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THE SITUATION ROOM
Protests Continue in Egypt
Aired January 28, 2011 - 17:58 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news. Egypt's president breaks his silence as his country reels from days of violent protests demanding his resignation. But what he said just a little while ago is only fueling the outrage.
Also, did President Obama plant a seed for this uprising with his speech in Cairo? We're going to play some of that for you. You be the judge.
Plus, the Pentagon in emergency mode right now over the situation in Egypt. Why the U.S. military is deeply concerned about what could happen if the Egyptian government of President Mubarak falls.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
After several days of chaos across Egypt, the country's longtime president who protesters want out of power finally came out to address the nation. His message: let's start over. You saw it live only moments ago, right here on CNN. President Hosni Mubarak ordering the government to resign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I take responsibility for the security of this country and the citizens. I will not let this happen. I will not let fear to live in the citizen or to let them tell us what's going to happen in the future.
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 would say again, I will not be easy to take any -- to decide anything unless it's for the Egyptians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But he says he's staying put. He's not going anywhere -- the statement comes a day of -- full of violence across Egypt. It's been massive out there. A military vehicle seen rolling through a crowd of protesters in Suez, where one person was reported killed. In Cairo, look at this, sent to us by one our CNN iReporters, thousands of people marching along the Nile River bombarded with tear gas by police, some of them throwing the canisters right back at them.
And in another part of the capital, the headquarters of President Mubarak's ruling party burned and looted. Right now people are pouring onto the streets of Cairo, saying they want President Mubarak out despite an official curfew.
Let's go straight to Cairo. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the ground for us.
Fred, all right, set the scene. What is going on right now? It's after 1:00 a.m. in Cairo.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN BUREAU CHIEF: Well, it's after 1:00 a.m. in Cairo, Wolf. You're absolutely right.
But there's no sign that the curfew that is in place and has been in place since actually 6:00 p.m. is in any way being enforced. People are still conglomerating in front of Information Ministry, which we were talking about just a couple of minutes ago.
I would say that right now If I look over there's still a couple hundred people there. They're still chanting slogans. And they're clearly very, very angry at what they have just heard President Mubarak say.
People here have been telling me that they would really him to take responsibility, that they want him to step down. But essentially what he told meantime, today in his speech is that -- we just heard -- I am taking responsibility, but everyone else is stepping down.
And that's clearly not what the people wanted to hear. It's clearly not the case that they believe that there will be a new beginning with them or that the country can in any way be better with him. The other thing that he said is that he wanted Egypt to be an open society. Well, as you know, today they shut down the Internet here. They shut down cell phone services here.
And they obviously beat up on the demonstrators that were in the streets here. So clearly people not buying the message that he just sent in his speech, people very, very angry. And it's really something, Wolf, that they have been telling me throughout the day, that they want a new beginning, that they want change here in this country.
And they were also quite frankly talking very much about America. They said that they love America. People told me they really like America. But they felt that America was backing the wrong horse in Hosni Mubarak. They say they want to make their own decisions.
As you know, the movement that has been going on here in Egypt is not one that has had any religious sort of backdrop. It's not an Islamist movement. This was really a large swathe of the Egyptian society that was organizing via Twitter and Facebook. And they said that quite frankly now they want to choose their own leaders without any intervention from anywhere else -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Normally there are thousands and thousands of tourists in Cairo, elsewhere in Egypt. It's a very popular place for European, for American tourists, for tourists from all over the world. Are they out? Are they still there? What's going on? How safe are these folks?
PLEITGEN: Well, many of them are still here. You're absolutely right. There's a lot of tourists obviously here in Cairo. In the area around Cairo, of course, there's the Pyramids. And then if go further towards the east, towards the Sinai, you have the Red Sea and all the resorts there. So yes there's millions of tourists if you will here in this country, a very popular tourist destination.
Most of tourists are of course here. I'm many of them will be trying to get out of the country at this point. We don't have any reports that tourists have been harmed in any way, shape or form. But one of the things that we have heard is that at least in some hotels the security staff there and police around the hotels were trying to confiscate cameras, you know, even small personal cameras from people out of fear that they would show what was going on.
One of our crew got its camera taken away. Another crew that we had trying to get into a hotel here almost got its camera away. It was a very, very close call. So clearly the security forces have been clamping down. And of course the tourists have not been spared of that.
However, there are no reports that any of them have been harmed, but there are still -- I can tell you from the experiences that I have gained through the past couple days, there are still a lot of tourists both here in Cairo as well as in other places in Egypt. And clearly a lot of them want to leave, but a lot of them haven't been able to leave so far, Wolf.
BLITZER: I have heard some reports that some flights, international flights in and out of Egypt have been canceled. What do you know about that, if anything, Fred?
