Return to Transcripts main page


Egypt Rising: Examining the Role of U.S. Relations With the 'New Egypt'; History in Action as Crowds Await Mubarak's Announcement; State TV Now Showing Pro-Mubarak Protestors

Aired February 10, 2011 - 14:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hala Gorani is here. She's co- anchoring with me here on CNN and CNN International.

And Hala, it's the top of the hour. Let's just update viewers on what's going on right now.

First of all, here's a little timeline of what has happened.

Back on January 25th -- and that's not very long ago -- thousands of Egyptians, inspired by what happened in Tunisia, began protests.

Then, on January 26th, security forces loyal to President Mubarak, they began arresting some of those protesters. Five hundred of them were immediately arrested. That sparked more anger.

On January 28th, President Mubarak decided he was going to send in some troops and tanks, sort of a warning shot, if you will, to the protesters. But the protesters did not back down at all. Also on January 28th, 24 people were killed, but 1,000 were injured in these clashes with security forces. Mostly the police in Egypt.

On January 29th, Mubarak sacked his entire cabinet, but he refused to leave, saying he was not going to seek re-election in the next scheduled elections of September. His son, Gamal Mubarak, would not run for office, but he would stay in power until September. He announced that Omar Suleiman, who was in charge of the intelligence services, all of them in Egypt, would be named the new vice president. This was the first time that Egypt had a vice president since Mubarak himself, as a former vice president, took over when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated back in 1981.

A new government was sworn in on January 31st, but thousands and thousands -- tens of thousands of people -- were swarming Tahrir Square right in downtown Cairo. They were not backing down at all in the face of what was going on. They were certainly not satisfied.

They were moving ahead with their demonstrations. They wanted democracy, they wanted democracy now, and they wanted Mubarak to go, and they wanted him to go right away. He was resisting all of those calls. And as we see now what's going on, this is a dramatic moment.

And I think just to point out a couple more elements in this timeline, Hala, on February 1st, Mubarak made another televised statement saying he's staying, in effect. He would work towards a transition, but he was staying. He said he would leave only in September. And that's when the next scheduled elections were going to be taking place.

And finally, on February 2nd, the violence really erupted between the pro-and-anti-Mubarak groups in Tahrir Square. All sorts of pro-Mubarak elements started coming in. The suspicion was many of them were representatives of the Interior Ministry, many of them were police, plainclothes, and the violence got brutal.

And Hala, you were there and the time and you remember some of that violence really was directed at the international news media, human rights workers, and others. You were in the middle of all of that.


BLITZER: Who would have thought that only a few days later, on this day, Hala, we would be seeing what we're seeing.

GORANI: Exactly. It does feel like a lifetime ago when you mentioned those clashes. It really was only a week ago. Very few people would have predicted a week ago, that President Mubarak would take to the podium, address his people live, and possibly hand over power to his vice president, possibly indicate that the military is now politically in control of the country.

We understand that he's going to announce possibly, again -- it's always important to sort of nuance whatever predictions we make when it comes to Egypt -- that constitutional changes will be made, will be rushed through, in order to facilitate a transition of power.

Ivan Watson is -- are you in Tahrir Square or overlooking Tahrir, Ivan? Where are you exactly?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm in Tahrir Square, where the street party continues. And I think part of what's so remarkable about this is just last week, for instance, underneath our balcony, there was a first aid clinic where some of these demonstrators were being stitched up after being wounded in clashes with pro-Mubarak supporters. And now there's a massive street party under way with people jumping and dancing.

And we're going to pan down so you can see this remarkable scene right now if we can get the live feed on. There was a man who had some kind of a torch that was blowing a second ago. Really a remarkable scene.

And, you know, it rained this morning. And that has not dampened the enthusiasm here at all.

When I came through the lines of security that are run by volunteers here, demonstrators who search your body and check your ID, one of them was smiling. He had just a big broad, giddy smile. And I asked him, "Why are you so happy?" He said, "I think all of this is going to be over soon."

GORANI: What do they -- Ivan, let me ask you this -- will they be OK with Vice President Suleiman taking over and the military playing a lead role politically, or will protesters, according to those you've spoken with, will they still continue to demonstrate in Tahrir?

WATSON: I think it really depends, Hala. Some of the more radical activists here -- for instance, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was detained that we spoke to yesterday, who helped organize the first protest on January 25th, he has said he does not want to talk to Omar Suleiman. He said the time for negotiation with him is over. He says that Omar Suleiman is part of a regime that Hosni Mubarak symbolizes, and that that entire regime needs to go.

I think some of the other activists here and some of the other demonstrators don't take such a hard-line position, and some say that they could live with him. The main point is for some significant change to start, and that has to begin with Hosni Mubarak stepping down.

GORANI: And you were talking there about the mood in the square. It's important also to listen to those people in the square.

These are the individuals who are responsible for it all, the pro-democracy activists who came day in, day out to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo demanding change. It seems as though their actions are going to lead, at some point, whether it's today or in the next few weeks, to a change of regime in Egypt.

