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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

Interview with Michael Bloomberg; Discussion of Reforms in Saudi Arabia. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 23, 2018 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:18] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Today on the show, Michael Bloomberg. The former mayor of New York City has challenged Donald Trump on climate change, guns and other things. But is he ready to challenge him for the presidency? I will ask in an exclusive interview.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I care very much about this country. As you know, I've devoted my life and all my networks to trying to make the world a better place.

ZAKARIA: Also, it's been three months since women in Saudi Arabia have been allowed behind the wheel. I'll talk to (INAUDIBLE), who fought hard for that right. So why hasn't she been able to participate? Find out when we talk to her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: But first, here is my take. When confronting a challenging problem, it's sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That's why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev.

The Irish singer activist, philanthropist seized the same forces that we all do particularly in Europe but he zeros in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark pessimistic vision being peddled nationalist extremists, he says, is to have an uplifting positive vision. He told me Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project to being what it is -- a grand inspiring idea.

To that end, Bono's band U2 has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl -- wait for it -- the flag of the European Union. "Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling," Bono writes in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. He's trying to give that feeling meaning.

To him Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. He writes, "That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it and big bright blue flags to be waved about."

Bono admits that Europe is a hard sell today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland, Italy, and are suddenly gaining ground in countries from Germany to Sweden. It seems everywhere the fuel is the same, hostility towards strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different.

Bono's message resonated since I've been reading France Fukuyama's new book "Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment." Fukuyama argues that identity stems from humans' deep- seated psychological need to be recognized as possessing dignity. In recent decades in the understandable search for recognition, persecuted minority groups, blacks, Hispanics, gays, have celebrated their identity and so have working class whites who feel now ignored and forgotten.

The answer, Fukuyama writes, is not to reject identity politics but to construct broad identities that can embrace others and unify different groups. The E.U.'s founders, he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the European project, laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity. Something people could believe in, not for rational reasons, but for emotional and idealistic ones.

In the American case, he argues, the anti-populist forces have to find a way to create a broad unifying identity, centered on core American ideas and values rather than narrow ethnic racial or religious ones.

Thus we need a much greater focus on assimilation, on the celebration of American identity, on the things that make us all love being American. We need to connect with people in their guts, not just in their heads. What people in Europe and America ought to be proud of, what they should be celebrating are the remarkable achievements of diversity in a democracy.

As Bono writes, "I love our differences, our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities, and I believe they still leave for room for what Churchill called an enlarged patriotism, plural religions, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either or.

[10:05:03] The word patriotism has been stolen from us by nationalists and extremists who demand uniformity. But real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is to me the real European project," he says.

And I would add the American project as well.

For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Nine months before the 2016 election, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg ended all hope and speculation that he might enter that race as a third-party candidate. In an article published on his Media and Bias opinion site, he explained why he had decided that a third party run wouldn't work. He also used the piece to denounce Donald Trump and explain how his policy ideas threaten to, quote, "divide us at home and compromise our moral leadership around the world."

In the 611 days that Mr. Trump has been president, Mr. Bloomberg has continued his criticism on issues like climate change and gun control in particular. He is spending some $80 million of his estimated $52 billion fortune to support Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

And then there is 2020. Will he run? This time as a Democrat. I sat down with Michael Bloomberg at the headquarters of his philanthropy for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Mike Bloomberg, pleasure to have you on.

BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having me.

ZAKARIA: So let's go straight to it. What would make you decide to run for president of the United States?

BLOOMBERG: Well, right now I'm only focused on the midterms. I believe that the Republicans have not done what they should have done in terms of providing some counter balance to the executive branch, which is what the founding fathers planned and also not tackling the big issues, guns, and climate change and income inequality and immigration in a sound way, and so that's what I'm going to focus on and then afterwards, you take a look at it.

I care very much about this country. As you know, I've devoted my life and all my net worth to trying to make the world a better place because I think that's the best thing I can do for my kids and my grandkids. And we'd see whether or not it's possible and how I feel and -- but that's down the road. You've got to take these things one at a time.

Everybody is focused now on the midterms, at least I think they are and they should be, and then afterwards, we'll -- there's lots of possibilities. Lots of things you can do in the world. I have lots of way to make a difference. We've been doing that through the foundation and the company and my personal life and, you know, it is a very heavy thing when people yell run, run, run. Anybody that thinks it isn't should see a shrink.