PLEITGEN: Well, we have sort of been hearing rumors from the airport.
For a short while, there was people saying that the airport would be closed for several hours. Some were saying 12 hours. Others were saying that several international flights had been canceled. It's really hard to get any confirmation of any of that.
But certainly right now it seems that a lot of things are up in the air here. But it is also the case, Wolf, that most things here in Egypt are still functioning quite well. We have been traveling the country over the past couple of days and the ports and the airports have been functioning quite normally. And it wouldn't surprise me if these things actually still kept functioning, especially now that at least nominally this government is still in place. And really what we always have to take note of is that these protests in no way were ever directed at foreigners, at tourists or at anything else but the government.
And they really in only very rare cases affected anything else but government institutions or been directed at government institutions. So clearly, most of public life in Egypt, if you will, is still functioning, even though of course the people are showing this great discontent with their leadership hat this point in time, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Fred, because we're going to be checking back with you.
The State Department here in Washington is warning all Americans about the situation in Egypt, urging against travel there and is telling Americans already in Egypt to stay put and use caution.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke bluntly about the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces.
At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.
The Egyptian government has a real opportunity in the face of this very clear demonstration of opposition to begin a process that will truly respond to the aspirations of the people of Egypt. We think that moment needs to be seized and we are hoping that it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Watching all of this unfold, our national security analyst Peter Bergen, along with journalist and author Robin Wright. She's covered the Middle East for a long time. We're going to continue showing our viewers these dramatic live pictures, some taped pictures of what's been happening in Cairo, Alexander, Suez, elsewhere in Egypt.
But we just heard a little while ago from Hosni Mubarak defiantly saying, you know what, I'm in charge. I will have a new government tomorrow. But there has to be law and order.
What will that do on the street, Robin?
ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Oh, I think we will continue to see protests. The fact is President Mubarak did the same thing that President Ben Ali did in Tunisia. Very -- at the end of the day, he had to say, look, there have been problems. I'm going to fire the government and we're going to start anew.
And it's too late to do that. The status quo in Egypt is finished. From now on, you either have to see dramatic change or this marks the beginning of the end of the Mubarak...
BLITZER: Even if the military stays loyal to Mubarak?
WRIGHT: The military is different from the security forces. The military has a long history of being from the people. And they are seen as heroes. The security forces are seen as the instrument of the regime in clamping down on opposition.
And I think the military has deployed in the streets but it has not yet fired at the people. And that will be what is the key in the days ahead, if they side with Mubarak and try to clamp down on the unrest or if they refuse to fire.
BLITZER: Is it only a matter of time, days maybe, that Mubarak is forced out?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I Mean, revolutionaries are inherently revolutionary and very difficult to predict.
And it would have been hard to predict, for instance, that Ceausescu would fall so quickly if you had gone back a month before.
BLITZER: In Romania.
BERGEN: In Romania.
Just as the 1979 revolution spread like a contagion, we're seeing some of that in the Middle East. In fact, we saw that in 1848 in Europe, where you had a similar kind of mirroring effect in different countries. But Mubarak, he's been a survivor. I think to count him out immediately I think would be premature.
As Robin indicated, it's not really clear where the military stands right now. In Egypt, when you travel there, the people like the military. They don't criticize the military. So clearly whatever the military decides is what will probably happen.
And the worst thing that a regime can do -- if the military starts shooting, then we know the answer. If they don't shoot, then there's the other answer.
WRIGHT: But the U.S. -- but the Mubarak regime has lost not only the support of its own people. It's losing the support of its allies.
And the statement both out of the White House and the State Department today was really very stunning, saying that these grievances must be addressed immediately, that the government can't use restraint against its people, that it had to give freedom of the press and the restore the instruments that have allowed these people to mobilize.
This is why with the economic problems Egypt faces, with tourism, which it depends on, with airlines now saying they're not going to fly in and with the stock market beginning to go down in the run-up to these protests, that there are a lot of other factors that will come into play as well.
BLITZER: And, quickly, Peter, the key question is, if Mubarak goes down, who replaces him?
BERGEN: Well, he's made it -- his whole career to make sure that there is not anybody...
BLITZER: He wanted his son Gamal, but we're now told he's out of the country, as is Mubarak's wife, maybe in London. We're not sure about that. But those are the widespread reports out there.
BERGEN: Obviously, Gamal will no longer become the president of Egypt, as was the plan. The Muslim Brotherhood obviously has a role to play. If there were elections tomorrow, they would do pretty well, maybe get a third of the vote. They're the largest force politically organized. There are smaller liberal secular parties, but they don't have anything of the same pull as the Muslim Brotherhood.
BLITZER: What do you think, Robin?
