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Pitched Battles, Peaceful Rallies; Tensions High in Cairo; ElBaradei Calls for Mubarak to Step Down
Aired February 4, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Tonight the Mubarak era is over. It's 3:00 a.m. Cairo time and the president of Egypt is still in office, but I'm not sure he lasts the weekend. Even he must know it's over. The rest of the world sure seems to and God knows the people of Egypt do.
Take a look at Tahrir Square right now. It's 8:00 p.m. here in New York, but it's the middle of the night there and still the demonstrators will not leave. They are there night and day, and many say they will be there until Mubarak goes for good. After all, they declared today President Mubarak's day of departure.
And extraordinary numbers of men, women and children packed the streets of towns and cities all over Egypt. In the country's second largest city, Alexandria, the size of the crowd was estimated in the hundreds of thousands, by far the biggest they have seen there.
And then there was Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the revolution. Gigantic numbers of people filled every corner of the vast area, but today instead of the violence and drama we've seen there was an air of peace and even celebration. With the military playing the role of protector, keeping the pro-Mubarak forces out of the square.
It was as if everyone, every man, woman and child finally saw a new day coming to Egypt.
Still, violence and terror played a role. They simply moved to another part of town. Pro-Mubarak thugs sparked running street battles with opponents of the regime in an area called Tahlio (ph) Square. And there were more attacks on journalists along with another target, human rights activists. Several of them being held by government forces.
There were, as there have been every day, dozens of injuries from gunfire, from rocks being thrown, and still no one seems certain of the death toll. Estimates range from a dozen to hundreds.
Meanwhile there's the question of what happens next. It's a question we've been asking for days now, but just a short time ago I had the chance to ask someone in a real position to answer it.
Mohamed ElBaradei is the man some think may emerge as the person to lead Egypt. One thing is clear, he is the leading voice of the opposition. In an exclusive interview, he tells me about some of his own plans for the future.
SPITZER: I just have to ask you this because I've seen conflicting things. Will you run for president?
DR. MOHAMED ELBARADEI, EGYPTIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, I -- you know my priority, Eliot, and that I keep repeating, is to see this country moving -- you know, shifting into catching up with the rest of the world, if you like. We have been behind the curve in a very painful way.
I would like to see this country moving forward it into a democracy based on social justice. If I can do that, and I think we are almost 90 percent there, then I have -- then this is my dream come true.
However, if people want me to run afterwards, I will not let them down. I will continue to do what any person would do for his own country.
SPITZER: Having been in the political arena briefly or not so briefly perhaps I can say that sounds like a declaration of candidacy to me. And so I wish you well.
ELBARADEI: Well, and if you can -- you are a politician yourself, you can interpret my words.
SPITZER: All right.
SPITZER: We'll have much more of my exclusive interview with Mohamed ElBaradei coming up later in the program.
Now to Anderson Cooper whose safety has been a big concern as well as of that of all journalists working in Cairo. Twice Anderson has been set upon by pro-Mubarak thugs. Tonight he's in an undisclosed location in Cairo for his safety and the safety of his crew.
Anderson, it seems like there were some signs of progress, at least in Tahrir Square, with the military providing some security for the protesters. Do you believe finally once and for all that the military is on the side of the protesters now?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: I don't think you can say that once and for all they're on the side of the protesters at all. The military here has a way of showing up and disappearing very quickly at seemingly inopportune times.
We are now just as we are speaking getting reports about heavy gunfire in and around Liberation Square. I can't independently confirm it. But those are the reports we're getting from a CNN stringer on the ground there. And we're trying to find out more information about that. But that is some violence and we have seen sporadic acts of violence and some sustained acts of violence today.
But Eliot, extraordinary scenes as you yourself said in that square. Consider the last 48 hours. The Egyptian people have been watching a pitched battle in the streets for the future of this country and yet today overwhelmingly with their feet they made the decision to march and go one by one or in small groups to go to Liberation Square and stand side by side.
An extraordinary act of bravery on the part of the people who have witnessed such brutality over the last 48 hours. They packed the square in numbers similar to what we saw earlier in the week before this violence began back on Monday and Tuesday. Huge numbers of people. A celebratory atmosphere to be sure. And tonight, hard-core elements from anti-Mubarak protesters still remain in the square, defending the ground that they had paid for with blood -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Anderson, it is amazing to watch this day by day. It is growing, even in the face of violence. Even in the face of the thuggery that you personally have needed to confront. It seem as though the public is saying we will not back down.
Does not everybody understand there is only one inevitable outcome here?
