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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Crisis in Egypt
Aired January 28, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, one of America's strongest allies in the Middle East in turmoil.
The winds of revolution fanned by the power of the Internet sweeping across the Arab world -- from Tunisia to Yemen, now the fury spreading to Egypt, the nation some say is the key to peace in the Middle East is on the verge of total chaos. President Hosni Mubarak has dissolved the government. Protesters are tonight swarming the streets, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
President Obama tonight --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the situation continues to unfold, our first concern is preventing injury and loss of life. So, I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: What's really going on right now? Is anybody in charge in Egypt? What does it all mean for peace, for oil, for the United States and the rest of the world?
This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
MORGAN: Good evening.
It's been a day of quite extraordinary turmoil and tension around the world. We're covering this across Egypt from Alexandria to Cairo and Washington and New York, with all the global resources of CNN.
And we begin with our correspondents on the ground in Egypt: Ben Wedeman in Cairo, Nic Robertson in Alexandria.
Ben, let me start with you. What is going on right now?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we see, Piers, is the army is fully deployed in the streets of Cairo. And that was sort of the major development. It changed the balance in the whole events of the day. The demonstrators who were attacking and fighting with the police throughout the day -- in fact, throughout the last four days -- suddenly cheered the arrival of the army.
The police force in Cairo has utterly disappeared. There's a police station just behind our office which he saw the crowd of protesters going after, attacking, trying to break down the metal doors. The policemen were inside huddled. They tried to defend themselves with tear gas, but quickly changed into civilian clothing and simply ran away.
We are hearing that other major police stations around the city were sacked after mobs went after them as well. So, it's the army that's in control in the streets, people greeting them with joy, welcoming them as a possible force that could prevent the outbreak of violence -- Piers.
MORGAN: So, Ben, one of the key things that's emerging here is that the police were attached very much to Mubarak and his regime, considered very oppressive. Are the protesters right to see the army as the saviors, or could they possibly be misled here?
WEDEMAN: Well, in the next few days, we'll see. We'll see if the army is willing to defend the president of the government or it will simply stand by and let the people demonstrate, which the demonstration started on Tuesday quite peacefully. Of course, as the state used more and more violence against them, they started to use violence against the police.
The police widely resented for being corrupt, for using torture, for detaining people, for no reason whatsoever. The army -- what we've seen so far is they have not tried to stop people from protesting. It seems that their job at the moment is simply to be deployed outside government buildings and prevent them from being ransacked. It hasn't always worked.
Just down the street from here, the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters, a few hours ago, it was utterly in flames. There were some looters taking things inside but that, of course, was a symbol -- that was Mubarak's party, a symbol of President Hosni Mubarak. So, that gives you an indication of the sentiment people have toward the president who has been in power since 1981.
MORGAN: Ben, thank you.
Nic, I want to turn to you in Alexandria. In very simple terms, what do you think this protest is really about?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People want change. They want a better life. They don't feel that they can feed their families in the way that they used to. They want -- they have aspirations for their children.
I talked to a man this evening, a middle-aged man. His daughter was 10 years old, and went out to the streets to see the army armored personnel carrier on the center of the city here. And he said he just wants her to have a better life than the one he's having and to have a good education. And that's one of the things people here don't get. It's really simple. They want a better life, and the guy in charge for the last 30 years hasn't given it to them.
So, when they hear him on TV saying, "Hey, I understand you," "Hey, I'm going to make it better," they know. They know that that's not going to happen. And that's what's going to make them and is making them even more angry right now -- Piers.
MORGAN: President Mubarak is clearly not going to go without a fight here, Nic. How did his speech go down on the ground?
ROBERTSON: It sounded like a lead balloon. We talked to -- it's the youth here that have a lot of the emotion and a lot of the drive, you know, the sort of Facebook part of the revolution here and energy on the streets. They are the ones we've been talking to tonight, young students, 19, 20 years old. And they say, what's he going to do? Just reach up all the same guys in government? Is he going to bring them back?
They're telling us they're not going to rest. They're going to keep coming out and demonstrating. And, you know, one of the crazy weirdness about this situation right now, you have the army in the city welcomed in by the people. Not many of them, maybe just a few dozen soldiers around the city.
The crazy thing is, what are they protecting? They are protecting these burned out police stations. These buildings are empty and useless.
And what's even weirder is the army are just sitting there watching the looters coming in and out of these burned out buildings. They're not getting much, but the army is not stopping them.