And let's listen a little bit to the atmosphere coming from Tahrir Square right now.


GORANI: All right. I want to thank Ivan Watson.

We're going to continue to follow this story with our team of reporters, our eyes and ears on the ground, Ivan Watson, Frederik Pleitgen, Arwa Damon, and others, all following the latest developments.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Hala.

And I want to bring in an expert on U.S. diplomacy right now. Nick Burns is joining us once again. He's at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, and Nick is familiar to our viewers. He's a retired U.S. State Department official, former undersecretary of state.

Nick, talk a little bit about what the challenges are for the United States at this very, very sensitive moment.

R. NICHOLAS BURNS, KENNEDY SCHOOL AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Wolf, I think there are enormous challenges ahead. This is the very beginning perhaps of this drama, the decision by President Mubarak to resign, but look what's ahead of the United States.

We have to try to help behind the scenes a new Egyptian government to organize a transition. That transition is going to have to be open. It's going to have to open itself up to other political figures and some of those young people in the streets of Tahrir Square right now, because if it isn't, my strong suspicion is that it's not going to be enough, that a transition that looks a lot like President Mubarak's regime without President Mubarak won't be enough for what these people have been protesting for in a very positive and peaceful way over the last three weeks.

So it is likely to be a very turbulent and chaotic period in Egyptian history, unfortunately, moving forward, and a very difficult transition in a country that does not have a democratic tradition because it's been governed by authoritarian leaders for 60 years.

BLITZER: You heard President Obama just say a little while ago -- we had live coverage from his speech in Michigan -- Nick, that America will do everything it can to create an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt. But some are already suggesting what we're about to see in Egypt is what might be called a soft military coup or a takeover of Egypt by the Egyptian military.

Is that fair?

BURNS: Well, I think it's one of the strong possibilities. There's no question that the military is the key institution. It's going to play a decisive role in the transition.

Whether the military is open to having some of those young people come into a conference room with them to talk about amendments to the constitution, to talk about elections, to talk about freedom of political party formation, that's an open question. And so if Omar Suleiman is to be the new face of Egypt in this transitional period, the big question is, Wolf, whether we'll just see a continuation of authoritarian rule just with other people in office.

And obviously the United States has an interest in seeing that the voices of these people in the streets of Cairo are still heard inside the corridors of power in Cairo. That's the contribution that the U.S. has to making to encourage the Egyptians to open that up.

BLITZER: Nick Burns, thanks very much.

BURNS: Thank you. BLITZER: Former undersecretary of state, now at Harvard University, helping us appreciate the history of what's unfolding.

These are live pictures from Tahrir Square. The folks there are so excited. Tens of thousands of people are gathering there.

They want to hear from President Hosni Mubarak, that he is stepping down, that he is giving up power, and that he may or may not be leaving Egypt, but they want him gone. And anything short of that will be deeply, deeply disappointing to them, and there will be anger on the streets if he announces anything less than that.

He's supposed to go -- he's supposed to deliver these remarks on Egyptian state television soon. We'll of course have live coverage here on CNN and CNN International.

Let's take a quick break. As we go to break, let's listen in on the crowd at Tahrir Square.



BLITZER: Tens of thousands of people have gathered at Tahrir Square in Cairo. They're anxiously awaiting word from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. They expect that he will announce on Egyptian television shortly that he is stepping down.

We don't know that for sure. We have heard on Egyptian state television a little while ago the information minister of Egypt saying he will not step down, that Mubarak will not step down. But we're anxious to hear precisely what he has to say. We'll have live coverage.

We do know that President Obama said just a little while ago that the United States will do everything it can to help Egypt achieve an orderly and genuine transition to democracy. Easier said than done, I must say.

Hala Gorani is co-anchoring with me right now.

Hala, our viewers in the United States and around the world, they are watching because they appreciate the history of the moment in Egypt right now.

GORANI: Absolutely. And not only because, as you mentioned before, Wolf, what's happening in Egypt will be transformative for Egypt, it will be transformative for the rest of the region and the Arab world. There are many dictatorships and autocracies in that region that might be looking at what's unfolding in Egypt with a tinge of concern and worry. Many governments have announced what some have called preemptive reforms in order to try to placate any future demonstrators who might be organizing similar protests in their own countries. But if President Mubarak steps down, the big question is, what next? That is the $64,000 question. We don't know what exact role the military will play, for how long, whether or not they will, under the military's tutelage, usher in an era of true democratic transition in the country, or whether the military and Vice President Suleiman will continue to hold on to power in a more determined and deliberate way.

Jim Clancy is here, my colleague. Jim Clancy has looked into the military's role in Egypt and what might transpire if and when they take over more deliberately politically in Egypt.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Is it really a takeover? I think that's one of the questions.

Look, Egyptian military is big, half a million men, half a million in reserve. It is strong. It's involved in things like road-building and other activities. It protects some of the resorts in Egypt that tourists visit.

It is popular. It's a conscription army, so every family feels that -- well, they have a part of it. But all of those things don't matter so much as the history of Egypt's military since 1952, when it staged a coup.

