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Reports Continue of Police Beating, Arresting Local and International Journalists; Riot Police Surround CNN Crew, Smash Video Camera; Egyptian Protestors Defy Curfew; 'Sporadic Gunfire' Continues Throughout Alexandria; Violence Slows as Egyptian Police 'Beaten Off the Streets'
Aired January 28, 2011 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Hala Gorani, alongside my colleague Jim Clancy.
It is now 8:00 p.m. in Egyptian, two hours into a curfew declared by that country's embattled president and vital U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Now, if you've been watching CNN, following this for the past couple of hours, you can see what we have witnessed on the streets. Scenes like this one -- people gathered around military or paramilitary vehicles. The scenes at night after the -- after the curfew was imposed. Fires set outside or in the political headquarters of Hosni Mubarak, the 30-year running president of Egypt inside his political parties headquarters. Thousands and thousands of protesters.
GORANI: And, Jim, the most significant development of the day, the military has rolled in. It has hit the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. But another significant development is how the protests have greeted elements of the military. In many cases, with chance of ala alagur (ph), which is a way of saying, god is great, but also a way of saying, welcome and we are happy, and, also, embracing, sort of, military members in APCs and in tanks.
CLANCY: As our own correspondent who's been tirelessly covering this for hours now, throughout the day, Ben Wedeman, put it, the riot police much hated in Egypt. This is not, of course, the first time. They have a long record of cracking down on demonstrations, like the ones we've seen today. You're looking at a live picture, here, along the Corneshe Elnil (ph). Things appear to have calmed down, somewhat. We're about 100 meters, there, from one of the outlets of Egyptian television, state run television, an important site, but people are still on the ground, Hola (ph). But they're in defiance of this curfew, now, but it would seem that by pulling back, at least partially, that things are calming down.
GORANI: And we are all playing the where is Hosni Mubarak game in the last two hours, because we were expecting the Egyptian president to make an appearance on state television, address his countrymen and women but he is, right now, he is a no-show. Mubarak has put the military in charge of security. He's ordered everybody off the streets until 7:00 a.m., local time, tomorrow. And, Jim, of course, Mohammed Obardi (ph), one of the better known opposition figures, internationally, and because of his roll at the head of the IAEA, is under house arrest.
CLANCY: You know, as we look at this, Mohammed Obardi made some provocative comments, his brother made provocative comments for him, before coming back to Egypt. He had been in Europe. It's important to remember, and I was just in Egypt late last year, November, December, and Muhammad Obardi is much more pock, and probably much more famous, really, outside of Egypt than he is inside of Egypt. Not everyone, in Egypt, thinks that he is, quote, "presidential." You're looking at a live picture on your right there. The Corneshe Elnil (ph). You can see the bridge that crosses over the Nile River on your left. These are photos, video that came in a little earlier today showing some of the demonstrators as they walked in the streets, defying that curfew that went into place now two hours ago.
GORANI: And you mentioned ElBaredei being more popular and more renowned outside of his own country than inside of Egypt. And part of the reason might be that he doesn't live there. I mean, he lives in Vienna, Austria. He came two days ago as the protests reached their crescendo, if you will, and now he is under house arrest. So, really, his political aspirations might not, in reality, match his desired, sort of, goals or the goals that he set for himself. So, this is also something that we need to watch out for. And the other opposition elements in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, joined protests today.
CLANCY: Let's bring in Jamie Rubin. I want to know, Jamie, your perspective, Jamie, formerly spokesperson for Madeleine Albright, a long time veteran of international affairs. Jamie, why do we care about this story?
RUBIN: Well, I think, we care about it for many reasons. Number one, the absence of Democratic values and Democratic rule in the Middle East has been at the core of America's difficulties with countries in the region, its difficulties with terrorist organizations, arguably, the anger of a particular organizations like Al Qaeda against the United States, was generated by American support for Egypt. The number two in Al Qaeda is Mr. Zowaheri (ph), who is an Egyptian, , Moslem Brotherhood, originator against the United States because of our support for Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The second reason we care, and this is much more long standing, is that Egypt has been our closest ally in the Middle East for a long time. They are the only country, other than Jordan, that has a peace treaty with Israel and they are, in many ways, or have been seen to be the center of the Arab world, and Egypt is a very complex society. It's got Islamic elements. It's got a middle class. It's got the century's old civilization, Alexandria, where these things are taking place, go back a long way.