The army isn't facing off against the people here. We saw the people turn on the police today. And the police literally pushed off the streets, driven off the streets. Their vehicles burned. They ran away.
Is that they fate of the army? That's what's going through the minds, it seems, of these young soldiers sitting in these armored personnel carriers here tonight, Piers.
MORGAN: Thanks very much, Nic.
And I want to turn to two of CNN's top anchors, John King and Wolf Blitzer, both in Washington. And before I speak to you guys, I want to just play both what President Mubarak had said tonight and also President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPT (through translator): I ask the government to resign today. And I will tell the new government from tomorrow in very specific goals to work with the current situation. I will say again, I will not be easy to take any -- to decide anything unless it's for the Egyptians.
OBAMA: When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise. Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MORGAN: Wolf, if I could start with you, what's fascinating about this whole uprising is it's not the conventional anti-American sentiment or being fanned at the start certainly by any sort of Islamic fundamentalism. And what is emerging tonight is disappointment, it seems, that President Obama not going far enough. And one of the reasons, of course, may be that the Americans have always supported President Mubarak in the past. So, there is an allegation that they've gone easy on him because it's been embarrassing.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": There's been a 30-year relationship, a positive relationship, between the U.S. and Egypt going back to Anwar Sadat and then 1981 to Hosni Mubarak. And that relationship has been incredibly close on the economic, military, political, intelligence, all of the levels.
The U.S. military and the Egyptian military work very closely together. Over all of these years, Piers, the United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, economic and military assistance, to Egypt -- the best U.S. military equipment, F- 16 fighter jets. The Egyptian military has a powerful -- a powerful capability.
And the question that U.S. officials are wondering, they don't have any hard answers, who follows Mubarak? For all practical purposes, most of the analysts I've spoken to think it's only a matter of time before he goes. Will it be a pro-U.S., pro-western, secular regime or will it be something else -- a regime that rips up, for example, the peace treaty that's been in business for three decades with Israel, one that turns against the U.S.?
And they don't have any easy answers here in Washington. They are hoping for the best case outcome, but they are deeply worried, I can assure you, about the worst case outcome which they fear is possible.
MORGAN: John, let me turn to you. When you watched President Obama's speech this evening, reading between all the lines, and it was very carefully phrased, what do you thing the key messages were that were going back to President Mubarak?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The key message to President Mubarak, Piers, was not good enough. And I'm told President Obama made that clear privately in the conversation and then publicly, you could see it in his words. Not good enough, that not only do I expect you to say, if you're going to stay in power, you must immediately open a dialogue.
And that is the message the administration had given to President Mubarak before his speech to the nation. They told him, we need you to say I'm not leaving as president but I will starting tomorrow reach out to you. We will start a dialogue. There are presidential elections scheduled in September. I'm going to finally be more open. I'm going to allow political parties to organize and assemble.
And he came nowhere near that, which is why you heard the exasperation in the president of the United States' voice publicly.
And to Wolf's point, Piers, tonight, in the administration, they believe they are now counting down to the end of Mubarak, and they have severe questions about what is next. But Nic Robertson just made a critically important point, talking to everyday Egyptians who say they want change and they want their aspirations.
What does Barack Obama represent? He ran on hope and change and aspirations. And the White House has heard the frustration of the protesters. In the view of the protesters, the United States might privately be tough on Hosni Mubarak but publicly has not done enough to support them, their right to organize and their right to have political parties within Egypt. And that frustration has now reached the White House.
Many of saying this White House was slow to respond here, but I believe they get it now.
MORGAN: Wolf, I mean, this seems to me potentially very dangerous situation for the world because we're seeing oil prices rocketing, the stock markets plunging. No one is quite sure what's going to happen. Egypt has always been this pivotal country in terms of the Middle East and the peace movement.
Where does this leave us? I mean, how bad could this get, and what are the implications not just for America, but for the world?
BLITZER: It could get a whole lot worse, piers. And that's the great nightmare. No doubt what's going to keep President Obama awake tonight, tomorrow night and the coming nights because it started with Tunisia, which is a good friend to the United States, but Tunisia is no Egypt. Tunisia switched allegiances very, very quickly in terms of getting rid of Ben Ali, the longtime president there.
Look what's happening in Lebanon. There's a new prime minister backed by Hezbollah, backed by Iran.