Four presidents have come from the military. Hosni Mubarak, who has served now for almost 30 years, was the former commander of the air force. They are absolutely -- if there is a military handover of power to the military, they are going to be in the driver's seat. They are going to dictate what kind of democracy Egyptians will have, what kind of real change comes out of all of these things that we have witnessed over the past two weeks.

And Hala, there is no guarantee that it's going to go in a different way than it has gone in the past.

GORANI: There are no guarantees.

CLANCY: In the Western news media, we get excited about this stuff.


CLANCY: We look at this and we support it. But you have to see where it's going.

CLANCY: We do have to see where it's going. Symbolically, though, emblematically, President Mubarak, having to take to the podium, having -- being forced by his own people to admit that he must step aside, that in itself is a historic event.

But you're right, Jim, it's a question of, what next?

Wolf, we continue to watch these live pictures as we continue to await President Mubarak's address. It's going to be interesting to see what he says. BLITZER: We'll see what he has to say, the Egyptian leader. And we of course will have live coverage here on CNN and CNN International.

We just got a tweet, by the way, Hala. You'll be interested that Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was arrested in Cairo, spent about 10 days in a prison, but then came out and spoke so passionately and dramatically about what's going on, he has now just tweeted that he's heading towards Tahrir Square right now. And he's a familiar face to the people who have gathered there. I'm sure they will be inspired once he gets there.

Anderson Cooper is joining us right now.

Anderson, only a few days ago, you were down in Tahrir Square. You remember vividly what was going on. And I suspect -- maybe I'm wrong -- did you anticipate, Anderson, that the situation could dramatically unfold as quickly as it is right now?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Well, you know, I remember talking to Ben Wedeman last week and him saying, "Look, this cannot go on much longer, something has to give." And back then, he was predicting two weeks. We're just past the two-week mark.

It is extraordinary, Wolf, as we have all witnessed what's been going on, all of us around the world watching this, whether you were in the square or not. We've all seen what's been happening in that square. And to think that just a week ago, there were pitch battles on the streets all around that square, the people in that square were literally fighting for their lives as they were attacked for hours and hours for two days by pro-Mubarak thugs, the military standing by, watching it happen, Molotov cocktails being thrown, what a difference just a few days makes.

A lot of people, Wolf, as you know, anticipated that these demonstrations would crest, and they would begin to fade, but that has not happened. If anything, they've just increased over the last couple of days.

We've seen the largest demonstrations yet this past week, just two days ago. Strikes beginning to break out. The momentum clearly shifting now for the protesters.

BLITZER: You know, once the workers started striking yesterday and the day before, Anderson, at the Suez Canal, once Egyptian state media began showing positive images of the protesters, and once the military began making statements that maybe -- maybe Mubarak should step down, he lost that entire base, and it was only going to be a matter of time before the situation would unfold.

Let's go back to Ben Wedeman in Cairo right now.

The crowd, I take it, more and more and more people every minute are showing up in Tahrir Square, even though it's getting late into the evening right now, Ben. Tell us what you're seeing and hearing.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, it's an hour and 20 minutes into the nightly curfew. And what I'm seeing is a line of about five people thick going back hundreds of meters, all trying to get into Tahrir Square.

And that, Wolf, is only one entrance to the square. So, clearly, everybody in Cairo, or many people, want to be in Tahrir Square for what they expect to be a historic moment when President Mubarak makes his speech.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. Do they have some sort of speaker system -- I assume they do, Ben -- that they he will be able to hear Mubarak as he speaks?

WEDEMAN: Yes, there are many speaker systems down there playing at the moment music, others making speeches. But we've seen in the past that there is a big screen down there where people will be able to listen to whatever speech comes out, and I would like to be down there myself to see what the reaction is.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure a lot of folks are going to be looking at this moment.

Anderson Cooper is still there.

Just the other day, Anderson, we saw you and Ben Wedeman and Hala Gorani reporting from Cairo. It was a brutal situation that was unfolding as the secret police and the security forces, the pro-Mubarak forces were going after human rights activists, going after regular folks, going after journalists. Right now, and as Ben Wedeman just said, and as you pointed out, Anderson, what a difference one week makes.

COOPER: It certainly does. It is important to point out though that they are all still there. The security services, by some estimates, the Interior Ministry, has more than 1.5 million employees, informants, secret agents, secret police. So all of that is still there. That infrastructure is still there.

Real questions now remain. A, what is Hosni Mubarak going to say tonight? Is he going to pass over power to his vice president, Suleiman, a man who has run those security services, the intelligence services for Mubarak for more than a decade now, a man who is the closest confidante? Some call him the consigliere to Hosni Mubarak.

Is he really the man? Will the protesters believe that he is the man to shepherd Egypt toward a real democracy?

If the military in fact takes over, what will the transition period look like? Will they be willing to transition and allow democratic institutions to grow as most observers say they need to in order to truly have free and fair elections, and elections in which Egyptian voters have a choice of who they want to run their country? So there's a lot of questions that remain. And as we look at these pictures, and as we watch the jubilation spread, not just from Tahrir Square, but rippling out all across Egypt, it's important to remember the apparatus of repression that is still in place and will likely still be in place, and the potential for repression down the road.

