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Life after the Elysee; Egypt's Rocky Road to Democracy; Imagine a World

Aired November 4, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, we have an interview with the former French first lady, Cecilia Sarkozy Attias about her new best-selling book and her unconventional time in the Elysee Palace. We are also, though, taking on what's going on in Egypt as the first democratically elected leader of that country goes into a courtroom.

"I am Egypt's legitimate president," said Mohammed Morsy, from behind the bars of that now-infamous cage in an Egyptian courtroom. And those were the first words and the first glimpse from Morsy since the democratically elected president was deposed in July.

Morsy has been out of sight, held incommunicado in an undisclosed location until he emerged to stand trial today on charges that he incited the murder of protesters during demonstrations against his regime last December.

Morsy was defiant in court, chanting, "Down with military rule," refusing to wear a white prison uniform and calling the trial "illegitimate."

The interim military-backed government is also being blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 protesters since it took power in July. Nonetheless, the military leadership is still popular and if elections were held in Egypt today, it is likely their leader, General Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, would be elected, should he choose to run.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo again this weekend, urging the generals to stick to their road map for restoring democracy. Now while Morsy's trial has been deferred now until January, the U.S. and many others in the region remain worried about the deep political tensions there turning once again into violence.

Ziad Bahaa el-Din is Egypt's deputy prime minister, and he's walking a very fine line as he tries to urge the interim government into restraint. And I'll be talking to him in a moment.

But first, but first, I talked to Nicolas Sarkozy's former wife, the former first lady of France, Cecilia Attias. She was right there beside him, urging him on and helping him to win the French presidency in 2007. In truth, she was his closest confidante, his political adviser, and she was chief of staff to him for the past 20 years.

But by the time they reached the pinnacle of power, the Elysee, their relationship was under the spotlight, they had been separated for a while. While she voted for him in the first round of elections, she didn't in the second.

She was a very unconventional first lady in a nation that gave that unelected position no formal role, having pulled off a dramatic rescue mission in Libya, where Bulgarian nurses were condemned to death, within six months of being first lady, she walked away from her marriage, from the Elysee and from her country.

She moved here to the United States, married again to Richard Attias, a global events impresario, and she kept a low profile, emerging only to launch her new foundation, dedicated to helping women around the world break that glass ceiling. And now opening up in a new memoir, "Une Envie de Verite" or "A Desire for Truth."

We spoke about her incredible journey when she visited our studios earlier today.


AMANPOUR: Cecilia Attias, welcome. Thanks for joining me.


AMANPOUR: So your book, already a best seller in France; it's called "A Desire for Truth." That's how I am translating, "Une Envie de Verite."

What truth do you desire so much to put out?

ATTIAS: You know, I've been living in this country for all my life, 50 years. And 25 percent, more than that, of my life was in public affairs. So I was married to a head of state, the foreign minister, before, a congressman. And then you know, when you work and you live with a state man, it's very difficult to have the exact role you want to have.


AMANPOUR: The exact role?

ATTIAS: Yes, absolutely --

AMANPOUR: So everybody else is portraying your truth.

ATTIAS: -- absolutely. So I'm trying to just tell a story, the story of my life, starting when I was young, with my parents, with my family, the values, the thing that built me. And then through 55 years, what I've been through, my life, my story with Nicolas, 20 years in politics. And then now here, where I'm living in United States for almost six years.

AMANPOUR: You say Nicolas; obviously, that's Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the French president. And it's been a very unconventional marriage, let's say, that you and he had, particularly the bit in (inaudible) or at least you're an unconventional first lady, because you got there and then you left after six months.

And everybody wants to know why, what was it that made you just take off?

ATTIAS: When I left, it's like saying to the world, I want to live my own life. I just want to be myself. I just want not anymore to be the wife of Nicolas Sarkozy.

I was very proud to be there. But he was elected; I was not elected. They didn't elect for a couple. They elect -- they vote for a man. And then I think my role was not really clear. And I want to step out and have my own life.

AMANPOUR: You say that you weren't elected. But you also talk about how very closely you worked together. You were essentially, as you once described it to me, like his chief of staff when he was minister of interior; in the 20 years of his political life you were right there, side by side. It was your victory as well.

