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Egypt in Crisis

Aired January 30, 2011 - 07:32   ET



RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. Glad you're with us. I'm Randi Kaye.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jonathan Mann. It's half past the hour. Our coverage of "Egypt in Crisis" continues.

KAYE: After five straight days of anti-government protests, day six is relatively calm right now, but shops, schools and banks are still closed as just a precaution. Egypt's stock market is also closed today after suffering big losses in the past few days of trading.

Also as a precaution, the U.S. State Department is offering flights for American citizens in Egypt who want to get out. But so far, no mandatory evacuations. Those flights will start tomorrow. Other countries, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are also following suit.

Also, Egypt is cracking down on media in the country. They've pulled the plug on the Arabic network Al Jazeera.

The protesters want change, but others are taking advantage of all of the chaos. A group of thugs stormed the museum in Cairo's main square, ripping the heads off mummies and tossing relics onto the ground. Museum officials say nothing is missing, but the message is clear, nothing is off-limits.

The lack of police presence is glaring. Bands of looters are treating Cairo like their own private playground. This has forced people to arm themselves to protect their own neighborhoods. Here's what we saw last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people tell us that guys like this, guys on the motorcycles, those are usually the ones who are doing the looting. Now, we've seen some who have passed by here carrying real samurai swords on their motorcycles. And every time these motorcycles pass, obviously, the guys here from the community watch, they come out and they threaten them and tell them, Don't stop here.


MANN: The protesters are making their point loud and clear. They want President Hosni Mubarak out. But what would will actually happen if they get their wish? CNN's Brian Todd takes a look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets, in their Twitter and Facebook messages, the young catalysts of the uprising in Egypt leave no doubt about their objective, to drive out an 82-year- old president who's ruled them with an iron hand as long as many of them have been alive.

But that presents a problem. Hosni Mubarak has been in power so long, he'd leave a gaping void which could be exploited by several militant groups that he's been crushing for decades.

BRIAN FISHMAN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: If there's a period of real instability in Egypt, will that create an opportunity for of these old groups to sort of reinvigorate themselves? I think at this point, there's no sign of that, but I'm sure that we -- that's something we do need to be aware of.

TODD: Brian Fishman and other experts point to groups that have been banned by Mubarak's government, like the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood lived by the gun long ago, but in recent years has become much more moderate, moved away from violence and toward providing social services through Islamic charities. Still, there are other Egyptian opposition figures who favor a more brutal approach.

MARC GINSBERG, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two in al Qaeda, was an Egyptian. He still has an enormous following in Egypt among very radical Islamic extremists.

TODD: Al Zawahiri's been gunning for Mubarak for decades, and experts say he may make a public statement during these protests. But he's on the run, and his old group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, has been absorbed into al Qaeda. Another faction, called the Islamic Group, has massacred tourists and once came close to assassinating Mubarak.

(on camera): But experts say many of its members are hiding out with al Qaeda in Pakistan. And its spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as "the blind sheikh," is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

(voice-over): These groups are down, experts say, but not necessarily out.

(on camera): You foresee, though, a scenario where militants could rise up and actually take some power or influence. What's that scenario?

FISHMAN: I think the dangerous scenario here, where jihadi groups and militant groups might be able to increase their influence in Egypt, is if the government crushes these protests violently in a way that doesn't create any reform.

TODD (voice-over): Then, says Brian Fishman, al Qaeda and other militant groups might jump in and tell Egyptians that peaceful protests don't work and that violence is the only way to bring the change you want. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


KAYE: Now here are some quick facts about Egypt. As of the last count, there are more than 80 million people living in Egypt. That's the largest population of any Arab nation. Ninety percent of Egyptians are Muslim. Nine percent are Coptic Christians. The Coptic church is a centuries-old Christian church believed to come from St. Mark's travels to Egypt. The median age swings to the young side. The average Egyptian is 24 years old. As a comparison, the median age in the U.S. is 36.8 years.

MANN: Egypt was declared a republic in 1953. It had been a monarchy under British protection before that. The British withdrew in 1956. In 1971, the new constitution declared a democracy, with Islam as the official religion. According to UNICEF, the per capita income is $1,800 a year, but nearly half the country is living on $2 a day or less. Unemployment in Egypt stands officially at 9.7 percent. That's the statistic, anyway. And if it's true, it's one of the lower unemployment rates in the region. Saudi Arabia is over 10 percent, and Tunisia, which was the site of those protests earlier this month, is at 14 percent.

KAYE: It is one of Egypt's cities in turmoil.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to Mubarak to get out! We want Mubarak to get out!


KAYE: Right after the break, we're going to take you live to Alexandria, where another protest could be brewing.

MANN: Also ahead, extreme poverty is a big reason for the chaos right now in Egypt, but seeing is believing.


