group of officers who may be loyal or have -- some of them have loyalty to the regime.

But then you have the rank and file, who will have their brothers and sisters, uncles, fathers out on the streets protesting and demanding the end to the Mubarak dynasty.

And so, the military may not respond evenly to -- if there are -- if there are demonstrations on the streets.

COOPER: Peter Bergen, the -- the Muslim Brotherhood is -- is basically outlawed in Egypt, although it's been sort of allowed back in -- in recent years in a very much limited way.

There is much concern in the United States about an Islamic regime taking -- taking power in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is really one of the few organizations that -- that is -- is organized, even though it's been underground for -- for decades and decades and decades.

How concerned should the United States be about that, even though the Muslim Brotherhood up to now has not been in the forefront of this, although we're hearing just in the last 24 hours that they're starting to get involved in the demonstrations?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think that concern would be overblown.

I mean, this is a group that, in a free and fair election in Egypt, which obviously hasn't happened for -- for a very long time, would probably get about a third of the vote. And, you know, this is also a group that isn't a bunch of sort of you know, raving, lunatic Islamic fundamentalists of -- you know, of the ilk of Osama bin Laden.

I mean, the Muslim Brotherhood is made up with a lot of professional men who are -- and -- and women, who are -- you know, they are certainly fundamentalists in their beliefs about Islam, but the -- the group itself a long time ago rejected violence. It came -- when it -- when it was first sort of born, it had -- it was against the British. And it had a -- really a terrorist wing, which it sort of has -- you know, has receded into history.

And so this is a group that I think is going to play some role in Egypt in the future. And they could well play a quite constructive role.

COOPER: Fouad, why did this happen now? I mean is this just because of what -- what -- the possibilities that were opened up after what happened in Tunisia?

AJAMI: I think Tunisia shamed the Egyptian people. I mean --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Shamed them?

AJAMI: Yes, in many ways.

Look at -- look at Egypt, the pride of Egypt. The Egyptians have this idea that they are the center of the Arab world. Arab modernity began in Egypt. Arab cinema began in Egypt. Arab art began in Egypt -- and the first coup d'etat of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

I mean, so, in fact, the Egyptians have always believed in the centrality of Egypt to the -- to Arab world, 80 million of them, as we said. They look at this very marginal country on the outer consciousness of the Arab world, an afterthought in the Arab world. Tunisia, with 10 million people, sacks its despot, who exactly bears almost a striking resemblance, by the way, to Hosni Mubarak.

I mean, I love the fact that they're both men in their 70s and 80s with jet-black hair. There's something wrong with a -- with a ruler of 80 million people who is sitting wondering whether he should dye his hair or not.

So, as the Egyptians look at what happened in Tunisia, they've had it with Hosni Mubarak. And the spark in all revolutions may be very small. Had it not been that a man set on -- himself on fire in Tunisia; Tunisia would not have happened.

Had it not been that, in a way, the Egyptians watching Tunisia, they were emboldened by what happened in Tunisia. So, the autocracies of the Arab world were really living on borrowed time. And the -- and the material was there. What you really needed was the spark.

COOPER: We're going to have more with Fouad and -- and Robin and Peter Bergen, also with Ben and Nic.

Stay with us, everyone. We've got a lot more to cover. We're -- we're covering the story all throughout this hour.

You can weigh in as well. The live chat is up and running at AC360.com.

Up next: the implication of Washington's key ally in the Arab world now in turmoil; what White House insiders are saying. You heard what President Obama said publicly. Privately, we're hearing some other things. We're going to tell you that. John King has the reporting on that.

Also, some of the other big stories from around the country and the world and Isha Sesay -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Anderson.

The goal to end the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military appears to be on the fast track -- brand-new comments from Secretary of Defense Gates on this Friday. I'll tell you what he said.

Plus, Mr. Cooper, I know just how much you love all things British. Well, get out your finest China, prepare your crumpets, and have your hanky ready, because the folks at Lifetime are making a movie about Will and Kate. I'll have all the details of what you can expect.

COOPER: All right.

We'll have more of the -- more from Egypt in a moment.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: The police continue to fire massive amounts of tear gas. It's like the Battle of Cairo here. Every -- almost every part of town has seen demonstrations and seen violent suppression of those demonstrations by the police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was CNN's Ben Wedeman earlier today with pictures of the uprising, the crackdown being beamed around the world, including Washington, where it's not being well-received by the Obama administration.