So, for all of those reasons, Egypt is central to American policy in the Middle East. And the problem, here, is that the administration has a dilemma. What do you do now?
CLANCY: But look in the past, Jamie, we've been so concerned -- the United States, Washington has been so concerned about stability in the Middle East, it allowed Hosni Mubarak to be there without any significant opposition that might be in a position, might have the experience to pick up the reins and to guide the nation.
RUBIN: Well, that's exactly right, Jim. The U.S. government, in the last two administrations, but particularly under President Obama, has downplayed dramatically the democratic values problem in Egypt and up-played the importance of maintaining Mr. President Mubarak as our ally. President Bush, shortly after the Iraq war, he emphasized the importance of democracy in Egypt. But, then, he reversed course and decided that being friendly with Mubarak was more important than supporting democracy on the ground.
The administration, right now, I think, is driving its policy based on fear, not strategy. They're afraid of either being on the wrong side of history and supporting President Mubarak for too long or ending up alienating Mubarak as an ally if he ends up in power.
And, I think, it's probably time now, and Hillary Clinton's statement is coming closer, for the administration to take a decision, to decide, in the end, that if you're going to make a risky call, and this is a risky call, there are many strategic interests at stake, you're better off making that call in favor of the Democratic values that our country was built on, that America is known for, that America is still seen around the world as the leading supporter of. It's a tough call but, I think, increasingly, the indication is that we need to make sure that we are helping guide a Democratic transition, in Egypt, not propping up a 30-year authoritarian government.
CLANCY: The choice may not be Washington's as we watch developments unfolding in Cairo, right now. And I want to thank Jamie Rubin for being with us. Jamie, ask you to stay right there. We're going to have to take a break.
GORANI: Yes. And, Jim, we'll be right back with more reaction from Egyptian diplomat outside of their own country, as they watch this significant chapter of their country's history unfold live on television with us. We'll be right back.
GORANI: All right. We are hearing from our producer in our Cairo Vuro Tomievan (ph). That tank treads have now hit the streets of the Egyptian capitol. Tread is the tanks. These are, Jim Clancy, we're talking about some heavy duty military hardware, here.
CLANCY: That's exactly right. Those are going to be thundering through the streets. People will hear them as though treads grind into the pavement, something that the military doesn't often do, unless they want to make a point. They are concerned about security.
At the same time, we are being told -- and I'm getting reports in from Alexandria, as well. The military is deploying more in that city, an important historic city, but not anything near the size of Cairo. It's located all the way in the north up by the Mediterranean. You're looking at a live picture, here. This is Cairo. That is a picture along the Nile River.
GORANI: The Corneshe as it's called in the Egyptian capitol.
CLANCY: That's right. The Corneshe Orneal (ph). And this is a very -- this is a business center of Egypt. There are some residents that are there. You have some very core people living in that neighborhood, just a hundred, two hundred meters away. You have upscale shops and restaurants and things like that.
GORANI: And, Jim, you know Cairo on a Friday night, which is a day off, in Egyptian and the Muslim world --
CLANCY: That would be lined with people.
GORANI: Right, it would be lined with people, with couples holding hands, with people on boats on the Nile, with cars, probably a bit of a traffic jam, probably honking. You know, it's a vibrant city. It's the true beating heart of the Arab streets, Egypt, and Cairo, especially. And, today, what we're seeing is something I honestly didn't think I would see --
CLANCY: It's not a normal day. It's a day that I don't know think any of us have ever seen.
GORANI: It's absolutely not a normal day. You've got the military in full force, it seems, at least in some portions of Cairo. Yasser El Shimy is a former diplomatic Attache, Egyptian diplomatic Attache, joining us from Washington, what are your thoughts, Yasser?
YASSER EL SHIMY, FORMER EGYPTIAN DIPLOMATIC ATTACHE: I'm very trouble about what is happening in my country back in Egypt. These are very difficult times. I feel that Egypt is at a critical juncture of its history, right now. Egypt can either experience a foldencratic (ph) transformation or it can, perhaps, turn into a more ruthless police state. And, so, we need to watch, very carefully, what's going to happen.
GORANI: It's interesting that you should say that because so many are observing this throughout the world and cheering for the protesters. And, on the contrary, not calling this a bad day, saying, for once Egyptians are calling for the removal of a dictator.
SHIMY: Absolutely. This is not a bad day. This is completely unprecedented in Egyptian history that you have tens and thousands of people marching across several Egyptian cities, demanding freedoms, demanding their dignity, demanding economic reforms, perhaps, and, of course, this is a day of historical proportion and absolutely promising.