ZAKARIA: You know the case against the Bloomberg presidency because you've made it several times both privately and publicly. A short Jewish billionaire who is pro-choice and anti guns you often said. So --

BLOOMBERG: Well, what I did say was -- I said that a New York billionaire would never be elected president of the United States. And unless you believe Wilbur Ross' accounting, maybe that's still true.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAKARIA: You think you'd have a shot if you do decide to do it? BLOOMBERG: I don't know. That's up to the public to decide. I can

just tell you I've never been shy about what I believe. I've got elected mayor by not asking people where they wanted to go and them following them there. I got elected because I said these are the policies I think we should have and here is why and follow me and that was for three elections. People seem to be very happy with what the city did in 12 years, and I think you can do that at a federal level.

It requires being able to put together the people who are not in the paper every day for scandals but people who are experts in their field, and that you give -- you delegate to them and let them do some things and the CEO's job is to make sure they work together and compensate them and attract them, adjudicate issues, but I think you can do that and I think I've always believed that Americans respect people who say what they believe, even if they don't agree with them.

[10:10:03] And my experience of going around New York with -- you know, New York is a strange city. We have more embassies than any other city in the world. We have a police department that's roughly the sixth biggest army in the world. We have a budget that's bigger than the GDP of half the countries in the world.

We have every ethnicity and every level of education and experience and everything here in the city, and for 12 years, I went around and there were lots of people that said to me, you know, I want -- I don't believe -- I don't like what you're doing and I say, OK, I hear you. Let me explain why, let me listen to you and walk away and I believe that I got their votes.

And I'll never forget the first time I was campaigning, the first day this nice elderly woman comes up to me on the street corner and says, I'm so glad you're running. I'm going to vote for you. All my friends are going to vote for you. And I think it's the first day. I got -- this is easy and then she looked me up -- looked up at me, and with really earnest, she said, you know, and I'm so glad you're pro- life.

And I remember for a billionth of a second what do you say, but instantly I said, I'm sorry, I believe in a woman's right to choose, I'm not in favor of abortion. I don't think anybody is. But when -- somebody's got to make a decision, that's where I come out. No ifs and buts about it, and I hope that you will still like the other things I stand for. And she smiled and said thank you and she walked away.

I would bet -- there is no way to find out but I'd bet you anything that I got her vote because she walked away when she thought about it, well, I don't agree with him but at least he's honest.

ZAKARIA: So let's talk about the midterms. You said in one of your -- you wrote in one of your pieces, you were worried that the Democrats might jump too strongly on the impeachment issue.

BLOOMBERG: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Do you mean that if Democrats take the House, they should not impeach Donald Trump?

BLOOMBERG: I think you have to wait and see what the investigations that are going on now, Mueller, et al, what they arrive at, but it is true, I think that you don't want to do things that will have an effect that you didn't count on, and clearly if the Democrats tried to impeach Donald Trump, it will energize his base, as well as their base and whether or not that's a good thing, the country needs to have Donald Trump change some of those policies and do the things that I think are right in a way that's much more respectful to people.

I certainly said my peace about the Trump presidency but we want him to be a good president, and people say I hate the guy. You have a right, when it comes the next election, vote for somebody else. But the public spoke and we should find a way to make it that government function and function in a way that benefits us all and certainly that's not -- he's not done the things that I think he should be doing.

I disagree with him on almost everything but I still think we should find a ways to get both sides of the aisle to work together. I said to Nancy Pelosi the other day when I was in San Francisco, if the Democrats get control of the House, I would expect her and the Democrats to do what I'm claiming the Republicans should be doing, and I will hold to the fire in the same ways.

Every time the out party always says the other party is not willing to compromise but when they become the majority, they do exactly the same thing. The world is too complex today, things happen too fast. Between science and politics and communications and transportation, all of these things, we can no longer do business that way. We have to work together.

ZAKARIA: You have been consistently critical of Donald Trump from the --

BLOOMBERG: Well, not of him. I've been consistently critical of his administration. I try not to make it personal because that just takes away from the fact that I disagree with his policies and I certainly disagree with the way he approaches problems. There is a lack of civility and of openness and honesty that I find distasteful, and I think is very bad for the country but rather than make it around one person, I would rather talk about the administration because it's not just him and the policies that I disagree with, rather than the personality.

ZAKARIA: But I wanted to ask you about that because when I think about that speech you gave at the Democratic convention, which was very tough. You know, is the problem with Donald Trump his character or his policies or both?