The United States is in a very uncomfortable position, having backed President Mubarak for decades.

While cautioning protesters to express -- express themselves peacefully, Mr. Obama spoke out for them, and not the leader they want gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was President Obama this evening.

More now on the White House reaction and what insiders are saying from John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA."

John, over the last 24 hours, there's been a -- a real evolution in the Obama administration's handling of the situation. Were they caught off guard?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": They were caught off guard to some degree, and there has been quite an evolution.

The vice president is on record saying he would not consider Hosni Mubarak to be a dictator. The administration wishes he hadn't said that so publicly. The administration -- look, this is a traditional ally in the region, a very important --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: How -- how could he have possibly said that? I mean, how did he explain himself on that one?

KING: Well, because the United States -- remember, the sensitivity of the relationship. There are elections in Egypt. Now, those elections are a sham. You know that. I know that. The White House knows that.

For diplomatic reasons, they don't like to use the term dictator. They have criticized him in the past. And this is one of the fascinating issues here. Privately, they say they have been very tough with President Mubarak. Obviously, he hasn't listened to them. He didn't listen to the Bush administration either about democratic reforms.

And so you have had an evolution, Anderson.

One of the interesting things throughout the day today was, they were told -- there was frequent conversation with the ambassador in Egypt and others on the ground in Egypt.

They're saying: Look, the government, President Mubarak's government is going to tell you this is isolated. It is not. It is spreading and it is everywhere. They're going to tell you it is radical Islamists. It is not. It is it middle-class Egyptians. It is young Egyptians. It is old Egyptians. It is everyone.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: This is the U.S. ambassador telling this to the White House? KING: Yes, conveying back to the White House, essentially just saying, if they try tell you this is not a big deal, they are not telling you the truth.

This is a very big deal. And, Anderson, the calculation of most people tonight, would they like President Mubarak to reach out and start a dialogue? Would they like him to be able to extend this through the presidential election, an orderly and smooth transition? Yes, they would.

Do they think he can tonight? Most of the people you talk to think, no, we have reached the tipping point.

COOPER: Well, you talk about a presidential election. I mean, he was grooming his son to take over. Obviously, that situation has changed.

John, they finally spoke today, President Obama and Mubarak. Do you know -- what have you heard on background about that conversation?

KING: I'm told it was a brief conversation, that it was a relatively terse conversation. There's always a big debate in diplomacy, when do you play the president card? And all day long, people were saying, when would President Mubarak speak, when would President Obama speak?

Well, after President Mubarak's speech -- remember, all day long, the administration said, you must reach out. You must immediately open a dialogue with the demonstrators. And President Mubarak did no such thing. He said he would fire his government, which as Nic and Ben have told you, is viewed largely as a sham by the protesters.

And the president himself said nothing about his willingness to talk to them. And, at that point, we're told the President of the United States called him and was exasperated. And that's why you heard the President -- some are saying that President Obama's remarks were not tough enough, but he said: I need to see concrete steps in public.

That was a nudge to President Mubarak. And the administration says if they don't see those steps within the next 24 hours or so, when he reorganizes the government, they have a big, huge question as to whether President Mubarak can survive.

COOPER: His -- President Obama's public comments were -- were measured. Are you hearing -- I mean, how was President Mubarak's statement received in the White House?

KING: They were highly disappointed with it, because they wanted tangible proof that he was willing to begin a dialogue. And they see no evidence of that. They see a president who thinks he -- a president in Egypt who thinks he can somehow put this genie back into the bottle.

And Anderson, they don't think he can, which is why they also made clear and leading voices in Congress are making clear that, if they don't see more outreach, more democratic reform, more communications and dialogue with the protesters immediately, they're going to reconsider U.S. aid.

That sends a chilling signal, because it is the billion dollars- plus in annual U.S. aid that keeps the Egyptian military up and running. And the Egyptian army, as everyone has said previously to me tonight, is the key institution right now.

When the demonstrators come back into the streets tomorrow or the next day, how will the army react? Will they stay loyal to President Mubarak?

So, the threat of cutting off aid, the tough words, not only from the White House, but from leading members of Congress, has to send a signal to the Egyptian government.

COOPER: Incredible times.

John, I appreciate the reporting.

I want to bring back the panel: Peter Bergen, Robin Wright, and Professor Fouad Ajami.

Robin, what do you make of the White House, how they have handled this thus far? I mean, it is a very difficult situation for the United States. They have supported this guy for 30 years. We've given him billions of dollars. How do you think they're handling it?