WRIGHT: I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood is a player.
BLITZER: Is not a player?
WRIGHT: Not a player in terms of who fills the vacuum. They do have only about a third maximum of the support of the people.
And what so striking about all these upheavals is that they're non-ideological and that the traditional opposition groups, be they secular or religious, have attached themselves onto this body of people after the fact, after they initiated it.
BLITZER: Robin Wright, thanks very much.
Peter Bergen, thanks to you as well.
President Obama's speech in Cairo two years ago on U.S.-Muslim relations, did that plant some seeds for this week's protests? Stand by.
And unique insight into the Egyptian police and military from a U.S. former homeland security adviser who has met with them on many occasions.
And as we go to break, a look at one oft dramatic scenes today in the street of Cairo as protesters clashed with police.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: These were the scenes earlier in the day in Cairo. Today, similar scenes in Alexandria and Suez.
Elsewhere in Egypt, the protests escalating, the hatred of the Egyptian president evident by these protesters, thousands of them taking to the streets.
The White House reaction to the breaking news in Egypt, a senior administration official reacting to President Mubarak's speech just a little while ago calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "hardly conciliatory and highly disappointing," that from a senior U.S. official. The official adding, "It's clear Mubarak thinks he can ride this out" and says -- quote -- "We're not so sure that is the right assumption" -- blunt talk from a senior Obama administration official.
Let's get some more now on the political implications of all of this.
Our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Candy, I will play a little clip of what the president said in Cairo, that big speech he gave back in June of 2009. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 4, 2009)
OBAMA: So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people, sets a single standard for all who would hold power. You must maintain power through consent, not coercion.
You must respect the rights of minorities and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise. You must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So some people are looking at that speech, Candy, and saying, you know what, he may have planted a seed as to what's going on right now.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly grabbed hold of what was going on there, because this is not particularly new.
Obviously, the level of it is. But we have long known that there was unrest in Egypt, because this is an authoritarian, very often repressive government. And remember that the president had in that room with him dissidents. They had invited in members of Labor. They had invited in members of the Brotherhood of Muslims. So they were quite aware of what was going on, and they were speaking to two different places. They were speaking to the street and they were speaking to the halls of power in Cairo. So it wasn't exactly prescient, but it certainly did frame what was going on in Cairo at that time and what is going on quite visibly right now.
BLITZER: We're expecting, by the way, President Obama to be making a statement momentarily. We have just been told by the White House that the president will speak on this very crisis right now within the next five minutes or so. We expect to hear from the president so we will of course bring that to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
We will get his reaction to what is going on. It sort of reminds me, and you remember this well, during the political campaign in 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination. She wondered about that 3:00 a.m. phone call. Who do you want to be taking that phone call?
This is one of those game changers in the world right now, potentially, what is going on in Egypt.
CROWLEY: In the world, yes, and less about internal U.S. politics more about global politics, because, look, this is a problem in Egypt and in other countries, Jordan, Saudi Arabia.
You have these leaders who are not exactly bastions of democracy, but who nonetheless are helpful to the United States. Hosni Mubarak has kept a cold peace with Israel for decades. He has been the conduit through which we talk to other less friendly Arab nations. He has also been helpful in the war on terrorism.
So you make a deal with who can help you and who can protect the United States. And for decades, that has been Hosni Mubarak. Now, when you see these sort of things in the street, and you understand that these passions that you have known were simmering have now boiled over, you pretty much have to look at what will be a new reality in Egypt.
And what are you going to -- who is next? And that's really the big question, because if Hosni Mubarak goes, who then comes in, and who can play that role? And, look, Egypt has also been very strong anti-Iran. So I imagine that there's probably no one happier at this point than the leadership in Iran looking at what's going on.
BLITZER: And we're waiting for president of the United States to speak. This is a serious moment for the president of the United States to show leadership.
But I suspect that a lot of U.S. officials think it also underscores the limits of U.S. power, how much influence the United States can have in affecting what happens on the streets of the major cities of Egypt.
CROWLEY: Exactly. And I think that's why you have seen -- everyone say, well, why hasn't the president spoken so far? This has been going on for a couple days. Because you have got to wait and see what happens. You cannot control Hosni Mubarak and you cannot control what's going on in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and elsewhere.
So, the fact of the matter is the U.S. has to maneuver around what's happening, because it really can't shape what's happening. Certainly it sent messages to Mubarak over the course of the last couple of days about let this remain peaceful and that kind of thing.
But the fact of the matter is that you cannot control the kind of passion that you're seeing now. You have got to try to shape it, so that on the other end of it, the U.S. comes out in a palatable position.
BLITZER: And President Mubarak was at the White House not that long ago, a few months ago. And they had what U.S. officials described as very good meetings, but obviously not necessarily perfect meetings.
