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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Egyptian President Ousted by Military; Interview with Former Egyptian Army General Sameh Seif Elyazal

Aired July 03, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

I want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world.

Breaking news: Egypt's now former President Mohammed Morsy has been ousted in a military coup. Now, the Egyptian army is not using that word, but Morsy is on his Twitter account. He tweets, "Measures announced by armed forces leadership represent a full coup, categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation."

This after the military announced just a short time that Morsy, a president democratically elected a year ago, is out and that the constitution has been suspended. According to the military, Egypt's constitutional court will serve as a temporary presidency until a new constitution can be drawn up and new elections can be held, this after days of massive protests, both in support of the opposition and in support of Morsy and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Monday, the military gave Morsy 48 hours to meet with and calm the protesters who oppose him to come up with a political solution. That deadline came and went hours ago. This has huge implications for U.S. relations with Egypt and for the entire Middle East.

The U.S. gives Egypt $1.5 billion in aid every year. And if U.S. officials decide to label this as a coup, that money could dry up. Egypt is a center if not the center of Middle Eastern culture, still drawing millions of tourists every year. Hundreds of Americans work there and individuals from all over the world. Tens of thousands, have dual American/Egyptian passports.

CNN is of course all over this story with reporters in every corner of Cairo.

I want to first go to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, tell us exactly what the response has been from the Muslim Brotherhood to the announcement today.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have been talking to several members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including a key spokesman and a key adviser to President Morsy and also someone who used to be a member of parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is a sense of deep, deep despair. They believe that whatever anybody wants to call it, this is a coup. They talk about the -- and they're correct -- the first democratically elected president of Egypt has now been overthrown. That is the view obviously from the Muslim Brotherhood side and the presidency, well, now the former presidency of Mohammed Morsy.

On the other hand, in the Tahrir Square area, where millions and millions of people have, by popular vote with their feet and with their bodies and voices have said they have a vote of no confidence in President Morsy, and they have been saying that now for days. They have been in the street.

This is a replay, Jake, of the demonstrations that came out for and against President Mubarak, then against the military a year ago, and now against Mohammed Morsy. So what we have here is a semantic debate over the word coup. Is it or isn't it?

We had the general who came out and delivered what is going to be a new road map, suspend the constitution, Morsy out, the head of the constitutional court in as interim leader, presidential elections prepared parliamentary elections prepared for the future. This may take nine months to a year, according to a military general who I just spoke to.

We simply don't know the reaction will be in the streets in the days to come.

TAPPER: All right, Christiane, thanks.

I want to go now directly to Tahrir Square. And CNN International's Becky Anderson is there watching this incredible scene unfold.

Becky, paint a picture for us. What are you watching?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely remarkable scenes.

It was just less than an hour ago around about 9:00, 9:10 local time, that we got the statement from the military that the government of President Morsy was over and that we are entering this transitional period.

The people in the square below me, and there are hundreds of thousands of people in the square below me, reacted with an incredible roar. It was absolutely remarkable, jubilant scenes. Now, do remember these people in the square, in Tahrir Square below me are anti-government protesters. They have been protesting what is the democratically elected President Morsy now for days.

These are the same people ironically who were cheering the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak two years ago and were delighted to see the first democratically elected president of Egypt ever a year ago, the same people in this square tonight cheering the end of that government and looking towards the future now for Egypt.

And it is absolutely remarkable to hear the sounds. You have had Apache helicopters flying very, very low, the military helicopters here, low over the crowds in Tahrir Square, and the crowds just cheering the military, ironically the same military that was sent back to their barracks 18 months ago after helping to oust the former President Hosni Mubarak.

I think it would be right to say tonight the crowds here certainly don't see this as a coup. They see this as hitting the reset button for Egypt. People you speak to here on the streets, taxi drivers, whoever you speak to, who were looking for the end of this Morsy government say they have learned this is a nascent democracy, and they have learned in the last two years that things aren't easy, but they are now looking to the future with this transitional government.

This will be run by the chief of the constitutional court that will assume the presidency, and like Christiane said, we don't know how long this period will last, nor how long it would be until new presidential and parliamentary elections, but certainly tonight here, the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square absolutely delighted to see the end of the government of President Morsy.

TAPPER: All right, Becky, we will come back to you in a minute.