WRIGHT: Well, I think we've seen a turning point today, not only in the turnout of people on the streets of Cairo and Suez and Alexandria, but also the reaction from the White House.

This was the toughest language, and President Obama and the State Department put the regime on notice that it could no longer ignore the grievances of the people, that it had to reopen and allow freedom of -- of speech and expression, that it had to deal with opposition parties, and that it could not use violence.

And this was the main tool, has been for decades predating President Mubarak. And so this really was -- an important juncture in U.S. foreign policy as well. And this will have rippling repercussions throughout the region. The United States took a very strong stand in Tunisia in saying that it stood on the side of the people, now standing with the -- the people in Egypt.

This will send a strong signal, I think, throughout the 22 nations of the Arab world. This is not just the beginning of the end of the Mubarak dynasty. It will herald, I think, a period that a lot of regimes, whether it's Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, elsewhere, governments will have to respond to the needs of their people.

COOPER: Peter, you were interested to see also demonstrations in Yemen.

BERGEN: Yes. I mean, the -- the situation is -- is analogous in some senses. You've got a dictator who has been -- President Saleh, who has run Yemen for three decades or so, supported by the army, who has delivered very little for the -- his people, with the economy in Yemen in crisis. The country is running out of oil, the little it had, running out of water. It's got two wars going on. It's also got al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula headquartered there.

COOPER: These are pictures from Yemen right now that we're showing, demonstrations there.

BERGEN: Right.

And, I mean, the difference between Yemen and Egypt is, in Yemen, you know, there is a slightly more democratically -- there are parties in -- in Yemen which the president, Saleh, he's sort of allowed to grow up.

And they -- you know, by Arab -- by Arab standards, it's somewhat more democratic than other -- other Arab regimes -- admittedly, a rather low bar. And, so, we're seeing --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Well, you also have -- you also have a heavy al Qaeda presence -- or heavy, but I mean, relatively speaking, an al Qaeda presence, and active military conflict going on in -- in several areas of the country in Yemen.

BERGEN: Sure, there's a southern secessionist movement in the -- in the south of the country. There's a sort of mini-war going on up in the north. Al Qaeda has, I think, inserted itself into a number of the tribes.

Yemen itself, you know, the tribes there settle their disputes, not with small weapons, but with artillery. This is a -- a country that's heavily armed, one of the most heavily armed countries in the world in terms of personal weaponry. And it's a country that's one of the -- the poorest country in the -- in the Arabian --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Yes.

BERGEN: And, so, you know, lots of things could go wrong.

But the good thing is right now that those demonstrations have been -- have been peaceful.

COOPER: Fouad, we hear President Obama, you know, calling upon Hosni Mubarak --

(CROSS TALK)

AJAMI: Sure.

COOPER: -- to actually start to make changes and do stuff.

Administrations have been suggesting him -- telling him to do that for -- for probably all of his 30 years.

AJAMI: Right.

COOPER: Why has he just not done it? I mean, it -- why -- is it just that they are so mired in corruption?

AJAMI: Look, Hosni Mubarak knows how to stiff America. He takes our coin and runs amok of our purposes. And he's done it through five American presidencies.

I think this dictatorship in -- in Egypt, it had the --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: And it is a dictatorship.

AJAMI: Absolutely.

(CROSS TALK)

AJAMI: I mean, it's a -- it's a joke.

And I think, about the Obama administration, we should remember, this is the second time in a big way that the Obama administration has been caught by a popular hurricane, and couldn't place itself on the right side of things. Let's not forget what happened in Iran in the summer of 2009.

So, in Egypt, there is another replay. President Obama came into office in 2009, and it was kind of odd. It was paradoxical. Here is this man who was talking about change, but his first message was to the despots in the region, which is, Bush's diplomacy of freedom, which intervened in your internal affairs, is hereby annulled.

COOPER: Right. President Bush actually stopped allowing Hosni Mubarak to come to the White House.

AJAMI: Well, President Bush tried. I mean, I think President Bush circled both Egypt and Saudi Arabia and gave up at the end. There were really two -- at the end, the two -- the final two years of the Bush administration sought reconciliation.

COOPER: But why -- I mean, if you were a dictator, like Hosni Mubarak, why not make an effort to meet the needs of your people? Why not, if there's an earthquake, you know, have services to actually feed them, as opposed to letting the Muslim Brotherhood do it?