GORANI: So, what's your biggest worry?
SHIMY: The only thing we need to watch out --
GORANI: So, what's your biggest worry?
SHIMY: My biggest worry, right now, is for the military to intervene against the people, to start shooting indiscriminately at protesters, and, perhaps, to do so with impunity as the United States, sort of, turns a blind eye.
GORANI: Yasser El Shimy is a former diplomatic attache joining us from Washington D.C. Thank you, very much.
CLANCY: All right. As we look at a live picture coming to us, there, from the streets of Cairo, let's cross over and check in senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. Nic is in the historic city of Alexandria, a city that has been rocked by protests, as well, today. Nic, can you hear me? Are you on the line there?
NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I've got you loud and clear.
CLANCY: Nic, we've a huge delay that is coming in, here. Give us an update. I understand that the military is out in force, tonight. Where are the demonstrators?
ROBERTSON: The military has rolled in here and quite a large number of armored personnel carriers. It's quite an amazing scene as they get into the central square, here, and deploy into other places throughout the center of Alexandria. Crowds flowing, rushing up to greet the soldiers, to slap them on the backs when the officers go down to their armored personnel carriers. They shake their hands to say that they were here. And, solidarity and support of the people, here to protest them, they said, there is an overwhelming sense the people, here on the streets, have been in violent protest and riot with the police, and burning police stations and other buildings in the city through the day.
Here, suddenly a warm, friendly atmosphere with the Army. A completely different atmosphere altogether. It's, sort of, a celebratory feel. However, that said, even while we've been standing here talking, I've been able to hear gunshots over my shoulder, here, in the distance. Not clear who's firing at who, but the dynamic changing, here, after evacu (ph) of power in the city for a few hours, the dynamic changing with the Army, here, in the center of Alexandria -- Jim.
CLANCY: All right. We're talking about a city here of several million people, if you include the surrounding areas. How many were out on the streets today? Can you estimate?
ROBERTSON: What people were asked to do, and I'm not dodging your question, but what people were asked to do here was to attend their Friday prayers and then go on to demonstrations after Friday prayers. And what the police did was to try and corral around the different mosques to stop the people getting to other areas.
So in the center of the city here, perhaps in the height of the clashes with the police this afternoon, there were perhaps between several 5,000, perhaps up to 20,000. There were some reports -- very hard to tell because it was volatile, it was dynamic, it was fluid, it was moving around between -- in the different streets here in the center of the city.
What was happening elsewhere, because the mobile phone service is down, because the Internet is down, because people can't exchange information around the city they way they would do normally, we haven't been able to get to it and see what's happened on the other streets elsewhere. Has it been replicated by the other suburbs. And there are approximately, according to some estimates, as many as 14 million people in this surrounding area around Alexandria. So, as you say, a huge population. In the center around here, the maximum 20,000.
What's been amazing is the roller coaster volatility of what's going on. From extreme anger, to extreme happiness, and flipping as, Jim, I know you have seen in the Middle East many times before, flipping on a dime. And that's what we're seeing right now this evening.
CLANCY: Nic Robertson reporting with us there live from Alexandria.
As Nic has been talking, you have been looking at a live picture from far away in Cairo, Egypt, the capital, Alexandria. The major city on the Mediterranean. Takes in about 80 percent of all of the imports and exports coming in and out of Egyptian. Very important city. And it's important that we saw the protests there today. It -- I mean it shows --
GORANI: It really is.
CLANCY: It's not only at the political center, it's everywhere.
GORANI: Yes. And Alexandria, an extremely important city historically and extremely important culturally for Egypt. Suez as well. Another flash point for protesters in Cairo, of course, the capital.
What makes these protests important and significant, for many reasons they are, but one main reason is we are seeing a nationwide movement against the government, Jim. And I think that is one of the reasons the regime is so worried. And, again, I want to remind our viewers, we are still waiting for President Mubarak.
CLANCY: All right. We're going to take a short break here. Hala Gorani and myself, Jim Clancy, we're going to be back with you with more coverage, rolling coverage of the situation in Egypt tonight as a crisis unfolds. They have not seen a day like this one.
CLANCY: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the situation in Egypt. A country of 80 million people, a staunch ally of the United States, a nation in crisis tonight waiting to hear from its president.
Earlier in the day, some two hours ago, we were told it was only a matter of minutes before President Hosni Mubarak, who's been in office for almost 30 years, would appear on national television to answer calls from the protesters that he step aside, hand the reins of leadership to someone else.