MANN: Welcome back. We've been spending a lot of time looking at the situation in Cairo, the capital. But of course, there's been a lot of turmoil in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast. In fact, it's been swinging back and forth like a pendulum between calm and conflict. There was, in fact, a rally planned to start last hour.

KAYE: Nic Robertson joins us live with an update on that rally. Nic, are people gathering there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Some people are beginning to gather. There's a sit-in outside of one of the central mosques. People there are sitting in as part of the protest. They say they're not going to be moved on by the army.

But right now, I'm speaking to you from an apartment building, a very nondescript apartment building in the suburbs of Alexandria. And inside the apartment here is a secret meeting that's going on. Young students, young lawyers, the people who drove the Facebook campaign to get the protests going last week, are having a meeting here, a secret meeting to try and organize security on the streets of Alexandria.

What they are trying to do is make, they say, the city safe from looters, from people who've escaped from prisons, from anyone who wants to -- who wants to take advantage of the fact that there are no police on the street. So this meeting is going under way right now.

They say that they are working cooperatively with the army on this, but they want to -- they want to keep their location secret because they're afraid for their security and they're concerned that -- they're concerned that, obviously, this is in the face of the government. This is part of their protest and campaign to remove the president continuing.

They have no access to the Internet now. They cannot get their messages out the way that they used to. So they're now forming these committees to advance that aim.

But what have we seen driving here to this suburb? We've seen an army checkpoint on the main road, the Corniche road. We have seen large groups of young men gathered on street corners, controlling the traffic flow through the city. We've seen people armed with sticks and clubs down the side alleys, keeping their neighborhoods, their streets safe and secure from the possibility of looters.

MANN: Nic Robertson live on the line from Alexandria. Thanks very much.

KAYE: The unrest in Egypt means travel in and out of region is very uncertain right now, a lot of frustrated tourists, American tourists having a lot of problems. On the phone with us now is one of those tourists, Regina Fraser, who is stranded in Luxor, Egypt. She's one of the co-hosts of PBS's "Grannies on Safari" and was leading a group of tourists checking out various sites in Egypt.

Regina, thanks for -- thanks for chatting with us. Tell, how -- did you start out in Cairo? And as you made your way to Luxor, how did you get there? And what was the scene like?

REGINA FRASER, CO-HOST, PBS "GRANNIES ON SAFARI" (via telephone): Oh, Randi, I have to tell you that we did arrive on Wednesday into Cairo. And then we were there a couple of days and then we headed on to Luxor because we weren't able to get to the Cairo Museum. We had gone to Alexandria and were turned away and told to come back. So we flew to Luxor to board a ship to do a little Nile cruising. And I'm telling you, this has been quite an experience!

MANN: The U.S. government is encouraging American citizens to think about getting out of the country. They're putting together some flights that are going to start on Monday. How many in your group just want to get out?

FRASER: You know, many people of our people just want to get out. And one of them that you're going to talk to in a little bit is Laura Murphy, who I think you guys are familiar with. What's interesting -- you just gave me new news. I didn't know that they were putting together flights to leave on Monday. And I think that's been really kind of one of the problems that we've had recently is maybe not getting -- getting to the information or getting the information that we need.

I'm going to tell you briefly that I contacted the embassy here two or three days ago, and no one answered. No one answered. The phone just kept ringing. And then today, I contacted the embassy, and I got someone and I was so happy. And the person said -- I said to the person, Gee, I want to find out information. (INAUDIBLE) hold on a moment, and I got a recording that said, Please go to www.governor -- you know, the government Web site. And I thought there is no Internet here in -- you know, in Egypt! How can I find out information if the Internet is not working?

MANN: It's a point well taken. Let me just tell you and tell anyone who's listening who does have access to the Internet, if your Internet line opens up a little bit, And the phone number they're giving us, 888-407-4747. So for those of you who are watching in Egypt who have access to the Internet or working phones, that's the way to go. If you're outside of Egypt, obviously, the information will easier to get from sources like that.

But boy, can you imagine being stranded?

KAYE: No. And certainly, it doesn't appear that -- that there's any end in sight. They don't know when they're going to get out, a lot of these people.

MANN: Regina Fraser on the line with us literally from a ship on the Nile. Thanks very much.

KAYE: If you're trying to understand what's behind the protests in Egypt, take a look at this.

MANN: An Egyptian city built on garbage, people actually living there. That story next in our morning (INAUDIBLE)


KAYE: And we have some breaking news for you right now. We want to take you straight to Cairo, Egypt, where our Fred Pleitgen is standing by with reports of violence in the streets there. Fred, bring us up to date.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Randi. I was just in a suburb or sort of satellite town outside of Cairo called Abu Zabal (ph). And we'd gotten word that there had been a prison break in this town. And when we arrived on the scene there -- when we arrived on the scene there, we saw that there was a gun battle going on. People were shooting inside the prison.