BLOOMBERG: I think both. And I disagree with most of his policies and I certainly disagree with the way he has tried to implement or initiate his policies. For example, I think it is very fair to say that China has not been as open to us as we've been open to them.

[10:15:07] It is asymmetrical. We should not tolerate that but the ways to effect change is not to go and take the other side of the argument -- the other side of the argument and put them in a situation that I can't cave. You cannot go and embarrass the other side. You always want to walk away from a negotiation where both of you can think you won. Not everything you wanted but you won something.

I think that's true in a marriage. I think that is true in business. I think it's true in government. Human beings want recognition and respect and if you don't give it to them, then they can't compromise and help you with the policy side. So it is the policies I disagree with but it's also the style and walking away from science and walking away from history and walking away from everything that this country has done over the years.

You know, you say make America great again. People when they vote with their feet still come here, and you want to make sure they continue to come here. I cannot tell you America has done everything right every time. We've had some disgraceful things like slavery in the history of our country. But having said -- putting the Japanese into camps during World War II.

Nevertheless, every country has problems and I'm still very proud of what this country has done and I think it continued to do more, but it does mean reaching out and helping being the world's conscience is a very good thing, not a bad thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Much more with former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:58] ZAKARIA: And we are back with more of Michael Bloomberg from his philanthropy headquarters in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: What would a President Bloomberg do when watching this business with Kavanaugh? Do you think the Senate should vote? Do you think it should wait? Should the FBI investigate? How would you handle this?

BLOOMBERG: You are considering the character and the abilities of somebody who is going to have a job for life. There is no rush whatsoever. There is no argument that says we should do anything other than investigate everything.

I think on balance today I would not vote for Kavanaugh's approval, whatever the term is. I think I'm too worried about "Roe v. Wade." I'm too worried about some of his more extreme views on the First Amendment, but the question you asked is to whether or not Congress should do it.

Look, the president has the right to approve -- to appoint anybody he wants. If you wanted somebody different, you should have voted for a different president. So he is there. And Congress has the responsibility to do a thorough investigation, if that's the right word or discussions on vetting him and making sure that he's the right person.

If I were a senator, I would at this point given what I know vote no, but that's not the issue here. The issue is, should they wait to find out whether the allegation is true or not? And you can't just all of a sudden come out and say, OK, you got three days to do it. Now, why this didn't come out before, you can make that argument. Nevertheless, it came out when it came out.

It deserves to have a fair hearing and that's hard to do in a rush given people's careers and reputations and emotions are on the line. No reason to rush whatsoever.

ZAKARIA: You wrote a piece against the tax cut. I was struck by how strongly you came out against it. Explain. Because a lot of businessmen say it's a good idea. What was your concern?

BLOOMBERG: What I came out against, I thought cutting taxes on companies made sense because we want them to be able to compete around the world and they were at a disadvantage. Giving a tax break to the wealthy individuals including me, there is no excuse to do that whatsoever and that was the money that we really need to improve, revamp, expand our infrastructure.

The infrastructure in this country, roads and bridges and air traffic control, you go right down the list. The infrastructure is falling apart. There's places where we don't have good communication, cell service and Wi-Fi and that sort of thing. There's these all sorts of things that we really need if we are going to compete around the world and have a better life for ourselves.

We've got to make sure everybody in America has access to services, can get around all of those kinds of things. And that compared to giving a bunch of wealthy people a tax break when America's taxes are lower than an individual's than most places around the world doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever.

ZAKARIA: You used to say that anyone with a PhD or an advanced degree in science should get his diploma or her diploma with a green --

BLOOMBERG: That's a no brainer.

ZAKARIA: With a green card stapled to it.

BLOOMBERG: Sure. I mean, you really want all these businesses started overseas? We are actually walking away from some of these businesses they're starting else with. The Chinese are starting to make chips. I saw a story in the paper today. There's another company making AI chips will compete with America. We have to have trade and we have to have open borders. The open border is to get people to come here and create their companies here. The trade is to let us buy products from around the world and sell our products around the world.

[10:25:04] And we can have restrictions on what we sell and whether there are tariffs on some of them. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But it has to be a balanced thing that you thought out and negotiated with the other side over the years. So for example, with China, I think we should have -- put a lot of pressure on them to open their markets to us so we can start businesses there where they can buy our products. But at the same time, having a trade war makes no sense at all because we'll put tariffs on our products -- the American public will pay for that and we exempt certain things.