The protesters are angry about the politics, the freedom of speech. They're angry about the jobs, or perhaps we should say the lack of them, in Egypt. This is a country where there is opportunity, but it is not shared equally and certainly it has some serious issues with poverty, particularly --
GORANI: By those -- no, I was going to just -- because in case our views, Jim, sorry to jump in, are wondering what's on the right hand side of their screen, this is the hash tag Egypt search term on Twitter.
CLANCY: Good point.
GORANI: Look at this. This is something that you rarely see where every nanosecond a new Tweet on Egypt is registered on Twitter.com.
Now, inside of Egypt, they might not be seeing this because there is a near total coms shutdown in that country, including Internet connection, which is almost unavailable to ordinary Egyptians right now.
And, by the way, you can find us on Twitter at Hala Gorani and at Clancy CNN. We are continuously updating our viewers online and on the air on this situation in Egypt.
CLANCY: You know, Hala, one of the questions that people have here. People, I think, understand the fact that Egypt is important -- an important country, a vital country to the United States in terms of an ally in the Middle East. It's important in the Middle East in its own right.
But why now? Is this all about Tunisia? Is this all about the uprising on the streets there a couple of weeks ago?
GORANI: You know, I think some of the analysts who have observed this sort of said it best. The protesters are infused with the spirit of Tunisia, but with the realities of Egypt. Tunisia and Egypt are two entirely different countries in their population weight, economically, in terms of the distributions, the socioeconomic distribution of the country and spectrum of individuals.
Tunisia is 10 million people. Egypt is 80 million people. Tunisia had a weaker military but said (ph) possibly not as linked to the president. Here, really you see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an ex military man himself, with a stronger military.
So there is the spirit of Tunisia there that is coursing through the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities, but the realities on the ground are different. And potentially the end result will also be different, Jim.
CLANCY: All right. We're going to continue our discussions of this. We're going to bring in some guests, get their point of view as well. Continuing to follow the crisis that has unfolded on the streets of Egypt today. We'll tell you why this is happening, look at some of the reasons, the components behind this crisis.
GORANI: Where are we going now? Are we going to take a break?
CLANCY: We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.
GORANI: We're going to take a break. We'll be right back, everyone. Stay with us.
GORANI: All right. We are going to go to Egypt in a second. So stay tuned. By the way, everyone, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, a White House briefing which will address the situation in Egypt no doubt.
These are live pictures coming to us from the Egyptian capital.
Assad Sawey is going to join me now. He's a BBC Arabic reporter. He was roughed up by security forces on the streets of Cairo a little bit earlier.
We even saw a picture of you, Assad, going back on air with a bandage on your head and blood that had trickled down the front of your shirt. Tell us what happened to you.
ASSAD SAWEY, BBC ARABIC REPORTER (via telephone): I was trying to cover the protests in -- around (INAUDIBLE) Square, the second biggest square in Cairo. And there was about 15,000 people protesting and it was (INAUDIBLE) to be violent. I was keeping my distance, about 300 meters away, using my photography camera. I had a good zoom, so I could use it at a distance.
But what I found out is that (INAUDIBLE) police were deliberately targeting journalists. This is something unprecedented. They were deliberately targeting journalists, but -- I mean what they did is that they surrounded us, a number of journalists, local and foreign, and I told them I worked for the BBC and I told them I'm a journalist and I showed them the necessary proof of this and what they did is, first, they took away my camera.
Second, about 10 people started beating me up with steel bars and immediately I had blood flowing out of my head. And they wouldn't really care about this. They just --
GORANI: And, Assad, you put a bandage on your head. You went right back on the air as soon as you could. We were showing there a screening grab of you on air, on BBC Arabic, a little bit earlier today. Why did you decide to do that, while you were injured? Why didn't you just call it a day?
SAWEY: Well, I decided to do that because the world has a right to know what's going on in Egypt. And as a journalist, something happens to me, I just don't show it to the world, then I haven't done my job. I am part of the events now and the world needs to know how journalists are being treated here in Egypt on that day. And that's what I did, I showed the world how journalists are being treated.
There's no Internet in Egypt since yesterday. There are no mobile phones. All mobile communication is cut off. So the world has no way of knowing except by seeing on television. And what you see is what you believe. I have to show it to the world.
GORANI: Assad Sawey, a BBC Arabic reporter, beaten by Egyptian police, bloodied, bandaged up, got right back on the air. Thanks very much.