COOPER: I'm not sure. You know there's a lot of people who simply don't trust Mubarak and view him as a very smart, very tricky guy. And he's maintained power quite effectively for the last 30 years -- effectively for him, I should say. So I think there is a lot of people who, while certainly hope he's going to step down, believe that he may still try to stick it out.
It's not clear what the rest of the world may see. The view from the palace may be very different. And we have seen now his vice president taking a more active public role in the last several days, but exactly what is going on in the mind of President Mubarak. You know the question is, will he voluntarily step down? Will the people around him bring that message to him that he has to finally do that?
We don't know. And nobody here knows, but certainly the people in the square today continue. That is the one thing that they can all agree on that Mubarak must go.
SPITZER: You know, Anderson, another dimension of this of course is that the economy has basically been shut down. We've been told the banking system is really not operating at this point. Tourism which is such a driver of the Egyptian economy has been brought to a screeching halt, of course.
So the economy is collapsing because of this. And so won't this continue to become a more and more serious crisis as every day and perhaps week goes on?
COOPER: Well, you know, there's real questions about why are the banks still shut down, why gas stations still shut down. Is it really necessary? Could those businesses re-open? Could things start to move again? There are some who believe, look, this is an effort by the state to try to show crisis, to try to show that because of these protesters, because of these anti-Mubarak protesters, everything is shut down, things have collapsed, to get people to feel like, if they want stability they have to have the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
You know, it cannot continue much longer like this. The status quo where much of the life of the city of Cairo is shut down. Banks, the stock market, ATMs. People can't get cash. Businesses can't pay their employees. There's not -- it's not clear how much longer it can go on.
When you talk to CNN's Ben Wedeman who knows the city extraordinarily well and he will tell you it cannot go on just economically much longer like this.
SPITZER: You know that seems to be what will drive some resolution here, Anderson. But before we leave you for this moment at least, tell me, are you safe? Obviously we know you just reported there's gunfire not far from you. You have been set upon twice by the thugs of the Mubarak regime.
Are you safe where you are and are the other journalists in the city at this point feel uncomfortable?
COOPER: You know, I think for all journalists safety is a relative issue here. Today was a better day than the day before for reporters and for people on the ground in terms of if you were an anti-Mubarak protester.
You know as I said, the military showed up in some areas they haven't been in in greater numbers. That allowed journalists to go out, shoot stories that wouldn't or hadn't been able to shoot over the last 48 hours without being attacked by thugs.
The fact that I'm standing now outside with lights on a balcony, though I can't say where it is, is an indication that I'm pretty confident no one's going to try to, you know, shoot me in the back as I'm talking to you which is a different scenario than, you know, on other nights.
So some areas become safe when the military shows up and then the military leaves and then things become more precarious.
SPITZER: All right. Anderson, thank you so much. We're all thinking about you, looking forward to your safe return back to New York City.
Given the kind of danger Anderson and many any journalists are facing, very few reporters in Cairo have ventured out of their hotel rooms in the last 48 hours. But today, CNN's Arwa Damon gotten in a car to go beyond Tahrir Square into the neighborhoods outside the city center. And she encountered some pretty tense moments. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We've headed away from the demonstration site to try to get a feel for what life in the rest of Cairo is like. And it really does feel as if it is just as tense as what is happening in Liberation Square itself.
(Voice-over): Put the camera down, our driver warns. These are the guys with the president.
(On camera): So apparently straight ahead is a group of people that our driver is saying are pro-Mubarak demonstrators and that was the group that was targeting the media. So we're going to loop back, just in case.
(Voice-over): "I think that President Mubarak is a good man," he says, "respected, but people want food and comforts we don't have. People need to work."
He says the attacks on the media are terrible, but believes they stem from concerns that Egypt is being shown in a negative light.
(On camera): These are the images on the front pages of newspapers here. We were talking with this gentleman who is not Egyptian but he's living in Egypt for 27 years. He's saying in all of his years he's seen Egypt go through challenges, goes through problems, but nothing ever remotely close to the scope of this.
It's pretty tense out on the streets. And as anxious as we are, especially given all of the violent attacks that have happened, so we're trying to be very subtle about the way that we're filming, using a small flip cam, but people are equally worried and concerned about being seen talking to us.
(Voice-over): Along the unnaturally quiet waterfront we meet 78- year-old Fayyaz reading his paper.
"I come all the time," he says, "because my apartment doesn't get sunlight. Of course I am frightened for my country," he admits. "I could go to America and have no worries, but I am staying in my country. There is no way I would go anywhere else."
Sitting straight across from Liberation Square he tells us change should come peacefully. Egypt can't afford these divisions. The country can't clap with one hand, he explains. But even out here, we are quickly told to leave.
