February 10, 2011
The full transcript is reproduced below. Click here to listen.
SHAPIRO: This is special coverage, from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, in Washington, where we are watching events unfold in Cairo. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to speak to his people soon, and there are conflicting reports that he may resign.
We're joined here in Studio 3A by Loren Jenkins, NPR's senior foreign editor, and Rachel Martin, NPR national security correspondent. We also have with us here Michele Dunne. She's a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, and she's a specialist on Mideast affairs. She worked at the Department of State and at the White House.
Thanks for being here.
Ms. MICHELE DUNNE (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for World Peace): Thanks for inviting me.
SHAPIRO: Describe the balancing act that the U.S. has been executing over the last few days as they watch this unfold.
Ms. DUNNE: For the United States, obviously, there's a long and deep relationship with the Egyptian government and a lot of interests there -diplomatic, military security. But also, the administration has had to have an ear to voices from elsewhere in the region, from other Arab leaders, from Israel, who've expressed a lot of concerns about what's going on in Cairo, and yet at the same time, try to communicate a message to the Egyptian government, on one hand, and the Egyptian protesters. It's been a real balancing act. And frankly, I think we've seen a lot of zigs and zags in the message coming out of the administration over the last couple of weeks.
SHAPIRO: I've heard one official say we want to stand behind democracy wherever it starts. But we also don't want to send a message to other world leaders that we're only behind you as long as you're in power.
Ms. DUNNE: Yeah. I think that's true. You know, they've certainly gotten the message from other leaders that it's sort of unseemly to be seen as just dumping Mubarak unceremoniously after decades of friendship. But at the same time, the administration said right from the beginning that the demonstrators' demands were legitimate. And I think they've also been clear that the things that President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman have offered so far have not met those demands.
SHAPIRO: What did you make of President Obama's statement in Michigan today, where, at the beginning of a speech about broadband access, he said we'll stand behind the push for democracy in Egypt?
Ms. DUNNE: Yeah. I think his message today really was aimed mostly at Egypt itself. He wanted to send a message of support to the peaceful demonstrators. And he used the word genuine, a transition to genuine democracy, which is a little bit of a modification of what he's been saying, but clearly, you know, showing some concern that what we could be moving toward here is some kind of a military coup that doesn't end in democracy. And that word genuine, I think, was also aimed at whoever's going to be taking power here in Egypt.
SHAPIRO: Rachel Martin, you're here with us in the studio. And I understand you've been talking to people in the U.S. intelligence community about contact with Egypt. What are you hearing from them?
RACHEL MARTIN: Well, interesting. You know, we've been discussing whether or not the protesters would be satisfied if President Mubarak -as he is now reportedly going to do - comes out and says that Omar Suleiman, his vice president, would assume presidential control, at least for the time being, and whether or not that that would assuage the protesters' concerns.
The U.S. has a complicated relationship with Omar Suleiman. He was the head of Egyptian intelligence in a very complicated time in U.S.-Egyptian history and relations. He was very closely linked to the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. And when I talked to intelligence officials in this country, they say that he is an extraordinary friend to the United States. I spoke with General Michael Hayden, who was a former director of the CIA under the Bush administration, and he said: We have an expression for people like Omar Suleiman. We always said that we have time for people like him. We always had a lot of time for Omar Suleiman. When he calls, we take his call.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: So this is not - this is a complicated issue for U.S. intelligence operations in the region. They have developed close links with the regime when it comes to fighting al-Qaida. And it is unclear, at this point, how they start to distance themselves as they see the popular discontent with that choice if he is to assume power.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Loren Jenkins, our senior foreign editor.
JENKINS: Michele, isn't it clear that we, basically, as a nation, have very little power to influence events in Egypt and elsewhere these days? It seems that - and I think the Obama regime - presidency has said this, that, basically, it's up to the Egyptians and this is an Egyptian upheaval and they have to resolve it for themselves, and there's not a lot of levers we can pull.
Ms. DUNNE: I think the - yeah, the Obama administration definitely has wanted to say this is a choice for Egyptians. We're not making a choice for you. And yet, I find people in Egypt sort of hanging on every word that comes out of the White House and out of the State Department. Now why is that if we don't have any influence there? You know, the demonstrators and people I either talk to or follow through the Egyptian media have been saying, you know, we want a better message of support out of the United States. We're getting confused or a mixed message. And we've also seen Egyptian officials reacting, too. We saw the - a strong, negative reaction from the Egyptian foreign minister.
So I would say that while the United States is definitely not controlling or, you know, kind of moving the chess pieces here in Egypt, that it still seems we have significant support - significant influence there.
SHAPIRO: Michele Dunne, how does it complicate things that, you know, when we look at analogous situations in other countries, there's generally an opposition leader - and in Egypt there isn't?
Ms. DUNNE: Yeah, that's right. And the Egyptian government was careful to make sure there wouldn't be a unified leader of the opposition that would emerge in recent years. Yeah. That has made it a complicated situation, and actually, we see sort of new opposition movements emerging in Egypt through these protests.
That's not an unusual thing to expect in a situation of kind of a mass uprising like this. So we have some older opposition organizations, some of which, I think, are quickly being left behind. Some of which, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are still relevant to this situation. And we have newer opposition organizations, these youth groups, Mohamed Elbaradei's National Association for Change, the April 6 Youth Movement that's existed for a couple of years, that are becoming newly relevant.
And they're kind of struggling here to put forward leaders. We started to see some new names emerge in recent days, Wael Ghoneim, of course, and others. And there's an attempt to...
SHAPIRO: I'm just going to interrupt you. We're about to hear from President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.