Well, the Chinese government, they see the list of what you exempt, they know those are the ones you care about. So they'll put duties to the other side. I mean -- trade wars you don't win. I don't know how many times we have to go and say that. It's like the (INAUDIBLE). It just doesn't work enough. Let's get on -- let's top the Voodoo economics and do something serious here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: More of my interview with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: More now with my interview with Michael Bloomberg, the multibillionaire businessman and former mayor of New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: You built one of the most successful companies in the world. By any standard, you're a very, very successful CEO. When you watch Donald Trump as the chief executive of this country and you read the Bob Woodward book or you hear -- what is your sense of his management style, his leadership style?

BLOOMBERG: Well, as I've said before, I don't like to make things personal, but I certainly disagree with the ways he has conducted himself. I don't think you hire and fire people. This isn not a reality TV show. I don't think you try to do everything yourself. You have to delegate. I don't think you undercut your people when you send them out to say one thing and then the next day say something else.

I don't think you make policy and converse with the public in tweets, all of a sudden, just because you saw something on television and you got an idea and it becomes -- the president has to understand that his word is not just the word of another one out of 330 million Americans. He's the president of the United States. And when he says something, it has meaning.

We have some employees of my company who have come to me and said, "You know, we're not welcome in this country; can I" -- they're from overseas -- "can I move to another Bloomberg office?"

And we actually had the same thing in London. We've had some people say "We're not welcome in that country." They'd like to find -- they want to stay with the company, but they would prefer to work some place else.

Words have meanings, and that's very tragic that these words are not to the standard that you and I were taught.

ZAKARIA: You've been very active on global warming?

BLOOMBERG: Yes.

ZAKARIA: It's something that not a lot of people, you know, when I think of the world you come out of, big business and things like that -- there aren't as many people as active. Why is this such a passion for you?

BLOOMBERG: I think global warming has two things. One, it can hurt the environment today, so the water you drink, or the lack of water to drink, the foods that you have or the lack of food or the different kinds of food that you no longer can have and have to settle for, the -- all the environmental stuff.

Today kids go to hospitals with asthma because of stuff in the air. You get stomach cancer because the water's not pure. You can't get to work and so you don't start a new business or our economy slows down.

The same things are the things that cause climate change longer term. And long term, the science says and there's some evidence it's happening that, once you get going, it's very hard to stop the world from continuing to get warm.

Why? Well, if the icecaps melt, the icecaps are white. White reflects off heat back from the sun out into the atmosphere. If they're not there, the Earth absorbs it. If the Earth absorbs it and temperatures go up, then the tundra in Russia melts and all the methane, which is really bad, comes out.

I mean, these things go one after another. So we've seen storms more frequent, and you saw one in the Carolinas, and more violent than history. Seventeen of the eighteen hottest years on record have been since the year 2000, only missed one.

You take a look, there are trout droughts plenty of places where the farmers don't have water; crops that they used to grow, they have to switch to different crops because it's warmer. The fish are in different places. Maine lobsters are no longer in Maine. They're further north now. And they used to be in Chesapeake Bay. The world reacts to these things. You go out in the Rockies and you'll see these swaths of trees all brown; they're dead. Why? Because the winters aren't cold enough to kill the beetles that normally kept the population down. Lots of things are -- forest fires. You can just go on and on and on. And these things are causing us pain today, and if it continues and gets worse, who knows where that lands.

There's a theory that it just -- it eventually kills everybody. I don't know whether that's true, but I know, if one scientist with peer review says it's possible, I think we should take some prophylactic action. Because God forbid it is true and later on it might be too late.

ZAKARIA: Bloomberg is putting together this global business forum.

BLOOMBERG: Sure.

ZAKARIA: Very ambitious, heads of state, heads of government, CEOs. There's -- we're living through a great deal of skepticism about, you know, kind of, these elites meeting. What do you hope to accomplish with it?

BLOOMBERG: Well, government worries about war and peace and things like that. Businesses worry about the economy and their access to consumers around the world and the supply chains and materials that let them build products and sell services. Business and governments, they don't meet in a way that is productive. They don't get to know each other well. It's their lobbyists that talk to lobbyists, or -- you want to have ways that businesspeople can get on a first name basis to express themselves and their views and that government understands them.

Everybody wants recognition and respect, whether you're in government or you're in business. It's all the same. The recognition may come in different form. In business it typically comes in monetary compensation. In teaching, if you become a fifth grade teacher, I can't tell you you're likely to be a billionaire, but you do have a chance of training some young -- educating some young child who goes on to cure cancer. I mean, what could be more satisfying than that?