"I got worried about you," our driver says. "There is a demonstration coming by."
Not just worried about us, but his livelihood. The pro-Mubarak crowd has been smashing vehicles carrying the media.
(On camera): We just got caught up in a pro-Mubarak neighborhood and luckily one of the residents there got in the vehicle and escorted us out. And we tried speaking to him about the situation at which point he got a little agitated and said, look, nobody wants to talk to the international media about this. What you guys are doing here is wrong. Don't talk to anybody. And I'm escorting you out.
After we were searched in the pro-Mubarak neighborhood they lifted one of the windshield wipers up as an indication to all of the other checkpoints we would have to go through that we'd already been searched and cleared by their leadership.
We've been out for around an hour and a half and it is now after Friday prayers and the situation has gotten noticeably tenser and so we're going to be heading back to the hotel right now.
SPITZER: That was CNN's Arwa Damon reporting from Cairo. Quite a gutsy reporter with an amazing report.
When we come back, what is the U.S. doing behind the scenes to get Mubarak to give up and get out. That's next.
SPITZER: Today may have been the day of departure on the streets but across Cairo in the presidential palace President Hosni Mubarak is still sitting firm.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader in the movement against the president, has had enough of Hosni Mubarak. Let's take a listen to what he told me in the exclusive interview we had just a short time ago.
SPITZER: Welcome, sir.
ELBARADEI: Nice to be with you.
SPITZER: Have you spoken directly to anybody in the senior ranks of the military to see if they share your understanding that President Mubarak must leave office in the very near term?
ELBARADEI: I haven't talked to any of them. And yet I think they know what I am. They know what the other parts of the oppositions are. But I have no doubt they understand that. I -- I mean they are part of the Egyptian society and they understand that there is no -- the Egyptians has basic -- this is a peaceful revolution. And there is no -- there is no way. And as JFK once I think said that, you know, if you smother a peaceful revolution it turns into a violent revolution. So I hope Mubarak just get the message and leave.
SPITZER: The interesting thing today was watching the military, the team to be there to keep the peace, and almost to protect the protesters. Have they changed their role in the last 24 or 48 hours, do you think?
ELBARADEI: I think so. I think they have been moving back and forth at the beginning a few days ago. They almost encouraged people to go to the streets. They said, we fully understand your legitimate demands similar to what Ben Ali in Tunisia said to you a few weeks ago. A message that should have -- we should have heard from Mubarak.
Then the last couple of days they were conspicuously absent from the street. And you saw the violence that took place. Now they are back in control and they made sure that the demonstration is peaceful. I think they realize that they do not want to have the wrath of the people. And because they have -- people always look to the army with a sense of pride. And I believe they want to maintain that.
SPITZER: Well, having seen that change in their role, something that was very clear to those of us watching from a greater distance, of course, it makes me wonder has vice president -- has Vice President Suleiman who is, of course, from the military, has he sent a message that he wants the military to distance itself from President Mubarak?
ELBARADEI: Maybe that's -- you know, if you put the good indentation on it, I hope so. I think there is a gradual -- in my view there is a gradual shift, you know, to say that we are not as the military, you know, side with Mubarak against the Egyptian people. That is obviously a logical choice any army would make.
I mean we are not in any way looking for retribution. We want to go forward. Egypt is in a terrible state economically, socially and politically, and we need to, you know, put the pieces together and move forward. And, you know, Mubarak is not -- will not be on our mind any longer.
SPITZER: Can the United States persuade President Mubarak to resign? If President Obama picked up the phone and said to President Mubarak, you must resign, would that have an impact?
ELBARADEI: I think -- I mean again, without -- I have been in talk in consultation, you know, with the administration expressing to them my views on what is going on, expressing to them the frustration of the Egyptian people.
I believe they are doing what they can. But of course they do not want to appear that Mubarak has been asked, quote/unquote, by the U.S. to leave. They would like that to come from the Egyptian people. But I think they are doing their best right now.
They have -- they have been behind the curve at the beginning. But right now I think they are catching up and catching up quite fast.
SPITZER: With whom have you been talking in the United States government?
ELBARADEI: Well, Eliot, I would not -- I mean at least I am in contact with Ambassador Scobey here in Cairo. I've been contracted with member of the administration but I would leave it for -- at that.
SPITZER: Now earlier, if I read properly from another interview you gave, you said you are putting -- trying to put together a coalition to plan for a new constitution. Can you tell us who else is in that coalition? ELBARADEI: Well, I think I have been in contact with primarily with the young people who initiated this -- you know, this revolt, this revolution. I've been in contact with many leaders in the civil society. I have been in contact with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
I have been in contact with most of the -- of the influential part of the Egyptian society to try to say, hey, guys, we need to save our country. We need to go into transition from dictatorship into a democracy. And I think we are united in our demand.