Ben, I mean, you have lived in this country for so long. I remember speaking to you -- I think it was last week -- and you said you thought it couldn't go on much longer than two weeks. It's been just a little bit over two weeks.

Did you -- when this began, did you have any idea that it could end up like this?

WEDEMAN: Well, really, it all began so suddenly on the 25th of January, when we were covering what seemed like a routine demonstration that suddenly got massive, with thousands of people coming into the middle of the city, to Tahrir. And what we saw is between the 25th and the 28th, when you had that massive demonstration that ended in the burning down of the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters, that's when I realized that this regime was not as solid as everybody thought.

The feeling was -- before -- was that there are too many people with a vested interest in the regime -- government employees, the army, the Interior Ministry, which, like you mentioned, has more than a million employees. But what we discovered, and I think to the surprise of everybody here, even, you know, Egyptians, obviously the government, is that despite its facade of strength, of omnipotence, that this was actually a very -- is a very weak regime that has been shaken to its core by this, a few hundred thousand young people, dedicated activists, who said enough is enough.

And I think this is what really terrifies all the other regimes in the Middle East, is that this massive Egyptian regime is being brought down by a popular, nonviolent movement. If they can take Egypt down, they can take anywhere down -- Anderson.

GORANI: And Ben, I just have a quick question. Sorry.

Ben, yes, I have a quick question. Is the military, do you think, in Egypt now looking at this, as the world watches these live pictures of this popular uprising, is the military in a position that it must usher in true change because it knows that these demonstrators are determined at this point, two-and-a-half weeks into this movement?

WEDEMAN: Well, I think that's a question that we can't answer at this point. But, in fact, let's keep in mind one thing. If President Mubarak steps down -- and, of course, at point we don't know that for sure -- it's only changing the head. The body, the state structure, the Ministry of the Interior, which is massive, the army, it's a regime that has made Egypt what it is today, not President Mubarak by itself. And the army is very much part of that regime. In fact, in 1952, Egypt had what later they called a revolution, but it was a military coup d'etat. And since then, all the presidents have been from the military.

So we're not talking about the United States, where voters vote out an unpopular president. No. We're talking about an entire system of government that's based upon a military structure, based upon police state methods.

There's so much that needs to be changed. And many of the people in the square said yes, we want Mubarak to go, but we want to change the whole system from top to bottom. That's a real revolution. And I suspect the army isn't going to go along with that -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, if it doesn't, then really what kind of changing will Egypt really experience?

That's the question, Wolf. We're still waiting to see. We're still waiting.

There are various reports -- and really, we don't want to attach ourselves to any kind of estimated time of speech right now, but many reports that possibly, Wolf, President Mubarak will speak in about 35 minutes, live. Of course, the most accurate way to predict a President Mubarak speech is after it happens. So that's not something that we want to necessarily announce with any degree of confidence.

BLITZER: No. Right, because we could be waiting for minutes, we could be waiting for hours.

It's now approaching 9:30 p.m. in Cairo, Hala.

We've also -- it's a fascinating development for those who watch these kinds of nuances. We're now told that state TV, Nile TV in Egypt, is showing these pictures of Tahrir Square, which is pretty impressive in and of itself.

Ben Wedeman -- let me bring back Ben to talk about that.

When state television in Egypt are showing these pro- democracy demonstrators in Cairo, as a longtime observer of Egypt, what does that say to you, Ben?

WEDEMAN: I think we've seen an amazing change, Wolf, in Egyptian TV. Now, along with these live pictures of the square, there's also a little promo which has a picture of people in the square. It says, "Egypt is changing."

Now, just a few days ago, Egyptian television was running the most sort of real low, hard propaganda against the demonstrators, suggesting they're all agents of foreign powers working perhaps for Israel, the United States, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran. Egyptian TV has featured in previous days interviews with people who they said were activists from the youth movement here who had a change of heart and suddenly decided that, actually, they supported President Mubarak. And they would go on with these stories about how they were paid by Freedom House in the United States $50,000 to cause a revolution in Egypt, and that some of them received training from the Israeli intelligence organization, Mossad. And some of them had received training in Qatar, which, of course, where Al Jazeera is, which is, of course, one of the Egyptian regime's main enemies at the moment.

So very complicated stories of sinister plots against Egypt being aired on an almost continuous basis on Egyptian TV. And presto, everything has changed. Now it's all light and happiness regarding Tahrir Square. Admiration for the youth who are changing Egypt. So, flip-flops happen even here, Wolf.