So there are lots of different ways you can contribute and have a good life and respect from your family and like what you see in a mirror. We've got to get more people talking together. And that's what a short forum, where it's not so long that they get pulled away from their day jobs, both the government people and the business people, but a chance to meet each other, a chance to meet the other side, a chance to understand each other and have a dialogue.

As long as you're talking, you don't fight. And that's the lesson, I think, of the E.U. and its predecessors in Europe. We went World War I to World War II, 20 years to another war. We've gone 70 years without a war. That's the lesson of the United Nations. I don't like a lot of things that are said in the United Nations, but if you keep talking, generally you don't fight. Now, that's not 100 percent true, but we have built something here, a civility and a dialogue and a -- and a world that America has been a very big part of, and it would be tragic to throw it away.

ZAKARIA: Mike Bloomberg, pleasure to have you on.

BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having me. All the best.

ZAKARIA: Thanks to Michael Bloomberg. His global business forum will be held this week in New York City.

Next on "GPS," what's in a name? Well, when it's the nation of Macedonia, the answer is quite a lot. I'll explain to you why the Kremlin cares so much about whether Macedonia keeps its current name or starts calling itself the Republic of North Macedonia, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. We are in the run- up to a pressing national vote and American officials are warning, darkly, of Russian interference. I'm not talking about the midterms. I'm talking about an upcoming referendum in the tiny former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Depending in part on the outcome of the vote, the nation might soon be called the Republic of North Macedonia. That proposed tweak has prompted an outcry in some quarters.

Hundreds of websites have cropped up urging a boycott and Facebook posts call for ballot burning, the New York Times reports. The name change is a long-cherished goal of Macedonia's neighbor Greece. Athens is interested because Greece has a region called Macedonia and worries that the country of Macedonia may make a claim on the Greek region of Macedonia.

Greece has pledged to allow Macedonia into NATO and the European Union if Macedonia changes its name. And now we come to the main point. Those are outcomes Russia deems unacceptable.

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited the Macedonian capital of Skopje and told reporters there is, quote, "no doubt that Russia is financing efforts to defeat the referendum." Russia denies the accusations and even the Macedonia prime minister has played them down.

But this is not the first hint of Russian interference in the region. Look at Montenegro. Officials there have accused Russian security services of involvement in a plot to overthrow the government and kill the prime minister in 2016. They say Russia wanted to derail Montenegro's NATO bid. Russia has denied these charges and called them absurd.

But it is undeniable that Russia has long held some substantial degree of influence in the Balkans. Part of that influence appears to come through a shadowy web that involves Russian born businessmen, the Orthodox Church and other freelancers who play up divisions in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Russian news agencies have also a strong presence in Balkan media. And this region is highly vulnerable to propaganda. A study published this year from the Open Society Institute found that the Balkans had the worst level of media literacy in all of Europe, with Macedonia at the very bottom.

So has Russia succeeded in isolating the Balkans?

Well, not really. Three of the seven Western Balkan territories are now NATO members. Macedonia would make it four. Serbia and Montenegro are expected to become the next E.U. members. And trade with the E.U. in the region far outstrips trade with Russia.

So why does Russia persist with its influence campaign? Because it cares less about conquering, as the Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky points out, it wants to divide. In the United States it's easy to think of Russian interference as grand and sure-footed, targeting established democracies for concrete aims like defeating Hillary Clinton. But it is in places like the Balkans where Russia's foreign policy becomes clear, chaos and disunity in the West for its own sake.

Russian leaders, as the scholar Robert Service wrote, have, quote, "taken a cool look at the world and decided they have nothing to lose."

Next on "GPS," three months ago women in Saudi Arabia finally became legally able to drive cars. A status report with one of the women who fought for that change, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: It seems to have been a big year for Saudi Arabian reforms. In March the country held its first co-ed concert. In April the first movie theater in a generation opened in Riyadh. In June the kingdom finally allowed women to drive. So is Saudi Arabia on a new path?

Manal al-Sharif is one of the strongest voices calling for Saudi Arabian reform. She was jailed seven years ago for driving in Saudi Arabia and wrote a book about her experiences called "Daring to Drive." She joins me now.

Manal, pleasure to have you on.

AL-SHARIF: Pleasure.