Mubarak should leave. A traditional government with the participation of the army to ensure smooth transition or co-sharing the power, if you like. And then prepare the ground for a democratic constitution and fair and free election.
I think we are not the first to do that, Eliot. I mean we are not inventing the wheel. Look at the whole Latin America, the whole Eastern Europe. So we are clear on our basic demands. We need a new Egypt. We -- 60 years of dictatorship over authoritarian system is much more than anyone can bear.
SPITZER: Has anybody in the military agreed to participate in this coalition in drafting a new constitution?
ELBARADEI: Well, they had -- they are not -- they haven't yet declared themselves, Eliot. That's part of the problem. And I think the earlier the army declares itself in the side of the people, the earlier they'll start to have an open dialogue, the better we get ourselves out of this standoff.
And I hope whoever can help us to help -- you know, to make the army understand that, you know, impartiality does not mean neutrality. You know it would help to move things forward. Because they are the ones -- right now they are the most important part of the puzzle right now.
SPITZER: Right. I think everybody seems to agree on that. Have you actually begun to have a sequence of meetings with the other members of this coalition to begin drafting the sequence of events or to draft a new constitution?
ELBARADEI: Well, I think -- I think what we need, Eliot, right now is we don't have -- we would not probably have the time to have a completely new constitution. But we -- I think we have been in agreement right now that we'd probably have a presidential council of three members including somebody from the army.
We have a government of -- caretaker government or as Barack Obama mentioned it or a government of technocrats, people with new faces, with competence, with integrity, who would then run the country for a year, prepare the ground for a change -- the necessary changes in the electoral process to ensure that we will have all what we need for a free and fair election.
If we have a new constitution before that, that's well and fine. If not let us go for a new parliament, new president and then have the time to have a constituent assembly to have a democratic constitution and then go on.
SPITZER: We'll have more of my exclusive interview with Dr. ElBaradei later in the program including his thoughts on Israel. But first I want to bring in two people with great insight into the Arab world.
James Traub, a contributing writer, "The New York Times" magazine, and Irshad Manji, a senior fellow at the European Foundation of Democracy and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University.
James and Irshad, thank you so much for being here.
First let me put it this way. Are we right that the military is the critical player, the critical determining factor right now in this power struggle that's on going, and if we are, what can we discern of their views about the viability of Mubarak surviving and what happens?
JAMES TRAUB, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: I think, Eliot, it's a really opaque situation. And I don't know if anybody really knows the answer to that.
For example, is it right that the military decided several days ago that they would step aside and allow these thugs from the Interior Ministry to beat up protesters? Or did that happen without the military's approval? I don't know. I don't know who knows.
But what we do know is that the only way to get where the Egyptian people want and where this administration wants, which is having Mubarak step down, is through the military. So in that sense the military holds that balance of power and I think on our part the communications that actually are taking place, for example, with the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen are military to military. Those are very important right now.
IRSHAD MANJI, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: You know I have spoken with a number of friends throughout the week, as many of us have in Egypt. And despite their very differing views on just about everything under the sun, the one thing they tell me about the military is that they don't want Egypt to become like Pakistan in the sense of being an army state.
They don't want it to be a military with a state. They still want it to be a state with a military. So it is a -- you know an undue or outsized influence by the military as a result of this opaqueness that James quite rightly points out. That is what they fear.
SPITZER: But here -- and I think James pointed so important, are we trying to impose upon these event a logic that would indicate us some rationale when in fact it may just be organic events and the military is there like any large organization with multiple pieces, multiple parts without anybody right now able to control the disparate forces within a very large organization and therefore we're overanalyzing what we see in the street.
MANJI: Sure. And I think that's probably right. If -- again if my conversations with my Egyptian friends are any indication and I think that's also why by the way, Eliot, you know, ElBaradei among others are digging in their heels to make it absolutely clear that Mubarak must go.
What in a sense they're doing is not just sending a clear message. They are also ensuring that Mubarak remains an object of hatred because that is what unifies an otherwise disparate constituency of the opposition groups.
SPITZER: Well, that is such a critical point. Mubarak is the focal point of all the anger, the venom, because in fact there is no unified leaded of the revolution.
SPITZER: And so in the absence of a leader you need an enemy.
SPITZER: And so is that going to structurally become a problem for a revolution that takes great pride from its organic structure but because of that doesn't have a spokesman?