If you take a look at Yemen right now, it's a weak government, a poor country, but al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula is gaining enormous strength there right now. It's a huge problem that the U.S. is worried about. If al Qaeda can really get a grip on Yemen, it could be a huge base from which to operate.
And they are wondering if Egypt goes and if you see Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and all the Arabic language satellite channels showing what's going on, they are worried about other countries. They are worried about Jordan and potentially even they're worried about Saudi Arabia. And all that oil in the Arabian Peninsula.
So, it's a huge problem that we have to watch very, very closely. And it's one of those potential game changers for not only the Middle East but for the world right now.
Piers, all of us remember what happened in '78-'79 when the shah went down. As flawed as he was, he was a good U.S. ally. What followed now is three decades of an ayatollah-led regime in Iran, and there's deep concern right now that what happens next in the Middle East is anyone's guess.
And there's a lot of concern about that, especially the State Department, the White House, the intelligence community and elsewhere. I've been checking with my sources. And everyone is simply raising questions that they're not sure what's going to happen next.
MORGAN: John, if Mubarak simply refuses to go, what does President Obama do? How do we get rid of a guy if he doesn't want to leave?
KING: Well, the administration served notice today and voices from Congress are serving even tougher notice. About $2 billion a year, just shy of that goes to Egypt in military assistance and other economic assistance. And it is critical to the Egyptian government. And if President Mubarak does not open a dialogue, if he does not take some steps, the administration says it will reconsider its aid package and, trust me, voices in the Congress would force the administration to reconsider that aid package, even if they didn't do so itself.
Now, there is a caution that you can't be too abrupt here, because of the strategic importance of the Egyptian relationship. But many people at the White House, all the points Wolf just made are so valid, Piers. And what would happen, what would the domino effect be? And United States government since late in the Bush administration has said that it has urged these governments more privately, to be more open. Be more open.
But at the White House tonight, they believe the genie is out of the bottle in Egypt. It cannot be put back in. And they are going to have to deal with the consequences there. And they might not like what happens elsewhere in the region, but they expect more of this is coming.
And the key question is: what does President Mubarak do in the next 48 hours and how does the Egyptian army react if he refuses to yield power and the demonstrators stay on the streets?
MORGAN: John, Wolf, thank you so much for that.
And we're going to take a quick break now. When we come back, we'll have some quite dramatic eyewitness testimony from people on the ground in Egypt.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MORGAN: CNN has assignment editors on the ground in Cairo. Amir Amid joins us now.
Amir, you're an Egyptian. You were born in Egypt. Have you ever seen anything quite like this?
AMIR AHMED, CNN ASSIGNMENT EDITORS (via telephone): Last time I witnessed anything like this at this scale was back in 1977, long before Hosni Mubarak took charge. Back then, people took tens of thousands took to the streets to complain about rising prices and high unemployment, similar to what people are asking for today. But those protests back then didn't last more than a couple of days, and back then, it was President Anwar Sadat and he was pressured to return and place much-needed economic subsidies.
But these current protests carry more of a political message than real changes and more economic policy. And they definitely have lasted more than a couple of days.
MORGAN: You were at Cairo airport when this all started. And you've obviously seen it escalate dramatically in the last 24 hours. Where do you think this is going to end, Amir?
AHMED: I think it will take some time. At the airport there was a huge police presence, security personnel surrounding the airport. All the way from the plane to the baggage claim and from the airport to the perimeter, when I tried to enter the city and was turned around with a lot of people in cars or on foot.
People returned to the airport and nearby hotels and a lot of them are spending the night at the airport tonight. Rooms are unavailable simply in a lot of the hotels nearby.
MORGAN: Amir, let me ask you. I mean, what percentage do you think of the people in Cairo are supportive of these protests? Have you got any way of working that out?
AHMED: I can simply -- I can easily say the majority sympathize with the protesters even though they haven't participated. I had the chance to speak to some of the people, just regular people who didn't really have to do much with the protesters. And they were really sympathizing with them. And the major complaint was the violence and the looting.
But some believe even the looting, and this is just their theories, whereby people who were hired by security personnel and police to make the protesters look bad and despise by the public. And so, general people -- the majority of people are supportive of protests and the call for change.
MORGAN: Amir, thank you. I want to bring in Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has just come back from Egypt today in fact.