CLANCY: He's got a story to tell. We've got more to tell you too. Stay with CNN.
CLANCY: It is 1:30 in the afternoon here on the east coast of the United States. There in Cairo, Egyptian, it is now 8:30 in the evening, 2.5 hours into a curfew that is being widely ignored. Police are on the streets. We continue to cover the story here at CNN.
GORANI: And it started in Tunisia a few weeks ago. We saw demonstrations in Yemen and in Jordan and other Arab countries, but the most significant development is for what is happening right now live in Cairo, Egypt. Massive street demonstrations, police crackdown followed now by the military hitting the streets in Egypt and protesters greeting them, in many cases --
CLANCY: Open arms. The fact of the matter is, Hala, they don't like the police. They don't like the security forces, they don't like the plain-clothes police and there is a good reason for that. I think that one of our own employees, Mary Rogers, a veteran camerawoman from all over, who lives in Cairo.
Mary, are you there on the line with us?
MARY ROGERS, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST (via telephone): Yes, I am, Jim.
CLANCY: What is this relationship -- let's start here. Let's start with your story, because you got up close and personal with the police earlier today.
ROGERS: Yes, I did. I mean, Ben and our producer, Tommy Evans, and I, were out at the beginning of these demos downtown and sort of running, I was taking pictures, you know, following the crowds. The police were firing tear gas, police were being hauled off and arrested.
And we ended up in Tahrir Square and a bunch of people were coming down the bridge and the police, you know, ran to beat them up and we sort of walked away to try to kind of hide behind the pillar. And the next thing I -- CLANCY: Did you know that you were a target? Did you know that people were looking for you?
ROGERS: Well, we had to -- there were our journalists out there, Jim. And I'm not the only one who had a camera taken and smashed today, other people -- it happened the same we had to be aware.
Yes, we had to be aware. We saw these plain-clothes people attack people and we were dodging in and out. We didn't stay in one place at the same time.
CLANCY: But then what happened?
ROGERS: -- moving. I think I maybe just pushed it a little too -- too much, Jim.
CLANCY: Who? You?
CLANCY: We were just -- you pushing it, those of us who have worked with you have a good view of how you operate on the ground. Unfortunately, this time it cost you a camera among other things.
Tell us about the actual incident. They basically jumped you, tried to grab it away.
ROGERS: They did. A group of -- I don't know how many of them were plain-clothes police surrounded Ben, me and Tommy. And you know, Ben was sort of in the front kind of arguing with them. They go -- they go, we want your tape, we want your tape. You know, don't, don't, don't.
And I tried to play dumb and I was hiding behind producer Tommy Evans, who is a tall guy, you know, and sort of sneaking the camera in my coat. And Tommy and I were listening to Ben sort of try and deal with the police and argue our way out saying we're press, OK, fine, we were only five minutes away from the bureau, we're going to go back to the office now.
But they wouldn't have it. They surrounded us, surrounded us. And it was like, you know, give me your tape, give me your tape. And you know, I played ignorant and finally, they manhandled all of us, you know, grabbed my camera, all of our hands were on it to try to get it. They grabbed it, threw it to the ground, you know, smashed it up, tool it and ran off, essentially.
CLANCY: All in a day's work for Mary Rogers, one of our veteran camera photographers.
ROGERS: Jim, all of my years, you know, out in situations like this, this is the first time this has happened, I must say. But it seems surreal now, like lifetimes ago.
CLANCY: Mary Rogers, thanks for your work. Thanks to your whole team out there. Fantastic job.
GORANI: And Jim, we both have worked with Mary, so we kind of have this mental image of how --
CLANCY: The police are lucky today too, but they just don't know it.
GORANI: Right. All right. Thanks very much.
All right, let's talk about the United States in all of this and what it means for America . A key ally, of course, in the region for the United States is Egypt. Its support translates into economic assistance, but of course U.S. military assistance amounts to $1.3 billion a year. It needs Egypt for many reasons, politically, geo- strategically in the region as well. We're expecting at the top of the next hour a White House briefing.
Ed Henry, our chief (sic) White House correspondent, joins us now with more on what all of this means for the United States.
It sounds from what the U.S. secretary of state and President Obama and others have said, it sounded as though they're taking a wait-and-see approach before taking sides, Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Somewhat, but we are also noticing today as we see these dramatic pictures and scenes play out on the streets of Cairo, the U.S. starting -- and I stress starting -- to take a tougher position.