TRAUB: Well, interestingly, I think Tunisia, clearly we saw the same thing, right? I mean it is the nature of the technology now that brings people into the street that it's an individual to individual thing. Not only does it not require institutions, it almost makes institutions impossible.
So yes, you have this leaderless movement. Right now, as I think Irshad very thoughtfully said you don't need a leader because you have the leader on the other side. What happens, though, when Mubarak does step down? If he does, then the leaderlessness of this protest becomes a problem.
Because then we have to hope that ElBaradei and others come forward to formulate an affirmative agenda. The agenda right now is negative.
MANJI: Right. Exactly. It's much harder to know what you're for and to stay unified in knowing what you're for than in simply being against something.
SPITZER: And in my conversation with him when I said to him, have you actually had the meetings to begin to craft the constitution or a process -- and we can discuss more about that later -- it seems that's still a little bit amorphous because nobody quite knows who is authorized, who has the power, the voice to sit down and have that conversation.
MANJI: They of course will remember when ElBaradei also pointed out that he has, you know, tried to bring together a number of what he calls influential Egyptians. He's right now being seen as an honest broker in part because of his diplomatic background. But also -- and this is very important for Americans to know, the guy, though he may be accused of being a carpetbagger coming in from Vienna and being parachuted back into his home country of Egypt, actually last year ElBaradei founded something called the National Association for Change in which he actually brought together a coalition of opposition groups.
That was last year. So clearly, he's had his hands mucky in the process. And he knows who these players are now. It will be interesting to see therefore whether he'll be given the credibility to move that process forward.
TRAUB: I think also in terms of the constitution I was struck by something else he said to you. He -- first of all he used the time expression "a year." He said a year. Now the elections are scheduled for September. So what ElBaradei was saying, as I understood it, was if we can form a transitional government of some kind then we have time to do things in the proper sequence.
He even talked about a constituent assembly. Because when you say Egypt needs a new constitution, which it does, you can't hold elections under the current constitution. The current constitution would prohibit ElBaradei from running. It outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood. It's a banned group.
So you can't have elections then the new constitution because then you'll have deeply defective elections. So that does imply a longer period of time in which you have to have a transitional government, you could have some faith in, and they can then begin to promulgate the series of events that would lead to a constituent assembly, which could create a new constitution under which a new parliament and then a new presidential election could be held.
SPITZER: What you're describing is exactly right as a matter of the technical legalities under the existing Egyptian constitution and presumably those wanting to be followed. Having said that, does that -- there's a perverse argument that the person who promotes readily make all of that happen is Mubarak.
If he were to be persuaded to do so which then comes back to the military whose obligation it might be to say to him, now you must do this on your way out to preserve your legacy.
Does anybody think that might happen?
MANJI: I certainly don't and again my conversations with my very well informed and passionately democratic Egyptian friends, certainly they don't believe that that's probable and frankly would be humiliated if that were the case.
SPITZER: But let me put this a different way. This is becoming Groundhog Day. Yes, every day has a different tenor, a slightly different feel to it.
SPITZER: Some more violent than others, but the size of the protest grows. The economy is deteriorating. It can't continue forever. And yet there seems to be a state of stagnation. Something is waiting to break to finally open the floodgates and say enough, it's over.
TRAUB: Well, which is, going back to your point about the army. Because right now, this states, though it seems utterly unsustainable, from Mubarak's point of view, maybe it doesn't seem unsustainable. Mubarak may think: you know what? Time is on my side, not on their side. I don't know what he's thinking. He may think actually he can wait out the protesters.
SPITZER: He might think so, but the military begins to lose credibility.
SPITZER: Its special position which we've heard so much about in a society that still reveres it, they lose.
MANJI: Well, they may lose, but I fundamentally do believe that if it has to be a choice between protecting Mubarak and protecting the dignity of the people, the army may very well stage the coup that so many people are seeking.
SPITZER: Which is why to a certain extent Vice President Suleiman's comments are parsed so carefully and have tilted a little bit more towards the president, unfortunately, from some perspectives. So, how do you make sense of that?
MANJI: Which specifically which statements are you talking about?
SPITZER: When he talks about stability, when he talks about the need to push back against outside influences. This could be an effort to maintain the pride of independence and sovereignty, but it also seems to be saying, don't pressure us. We're not moving as quickly as you think.
MANJI: You've hit the nail when you use the word "pride." In fact, I, you know, made the argument to my friend who have in turn assured me that this is a part of it. The concept of honor is so key, you know, within Arab society, not just Egyptian society and the reputation that one holds in front of a large group of people. Mubarak has been dishonored, not only in front of the Egyptian people, but in front of the entire world.