Steven, when you were there, what were you picking up on the ground? STEVE COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, there was a lot of tension in Cairo. Upon arrival, an Egyptian friend of mine had said to me, this is not the same Egypt that you visited in October. And it was clear that there was concern among average people, among activists that January 25th, the first day of this, was going to be big. That's different from what the government and members of the ruling National Democratic Party thought about January 25th, however.
MORGAN: You met a number of -- sorry. Go on, Steven.
COOK: No, the -- those officials were dismissive of the call for protests. Their responses to this range from -- it will be an accomplishment if -- and this is a quote -- "if 50 people show up for this," to charging that if demonstrations did, in fact, materialize, it was just a function of how free and Democratic Egypt has become under President Mubarak, to finally saying that if, in fact, there were large protests, Egypt was different from Tunisia because the Egyptian police had a strategy and that President Mubarak is not weak.
MORGAN: So, there's been a high level of arrogance if not delusion at senior level in the government there. Clearly, reality has now set in. With your knowledge of how the government works in Egypt, what are you making of Mubarak saying he's going to sack his cabinet, get a new one? What's going to happen here, do you think?
COOK: I think this falls into the category of delusional. I was in Liberation Square on Tuesday night, and the central focus of the opposition and the people participating in the demonstration is Mubarak himself. I didn't hear anything about the government or government ministers. They serve at the pleasure of President Mubarak and the regime that he has led for the past 30 years.
Their complaint starts with him, and it goes to his son Gamal Mubarak, his presumptive heir, and the ruling National Democratic Party. Their central focus and first and foremost among their demands is for President Mubarak to go.
And I think, though, going forward, it's going to be the most important group of people to watch is the military establishment. The senior command and how they are responding to this crisis.
MORGAN: At the moment, it seems that the police have been perceived as the enemy, the military as the friend by the protesters. Is that, you think, the reality?
COOK: I think, to start it is. The military is widely respected, has avoided doing the dirty work of keeping Egypt streets quiet. The police are the people with whom Egyptians have everyday contact who are particularly brutal and have acted in particular, recently with impunity. So, there is an opportunity here for the military to use its gravitas and its prestige with broader Egyptian public to stabilize this situation.
But if these protests continue and the military is caught in a position of having to put them down, then you get into questions about whether they will remain loyal to someone -- a president who is almost 83 years old and although the military itself has benefited from this regime, they might look to someone else going forward from whom they can also go with and benefit from.
MORGAN: Steven, thank you very much.
The crisis in Egypt is reverberating around the world. Next, I want to talk about how the American government should respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I think that as we have urged repeatedly for many days, we urge a strong restraint. This is not a situation that should be addressed with violence. Security forces and military should be restrained in anything that they do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs urging restraint. But in the face of this crisis, what should President Obama actually do?
Joining me now is former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, and CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend.
MORGAN: Frank, let me start with you. It seems everyone is trying to make out this is a huge surprise and yet resentment towards Mubarak has been building for years. President Obama warned him many times, he must do something about this. So, it's not much of a surprise, is it really?
FRANK WISNER, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: Well, I think the slow developing situation, even the incidents that have marked this year, the explosion at promise in Alexandria, the beating and killing of a businessman earlier, all these were events that signaled that on top of the disconnect, trouble was brewing. But I don't think you can ever predict exactly when the crisis will erupt. And, if you will, this crisis with its -- the predicate in Tunisia, has come on very quickly. I don't think anyone, and certainly not the Egyptian government, is completely taken by surprise. We have know that the end of the Mubarak period would be with us in some reasonable time frame. We've been thinking in these terms.
So maybe the day, but the situation is not a surprise.
MORGAN: The U.S. has sent foreign aid to Egypt since 1948. And that's always been viewed as a sound investment to stabilize the Middle East politically. Has that investment benefited America now? Or is it beginning to look like it's backfiring?
WISNER: Well, I think the real history of American engagement in Egypt begins with Camp David and the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement that was reached, and has helped preserve the peace in the middle east between Egypt and Israel. We remember Henry Kissinger's famous words "there is no war without Egypt." And for 30 years, we have had no major war in the Middle East.
And that is clearly an American interest. American aid has buttressed our presence in Egypt, has given us access. It's shown our support for Egypt as a nation. It's even solved a few problems in Egypt itself.
But it's been a symbol of the American commitment. And I think it's done very well by us.