You saw Secretary of State Clinton there, as you noted, a short while ago making remarks, calling on the Egyptian government in the strongest possible terms to stop the violence. Also are urging them to respect human rights and take on some reform, something, as you've noted, they said in the last couple of days, but she went further by saying, look, violence will not make the grievances of the Egyptian people go away.
And that came at the same time as Robert Gibbs going to social media, which, as you have been reporting, has been cut off in Egypt, still alive and well in America, obviously. Robert Gibbs saying, quote, "Very concerned about violence in Egypt -- government but respect the rights of the Egyptian people and turn on social networking and Internet."
So you can see ever so slightly the U.S. government starting to put pressure on the Egyptian government to knock off the violence, knock off cutting off communications so that the Egyptian people can communicate with one another and peacefully protest.
Now, as you mentioned, Robert Gibbs is going to be briefing just less than half an hour from now here at the White House. We anticipate that he and he may be joined by at least one other senior official, will be expounding upon that and explaining how frustrated they are with the Egyptian government right now, Hala.
GORANI: OK, Ed Henry, as we await that top of the hour news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., we're going to take a short break and Jim Clancy and myself will be right back after this.
CLANCY: Welcome back to the ongoing coverage of the crisis in Egypt.
On the right side of your screen, you're looking at a live picture of the Corniche el-Nil. There's a scene -- this is an idea of where we're talking about, about the middle of your screen there along the Corniche.
Things appear quiet now, but if we can, let's take a look at earlier today. This has been a day unprecedented for many of the people. Not in their lifetimes have they seen so many thousands, tens of thousands of people turn out to protest against the government.
It is unemployment that drives this, it is a lack of a political opposition. There is no one else to take the reins of power. President Hosni Mubarak has held the reins for some 30 years. He would be running for president next year. People are impatient and want to see change in their lives.
This is a very important country for the United States. No secret that President Barack Obama chose Egypt to address the entire Muslim and Arab world. Not only does it have 80 million people more than any other Arab country, but it also has the weight of history behind it.
GORANI: All right. And on the right hand side of your screen, live images of the Corniche in Cairo; on the left-hand side of your screen, Cairo a little bit earlier. Gives you an idea of the protests, the size, the scope, the level of anger.
Some of these images there on the right do not do justice to the mood of the day because right now, of course, it's nighttime in Egyptian and a curfew has been imposed across all of Egypt's provinces. Many have broken that curfew, but it's still not the same time of picture.
Nic Robertson is in Alexandria, in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
What is the situation there now because earlier in the day, of course, Nic, there was some rather violent clashes between demonstrators and police. What is it like right now?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sporadic gunfire, Hala. I can hear it going on behind me. It's been going object for perhaps the last 20 or 30 minutes or so.
There is a feeling of slightly more relative calm in the center of the city, rather than running mobs that were in battles with the police. Now the army is there, they are embracing the army. There seems to be a mutual understanding that the army says that they're there to protect them. The people seem to be happy about that. As far as we can tell here right now, there is no conflict going on between the army and the people.
What those gunshots that I keep hearing are, that's not clear. It's been a roller coaster day. The flash and the violence began immediately after the prayers finished close to 1:00. Running battles with the police, they've subsided essentially with the police being beaten off the streets.
Two or three hours of nothing, then the army -- and this evening I've seen families, middle age man and woman with their young -- two young sons and two young daughters walking up the streets to come and see what the army was doing on the corner of the square.
There's a lot of curiosity, but within that, there is some very angry young men brandishing broken bottles and knives and sticks in a very menacing way. And there are slightly older men, calmer heads, if you will, that are cooling them down. When they seem to get angry with the army, they cool them down and tell them to back off.
The overall feeling in the crowd is that they don't want violence,. but there is this radical young element in there, just youths that are spoiling for a fight and seem ready to take it on if they can find it anywhere, Hala.
GORANI: All right. Nic Robertson is in Alexandria.
We're covering the story from all major flashpoints across Egypt. Ordinary Egyptians there really from all walks of life, Jim Clancy, coming out onto the streets over the last few days. We're seeing people who are angry because economic conditions are pretty terrible for them. We have also people who are very much politically motivated saying they want more freedom. We also saw today the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic opposition in Egypt, joining demonstrations today across the country.
CLANCY: These are -- this is a day that matters for the Arab world, for Egypt, and for the United States. More on that when we come back.