I want to now go to a different part of Cairo, where Ben Wedeman is standing by with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsy.

Ben, how angry are those demonstrators there?


When they heard this announcement which was broadcast from the stage that President Morsy has been officially deposed as Egypt's first ever democratically elected president, a huge chant, a roar of anger came up, and people started to chant, down, down with military rule.

Just a few minutes after that, I had a chance to speak briefly with a member, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who I have known for years, who is normally quite upbeat. He looked quite downtrodden. I asked him, what is your reaction to the end of President Morsy's reign, his rule, and he said, pointing to the crowd behind me, and he said they are willing to die to stop that from happening.

And what we have heard is also chants of people saying it's either victory on martyrdom to bring or make sure this does not come to pass. The question is that now that it's official, how are these people going to react? Are they actually going to react violently?

We're hearing reports of some gunfire just up the road here where there are some military vehicles stationed. We don't know if that was simply to keep people back or what. Now there are helicopters flying overhead. We're hearing a mixture of chants and whistles, not all of them negative, so there's a lot of anger here at the moment, much of it directed at Egypt's powerful army -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben, I'm wondering if you could let us see some of the scene behind you. I'm told also that that's President Morsy's voice speaking on the loudspeaker. I'm not sure if that's accurate. Is that President Morsy speaking to his supporters? Is that who that is? WEDEMAN: That was the case about 10 minutes ago.

We heard what sounded like a very sort of depressed man addressing the crowd. He did appeal to his supporters, as he did on Twitter, for them to react peacefully to the end of his term as president. He was not very -- how shall I say, he didn't sound very bellicose in that particular speech.

Now what you're just hearing is just one of a long line of speakers we have been hearing through this very loud public address system.

TAPPER: Ben, we hear on occasion gunshots in the background from where you are. Is that part of the demonstration? Or is there anything more sinister going on?

WEDEMAN: No, I think what we're seeing is this is fireworks, this is not gunfire. The gunfire, if it's occurring, it's about 500 yards from here, so what you are hearing is fortunately simply fireworks.

TAPPER: All right, Ben Wedeman with pro-Morsy supporters in Cairo, we're going to come back to you in a bit.

Right now, I'm going to go to CNN International correspondent Reza Sayah, who is overlooking Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Reza, how is the crowd responding beyond the initial jubilation?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That hasn't come. It's just jubilation.

They are just rocking. It's a party. They have accomplished this mission, this mission that started months ago with a campaign all for new elections, and all for President Morsy's ouster. And what an effective campaign it was.

It started with a petition drive for the past three months. This campaign raised 22 million signatures calling for President Morsy to step aside, nine more million votes than he received votes when he won the presidency. The campaign's message was clear, Mr. Morsy, more people want you out than they want you in.

But amid the euphoria, it's easy for the Muslim Brotherhood's position to get lost, for President Morsy's position to get lost. They maintain that they never had a chance to succeed. Remember five months after President Morsy took office, there were the initial calls for his ouster. He always claimed that there were institutions in place like the Interior Ministry, the police force, the judiciary, that still had remnants of the Mubarak regime that wanted to undermine his government.

And certainly behind us, at least some elements within this opposition include some supporters of the Mubarak regime, some supporters of the military. They have accomplished their mission, too. But the president's position has always been, I was democratically elected, let me finish my term, and then you can come out like you're doing right now, and with the ballot box vote me out. Obviously, it will never get to that -- Jake.

TAPPER: Reza, one thing I wanted to ask you, I have seen in the media some pictures of demonstrators, not only protesting against President Morsy or former President Morsy, I guess I could say, but also against U.S. President Obama, saying that President Obama allied himself with terrorists, with the Muslim Brotherhood, with a fascist regime, against the ambassador there, Ms. Patterson.

I don't know how prevalent that is in the crowd, but how prevalent would you say it is that this anti-Morsy sentiment is also anti-Obama?

SAYAH: It's no secret that U.S. foreign policy is unpopular, not just here in Egypt, but throughout the region, throughout the Arab world. Egyptians love Americans, but they don't love U.S. foreign policy.

Remember, they will never forget that for decades, it was Washington that supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak and his brutal police state. They believe Washington had never been out for the people. Then came President Mohammed Morsy, the Islamic president. Washington supported him. That's why you're seeing many in this crowd criticizing Washington for that support.