What people there -- residents told us is that the gun battle erupted as the inmates had broken out. They apparently raided the arsenal of this prison. Some had then escaped. Apparently, there are still dead bodies inside the prison premises. And so right now, those gun battles are still going on in that area there. We had to get out of there quite quickly.

Residents -- they are very scared because, obviously, right now, they have those former prison inmates inside there -- I have to go. Sorry!

KAYE: Fred, are you still with us? All right, Fred Pleitgen for us in Cairo, Egypt, had to go there. Obviously, a very tense situation, reports of another prison break. That would make three prison breaks now in Egypt. Reports of residents being very scared, a gun battle under way and inmates on the street. We're not sure if this is a high-security prison or what type of inmates these might be, but we'll be sure to try and get back to Fred as soon as we can and bring you more information -- Jon.

MANN: You know, among the extraordinary things that we've seen, these enormous protests in Egypt, we've seen the rich on the streets. We've seen the middle class coming out against Hosni Mubarak. And of course, we've seen the poor. And poverty has been a major driving force between -- well, behind all of this, the protests, demonstrations, the anger.

But to get a clearer picture, you really need to see the conditions that some Egyptians are living in. Nadia Bilchik joins us now to talk about a place called garbage or trash city.

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: Well, there are many garbage cities in Cairo, but you're looking at some of these pictures of the biggest garbage city in Cairo, where around 60,000 garbage collectors, or what they call Zabbaleen, live. Take a look at this documentary. It's showing the upper class neighborhoods, and then it's showing the Zabbaleen. And in fact, it comes from a beautiful documentary by Iskander, who says -- and it starts off with, They are the upper class. There are the middle class. And then there are us, the Zabbaleen, the garbage collectors.

So take a look. Now, what's fascinating about this group of people, mainly Coptic Christians, interestingly enough. Around 60,000 of them live in the city. Here's a woman sorting the trash. And that's what they do, they actually have the job of sorting the trash.

Up until 2004, that's what they did for the city. In around 2004, the Egyptian government brought in multi-nationals to take care of it, and they lost their livelihood, largely. Also, in 2009, all their pigs were killed because of swine flu, and the pigs were a big part of eating the organic waste. But what you're seeing in these pictures is people whose livelihood is trash. They collect trash. They sort trash. They often live in one of the floors of the buildings, and trash is on the upper or lower floors.

MANN: That kind of stunning poverty part of the texture of life in Egypt as its people try and change things. Nadia Bilchik, thanks very much -- Randi.

KAYE: Despite attempts by the Egyptian government to control media coverage, the story still finds its way to the global stage. Up next, protesters use technology to defy the ban.


KAYE: Welcome back. Close to the top of the hour. If you're wondering what separates this uprising in Egypt and other countries from ones in the past, the answer might be technology.

MANN: Something you've got in your pocket or on your desktop. Social media especially have changed what it means to revolt as protesters tweet, post on Facebook and upload images of their demonstrations to YouTube.

CNN's Josh Levs explains it all.


JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I'd like to do for you now is kind of pull back a little bit, stare at the globe and just think about how technology has changed everything and how technology changed what it is to have a revolt in our era.

Let's go to some of this video as we talk this out. You know, part of what happened is every government in the world saw in back 2009, when there was protests in Iran and Iran tried to clamp out basically all activity, all Internet and social media. But some things still managed to squeak out. And those things that got out were amplified all over the world. That is, in a way, a lesson to every country in the world.

And what we have been seeing in Egypt in recent days has some similarities. You know, you have all these protests that have taken off. There's a lot that's different between Egypt and Iran, but you have these protests on the streets and you did have, all of a sudden, disappearance, in a lot of ways, of the ability to use the Internet.

And that's where this chart comes in that we can zoom in on quickly. I want to talk to you all a little bit about it because we have this up right now for you at in our technology section. And what is does is it shows Internet activity in Egypt each day. And then it shows you what happened on the 27th, when all of a sudden, boom, it's basically gone to this tiny little trickle way down here.

Now, there's two things to understand about this. And we can talk this out as we go back to some of that video. One is, even with that little trickle going on, it gets amplified all over the world. So those people out there who were managing to get out tweets, YouTube videos, iReports that they sent to us -- people all over the world were then sharing them. And this is a sign that no matter how hard some government may try, it's impossible in this era to completely block out that kind of Internet access. What gets out will be amplified.

The other point to understand, really important, is technology inside Egypt. Most Egyptians are not Facebooking and tweeting. Lots don't have that access. But huge numbers of Egyptians have cell phones. And when cell phone service was knocked out, that can have a huge impact on people inside the country finding out what's going on.

When we report to you that now we are learning that cell phones are working again, a lot of people are able to text, that's very significant for how technology is impacting the state of these protests inside the country right now.


KAYE: When we come back, a look at the uprising.

MANN: Coming up, firsthand accounts of the many protests all over the world following the violence in Egypt.