And, in fact, his own prime minister, I believe yesterday, said we must be civilized. We must honor the president.
This is exactly, I believe, what Omar Suleiman is getting at as well. You know, let the man have some pride and not just dignity on his way out. But, again, many Egyptians, including the people I speaking with, are saying he's had more than enough honor for the last 30 years. It's time for honor on our parts.
SPITZER: Right. I mean, when you see the millions of people in the street, you begin to think they're not concerned about his honor. They're concerned about their dignity. Their capacity to vote, have jobs, et cetera.
And when does the military institutionally -- this is what I'm waiting for -- say, our interests are no longer his. Yes, he was our benefactor. He funded us. We have the pensions. We own property. But at a certain point, doesn't Suleiman say, we goo down with his ship unnecessarily, we do better to participate in the resurgence of a country and define our future. And that is what I am mystified by -- their failure to do that.
TRAUB: This is where Washington can have a role because whatever Obama and other leaders say publicly, it's absolutely critical that privately -- and here I go back to people like Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, Gates and others, who have -- Egypt and the United States have an incredibly close military to military relationship. The Egyptian military has been training in the United States for decades. These guys know each other very well. They are on a first name basis. They go with each other's families. They're really, really close.
And so, it's terribly important that the message be conveyed to the military that the results, the consequences of not doing the right thing will be catastrophic for the relationship between the United States and Egypt and specifically for the military.
And so, it would end that very close relationship. It would affect the $1.3 billion in military aid. It would affect our bilateral relations. It's better that this be private than public because it is humiliating, dishonoring, et cetera when it's in public. But, privately, it has to be said.
SPITZER: James Traub and Irshad Manji, stick around. We'll have much more to talk about later in the show and we will pick up these very themes.
Coming up: pro-government thugs try to silence an Egyptian voice for freedom, but it didn't work. You'll hear his amazing story in his own words. Stay right here with us.
SPITZER: It was just one of many state-sponsored acts of violence in Cairo over the past few days. An angry mob attacked a car trying to bring food and medical supplies to protesters in Tahrir Square. What set this is apart is the car's driver and owner is one of the leading voices of the Egyptian uprising because of his Twitter page. Until yesterday, he was known by the derogatory moniker "Sandmonkey." But now, for the first time, because of the assault, he's going public with his real name.
Twenty-nine-year-old Mahmoud Salem grew up in Egypt and graduated from Northeastern University in Boston. He joins us tonight by phone from Cairo. Mahmoud, when your car was attacked by Mubarak's supporters near Tahrir Square, what did you do?
MAHMOUD SALEM, EGYPTIAN BLOGGER (via telephone): I saw these police officers on a corner. So, I stopped the car and begged them to help. And they took our cars and they took my car keys and then they basically started inciting the crowd against us. They started calling us Asians (ph) and saboteurs and American Israelis.
And they asked people to attack us, attack the car. It felt basically like a zombie movie scene. They managed to get like a hundred of those people, surrounding my car, all of them wanting to kill us because they think we are spies.
SPITZER: These protests are, by and large, peaceful from the side of those who want to get rid of Mubarak. But they also don't seem to have any particular leader. Is there one leader that you look to who has emerged over the course of this week?
SALEM: Here's what's happening. This is not a revolution that actually required a leader. This was something that a call on Facebook launched and people managed to do themselves. People who took a very practical demands (INAUDIBLE) ideological. Their simple demands -- demanding accountability and democracy and rights for the people.
So, this is an interesting revolution because everybody who's there is not there following someone. They are there on their own accord. This is a revolution of 2 million, 3 million individuals making the decision to brave unbelievable pressures in order to have a better future for their children.
SPITZER: This has been a remarkable revolution to watch precisely for that reason. But as you go down the road, in terms of negotiating a resolution in terms of --
SALEM: I agree. I agree. No, no, no. Absolutely.
And we have -- the people have figured out a solution for that. One of us who is Wael Ghonim, who is the Google manager for the -- for Google basically, the manager for Google, and he has been asking them. It was rumored that he was the person who has actually started the call for the protests. And the protesters, in order to call -- he has been basically kidnapped and missing for like about a week, almost, by the police. We don't know where he is.
And what the people in Tahrir said that if the government can negotiate with someone, the person to represent the people will be Wael Ghonim. And this way having them actually face the fact that they have arrested him. But actually, I was saying is this time for the group to elect leaders, but that would require us to actually be able to -- need to function and socialize and, you know, establish ourselves in committee and such things. And it's not exactly like the conditions for us to do this are safe.