MORGAN: Fran, Robert Gibbs says the administration is reviewing its 1.3 billion dollar foreign aid program depending on how President Mubarak responds to the protesters. This kind of suggests to me they're pulling back on the support already, with a view to probably wrenching that support completely. Is that your reading of this?
TOWNSEND: Piers, absolutely. Look, President Obama waited for several days before he made the call this evening to president Hosni Mubarak. It's clear from sources, and even from the president's own statement, that he has certain expectations of how President Mubarak will move forward from now.
He made clear that he's expecting restraint on the part of the security forces, and a lifting of the restrictions on the Internet and social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter. I think we need to see in the next 24 to 48 hours whether or not there is some reaction on the part of Hosni Mubarak to what President Obama has said.
And I think what you are hearing from the administration is they are going to tie that continuing aid to whether or not President Mubarak heeds President Obama's words.
By the way, Piers, it's not just in President Obama's control. After all, we do have a Republican-controlled house. We do have Republicans in the Senate. And Congress has got the ability to shut those funds off unilaterally. So the president is under pressure on all sides here.
MORGAN: If the aid does get shut down, how long could Mubarak continue in office, do you think?
TOWNSEND: Oh, I think -- I think it will be very quick, because, of course, he's relying right now -- he's pulled the police back. He's got the military in the streets.
He absolutely needs the military to continue to support him. And I don't think the military -- if U.S. aid got cut off, I don't expect that the military, even though he's served, his son has served and he's very well entrenched, and he's taken very good care of the Egyptian military, I don't think the -- I suspect that the military would not support him if U.S. aid got cut off.
MORGAN: One of the problems, it seems to me, is the administration is saying it supports the rights of the people who are protesting. But, of course, no one is quite sure what they are really protesting about. Is this a rather dangerous statement for the administration to make and a position to adopt.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, I think it's a very dangerous statement. You know, after all, you know, Wolf Blitzer said it earlier. It is not at all clear what will follow a Mubarak presidency in Egypt. And, in fact, it's in the U.S. interest for this chaos to sort of resolve itself quickly. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had a political movement decades ago, has not been very politically active, not been very well organized politically.
The longer this takes, you give the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalists the opportunity not only to organize but to infiltrate inside the legitimate protesters and that freedom movement there. And so from a U.S. national security perspective, we have to want to see this resolve itself one way or another; have Mubarak get calm in Egypt or to have a peaceful transition quickly.
MORGAN: Fran, thank you, and to you as well, Frank.
The world was watching today's dramatic events in Egypt. But what will happen tomorrow? The global implications of chaos in Egypt when we come back.
MORGAN: As a new day dawns in Egypt, what are the worldwide implications of the chaos? Joining me to talk about that, former Middle East correspondent Robin Wright and Richard Grenell, former U.S. spokesperson at the U.N.
Richard, let me start with you. What are the global repercussions of what we're witnessing in Egypt tonight?
RICHARD GRENELL, FORMER U.S. SPOKESPERSON TO U.N.: We're certainly seeing something that's very historic. No one could have imagined this. I agree with many of the speakers before. I think it remains to be seen. Certainly we need to be a country that is heard very loudly to be on the side of the Arab street, people who are frustrated with the economy, people who are frustrated with corruption in their government.
And I think it's very important for the United States, although we should be cautious as to what comes next -- we should immediately say that the Arab people deserve freedom and that we stand with them completely. The Internet should be turned back on immediately. We shouldn't be waiting. I think Congress could step in and say, you are going to have all of your funds cut off immediately if, by midnight tonight, you do not have the Internet, Facebook and Twitter back on.
I don't know what we're waiting for. I think it's really unfortunate to see the slowness out of the White House, to see President Obama and Vice President Biden trying to prop up Mubarak. And I think this White House has been flat-footed on Tunisia, on Egypt and whatever else is going to develop in the Middle East over the next 24, 48 hours.
MORGAN: Robin, let's talk about Israel for a moment. Egypt, obviously, a key component to peace in the Middle East. With what is going on and the turmoil that we're witnessing, is the peace treaty with Israel going to be a casualty here?
ROBIN WRIGHT, FMR. MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily. A lot has to play out over the next few days, next few weeks. Egypt is the heart and soul, however, of the Arab world. It accounts for one-quarter of the population spread through 22 countries. And it was the first in the 1970s to take a very bold move when President Sadat not only agreed to make peace, but he also went to Jerusalem and spoke to the Israeli parliament.