BLITZER: It was amazing earlier in the day when top Egyptian general, the army chief then went into Tahrir Square and told the protesters, I'm paraphrasing him now, but he said effectively, all your demands will be met. And that was the clearest signal yet that President Mubarak was getting ready to step down. Was that the correct interpretation?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly that's how many people are reading it. When a senior army officer goes down to that square where the demands are so vividly being made, whether it's in chants, in songs, in posters, in Arabic, English, French -- I've even seen Chinese posters down there -- that sends a very clear message to the people in Tahrir that the army is listening very carefully to you. And in fact, no one from the regime, obviously, other than the army has come down and sent that same message. So, that's certainly is an interpretation that many in the square have made of those remarks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me bring Anderson Cooper back into this conversation. Anderson, when you were there in Egypt, did you get a clear difference of attitude from the police, the secret police, the security forces as opposed to the Egyptian army, the Egyptian military? Was it obvious to you that they were behaving differently?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. I mean, the Egyptian police, uniformed police were off the streets by the time I got there because of their crackdown during the early days of the demonstration, the brutality that they exhibited, they were taken off the streets. The Egyptian military went in to try to fill more of a policing role and largely sort of just tried to maintain lines around Liberation Square. And obviously, there's enormous respect for the Egyptian military even among the anti-government protestors. They would often chant "the people and the military are one, the people and the military are one."

You know, the military did stand by and allow pro-Mubarak thugs, pro-Mubarak mobs to go and attack the peaceful protesters. There's no doubt about that. We all saw it. The world saw it. But then after two days of attacks, they did set up greater defensive lines in between the two sides and keep the two sides apart. So, they did finally step in after two days of watching these thugs attack the protesters. But the military really is the only force in Egypt which I think still maintains widespread support, still maintains the support of the anti-government protesters who, you know, there's been a festive atmosphere there on many days where people would give the soldiers flowers, give them food, bring them tea. They really do view them as an extension of the Egyptian population --

BLITZER: Amazing.

COOPER: Everyone you talk to has stories about brutality that they have received under the hands of the police or corruption that they have seen. You know, the police are the most obvious representatives of the regime of Hosni Mubarak in people's day-to-day lives. Just as they are in all countries. They are the probably the biggest representative of any state power. And because they -- there is widespread corruption, and because they have a heavy hand, there is widespread hatred of the police in Egypt.

And the real question remains now, what is going to happen to them? How will they work, if it is a military regime that takes over, how will they begin to work with the security apparatus that's still in place? And you still need to have police on streets. How is that going to work? How is that transition going to be handled?

BLITZER: And let's not get overly carried away because this is still a very, very dangerous moment right now the. Anderson, as our friend, my former professor at Johns Hopkins University, (INAUDIBLE) has said to you and he's said to me and as he's told all of our viewers -- potentially, if you can elaborate for a moment on this, Anderson -- potentially this may be an exceedingly dangerous moment that we're watching right now.

COOPER: There's no doubt about it. On several factors. One, the world stops paying attention if the protesters leave the square, if everyone starts to believe Mubarak is out, if that is in fact what he's going to be announcing sometime in the next minutes or hours, people may stop paying attention. Reporters may move elsewhere.

Yet, all of the apparatus of repression, all of the institutions which have, you know, brutalized people in Egypt which have arbitrarily arrested people, all the power in the state may remain in the hands of state. Maybe not in the Mubarak's hands, but in the hands of people who have been allies to Mubarak for nearly 30 years now.

So, it it is still a very dangerous time for those protesters. The fear has been over the last several days if they leave the square, if they give up that land that they have paid for literally with blood and with so much sacrifice, if they give it up and the apparatus of the state remains in control, they could be picked off one by one. They could be rounded up, arrested, disappear, and the world would no longer be watching.

BLITZER: Yes, I think that's an excellent point. Hala, you were there, as well, Hala. This euphoria that's developing in Tahrir Square, that euphoria could be dashed fairly quickly.

GORANI: You know, it's a great point that Anderson made there regarding the interior ministry, the secret police, the state apparatus that functions very much based on the power of the police. I mean, you have to remember the military is several hundred thousand. The interior ministry has more than a million people working on some level for that entity within the Egyptian government. And it is very much what is in the daily lives of Egyptians.

So, a very important question for Egypt is, how will the military negotiate a new relationship, if it will indeed negotiate a new relationship with the interior ministry, the police, the secret police. This is how these regimes in the Middle East maintain power with. It's with the intimidation of the secret police, with intimidation from the police, the everyday police. We've seen over the last few years through the power of social media some scenes of torture, of intimidation, of Egyptian police against their own citizens.

This is not going to be dismantled with one presidential speech. So, it is so important that we wait and see how the interior ministry and its power within Egyptian society is reformed, if at all, in this transition, in this democratic political transition in the country.

BLITZER: And let me just reset. What we're awaiting right now is the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. We're told he's getting ready to speak, to address the people of Egypt and make a dramatic announcement. Will he announce he's stepping down? Will he announce he's not stepping down? We'll just have to wait and see what he says.

We do know the Egyptian army chief said earlier in the day when he went to the crowd at Tahrir Square, he said all your demands will be met. We know what Leon Panetta, the CIA director here in Washington told Congress a little while ago. He said there are strong indications that the U.S. is getting that Mubarak will step down. But we'll just have to wait and see.