CLANCY: Welcome back to CNN's coverage of events of this day in Egyptian. A nation of 80 million people facing a crisis as tens and thousands turn out on the streets demanding that their ruler, their president of some 30 years step aside, make way for change, make way for hope among the young people of Egyptian.
GORANI: All right. And we are still waiting for the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for almost 30 years to make his appearance on television. We thought, as it had been announced and reported, that Hosni Mubarak would address his countrymen and women on state television about two, two-and-a-half hours ago. But he has been a no-show, Jim. CLANCY: On the right side of your screen there, you can see the situation as it is live right now in Cairo along the Corneesh El Neil (ph), a commercial district, not far from state television. Relatively quiet on the streets right now. That was not the scene earlier in the day. The military has deployed on those streets.
This is an important story for so many reasons. And as we were leaving you, just a couple of minutes ago, we said it's important for Egypt, yes. It's important for the Middle East and it's very for the United States. Let's get some perspective on that. Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Institution is joining us from Doha.
Shadi, how do you see this?
SHADI HAMID, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, BROOKINGS DOHA CENTER: Well, I mean, this is, first of all, it's incredible to watch what is going on but also quite frightening. This is an historic moment. This is the largest pro democracy protest in Egyptian history and perhaps even Arab history.
And I think what we're waiting to see right now is how much force will the regime use. What will be the role of the military? Will the military side with the regime or the people? But I think there is also some very difficult questions for the Obama administration, which is really in a tough bind right now.
GORANI: All right. What are the options there for the United States, Shadi? The United States is watching this unfold. Not really taking sides. Trying to sort of in its rhetoric say, let's wait and see. Both sides must refrain from violence. The government must be open to reform. But what is it at stake here for America?
HAMID: Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton came under a lot of criticism here in the Arab world when she said that the Egyptian regime is stable, which she said on January 25th. And that was a very surprising statement, and in some ways, it seems like she was tempting fate. Three days later, and we see what is going on.
I think the U.S. position has evolved since then, but the problem is, they don't want to see the Egyptian regime fall because they depend on the Egyptian regime, and there is a close relationship there. On the other hand, the Egyptian people - or at least the Egyptian protesters -- do want to see the regime fall. So, in that respect, the interests of the Obama administration and the interests of the Egyptian protesters don't really go together.
CLANCY: All right. I want to bring in -- Shadi, Jim Clancy here. I'm going to ask you to stay right where you are. I want to bring in Jamie Rubin, and Jamie, ask you, what do you think the likelihood, the risk here that the Egyptian military might step in to take over the reins of power? How would you put that?
JAMIE RUBIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": Well, you have to remember, the Egyptian military is Hosni Mubarak's military. He came from that military. He's made the selections of all the senior officers. They are loyal to him. That's the difference between Egypt and Tunisia to the extent one makes a comparison.
I do think it's possible that the military position could evolve. You can see the purpose of these protestors making these efforts to make friends with the military is the ultimate question here, is whether soldiers on the ground are going to turn their weapons against the protestors and the Egyptian people. Nobody knows the answer to that question. Hosni Mubarak is wondering about it right now as well.
And that will determine how this -- peaceful protest or this protest, whether it becomes a revolution to overthrow Mubarak or whether it is merely a piece of unrest that is eventually quelled. I don't think we'll know that until a large number of protestors gather again tomorrow and in the coming days and the military officers and soldiers make that fundamental decision.
GORANI: All right. Jamie Rubin, stand by. Shadi Hamid, before we take a break, is a military takeover, you think, a possibility in Egypt?
HAMID: An Islamist takeover?
GORANI: Is a military take over.
HAMID: It is possible. I think the question is, it's very difficult for the military to shoot into a crowd of their own people. That's always a very difficult position that militaries are in in these types of situations. So the question is, will the military obey orders if Hosni Mubarak decides that it's time to use live ammunition or to really go full-on aggressive mode and repress. So, that's the question here.
And if the military feels that the momentum is going in the direction of the protestors, which it does seem to be, they might start to ask themselves, well, do we want to be with the winners or do we want to be with the losers? Do we want to be remembered as the military that sided with an oppressive regime at a critical turning point, or do we side with our own Egyptian brothers and sisters? So, I think that's the decision that military commanders are going to have to take.
But I think after what we saw in Tunisia, where the military played a very honorable role and they actually served as protectors of the people, I think Tunisia in that respect really provides a model we can only hope the Egyptian military follows.