ZAKARIA: So I want to ask you what your reaction -- you now live in Sydney, far away from Saudi Arabia. But you must have watched this last year with great interest. What was your reaction when you heard the crown prince announce the series of reforms he has been announcing, you know, whether it's the speeches, the statements, the interview on American television, on "60 Minutes?" What was your reaction?

AL-SHARIF: I was, like, getting excited. I was very hopeful that finally we have a young leader who believes in reforms, and not only economic reform. We were hoping that there will be political reforms, and especially that the religious establishment, or I would say the extremist Islamists in Saudi Arabia, their power being decreased throughout the years since he came to power as a -- as a minister of defense in 2015. He's the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia. He's young. He's 32. So...

ZAKARIA: And, as you said, the religious establishment's powers have been decreasing ever since he's been in power...

AL-SHARIF: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... and he has finally disbanded the -- the so-famous religious police, these guys who would go around in Saudi Arabia to every cafe and...

AL-SHARIF: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... and look at whether women were fully covered and, you know, either beat them up or take them, you know, arrest them. All that seems real.

Al-SHARIF: Yes. I felt there was this heavy weight that had been lifted because they had been stripped away from the power of arrest. And if you remember, if you recall, in 2011 when I was arrested, the traffic police wanted to let me go, but the religious police came and the -- and the problem really grew bigger after the religious police interfered in the arrest.

ZAKARIA: So did you then look forward to going back to Saudi Arabia and finally being able to drive?

AL-SHARIF: I promised my son in June I will be there and I'll cross the country. I'll take him from the city where he lives with his grandmother in Dammam and drive all the way to my hometown Mecca to celebrate that day.

So exactly one month before, the official date of lifting the ban on women driving, there had been a sweep of arrests amongst the women who fought to lift the ban, who...

ZAKARIA: So the women who fought to lift the ban were all arrested a month before the ban was lifted?

Al-SHARIF: Yes. And that tells you something. That tells you that these reforms were not really meant to be toward empowering women, towards more women rising in the country. If your goal...

ZAKARIA: What was the reason given for arresting those women?

Al-SHARIF: I wish I know.

ZAKARIA: So what is going on? Because it does feel like the economic reforms are real. The diminution of the power of the religious police is real. There has been the lifting of the ban on women driving. There are people who have been to conferences in Saudi Arabia who tell me that men and women mingle now in a way that has never -- never...

AL-SHARIF: Yes, that's true.

ZAKARIA: And yet, bloggers are being arrested.

Al-SHARIF: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Some of these women are being arrested, some...

Al-SHARIF: Clerics and social media...

ZAKARIA: So...

Al-SHARIF: ... influentials.

ZAKARIA: ... make sense of this for us. What -- what is going on?

Al-SHARIF: It's freedom on my own terms, I think that's what -- what our conference is saying, is that "I will set the terms on what type of freedoms I give and any outspoken person, any influential person, I will not allow that to happen." And the way that the intimidation is happening for these activists who are outspoken people -- go now online, talk to activists, Saudi activists, there are not that many who are talking now. They've been shut down. They've been intimidated. The families asked me even to remove the pictures of the activists from my Twitter account, not even tweet about it.

They sent mutual friends asking me not to talk about the arrests. So that tells you the extent it's going on to intimidate these people and shut down any voices that are calling for reform.

ZAKARIA: At the end of the day, is Saudi Arabia in a better place today than it was seven years ago when they arrested you?

Al-SHARIF: I don't know, really. I can't go back to my home country, and I was planning for that. This is the first time in my life -- I'm 39 years old. This is the first time in my life I can't go back to my home country.

ZAKARIA: So you would like to go back?

Al-SHARIF: Of course I would like to go back.

ZAKARIA: All right. So if somebody is listening out there, we're hoping they are listening and they'll let you -- they'll let you go back and drive.

Al-SHARIF: And it's not about driving, really. It's about being free to be who I am, being free and living without fear.

ZAKARIA: Would you go back and -- would you go back and live there, if you could?

Al-SHARIF: Definitely. One of the reasons I couldn't go back home is -- my second son, I can't take him with me. So I was really planning. I got the papers. I sent it to my father. He was going to apply for the visa. And with the arrests, I couldn't go on because I would take my son with me, be in Saudi Arabia and be in jail.

ZAKARIA: You can't risk that?

Al-SHARIF: I won't risk that, yes.

ZAKARIA: If anyone's listening, let's get Manal back to Saudi Arabia so the sons can be united.

Al-SHARIF: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Thank you. And we will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program. I will see you next week.