AJAMI: He just doesn't -- this is a soldier. This is a man of the barracks. He's a man of order.

I actually once described him as the cop on the banks of the Nile. He's a policeman. That's what he knows about life. He knows that life is about order. And he fears the mob. He fears the mass. And he fears his own country. He fears the bourgeois, the lawyers, the judges. He took away their rights. He took away their dignity.

COOPER: And you've been saying he uses the Muslim Brotherhood against both --

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: -- the middle class and the United States.

AJAMI: That's the bogeyman. That's the standoff. That's the classic dance in the region between the autocrats on the one side and the theocrats on the other. And, there, we stand as outsiders.

We can't really order the life of Egypt. I mean, Obama can't. Bush couldn't.

So, it's really for them to order their own politics. And, in this dance between the autocrats and the theocrats, the autocrats are very brilliant. They always tell us, look, it's either us or the bearded ones out there.

COOPER: And Robin, when you hear that, I mean how -- for -- for those in the United States concerned about, you know, Islamic fundamentalists taking over in Egypt, how big a concern should that be? Peter Bergen says the Muslim Brotherhood, you know, probably wouldn't get a majority in an election.

WRIGHT: I think that's true in most of the Middle East countries. And what's so interesting about this juncture is that we see a movement emerging with a body but no head. It's not ideological. It has no affiliation with any of the ideologies, whether it's Nasserism of the earlier Egypt or the Islamic fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood today.

This is something that is new. And it doesn't know where it's headed. It doesn't have a leader to guide it. And I think that the politicians that have -- whose names have been out there for a long time may end up being transition figures. But I'm not sure that they're going to be the ones who define Egypt of the future.

COOPER: Robin, were you surprised about this? Did you expect this?

WRIGHT: Well, I think -- I've been writing about this for a long time, but I think that you've seen a trend. This is the last bloc of countries in the world that has held out against the democratic forces of the last 30 years. And I think it was destined to go there.

It was a matter of what spark and the confluence of elements, be it the education of the majority of the people, the technology to circumvent state control, be it Al Jazeera providing images, or the Twitter and Facebook technology to communicate with each other, the demographics of it being a young population.

COOPER: Right.

WRIGHT: And so that all of these things came together with the right spark, the right mood in the international community. This is the 21st century. And I think that's what is --

COOPER: Fouad, more -- more protests you think today?

AJAMI: Absolutely. And, you know, they can't stop here. This wasn't why this revolt erupted, so they can arrive at the moment where Mubarak says to them, "All right. I've heard your demand. I'm willing to reform. I'm going to give you a new lackey government."

COOPER: Right. Fouad Ajami, I appreciate your expertise.

Robin Wright, as well; Peter Bergen, John King, thanks for the reporting.

The question is: how did this chaos in Egypt begin? It's hard to believe the situation has deteriorated as much as it has, or exploded as much as it has in just a few days.

When we come back, a look at how the protest started, our coverage into Egypt in crisis. Also, more reports from Ben Wedeman and Nic Robertson, live from -- on the ground. We'll be right back.

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NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's been amazing is the roller-coaster volatility of what's going on, from extreme anger to extreme happiness. And I know you've seen it in the Middle East many times before, flipping on a dime. And that's what we're seeing right now this evening.

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COOPER: Some of the remarkable reporting from Nic Robertson and Ben Wedeman, who have been on the scene in Egypt all throughout these last several days.

The unrest that erupted full force today has been building since Tuesday. Social media, Facebook, Twitter, have been a key tool for protestors, at least until the government pulled the plug. We can actually show you what that looked like yesterday.

Take a look at this graph. It shows Internet traffic to and from Egypt across 80 Internet providers. You can see the volume suddenly dropping off to a trickle at 5:20 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday.

Today, President Obama criticized the Egyptian authorities for restricting Internet and cell-phone access.

Nic Robertson joins me again from Alexandria and Ben Wedeman from Cairo.

Ben, are cell phones working now? I mean, can you -- can people tweet? What is the situation with social media?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Completely blacked out. No Internet whatsoever. Cell phones still don't work. It appears that this -- this policy of utter blackout continues. COOPER: And Nic Robertson, for you, is that the same situation? I heard you might have access to the Internet in Alexandria.

We're having a problem with Nic's audio; we'll try to get that --

ROBERTSON: You know the only thing that's working for me is my BlackBerry. I can send e-mails over my BlackBerry but I can't send -- can't send -- I can send e-mails with my Blackberry but can't send text messages, and I can't use it to make phone calls, which is really bizarre.