Earlier today, the leaders of the campaign, this rebel campaign with this petition drive, with a harsh statement aimed at Washington, suggesting that Washington should stay out of the Egypt's affairs, accusing Washington of trying to impose its will on Egypt for the interests of Israel, some harsh words, and a glimpse of how complicated Washington has it when it comes to Egypt and this region.

TAPPER: Reza, what kind of military presents do you see there with these demonstrators? Are they out in force? Or are they playing a more of a behind-the-scenes role?

SAYAH: Not where we are.

Where we are, the army is engaging in theatrics. They're flying above here, as Becky Anderson told you, with their helicopters, and people are cheering. Right, now it's just a lot of fireworks. And hold on. Let me step aside here.

No sign of helicopters right now, but no army presence here. Most of the army's presence from what we have heard is where Ben Wedeman is. That is the demonstrators in support of President Morsy. There's indications that at least in some parts they have encircled that demonstration with tanks, perhaps in an effort to prevent any kind of clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsy. But we don't see from our vantage point any military presence here, other than the military choppers flying up above.

TAPPER: All right, Reza, we will come back to you shortly.

Reuters is reporting that the head of the Egypt's constitutional court will be sworn in as interim head of state tomorrow. We will have more on that in a moment, as we continue our live coverage from Cairo, where there has been a coup.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Breaking news: we're bringing you live coverage from Cairo right now after the Egyptian military ousted the democratically president, Mohammed Morsy, in a coup earlier today. The massive demonstrations and the coup in Egypt have put the Obama administration in a somewhat awkward position.

Let's get to our Becky Anderson live in Cairo right now.

Becky, tell us right now the difficulty that you think the president of the United States is having right now in deciding what to do. We have not heard much of a response or any response from the American president or from the British prime minister or from any other Western leader.

Christiane Amanpour, I'll start with you.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. Well, I think it's going to be rough. What do you do when you're the head of the world's greatest democracy, the United States, or some of the world's most developed democracies, Britain, France, Germany, the whole E.U.? What do you do?

What is your reaction when the first democratically elected president of Egypt is overthrown, somebody who you recognize, who you've worked with, whose foreign policy has been by all accounts actually been in lockstep with you, for instance, Israel? Is probably going to lament all of this, we'll see, but there are already reports in Israeli newspapers that they may regret the fact that he's gone. They say he was very instrumental, obviously, in keeping up the Camp David accord -- this is Morsy I'm talking about -- in helping the last Gaza war, helping bring that to an end, patrolling the Sinai rather vigilantly.

So, look, there are all these things. What about the money that Europe and the United States sends to Egypt? Obviously, there's a lot of wiggle room. Clearly, in many democracies, the ousting of a democratic president could be a cause for cutting off aid. But each government, each congress, each parliament will be able to make those decisions based on how they see fit, and as they say, what the facts are.

So, I think this is a double-edged sword for the West. The Egyptians are saying, look, we are the people and we have put our voice on the streets, and we've marched with our feet and said no confidence to our president of one year.

So, that's what's going on right now. And we'll see whether a military-backed interim leader can actually bring Egypt out of this failure of governance into some kind of more rational set of politics because as you know, in this emerging democracy, there have been no political parties. And that is why the Muslim Brotherhood won the first election, but clearly showed that they weren't able to govern.

TAPPER: I want to go to Cairo now, to Becky Anderson and Ivan Watson, who can paint more of a picture of what's going on, on the ground. Ivan, I'll come to you in a second.

But, first, I want to start with Becky.

The response, I think a lot of people have been taken aback at how quickly this all unfolded. The protests are relatively recent, just a few days old. The military gives a 48-hour ultimatum to President Morsy. He doesn't achieve any success with the protesters, there's no political solution, and that's it, he's out pretty quick for a Middle Eastern coup.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And it was really remarkable, just 24 hours ago, we heard from President Morsy. He made his speech, a 45-minute speech to the nation. It was long in rhetoric, short in specifics, but some 50 times, he talked about being the legitimate president of Egypt.

Now, he was elected here democratically a year ago. He was talking to his constituents, effectively.

And people here will tell you he was effectively bluffing the military, that had basically gave him 48 hours to sort out politics here or to get out effectively, they would intervene. And that's exactly what they did.