ATTIAS: It was a little bit my victory. I was working with him. I was his chief of staff when he was at the head of the party, the UMP, so I was officially the chief of staff.

So it was very difficult for me to exist, to have a role and an official role without critics, you know? It's not easy to do your job -- because for me, it's a job to be on his side. It was a job for 25 years.

So it's difficult not to have the press and the media judging you and asking what is she doing, I mean, and have a real role. That's why I'm trying to convince people in France that the first lady or the wife of an elected man, whatever he is --

AMANPOUR: Or the man of an elected woman.

ATTIAS: -- or the man of an elected woman -- that can happen, even in our country, I hope -- to have a very official (inaudible).


AMANPOUR: A well-defined role?

And you know, I'm not someone who likes flashlights. So I was not really --

AMANPOUR: The spotlight?

ATTIAS: -- spotlights, and was not really comfortable in this place. And I think he deserved to have someone on his side, really, I mean, better than me at the time, maybe.

AMANPOUR: So now I have to ask you, you think Carla Bruni made a better first lady?

ATTIAS: I think she likes that. She likes the role. She likes to be there and maybe she likes the light much more than I like it.

AMANPOUR: Certainly she did spend her life in the spotlight.

But let me ask you about the one major task you took on as first lady, and that was to go to Libya, to confront then-dictator Moammar Gadhafi about the Bulgarian nurses, the Palestinian doctor, who were sentenced to death because of a story whereby they were accused of basically spreading AIDS amongst people in Libya.

You'd never negotiated with a head of state before. You'd never been in a life-and-death international incident before.

What gave you the confidence and the strength to think that you could actually do this?

ATTIAS: I think if you have the will, I -- do you know, I went -- the first thing I went, the first place I went when I just land, is to the prison. And I talk to those women. And they were like empty. You know, you were talking to (inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: These are the nurses?

ATTIAS: -- the nurses. So I told her, I'm not here just to talk to you. I'm going to bring you back home. And then it's like a big, you know, like a mission, a will. You want to do that.

And it was not easy at all.

AMANPOUR: Describe what happened and your first meeting with Gadhafi.


ATTIAS: That's what he asked me, why do you want those nurses and this doctor?

I said because they're going to die. I think I'm at the right moment at the right place because you don't know what to do with them. They're going to die and what's going to happen to you? So I give you the chance to release them and to change a little bit your image for the world.

So we were arguing and talking a lot about that. And then I had to talk with his government, his prime minister, and then with the people of Benghazi and then the son, Saif al-Islam, who is the --

AMANPOUR: Who is now on trial.

ATTIAS: -- who is now on trial and he was the toughest one.

So we did it.

AMANPOUR: What about your future?

You have a foundation. I was there when you launched your foundation for women around the world.

What gives you the most satisfaction, the most impetus today?

What do you get out of your foundation?

ATTIAS: Let me tell you something. I'm fighting for all women's issues. We're fighting a lot of issues around the world. And I'm looking that -- you know, that glass ceiling is still there.

AMANPOUR: Oh, yes, even here.

ATTIAS: Even here, so I'm trying to help those women. It's a little piece of what I can do. But I'm looking around the world today and there is a few women, like in Chile, like maybe in Israel, maybe in those countries, maybe a woman -- maybe you, here in the United States; Hillary Clinton will be elected.

So --


AMANPOUR: If she runs.

ATTIAS: -- I mean, if she runs. And I think it's maybe we're going to change a little bit the world and women will have the same rights as men. We deserve --

AMANPOUR: Wouldn't that be great?

ATTIAS: -- that would be great. So that's what I'm fighting for.

AMANPOUR: And you, you have -- look, you have been a political person for many, many years. You helped your husband in all his roles and including his winning the French presidency.

Is it something you would dare to take on?

Would you run for president?

ATTIAS: I don't know. I'm not -- I'm not -- I've never been elected. So -- but I love my country. I love politics. That's what I know.

And I think France needs now to wake up.

AMANPOUR: We'll see. We'll keep an eye on you. Cecilia Attias, thank you very much indeed.

ATTIAS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, my interview with the deputy prime minister of Egypt, after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And as I said, we will be launching now into an examination of what is going on in Egypt as the former president, Mohammed Morsy ,was in court today at the beginning of a trial that has, in fact, now been deferred.