Egypt set the tone. And it has been unfolding on the peace process ever since. So what happens in Egypt politically will ripple across the region, not just the Arab world, but also in terms of the strategic alliance that Egypt has had with Israel for now more than three decades.
MORGAN: Richard, Vice President Biden has said that President Mubarak's been an ally to the United States. And he doesn't consider him to be a dictator. And yet the protesters are obviously in disagreement. They believe he's been running a repressive regime.
What's been the impact, do you think, of Vice President Biden's statement globally, and specifically to the Arab world?
GRENELL: Well, globally and specifically to the Arab world, I think they are very disappointed with the American language, especially Vice President Biden's language. I am sure right now, watching what's going on in Egypt, that the vice president's got to be thinking that he misspoke. He's certainly on the wrong side of history.
Imagine if Ronald Reagan would have said something like, well, let's take some steps and let's try to get something going here at the Berlin Wall, rather than to be very forceful and say, "tear down the wall."
And I think history gives you opportunities to think globally and to think bigger than what's really going on. And I think the vice president missed it. The Arab street is clearly upset about it. If you go on and you see sites like al Jazeera and others that are reporting live, their are comments filled with disappointment from the American administration, specifically the slowness of the president and vice president's comments, twice indicating that the street protesters may not be legitimate.
MORGAN: Robin, let me turn to you again. The former U.N. official Muhammad Elbaradei is President Mubarak's most high-profile opponent. There's a suggestion that he's the most likely to take over for Mubarak should Mubarak go. Do you think the Obama administration would support him?
WRIGHT: I -- well, it may support him. He is, after all, a very familiar figure in Washington. He was head of the U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Agency, based in Vienna. But he is probably better known in many western capitals than he is on the streets of Cairo. And I think he would probably be a transition figure.
He's an older generation politician. He's been out of the country most of the time. The United States would probably welcome Elbaradei as an alternative. But we're not there yet.
I think this is likely to be a very interesting period in Egyptian history, in Middle East history. The fact is we've crossed a threshold of change in which the majority of the people who are out in the streets are non-ideological. This is not a group that is aligned with any secular or Islamist party.
And because it is a body without a head, we don't know who is likely to fill the vacuum in the meantime. There are a lot of different possibilities, Elbaradei, Ayman Noor. But these are also an older generation. What we're seeing is something entirely new in Egypt, in Yemen, in Tunisia and elsewhere as well.
MORGAN: I think that's the key part of this, because certainly there's no doubt that there are vastly larger numbers of young people in these Arab cities now, including Cairo and so on. And they are much more literate than they used to be. And it's the young who are driving this. And they are using social networking to do it.
So it makes it almost out of the hands of local politicians, especially the old guard.
Thank you both, Robin, Richard. We're going to go to a quick break now. When I come back, what I want to talk about next is probably the most extraordinary aspect of this crisis: how Twitter and social media are spreading this revolution.
MORGAN: For now, I want to go on to the most fascinating aspect of this whole revolution. And that is the use of social media and networking through Twitter, through Facebook and other sites like this. Even President Obama referenced it in his speech this evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: -- taken to interfere with access to the Internet, the cell phone service and social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Joining me now to talk about the extraordinary power of social media, CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom, and Mark Coatney, director of Tumblr. Let me start with you, Mohammed. Just how crucial has the role of social media proved to be in these protests? MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Piers, online activism and social media has played an absolutely integral part in getting demonstrators out into the streets and organizing these protests. Time and again over the course of the past four days, we've seen so many demonstrators and protestors in Egypt use sites like Twitter and Facebook as a rallying cry in order to organize these events that were going on.
There was one Facebook page, they were attracting thousands of users by the hour. Now, they haven't been able to use it in the last 24 hours. But they were getting so many signing up to go demonstrate today, on the day of rage in Egypt. The fact that the Egyptian government possibly has cut all access to Internet there, and that the Internet has essentially been shut down for almost 24 hours now, really underscores how scared the Egyptian regime is of this online activism, and because so many demonstrators have been using these social media sites in order to organize and circumvent the way that the Egyptian government has been trying to crack down on their right to demonstrate. Piers?
MORGAN: We've seen similar use of these sites in Iran and also in China. Is there any way in the modern Internet age, do you think, for a repressive regime of any kind to shut down the Internet? Is it technically possible? Or are there always ways around this now?