Ben Wedeman has been covering the story for a long time. Ben, remind me, that historic tweet that you put out -- and frankly I must say, when I read it, when I got your tweet on that day and you said something to the effect that there is a full-scale revolt underway in Egypt right now, I said to myself, well, he may be right but it sounds a little premature.

But remind me when you tweeted that because you were obviously 100 percent correct.

WEDEMAN: At the time, this was, I think, on the 26th of January, the day after the first demonstration. I was on the roof of the lawyers' syndicate, watching as hundreds of riot police were trying to put down a protest. And there were cars burning in the street on the sort of one block up. And it looked like no matter what they tried, with so many forces being mobilized to put down these protests, they just couldn't do it. And it was at that moment it just occurred to me that if this carries on much longer, this regime that, as I said before, we thought was so solid, so strong, so entrenched is being shaken by what's really limited protests -- limited to the heart of Cairo.

That's really sort of what inspired me to send that tweet at the time. And I did think afterwards, maybe I may have jumped the gun. But by the 28th when we saw the army come in and the police pull out of Cairo, I thought I was probably right.

BLITZER: Yes, you certainly were right. Ben Wedeman is going to stay with us. Anderson Cooper is watching what's going on. Hala Gorani is watching what's going on. We have all of our reporters and analysts working the story.

We're waiting for the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to deliver a speech on Egyptian television. We're told that will happen soon. We're what -- approaching 10:00 p.m. pretty soon in Cairo.

Anderson, one of those first speeches that he gave, as you remember, it was well after midnight. It was a taped speech. This one we're told it may be live, maybe it will be taped. We don't know. But they're sort of night owls over there in Egypt. So we shouldn't expect, I wouldn't be surprised if we wait a few hours for this, but it could happen much sooner.

COOPER: Right. There's no indication whether it will be really a live speech or whether it will be taped. This is not a man known to, you know, impromptu talks in front of the nation.

And also, you know, there's no predicting what he is actually going to do. There's conflicting reports he may hand over power to his vice president Suleiman, his closest confidante for the last several years -- or to somehow to the Egyptian military. We're going to have to wait and see.

And -- but remember the last time, the first time we heard from him during this crisis and the last time he spoke, he surprised a lot of people not by stepping down, but by saying he would not run for re-election in September. He also continued to blame, he basically started setting up this idea that this was somehow these protesters had fallen prey to foreign influence to, agitators, perhaps to Islamic extremists.

And that's a narrative we have heard ever since then from various representatives of the Mubarak regime. The vice president has continued to come out on Egyptian television, saying that Egyptians are not ready for democracy, saying these are foreign agitators, that it's news media, it's foreign reporters. It's satellite news channels. It's the Muslim Brotherhood. Blaming just about everybody, Hezbollah, Hamas, Israel for the protests in the square. But again, I don't think the Egyptian people are buying that any longer.

Certainly, the people who are now pouring into the square they have been there, they have seen as we have seen, as all of us have seen around the world who these people are. And these are young people. These are men and women. These are old people it, these people from a wide cross-section of Egyptian society who finally after 30 years are tired of the lies and tired of the repression. And tired of being arbitrary arrested under emergency powers that have been in effect every day of the Mubarak regime. They want change, and now it is within their grasp. But again, what happens in the days ahead will be critical in terms of whether democracy really does come to Egypt.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's fascinating that as we watch all of these live pictures develop, it's fascinating to think that they were inspired, these people in Egypt, by what happened in Tunisia in North Africa. A much smaller country and all of a sudden, they said to themselves, all of the experts in Egypt I've spoken to have said, you know what? If these people in Tunisia can stand up to a dictator who's been in power for decades and ruled with an iron fist, why can't we, the proud Egyptians, the largest of all of the Arab countries, culturally, politically, militarily they say the most significant, why can't we stand up to a dictator? And they did, in fact, do that.

Hala Gorani and Ben Wedeman are here. Anderson Cooper is here as we await the president of Egypt. We think Hosni Mubarak is going to be speaking on Egyptian television soon.

That element of pride, Hala, when you were there only a week ago, the element of pride when they were saying, you know what? If Tunisians can do this, we Egyptians can do this. I assume that came out in a lot of conversations you had.

GORANI: It did. But I think even Egyptians, even the most hard-core protesters in Tahrir Square right now would never have predicted within two-and-a-half weeks, this government that's been in place, this president in place for 30 years but really this regime that's been in place since 1952, would tremble in the way that it did. This is two-and-a-half weeks of largely peaceful demonstrations with pro-democracy activists who are the ages of the grandsons of the people in power today.

Potentially the people in power in Egypt right now, Mubarak and his entourage, do they even know what Facebook is, what Twitter is? This has been the virtual meeting point of all these young kids in Tahrir Square.

There is a lot of pride. I remember speaking to one woman in Tahrir Square -- this was before the clashes that took place between the pro-Mubarak agitators and the demonstrators that are pro- democracy activitist -- she told me for the first time in my life, I am proud of my country. There is a lot of that sentiment being echoed throughout Tahrir Square and the country. And as well as among Egyptians watching all of this unfold from outside of their country, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let me go back to Ben Wedemen. Ben -- go ahead.