Ziad Bahaa el-Din is Egypt's deputy prime minister, and he's joining me now from Washington to discuss all the latest events.

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for joining me. Welcome to the program.

ZIAD BAHAA EL-DIN, EGYPT'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. A pleasure to be here.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of what happened in court today, the president essentially refusing the recognize the legitimacy of the court, not to mention refusing to wear that white prison uniform?

And now the trial has been deferred.

Where are we now in the ever-evolving politics of Egypt?

EL-DIN: Well, we are literally in the middle of a transitional period and during a transitional period, a lot of things happen. As long as we keep the directions straight, as long as we keep progressing towards a democratic system, then I think we should expect some things to happen in the right way, some things to take more time, some things to be bumpy, but at the end what matter is whether we are progressing in the right direction. And I think we are.

AMANPOUR: Well, you may think you are; a lot of people think it's really slow and in fact, for every half-step forward, there are three or four steps back.

Let me ask you for instance about something that you're fighting, and that is a draft law about the sort of potentially criminalizing the act of protest.

What is that all about?

And why are you trying to, you know, fight that, what looks like very harsh law that perhaps could come onto the books?

EL-DIN: Well, what I'm -- it's not what I'm fighting; it is what I'm defending. And what I'm defending here is a right that Egyptians have earned with a very steep price, and that is the right to peaceful protests. And I believe that there's something that we should ensure, that we preserve and that we've maintained even in such difficult circumstances.

But to me, this whole incident has actually been one which looks like it will have a happy ending because the fact that a law is proposed by the government, the fact that civil society and the political parties show some significant objection to the law, and that the government comes back again and says, well, actually, let's listen to them; let's improve the law. Let's see where it's not working, and we try to fix it, to me, is actually a sign of progress. And I'm very happy with the outcome that this is taking so far. It --



EL-DIN: -- (inaudible) end up being the law that anyone wants in its entirety, but I think it has shown that the capacity to dialogue and to compromise and to move forward is there.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's see what happens when it finally goes to the books.

Let me play something that Mohammed Morsy said while being held incommunicado after he was detained and before his trial. We're not sure exactly when it was, but this is what he said in what looks to be some surreptitious taping.


MOHAMMED MORSI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): What does coup d'etat mean? It means a setback for the institutions and it will flip the institution balances upside down. All of Egypt is now suffering from what's happening.


AMANPOUR: So do you agree that some of Egypt is suffering? He says all of Egypt; you know, many people are still pretty concerned about the -- essentially the heavy-handedness of the current interim government, the military-backed government, which is rolling back even certain freedoms that have been gained after the revolution; even journalists, all sorts of liberals, are very concerned about what's going on.

Do you at least accept that is what is flipping institutions on their head?

EL-DIN: No, I think it's a time of a lot of change; it's a time of flux and of dynamism, and things are going in every direction you can imagine. But what matters is the outcome.

Egyptians are suffering; but let's make no mistake about this. Egyptians are suffering as a result of the policies that were adopted, particularly during the year of the reign of ex-president Morsy. It is during that time that our experiment with democracy, that we all believed we could achieve, collapsed and really began to show very serious signs of deviating from a democratic path.

It is during that time that freedoms began to be taken very seriously. It is during that time that the constitution was no longer upheld and respected by the elected president.

The fact is that Egyptians did accept an elected president as long as he and his government were willing to follow a democratic path. But that deviated a long time ago; and this is fundamentally the cause for our suffering right now.

Having said this, we need to keep our eyes fixed on not continuing in that road and as quickly as possible, as strongly as possible going back to a proper path of democracy.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a little bit about the struggle that you seem to be waging, a bit of a lonely voice, if we're reading the signals right, coming from Egypt.

You have been trying to urge restraint; I hope I'm correct in expressing it that. It's certainly what people have been saying, restraint by the interim government, just like then-minister Mohamed ElBaradei, who has since resigned, and you worked for him. You didn't want, nor did ElBaradei want the military to basically crash the Mohammed -- the Muslim Brotherhood protests. They did in the end.

Tell me about that. You know, what were you trying to urge them at that time? What kind of restraint were you trying to urge? And why did those protests get broken up violently?

EL-DIN: No, what I have been urging is simply to ensure that as we progress towards the end of the interim government's period that we do not lose sight of what is essential to the Egyptian people. And that is economic recovery as well as the preservation of the democratic path.

