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Will the Egyptian Military Stage a Coup to Oust Mubarak?

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To talk about the latest developments in Egypt, we are joined by two people who have been following the news closely. Samer Shehata is a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, and Paul Amar is an international studies professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about the latest developments in Egypt, we’re joined by Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, his most recent book, Shop Floor Culture and Politics in Egypt. We’re also joined by a Paul Amar. He is associate professor in the Global and International Studies Program at University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East. Paul Amar, not to be confused with Kareem Amer, who is the well-known young Egyptian blogger who was for almost a week and has just been released, to many people in Egypt’s great relief that he has been found, held in a desert jail. We hope to be talking to him in this special broadcast that Democracy Now! is doing. On some stations, we’ll be on for two hours; others — if they can take us — for the hour. But do tell your friends, and you can watch us at And we welcome Link TV and Free Speech TV and Pacifica Radio and stations and affiliates and NPR stations. This is an historic moment.

Let’s turn to Samer Shehata. Your response to what is happening in your country, the country you were born in, Egypt, and what Mubarak had to say yesterday?

SAMER SHEHATA: Well, I mean, I think, you know, my response was that of millions of Egyptians: outrage, disbelief, anger, disappointment, and really kind of thinking about what it will take to bring this regime to an end. Certainly, Mr. Mubarak and the regime has no concern for what Egyptians have been saying. And of course, now I think there’s some concern that I have, and many people have, that things could escalate, things will escalate. People, I think, have realized that containing themselves in Tahrir Square, but not just in Tahrir Square, as you mentioned, in many other cities — Mahalla, Mansoura, Alexandria, Upper Egypt and so on, Suez — that now, I think, is the time for creative action, for movement, for dispersing in different parts of the city, for original kinds of protest. But at the same time, I think, as Mr. Mubarak has escalated this, there’s the real possibility that there could be violence, either — not only between the army and the protesters, but people have not mentioned the presidential guard. Egypt has a presidential guard the size of Tunisia’s military, upwards of 28,000, 30,000 people, who are loyal to Mr. Mubarak. And I think they will show significantly less restraint than the army has in the past few weeks. So there’s some real concern. But I think that there’s really no turning back. I mean, something will have to change, and the protesters aren’t going to go home.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Samer Shehata, as the country becomes more and more paralyzed, as more and more people pour into the streets, the reaction of the international community, the European Union and the United States, what do you think in terms of — especially the United States has been this see-sawing back and forth between espousing support for the aspirations of the protesters while at the same time clinging to stability in the region that they believe that the military and Suleiman represent, I guess, for the United States?

SAMER SHEHATA: Well, certainly the United States’s position has changed from the absurd pronouncements on January 25th by Secretary Clinton that she believed that the Egyptian government was stable and that it was going to look into the grievances of the Egyptian people, it’s changed from that to much more forceful, but not forceful enough, pronouncements. I mean, the most outrageous, of course, response has been from other governments: from Mr. Sarkozy, from the Israelis, from the Saudis, who have claimed that the protests are by infiltrators, and who have pledged support, financial support, for Mr. Mubarak.

I’m not so sure, you know, how much the international community’s statements and so on are really playing into the calculations of this rogue regime, because that’s really what it is now. It of course has not technically, by the definitions of what a rogue regime is, crossed over into the borders of other countries and waged war, but nevertheless, it’s certainly waging war against 83 million people. And it lost its legitimacy many, many years ago. And so, I think Mr. Mubarak’s calculations really largely reflect his own kind of personal interests and his extreme stubbornness and willingness to take the country down with him.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Professor Paul Amar. What is going on behind the scenes? I mean, from the U.S. angle, you had the CIA director Leon Panetta saying he’s going to step down, and then, of course, it turns out, as people wait throughout the day, there was even a hashtag that people were following, “why the wait for Mubarak?” What was going on behind the scenes? And the possibility, ultimately, of a military coup — can you give us the landscape of what’s happening here?