COOPER: I was just going to say that's the last card this regime has been playing, trying to play on the understandable pride that Egyptians it feel in their country. Just in the last 48 hours or so, we've heard from vice president Suleiman and others in Egypt from the foreign minister who gave an interview to PBS saying essentially that foreigners are trying to belittle Egypt, that satellite news channels are trying to insult Egypt as a country and belittle the country. And I think that's clearly an attempt by them to play into the sense of pride.

The protesters, the anti-Mubarak protesters, will tell you it is the regime that has belittled the Egyptian people by saying that they're not ready for democracy. The protesters will say we are not belittling this country, we are celebrating this country. And in fact, the protesters in the square will say this is the real Egypt. This is what Egypt can be, a place where people who are Muslims and Christians can come together, a place where people with different viewpoints can express those viewpoints peacefully.

BLITZER: Yes, there's no doubt that Egypt's potential is enormous. The talent of these people is great, as we all know. Those of us who have spent time in Egypt over the years.

Ben, let me just have a reality check on one point because you're there in Cairo. Ben Wedeman is our man in Cairo right now. Over these past two weeks, for all practical purposes, tourism, which is such a main pillar of the Egyptian economy, has basically dried up. So, hundreds of millions,if not billions, of dollars are being lost.

What about day-to-day commerce? People are losing a lot of money right now. How much of a factor is that in propelling what's going on?

WEDEMAN: Well, in fact, I spoke to an analyst on the 29th of January after the first -- that big demonstration that resulted in the army pulling in. And basically, he said that the real important factor to look at is the economic factor that people will start to feel that the country has come to a stand still. You know, the banks only recently reopened. The stock market is still closed. And no one at this point knows when it will reopen.

Schools are still closed. Universities are still closed. You go around Cairo, there are businesses open. But by and large, tourists, I haven't seen one in quite some time. So really, the country's normal business has come to a standstill. And as this analyst was telling me, there will be intense pressure from the business community to do something to break this bottleneck, and this may have been one of the factors behind what we expect to be an announcement from President Mubarak regarding his future. The country needs to get back to work. Wolf?

BLIZTER: Yes, it needs to get back immediately because people potentially could start staving if they don't get food, if they don't -- aren't able to go on with their lives. That's why this is moving at least potentially as quickly as it is.

Hala Gorani, I'm sure even when you were there the other day in Cairo, you heard from a lot of average workers out there, families, parents, that you know what? They need to put food on the table. They need action. They need some sort of decisive development so that life can go on.

GORANI: I did hear that, but then I stopped hearing that after protests became -- the protester numbers swelled again after that wild interview. It seems as though it's reenergized demonstrators and also given them this feeling that they can taste it, they can taste victory right now.

The atmosphere is electric. Ben Wedeman was telling us, Ivan Watson and our other reporters.

Michael Holmes is here with me now. President Mubarak, potentially the end of an era for a man who has marked the last 30 years, the last generation with his sort of management style, his personality.


GORANI: And leadership style.

HOLMES: And going forward in the next hour, we'll discuss what next as we have been. The military, vice president Suleiman, who he is? Is he the man the protesters are going to like? He's a man that's done business with the United States, done business with Israel crucially, as well.

But those people in your screen right now, are they going to be accepting of that or accepting of a complete military-run government in the interim.

GORANI: And really, it's what happens tomorrow, Michael Holmes. But it's also what happens in six months. Because this transition is going to begin. It has begun, really. Much of the power has been transfer unofficially to vice president Suleiman. If President Hosni Mubarak now transfers power to the military, that aspect of things is also in the hands of that particular institution in Egypt.

But come September, will we see a Turkish-style democracy that is more pluralistic under military tutelage, or will we see a true military-run country once again as it has been in the land of Egypt for the last 50 years or so? Wolf, all these questions we're going to try to answer over the coming hours but difficult ones that don't have obvious answers at this stage.

BLITZER: Yes. Critical moment right now. But we will get some answers if and when Hosni Mubarak goes on Egyptian state television and says what he is doing. Conflicting rumors right now what he's doing.

We will have live coverage of all the breaking news, history unfolding in Egypt right now. Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: Thousands and thousands of people have now reached Tahrir Square in Cairo. They're getting ready to celebrate, they believe, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will announce on Egyptian state television shortly that he is stepping down after more than 30 years in power.

We want to welcome our viewers on CNN and CNN International around the world. We're covering the breaking news. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Anderson Cooper is joining us, as well.

Anderson, as we get ready, we think that Hosni Mubarak is going to be speaking fairly soon, although you never know. Could be within a matter of a few minutes, could be within a matter of a few hours. It's now approaching 10:00 p.m. in Cairo right now. So, we think it will be fairly soon.

Let's set the stage for viewers, Anderson, because you were just there. You saw history unfolding in Cairo. But now it's spread throughout all of Egypt, these demonstrations to the point that we believe, we believe Mubarak can no longer stay in power and he has made that major decision to go away one way or another. But we'll see what he does. We'll have to wait and see what happens.