JAMJOOM: Well, what happened in Egypt today, in the last 24 hours, seems to be unprecedented in the history of the Internet, the fact that basically all service providers were shut down. We still don't know all the reasons behind it. We have not gotten confirmation from the Egyptian government that they did it, but it seems that they did.
The fact of the matter is it seems that the Internet is, for all intents and purposes, shut down in Egypt. That has angered a lot of Internet users in Egypt. That has added fuel to the fire.
But nonetheless, you've seen in the last 24 hours a lot of people try to circumvent the block. People have been referring users of Twitter and Facebook in Egypt to try to download apps -- applications -- on mobile phones, on Android phones. They've been asking them to try to go to other sites, to dial in to ISPs in France even, to try to be able to get online and spread this message.
So even though the Internet is shut down, people there are still trying to use it. Even though there's less usage, there are people that are still able to Tweet and to post things in Egypt. The hope is in Egypt that they'll be able to do so more in the next few days.
MORGAN: Mark Coatney of the social networking site Tumblr, it's unprecedented this, isn't it, Mark? What we're seeing really is the power of the Internet in its purest and probably most admirable form. The Internet gets a lot of criticism, but what you're seeing here is a fight for democracy and freedom through the Internet. MARK COATNEY, DIRECTOR, TUMBLR, : Oh, yeah. That's -- it's gratifying for me, personally, being part of a company that does this. But it's just so amazing to see everyone using -- there's so many different ways social media is being used, either as kind of a coordination for activism kind of thing, or even just as a source of information, just about what's going on in their country.
You see things like people talking about Wikileaks and things like that in Egypt. You see people getting information about how their government works in way that was maybe not always possible for them, and in a way that they could share and verify information. It has really made just a fundamental difference in the way that governments relate to their people. It really is amazing.
MORGAN: Thanks very much for that, Mark. When we come back, more on social media and the crisis in Egypt.
MORGAN: Back now to talk about the chaos in Egypt and the impact of social media. Joining us by phone is Sarah Sirgany, Cairo based journalist and news editor of "The Daily News" in Egypt. Sarah, you've had an extraordinary day where you've been basically reporting to the world via Twitter.
SARAH SIRGANY, EGYPTIAN JOURNALIST: Yes. It's -- I only was able to do that when I got back to the office. We were lucky that we have the only ISP that's working. So we have Internet access. But others don't. And we're trying to put the story out through getting information through land lines, because mobile networks are not working, and trying to relay them to the world.
MORGAN: Obviously, Sarah, the government has shut down the Internet. And if they knew what you were doing -- presumably they will at some stage -- your life could be in danger. It's been a very courageous thing for you to do. Are you worried about that?
SIRGANY: Not right now, because I think they have a lot to handle to worry about single reporters or single organizations. I think people like al Jazeera and CNN are doing a great job as well. And they are airing live footage of events from the street. And I think they're more worried about that. At one point I think state security went to the office of al Jazeera.
MORGAN: We're noticing that your Twitter account has been going through the roof as people have been streaming on to try and read your reports here. One of the interesting aspects about this whole thing is that the age profile of many of the protestors -- they're young. They're very into their social media. And they seem utterly determined, like you, to get the message out to a wider world.
It seems there's nothing President Mubarak can do to stop it.
SIRGANY: Yeah, but it's not only about that. What happened -- the good thing that happened in Egypt, there was a crossover from the virtual world to the real world. This morning, there was no Internet, no networks, yet tens of thousands went out into the street. They did not stop with the fact that they could not communicate with each other.
MORGAN: Sarah, have you ever seen violence quite like this? We're knowing that the death toll is rising all the time. Thousands of people are reported to have been wounded. What are you making of what you're seeing on the ground here?
SIRGANY: I think the police have always been violent, but we haven't seen it this way, and especially because we haven't seen this many people on the street at the same time. Protests usually attract a couple hundred people at best. But right now, since Tuesday, they've been attracting thousands.
And on Friday -- today, there were tens of thousands of people on the street. The police made it clear last Wednesday that they're not tolerating any -- any presence on the streets, any marches. They were tolerant for the first hour today, but then there were tear gas. It was very excessive. Then there was water cannons.
MORGAN: Sarah, I'm going to have to wrap you there. I'm sorry. What I want to say to you, though, is good luck with what you're doing. I think it's an courageous thing and we're finding out the news from you. That's a very creditable thing that you're doing over there. So good luck.