SPITZER: How do you understand the role of the military right now? Vice President Suleiman, do the protesters trust him? Did they trust the military at large?
SALEM: The Egyptian military have always had a favorite position in the hearts of all the Egyptians. And Omar Suleiman, by far, is a respected and capable leader in his own accord. What's happening right now with the military is that it's actually as safety lot (ph). People trust them. While they don't trust police and the police attacks them. And the military are being respectful.
But the other issue is we don't know basically which side the military is on. They're very neutral so far. But also they're part of the regime.
SPITZER: Now that you are no longer going to be anonymous, everybody is going to know your name. You have been incredibly influential. Tens of thousands of people read your blog posts, your tweets. Are you going to be worried about your safety?
SALEM: You don't -- you don't participate in the protests and realize that, you know, you might actually get hurt. But I'm already gotten hurt. You know, I have already been beaten up 35 minutes ago (ph). It's not like we were protecting (ph) the cars and the car is now busted. There is no car anymore. They took everything.
SALEM: So, during this week I got beaten up by batons, I got tear-gassed, I got live ammunition shot at me. You know, and then I got attacked and almost lynched by angry mobs.
So, I don't know what else I can be scared of. I think they could like throw me in jail or something. But I don't know. There is nothing left anymore.
SPITZER: Well, Mahmoud, an incredible story. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing it with us. And stay safe.
SALEM: Thank you very much. Bye.
SPITZER: Up next, they say you can't take it with you but Hosni Mubarak and his family are sure going to try. We'll tell you how and how much when we come back.
SPITZER: Mubarak must go. The people of Egypt have spoken loudly, bravely, defiantly, but when Mubarak goes, he won't be leaving empty-handed. The son of a farmer has made himself a very rich man. How rich? Some estimates say his family is worth $40 billion to $70 billion, billion with a B. And this in a country where the average family income is just $2,000 a year.
Mubarak's wealth was built on military contracts he acquired as an air force officer. By law, every foreign company doing business in Egypt has to have a local partner, often a Mubarak. And that partner gets -- talk about a sweetheart deal -- a 51 percent stake in the business. It's like printing money. And where does the money go? Most of it appears to be in banks in England, the United States and Switzerland. But the family also owns prime property on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Nice and their other real estate holdings near Hyde Park in London and in New York.
And then there are reportedly shares in various Chili's restaurants, Vodafone and even Hyundai dealerships.
The Mubaraks aren't your average billionaires. According to a WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. State Department, Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, a polarizing figure in her own right, groomed her son, Gamal, to take her father's place. Sorry, Mubaraks, not going to happen.
Gamal, known as "Jimmy," a graduate of the American University in Cairo and a former executive with Bank of America in London sports wrap-around shades and tailor-made suits.
The other son, Ala, is the quiet one -- a businessman who has stayed out of the spotlight.
So, for now, the Mubarak family may be on the ropes but they are not alone. They have their money to keep them company.
We'll be right back.
SPITZER: Let's go back to Cairo to get an update on what's going on there right now.
Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has been covering the protests all day.
Ben, give us the latest and give us your take on what the military is up to. Whose side are they really on?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Eliot, they did make a break from the last two days when they really just left this square open to anybody and particularly these pro-Mubarak, quote/unquote, "demonstrators" to go in and engage in sort of street warfare with the protesters. What the army did today is they actually set up a pretty secure cordon around the square, allowed people in. They were a little restrictive with cameras going in, but they frisked everybody. They checked bags and purses and whatnot.
And, by and large, the day went off without a hitch. In fact, I have been hearing that late this evening, that some of these pro- Mubarak people tried to get close to the square and that the army actually opened fire in the air to keep them away. Now, it's not clear at this point if the army is actually siding with the demonstrators or is taking a different tact -- basically approaching it in a way so that they isolate the demonstration, make sure it doesn't leave the square and therefore, that might defuse some of the passions.
So, it's not -- it's basically just trying to contain it, possibly just to let them to wear themselves out and certainly, they are wearing themselves out because it's pretty rough out there if you are going to sleep at night in the square. So, I think it's a little too premature to suggest that the army is somehow going over to the side of the pro-democracy forces -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, real quickly, Ben, how much longer can the military play this role of being the referee between the sides without losing credibility with the Egyptian public?
WEDEMAN: Well, they are in a bit of a dilemma because on the one hand, they don't want to be seen as going in there and forcibly ejecting the protesters. On the other -- you have to remember this is like closing off Times Square for a week. Eventually people are going to say, look, we need to open that place up and allow normal traffic, normal business to resume. That's the heart of the city.