Once violence breaks out in society -- and this, I have to again remind you, is violence that was primarily caused by the positions taken by the Brotherhood in the early stages. Once violence breaks down a society, once there are killings, once there are churches being burned down, once there are confrontations in the streets, then you have to ensure that we do not, as a society, pay the price by foregoing freedoms and rights that Egyptians and the youth in particular have fought for for such a long time.

So my campaign is not about a deal between two sides of an equation, but rather about an overall environment, where we ensure that we do not lose sight of preserving the democratic values at the end of the road.

AMANPOUR: But here you are, part of the interim government, and we'll get back to those protests in a second.

But here you are, you know, giving interviews in Egypt, talking about the future. You try to talk about compromise, but that is a dirty word. You try to talk about reconciliation or at least that's how one of your interviews was framed. And a ton of bricks came down on you. People who backed the interim government, the military said that basically you're being a traitor.

It's a dirty word now, isn't it, in Egypt to talk about reconciliation, to talk about compromise? How difficult is this struggle for you?

EL-DIN: It is difficult and you're right to describe it as a dirty word, unfortunately. It's a time of polarization at a very high level. And it is precisely during those times that one has to try and look at what is ultimately better for Egypt and better for the Egyptians.

I do believe that at some point we will have to reconsider and look at how to, you know, bring back into the political fold various political parties, how to ensure, not necessarily that those who committed crimes are back in the fold, because this is a criminal process, but how to ensure that the youth who have entered politics perhaps on good faith, who have lost their way along the path, are not left out.

We have to ensure that at some point we bring back the whole society into the political process again, at least those who are willing to play politics on the basis of peaceful politics, non-violent politics.

Right now it's a polarized time and it is difficult but it is necessary for the future of Egypt and for the future of our kids to ensure that that voice does not get lost in the middle of this polarization.

AMANPOUR: And finally, again, how do you try to temper that polarization when even somebody like Essam el-Erian, a very well-known member of the Brotherhood, who's viewed as a moderate, was arrested just last week?

How do you try to get all elements of Egyptian society back into the daily political life?

And are you afraid that if you don't, it could end up like Syria, with the deep polarization pitted against each other in a much more violent way?

EL-DIN: No, I think it's polarization in the sense happening among the political elites. But I have no doubt that the vast majority -- and this is where we differ fundamentally from the Syrian case. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Egyptians are actually willing and hoping that we draw the line, progress for the future, not spend too much time discussing what happened in the past, but rather look forward for the continuation and conclusion of this interim period and moving on to restoring democratic values in Egypt.

I think we're on the way to doing this, but it will take effort and it will take a lot of participation by all Egyptian actors.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Bahaa el-Din, thank you so much indeed for joining me.

EL-DIN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And now if you're looking for a barometer of life in Egypt, look no former -- no further than the Egyptian satirist, Bassem Youssef. After just one recent episode, the first since Morsy was deposed, the plug was pulled, raising fears that when it comes to free speech, Egypt's new leaders have hit the mute button.

And after a break, we'll turn to Iran, where new President Hassan Rouhani has set a new tone for relations with the United States, as he told me on a visit to New York in September.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans.


AMANPOUR: Now imagine that quiet greeting drowning out three decades of chanting, "Death to America," that possibility when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where the United States is still the great Satan, or is it? It seemed like old times in Tehran today for just a moment as some 10,000 Iranians, the largest crowd in years, protested outside the former U.S. embassy, burning President Barack Obama in effigy along with American flags.

They were celebrating the 34th anniversary of the siege of that building when Iranian students took 52 hostages and held them for 444 days, severing ties to the United States for the next three decades.

But those voices are very much in the minority these days; this past September, in an historic phone call between new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the U.S. President Barack Obama, a new road is being tested, one towards negotiating an end to hostilities over Iran's nuclear program and sanctions against Iran.

Another round of those talks gets underway in Geneva this Thursday.

On Sunday, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, warned Iranian hardliners not to undermine the process, and some U.S. Jewish groups agreeing not to lobby to increase sanctions against Iran at this time.

After all, as many believe, this may just be the last, best chance to resolve the issues peacefully.

And that's it for tonight's program. Remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.