PAUL AMAR: Yeah, yesterday was very interesting. I think what we’re seeing is the flows of information coming from lots of different angles. I think, basically, for the last few days, leaders of the military have been coming in and out of Tahrir Square, speaking with protesters to reassure them, again playing this back-and-forth, talking to protesters, both reassuring them but also of course asking them to wrap things up and that “we’re going to take care of this.” And in order to encourage them to leave Tahrir, they’ve been telling them, “We are going to make sure that Mubarak does resign and send all his powers to Suleiman.” So, there’s been many conversations — and I’ve heard of these directly from Tahrir Square between Hassan al-Roueini and Sami Hafez Enan to the chief of staff of the army — that they were going to take care of things, that they are going to assure that power is passed to Suleiman. These messages also then of course get sent directly from the CIA observers right in Tahrir straight to the CIA. So, we’re getting these mixed messages.

I think basically what Mubarak did yesterday was, in his mind, pass his powers largely to Suleiman. But of course, by holding his firm grip on his identity as president and, in a sense, promising to watch over Suleiman as Suleiman watches over the nation, he caused this huge backlash.

I think what’s interesting in the last two days, we’ve seen progressive and liberal activists in Egypt start to talk favorably about a military coup, which is astonishing, because those same activists of course have been focusing on the constitutional transition and the need for these articles of constitution to change. So the fact that now liberal and progressive activists are talking more positively about a coup is really very interesting and quite surprising.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Paul Amar, you had a fascinating piece recently analyzing the entire situation, called “Why Egypt’s Progressives Win.” And I have to tell you, of the hundreds of articles and reports that I’ve read in recent weeks on the Egyptian situation, this really is one of the most penetrating analyses I’ve seen. You talk especially about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, what you call the business wing of the Brotherhood, which is clearly a part of the apparatus of the regime, versus what’s happening among the youth and the women of the Muslim Brotherhood. Could you talk a little bit more about these internal dynamics within Egyptian society? Also talk about the day, February 4th, when the thugs attacked, and people were wondering what was going on with the military. The reality was that the military — the soldiers in the streets had no bullets, so that they really were not in a position to be able to clamp down on the thugs as they were let loose on the protesters. Could you talk about some of those internal dynamics?

PAUL AMAR: Well, exactly. Last year, in 2010, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood was elected who came from an older guard. There was a shift within the Brothers toward a more conservative voice. And at the same time, you had the continuing flourishing, really, of a new generation in the Brotherhood movement that is firmly committed to constitutional principles. I think as Samer has written about and as Mona El-Ghobashy has written about, there’s some fascinating new movements within the Brothers. So, basically, what I think is happening within the Muslim Brothers is what’s happening within Egypt in general. And that is reflected in the discourse of the army and Mubarak yesterday.

This is about the Shabab Masr. This is about the youth of Egypt now. This is about a new generation, which has a different economic profile. There’s these new small businesses, these new micro enterprises, and then, of course, lots of very well-educated youth that don’t have jobs. And many of these new factories have a large percentage of women workers in them. So we really have this shift towards youth, women, in the Brotherhood organization, and of course mostly without — outside of the organization, that are well organized. And every day Mubarak stays around, they are becoming better and better organized. So I think, basically, the Brotherhood last year made a move, I think, based upon their re-exclusion from politics by Mubarak, a move to reconsolidate their conservative wing. But now I think the youth wing is reasserting itself, in some independence. That’s not really specific wings; that’s kind of a metaphor. But anyway, we are seeing a really vital shift within all organizations, including the Brotherhood. So, I think, basically, Shabab Masr, the youth of Egypt, have become an organized set of forces, which is fascinating. It’s being recognized by Mubarak and the army itself and being conceptualized by them.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us, Professor Amar, about the meeting that Suleiman had when he was hastily handpicked by Mubarak?

PAUL AMAR: Suleiman had a meeting. There was a slightly more real meeting, in which he actually sat down with some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to negotiate, basically trying to coopt them. Fortunately, they refused and walked out. Then Suleiman had several fake meetings that were televised, which involved young people sitting around tables and nodding while there was no audio and Suleiman talked. I don’t know if Samer has seen other meetings with Suleiman and the opposition, but the ones I’ve seen are basically some staged meetings with youth, in which they nod their head, some leaders of the official tolerated opposition parties, such as Tagammu and Al Wafd, again, mostly basically them sitting there listening and, of course, then not signing any papers or agreeing to anything. So these meetings are really symbolic, and nothing has actually — no negotiations have actually proceeded, that I know of.

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