CLANCY: OK, that's a very good point. There's two sides to this. Could they act against the president, stage a coup? Or perhaps the more important question for those people down on the streets, and that is, if ordered, how would they respond?
GORANI: What side of the struggle do they want to be on, and do they want to be remembered as the military that shot at their own people?
CLANCY: And right now, as Nic Robertson and Ben Wedeman, our correspondents who are in Alexandria and Cairo respectively, are telling CNN at this hour the demonstrators on the streets clearly believe that the army is on their side. That they would not follow an order to shoot them. They have welcomed them with open arms on the streets of both of those cities. Important facts.
GORANI: At the top of the hour, a White House briefing and a State Department briefing. We'll monitor both. Let's take a short break. We'll be right back on CNN and CNN International.
GORANI: Welcome back, everyone, to our viewers all over the world on CNN and CNN International. It's five minutes to 9:00 p.m. in Cairo and across Egypt right now. What you see there on the top right-hand corner of your screen is a live image of White House briefing room. There, we're expecting Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, to come to the podium and update journalists -- and really all of us -- on how the White House is reacting to events in Egypt. On the bottom right-hand side of your corner is a live image coming to us from the State Department.
CLANCY: Now, the State Department has just issued a travel warning for Egypt. We understand there's been some limitation on flights there. On the left side of your screen, a live picture coming to you from Cairo, a calmer situation than we've seen throughout the day as perhaps America's strongest Arab ally in the Middle East faces a very difficult day of decisions.
Former ambassador to Egypt, Edward Walker, joins us now to tell us a little bit -- how important is Egypt as an ally of the United States? How important is it to the Arab world?
EDWARD WALKER, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: Well, Egypt is terribly important for us and for the Arab world as a leader and as a symbol of the power of the Arab community and as representative of the Arab community.
But let's keep in mind, we need Egypt. We have a lot of joint interests, they need us. We don't necessarily need Mubarak. And it may well be that we've been a little bit too convenient for him, that indeed it's time to put some distance between us.
GORANI: It's interesting that you see that because over the last few days as we've watched -- this is Hala Gorani, by the way, nice talking to you - as we watch these protests unfold, many in the Arab world have been angry with the America because the United States hasn't taken sides, if you will. They want to hear America say pro- democracy protestors, we are with you.
WALKER: Well, I've been disappointed with the comments coming out certainly from the secretary of state and others that we didn't take a stronger stand on behalf of democracy, on behalf of the people that -- look, these people are hurting. Twenty-some odd percent unemployment, particularly among the youth. They need change.
CLANCY: Mr. Walker, Mr. Ambassador?
CLANCY: I mean, isn't that a little -- it's great to blame Hillary Clinton, but at the same time these mistakes were really made 10, 15, 20 years ago when the United States did not demand that there be a loyal opposition, that there be room for people instead of the back room at the mosque to be out in the public squares organizing political parties.
WALKER: Right. I understand what you're saying, and I agree we should have put a little more emphasis on that side of the equation. But keep in mind at the same time, we were working on trying to get peace between Egypt and Israel, we were trying to get peace between the Palestinians and the Egyptians. The Egyptians were a key factor in all of that.
So, it's not a one-sided story. I agree that we had to put more emphasis on the growth of the Democratic intuitions.
GORANI: And Ambassador, now is it sort of -- not too late -- but now has a situation so complicated come from 30 years of this authoritarian regime where really, opposition parties have pretty much been suffocated?
CLANCY: Well, there was peace between Egypt and Israel 30 years ago.
GORANI: Well, no, but nobody - no, and that's a good thing. But inside of Egypt, what happens now? Has the wide spectrum, the diverse spectrum of a pluralistic political system been made impossible to implement right now without some sort of military control?
WALKER: I'm not sure -- look, you can -- the military is the key to this. And I agree with those who say it's not going to shoot on the protestors. It would be the death knell of the military and the regime if that happened.
But the military does not necessarily have to be supporting Mubarak. In Tunisia, the military did not support the Ben Ali. There is a way to pull back from the brink here. I mean, the man has been in power for 30 years and the place has gone to -- has not really accomplished what people had hoped to -- it could.
So, I think the military still has a role to play, but it would be very unlikely to try and take over as a military dictatorship. It would be a transitional period while the parliament was reelected or a new election was held and people were brought back into the fold.
GORANI: All right. We've got to leave it there.
Ambassador Walker, a former ambassador to Egypt, joining us live with his take on these historic events unfolding in Egypt.