I'm sending e-mails to my wife, who's tweeting on my account for me. That's the way we're getting around it here.

COOPER: Ben, in terms of what happens in the next couple of hours, what are you expecting? What are you going to be looking for in the next three to four hours?

WEDEMAN: Well, once the curfew is lifted, even though not an awful lot of people are actually respecting it, we're going to have to see whether people are going to go back into the streets and start protesting the fact that Mubarak is still the president and doesn't seem to be expressing any willingness to step down.

Normally, the demonstrations start afternoon -- 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the afternoon. So probably the next three or four hours will be relatively quiet. A quiet that will probably be greeted with some happiness by Cairo residents and myself, I have to say.

COOPER: I can imagine. You -- you ran into some trouble on the streets today. What happened?

WEDEMAN: We were right in the middle of a demonstration, caught between demonstrators on the one hand and a large group of police, plain-clothed -- and they're the guys you have to watch out for -- and the uniformed police.

They saw us hiding behind a concrete pillar from the stones that were being thrown, grabbed the camera -- camera woman, Mary Rogers. All three of us, me, Tommy Evans, and Mary Rogers tried to wrestle with these guys. And these guys are really rough individuals.

In fact, Tommy Evans was face -- right into the face of one of them. He said the guy looked like he was on drugs. His eyes were all weird.

Anyway, one of those plain-clothes policeman cracked the viewfinder while we all had our hands on the camera, and they yanked it away, pulled it off.

And we were going to go back to the office immediately afterwards. But I was so angry, because we had some incredible pictures of ordinary civilians, a family of four, mother, father and two children, who had sat down on the pavement, sort of an ad hoc sit- in, and started chanting against the Mubarak regime. A group of these plain-clothes police -- policemen went after them with billy clubs, punches and kicking. And we had some other great pictures.

And when we lost those, I was so angry. I was -- I took some of that anger out on the commander of the police there and had to be dragged away by my colleagues.

COOPER: And you did this in fluent Arabic, because in case our viewers don't know, you are fluent in Arabic, so I'm sure you were quite effective in your -- in your anger.

You know, I want to get to Nic in a second, but Ben, I want to ask you one more question. You've spent so much time in Egypt over the years, and it's a question I asked Fouad. Why hasn't the Mubarak government met the needs of its people? I mean, if -- I've heard stories if there's a -- if there's a disaster, it's often the Muslim Brotherhood who's out there giving out loaves of bread, as opposed to the Egyptian. Why have they consistently failed to meet the needs of the people?

WEDEMAN: You know, some people, when describing the Mubarak regime, have -- have likened it to the pharaonic times. You had people at the very top of society who lived beyond the wildest dreams of the vast majority of people.

And the impression you get is that this top elite, which must be just a fraction of one percent of the population, lives in another world, a world of wealth and luxury and comfort that ordinary people can only dream of and that the people at the top have no idea what the rest of society lives like.

Now, we understand that Mubarak is surrounded by advisers who oftentimes will tell him everything's fine, everything's good. For instance, it's said that President Mubarak and his son, Gamal, don't even know that Cairo has a traffic problem. Because when they ever drive -- whenever they drive through the city, of course, the police have cleared all the cars off. So they're living in another world, and the masses are on another universe for them -- Anderson.

COOPER: That is certainly not the case over the last several days. They seem to have been brought back to this world.

We're going to have more from Nic Robertson and Ben Wedeman. Thanks.

First, a look at some of the other stories we're following right now. Isha Sesay has a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, new word of progress on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," that repeal. In a memo today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says all military branches will implement the repeal at the same time, hopefully by the end of this year, if not sooner. Gates said he wants a report on his desk by next Friday with guidelines on how the military will be trained for the change.

Delaware's medical examiner has determined a cause of death in the mysterious case of former Pentagon official John Wheeler. Official word is Wheeler died from blunt force trauma after being assaulted, although it's not known by whom. Wheeler's body was found in a Delaware landfill on New Year's Eve.

And Nelson Mandela's released from a hospital in South Africa today. The 92-year-old former president was treated for a respiratory infection. Great news: a collective sigh of relief that Mandela is out of hospital -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. And we certainly wish him well. Isha, more from you ahead.

Still ahead, the uprising as it unfolded, some of the most dramatic moments in a pivotal day from Egypt.

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COOPER: Well, it really has been an extraordinary day in Egypt. It's very rare that you can say you're actually watching history unfold. But that is what all of us have been watching.