COOPER: We absolutely will. Again, I mean, the two options that seem to be being discussed, and we've heard varying reports and we can't confirm which one may in fact be the option they choose or maybe another option - one, that he would hand over president to his vice president Suleiman, a man who's run his intelligence services since, I believe, 1993. A man who is probably his closest confidante, who helped actually save his life in an assassination attempt in Ethiopia.

Or would he hand over power to some sort of council run by the Egyptian military? The Egyptian military obviously a well- respected organization, probably the only one that is still kind of respected and not as tainted with the blood of protesters, frankly. They don't have as much blood on their hands as the other institutions of the state in Egypt do. Though we have seen military police arresting people in the last week or so. But among the protesters, there is still and among many people in the country widespread respect for the Egyptian military.

So, the we don't know what form this new government would take. We have heard from protesters, though - remember, initially their demands were Mubarak must go. Gradually, those kind of evolved to the regime must go with the realization that if Mubarak left and yet the institutions of repressions, the apparatus of the state, the secret police are all still in power, then just some other dictator could easily step into the fore and continue things the same as they've been.

It's important to know, this is a country which has been ruled under emergency law for the entire reign of Mubarak. This is a man does not know how to govern any other way. There were very real concerns about Islamic extremists. Obviously, the prior president, Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Hosni Mubarak was his vice president, was sitting on the podium the day Sadat was assassinated. Came to power right after that. But that emergency law has allowed secret police to round up people, to arrest people, to torture people, to do whatever they want. And no one has been able to get that repealed. Even the protesters in the last several days who have been calling for a repeal of the emergency law, vice president Suleiman has said no to that. The foreign minister just yesterday said you capital repeal the emergency law. There's lots of prisoners who are now been released running around on the streets.

Clearly, the demonstrators don't want to just see the Mubarak go. They want the regime to change, they want democracy. They have experienced freedom like they have never been able to experience before. They've experienced it in that square that the world is looking at right now. And they don't want to go back.

You know, what you hear, Wolf, and what so many people say to me over and over is that fear has been defeated. They are no longer afraid. And that's an extraordinary statement, Wolf, for people who have been ruled with an iron hand. Such a young population, a large percentage of the Egyptian population is young. They are saying in that square, we are no longer afraid. You can do what you will. But we are not turning back.

BLITZER: And once you taste that freedom, especially the young people, you never, ever want to go back to the opposite of freedom.

Let's go down to the square right now, Tahrir Square. Our reporter Fred Pleitgen is right in the middle of what's going on. Set the scene for us, Fred. As we await the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, he's expected to speak, we're told, fairly soon.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. First of all, sorry, I have to use this headphone here because it's very hard to hear down there. But the scene is very much like a festival. I don't know how much you can see over there to the other side. People waving Egyptian flags, chanting slogans for Hosni Mubarak to step down. People here are very, very exhilarated at this moment.

And I've spoken to a lot of people who are down here, and they tell me they're absolutely sure this is going to happen tonight. One young man told me he believes this is the night freedom will be born in Egypt. So, certainly the people are very happy. I don't know how much of that you're going to be able to hear right now, but there's a lot of people, sort of smaller demonstrations that walk by here all the time. Again, a lot of people with flags, headbands, Egypt hats. So, clearly the people who are on the square feel, Wolf, that tonight they have won a victory and now of course, all of them are waiting to get that confirmation of what they believe will be Hosni Mubarak making the announcement that heal step down.

For a lot of these people also, keep in mind some of them have been camping out here for days, some of them for up to two weeks. So, for a lot of these people, a really, really difficult time for them. And now it appears as though they've arrived for what they believe is their goal. Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, if you have a chance -- you don't have to do it now -- but if there is one of those protesters who speaks English and wants to share a thought or two with us, and come over to your microphone, I think that would be good. Obviously, if they can speak English. But do me a favor because I'm curious --


BLITZER: I'm just curious myself right now to hear a little bit of the noise coming from that crowd. Stop talking for a moment, raise your microphone and let's listen for a second.


PLEITGEN: They just finished the chants.


PLIETGEN: All right, Wolf, as you can see --

BLITZER: All right. Fred, thanks.

I don't know if Ben Wedeman was listening. He's a fluent Arabic speaker. He could translate. I believe what they were saying is "Down, down, Mubarak, always be free, Egypt," or words to that effect because that's been the chant we've been hearing from the crowd.

Now, Ben, if you're there, translate what they were just hearing.

WEDEMAN: Well, basically it was "Down, down, Hosni Mubarak," and the people and the army are one hand, or together united. And, of course, these are chants we've been hearing quite a lot over the last two weeks or so. Certainly the one about the army really indicates to you how much the people welcomed the arrival of the army in the streets of Cairo on the evening of the 28th of January after several days of really brutal fighting -- or rather, attacks by the police against the protesters. Of course, the same police who attacked the CNN crew on the 28th and broke and stole our camera. So when the army arrived, many people, including journalists, were a bit relieved. Wolf.