You pointed out only 48 hours ago, it seems not quite as big here in Tahrir Square, by what's called the (INAUDIBLE) movement, or what's called a rebel movement, a huge coalition of opposition group, really making their voices heard in this square. Forty-eight hours later, the same people are back because they have seen the end of President Morsy. It is absolutely remarkable.

And as we speak, so fireworks going off, it seems a complete jubilation by the antigovernment protesters here in Tahrir Square.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, your thoughts?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's incredible the scenes that we saw of the troops fanning out, the Egyptian army and special forces riot police fanning out in parts of central Cairo in the two hours that led up to this momentous announcement by the head of the Egyptian military.

And also, if you put into context, I mean, the military was running the show here more than a year ago, and the demonstrators were gathering in this square, were actually attacked on multiple occasions by the military police action and those times, you had terrible confrontations. And now, we have this incredible scene of what could very much be described as a military coup that has immense populous support from some of the same people who were cursing the military 18 months ago. That's a remarkable reversal.

Also important to note: the protests that we've seen here in Tahrir Square over the last couple of days, they have clearly been supported by the military. The military deployment we have seen in Cairo over the last three hours is not around these people. It's around the remaining encampments of Muslim Brotherhood protesters. That should very much indicate to you that the military chose sides a couple days ago and have been backing this popular movement, and not the will of those who voted for Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy.

TAPPER: We have on the phone right now a former general in the Egyptian military, Sameh Seif Elyazal.

General, your reaction to the coup. The military is not calling it a coup. But what is your general reaction, sir?

GEN. SAMEH SEIF ELYAZAL, FORMER EGYPTIAN MILITARY GENERAL (via telephone): This is not a military coup at all. It is the will of the Egyptians who are supported by the army. We haven't seen in the last -- even in modern history, any country in the world driving 33 million people in the street for four days asking the president for an early presidential election. In fact, the Egyptian army is making new history.

That's why it's not a military coup whatsoever. Military coup, meaning that the military will rule the country and will to run the country and control the country. And the country military are not doing that, as they have said many times, today as well, that they would not be involved in the political life the Egyptians at all.

TAPPER: When do you think the elections will take place, sir? The military has announced that there will be parliamentary and presidential elections. How soon?

ELYAZAL: I think the entire transition period is going to be between nine to 12 months. We have to have a new constitution, a new lawful parliamentary election and then the procedures of the parliamentary election followed by the presidential election. I think that's the road map coming in nine to 12 months.

TAPPER: And what happens now? I know the constitutional court will have the titular head of the government, but, obviously, the military will play a significant rule. What will change for the Egyptian people other than they'll have these new elections to look forward to?

ELYAZAL: Well, people in Egypt were talking about ruling the country by what they call it, Islamic fascism. In fact, there was something (ph) of that, mistake after mistake, which put the country in real trouble and everything. We don't have any stability, economic stability, as well as controlling everything. We have lack of services for the first time in decades. People were cueing in front the petrol station to get 10 liters of fuel for 18 hours, and sometimes more.

The power -- cutoff of power every day -- my home, for instance, I have cutoff of power three times a day, each time more than one and a half hour. So, we haven't seen this even during the war (ph) time.

So, they actually -- lots of mistakes puts the country in real trouble, and we have to recover that now, and this will take a few years, as well as the price will be heavy. TAPPER: General, before you go. I just have to ask -- President Morsy, flawed leader as he may have been, was democratically elected. I realize that democracy is new to Egypt, but it does seem as though the military stepping in action because there are protests in the streets, and saying OK, he's no longer going to be president, is not really how democracy is supposed to work.

How do you justify this? And how do you make sure that this doesn't just happen every time there are protests in the street?

ELYAZAL: No, that's not the way. Actually, the story is very, very simple, that 12.5 million people elected Morsy and gave him the votes to be our president.

Right now, democratically, 33 million people came out in the streets. Some of them definitely give him their votes. And right now, they said, no, sorry, we cannot pick any more (INAUDIBLE) of that. You have made big mistakes, and you did lots of mistakes. Not only that, but you put the country in a jeopardy.

That's why the same people said enough is enough. Again, this is democratically. It's not a military coup. People wanted that, and that's why they are forcing him to step down.

TAPPER: All right. General, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

We're going to take a very quick break. And when we come back, we're going to go back live to Cairo for this incredible breaking news: a coup against the president of Egypt.