Over the last 24 hours of so, we've watched anger erupt into full-on fury in the streets. It's unclear how many have been killed, how many have been hurt. It's unclear how many have been arrested and maybe being tortured right now in Egyptian jails.

Despite the crackdown on the Internet and cell phones, the world is watching this revolt unfold on television and on Twitter. We wanted to show you some of the most dramatic moments, many of them unprecedented in Egypt's modern history.

We want to warn you: some of the images are very disturbing. You'll even see someone being shot. But this is what is happening in Egypt.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mubarak, Mubarak, go to hell.

HALA GORANI, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: It was billed as a day of wrath, anger, directed at the government, directed at the autocratic leader of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators saying he and his entire regime need to go.

In the streets of Cairo water cannons being used against demonstrators, tear gas pretty much enveloping many neighborhoods in Cairo. There are also protests in Alexandria, in Suez.

WEDEMAN: One of the hotels, the five-star hotels just down the streets from us -- I'm sorry, Hala, this tear gas is getting to us here. The security is confiscating the cameras of tourists. Of course, for a country that depends so much on tourism, for this sort of heavy-handed tactic to be used against the people who are a major source of income for this country is also a worrying development, to say the least.

A group of these plain-clothes policemen sort of converged upon us, and they tried to -- basically, they grabbed the camera from Mary Rogers, our camerawoman and cracked the view finder off. And, you know, after quite a tussle with these guys -- some of them are pretty big -- they took the camera away.

ROBERTSON: The protestors here say they're worried that live rounds of ammunition, that shots may be fired at them. This gentleman here -- this gentleman here saying that there's tear gas being fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They fired inside the mosque.

ROBERTSON: They fired inside the mosque is what this man was telling us here right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're about to see a disturbing image of that violence: a protestor shot down in the middle of the street.

Now, it appears that man was unarmed, except for the rock he picked up just before that bullet's impact. Witnesses and a security source say he was killed.

ROBERTSON: The police clearly pulled back, because it just seems impossible to stop all the people throwing the rocks. The police almost seemed as if here they're on the same side as the crowd.

WEDEMAN: The army has come out into the streets. This was an armored personnel carrier full of army soldiers, just up there. This is the first time we've seen that the army has become involved. The army has stayed out of any civil disturbances since 1985.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police vehicle behind me, the police tried to drive it into their ranks. And then apparently it got stopped, and now they're trying to topple the police vehicle.

This is an amazing scene. You can see people here screaming, "Allahu Akbar," "God is great."

WEDEMAN: They're moving toward the ministry's information building (ph). Now the police are firing tear gas back at them. But protestors are throwing rocks.

This is an incredible scene. This is history in the making on live television.

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COOPER: Wow. An amazing editing job on that; just some of the most dramatic images we have seen over the last 24 hours or so.

Coming up, a look at this week's CNN Hero. He's an Israeli man whose own brother was killed by Hamas who is promoting peace and helping save lives. What he's doing for sick Palestinians in occupied areas is going to amaze you and inspire you. His story, next.

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COOPER: Time now for this week's CNN Hero. Tonight we meet a man who is promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in a unique way, a way that's saving lives.

Five days a week and for free, he and his volunteers take sick Palestinians into Israel so they can get medical care. Take a look.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When my daughter's health isn't normal, I go to the hospital five times a week for her dialysis.

We don't have treatment at all here.

YUVAL ROTH, CNN HERO, COMMUNITY CRUSADER: In Palestine, healthcare is very expensive. It's not accessible. It's a big difference between the life here and one minute away.

My name is Yuval Roth. We transport sick Palestinians from the occupied territory into the Israeli hospitals. If they should take a taxi, it would cost them a lot of money. They can't afford it.

My brother, he was murdered by Hamas people. That caused me to do something. Not in terms of revenge, but to look for a way for reconciliation and peace.

Right now we have about 200 volunteers. And we transport from the Israeli side to a checkpoint at least five days a week. It's a very exciting moment when you see improvement. It gives me a lot of happiness.

The price of the conflict is a lot more than the price of making peace. Regardless of political or religious I think that we all are human beings.

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COOPER: Well, remember, every one of this year's CNN Heroes are chosen from people you tell us about. To nominate someone you know who's making a big difference in your community, you can go to cnnheroes.com.

We'll be right back.

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COOPER: That's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"PIERS MORGAN" starts now.