As long as it's closed down, the local economy, not to speak of the national economy, has had something of a standstill -- Eliot.
SPITZER: All right, Ben, thank you so much for that update. We'll be checking back with you in the days and weeks, no doubt, ahead. Thanks so much.
We'll be right back.
SPITZER: Amazing footage of Tahrir Square at 4:00 in the morning just about in Cairo, still filled with protesters. Just an amazing scene.
Back here: James Traub and Irshad Manji.
I want you to listen now the conversation I had with Mohamed ElBaradei about Israel and what would happen to peace between Egypt and Israel ahead in the months that we're looking forward to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: You participated -- I think I'm correct in saying -- in the drafting, in the negotiating of the incredibly important peace treaty between Egypt and the state of Israel. I assume that you remain dedicated to observing the terms of this treaty?
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, EGYPTIAN OPPOSITION LEADER (via telephone): Yes, I mean, again, the idea that Egypt, a democrat Egypt, will immediately, you know, become hostile, you know, to Israel or, will, you know, abolish the peace treaty is, again, one of these myths. You know, Egypt would like to -- a democratic Egypt, let me put it that way, is obviously committed to have peace in a way that we are doomed to live together as Israelis and the Arabs. We are doomed to live in -- hopefully, we're doomed to live in peace. That's the only option.
And -- but we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Find a solution to the Palestinian issue, find -- you know, try to build trust through dialogue. So, again, however, I believe a dialogue between democracies is a much more durable than peace between a dictator and a democracy.
SPITZER: If you were the president of Egypt tomorrow, how would Egypt's relationship with Gaza and the leadership there in Hamas change?
ELBARADEI: Well, again, it's part of this complex of the Palestinian issue. I think the more -- the more you engage people, the more you get the moderates in command. The more you try to isolate, Eliot, the more you empower the hard liners. And it's very a complex situation.
And I would start by trying to get everybody to assure the Palestinians that you will have your state -- to make the Israelis understand their security lies with a stable Middle East, with a comprehensive settlement when everybody feels it's a fair shake. And once we do that, I think -- I think all this radicalism you see in the region will disappear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: All right, guys. We've spoken a lot tonight about the military. Now, we just heard about the critical issue of peace between Egypt and Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood -- where will they come down? If they are part of the new government, will they observe the treaty and will they play a role for peace or war?
TRAUB: Well, this is -- I mean, I spent time talking with these folks. I was in Egypt a few years ago writing about the Muslim Brotherhood.
And I was struck by -- well, first of all, several things. One is they're very far from monolithic. We're talking about millions of people. And there's a very conservative, small town element of the Muslim Brotherhood. But there's also quite a progressive wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now, all of them are very critical of Israel. Almost all of them are far more comfortable with Hamas than we would like them to be. But it is a much less ideological and I would say more pragmatic body and one that is much more interested than I think most people realize in the domestic issues of democracy and freedom speech as opposed to things like we want to impose Sharia.
So, I think Mubarak used the Brotherhood as a bogeyman to terrify generations of American political leaders. I suspect that in reality, they will take a more modest role than people thinks and they would be less of a spoiler, I think, on peace issues than we fear.
MANJI: I fundamentally disagree with my good friend Jim for once.
MANJI: Good, exactly. Look, they're a small force for now, but they are exceedingly well-organized and increasingly better resourced. And that is -- those advantages are the advantages they have over, you know, these liberal democratic forces that frankly wouldn't be able at this moment to organize their way out of a paper bag.
My worry as far as Israel and Egypt goes is that, you know, with a provisional government it's not clear that the border between Egypt and Israel would still be secured. Arms could therefore trickle in, if not flood in, and if Israeli leaders were humble which right now most of them are not, they would go very fast to making a deal with the people who are in charge of the West Bank, seal that and then begin to turn their heads to Egypt.
SPITZER: I want to be clear. In 20 seconds, you said you disagree with James.
SPITZER: Do you disagree with him not just about the scope of their organizational skills, but do you think that the Muslim Brotherhood would fundamentally disavow the peace treaty with Israel?
MANJI: Already, a couple of luminaries from the Muslim Brotherhood have come out disagreeing with one another on that. They don't know where they stand. The left hand doesn't know what the even further left hand is doing or right hand in the case of Islamism.
But the point is, is that they are actually, in my view, much more of a menacing force than James gives them credit for -- but I would not say that there will be immediately be an Islamic take over. No.
SPITZER: OK. So, what I hear you saying is there's uncertainty and uncertainty is dangerous.
All right, James and Irshad, thank you both for being here tonight.
Thank you for watching. Good night from New York.
"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.