Some analysts have suggested this is similar to what happened in Iran in '79. The shah of Iran was a close U.S. ally, but flawed. And a lot of people in Iran did not like him. And of course he was overthrown. There was a revolution. We know what happened then. And it became very, very obvious.
But as the shah was, from the U.S. perspective, what followed was even worse, decades of leadership by the ayatollahs in Iran. And some U.S. officials have said to me over the past few days they're deeply worried. As flawed as Mubarak is, they don't know what will happen next.
CROWLEY: Sure. It's the what if question. What if the U.S. had interfered more? What if the U.S. had pumped up the shah and said, yes, take to the streets, force this revolution back? Would we be dealing with the Iran we're dealing with now?
Well, the fact of the matter is, you know, the world isn't made up of what ifs. It's made of what did you do then. But you're right. I have heard that from more than one person today saying, boy, this just reminds me of what went on in Iran. What are we going to get next? And that's what they're talking about at the White House.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, our homeland security contributor, is here as well, former homeland security adviser to President Bush.
We're standing by, the president. You can see the live picture over there. He will be speaking from the White House momentarily. We will get his reaction to President Mubarak's speech to the nation just a little while ago and what's going on, what is next for the U.S.
But take us behind the scenes. You served in the White House for many years. This is one of those really, really delicate moments. FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right.
There's enormous pressure on the president. What people don't understand, whether we're talking Egypt or Pakistan, we have these allies who we give tremendous amounts of military and foreign aid to. But they don't always do what we want them to do.
And the answer is but they do some of the really important things for us. And when a president is confronted with a dictator who he may not agree with on human rights policy or political and democratic freedoms, but helps us protect the American people in the war on terror, he makes compromises.
And they will measure their words very carefully here. The fact that President Obama has not called President Mubarak speaks volumes. And that message will not be lost in Egypt. The fact that President Mubarak has called out the army and how they will react now in this near term after his speech will also be very important.
And the president, they will be measuring right now very carefully the words the president chooses to use. It's one thing when the secretary of state comes out. It's another thing when the president of the United States comes out.
BLITZER: Yes, the whole world will be watching. The world was watching President Mubarak. Certainly the people of Egypt were when he spoke shortly after midnight local time in Cairo, in Alexandria. And now we're getting ready, we're told momentarily, for the president of the United States to address the U.S. nation, indeed the world on what's going on.
Let me bring in Fred Pleitgen, who is watching all of this unfold.
It's now approaching 1:30 a.m. in Cairo. Fred, tell our viewers if the demonstrations outside your window where you're based are continuing or if it's quieted down.
PLEITGEN: They are still continuing, Wolf, but they're not quite as large as they were last time we spoke. It seems that people are dispersing a little bit at least.
And one of the things that you can always see here in these demonstrations, that people will come somewhere, but once the military shows up, it does tend to diffuse the situation quite quickly, because the military is an institution that just has so much respect here among the people.
And it was very interesting to see when the military sort of rolled in here earlier today. They were being celebrated by the people. And the people were chanting the people and the military, we are one. So, certainly, this is a much more respected institution than the other security forces, especially of course the police here in Egypt. But there are still people here on the streets. They are still quite angry of course at what they have heard from President Hosni Mubarak. And I can tell you that there will be a lot of Egyptians also waiting to hear what the U.S. president has to say about the situation, because that's one of the things that people keep telling me again and again and asking me again and again is what is the American president saying about this? What is America saying about all this?
Clearly they want to know where America stands, because they believe it will be very, very important to their future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, I know that they have really shut down effectively much of the Internet and the social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. But what about television? Is Egyptian state television showing any of this to the people there? I assume that folks can still get Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, and CNN International.
PLEITGEN: Yes. Obviously, we're all showing it.
But, yes, it was quite interesting to see that. Yes, Egyptian state television also did show that the protests were going on. It was something that many people here in Egypt found to be very, very remarkable, because it is something that normally isn't the case here in this country.
But it happened throughout the day that they were showing what was going on here on the streets. There were even some comments quite critical of the Egyptian president. So, certainly, yes, this is something that people are able to follow on TV.
And really there is no chance to black out what's going on here in this country right now. It's all on all international channels. So it's virtually impossible to stop that from coming out, which is why it was so strange for the Egyptian security forces to try and harass us, to try and harass other television networks, thinking that maybe they could stop the coverage of what's going on here on the streets, because clearly that wasn't going to be the case -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Fred, stand by. I want everyone to stand by. The president of the United States will be addressing the nation on Egypt momentarily.
We will take a quick break. When we come back, we will hear from President Obama.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: President Obama getting ready to go into the State Dining Room over at the White House. You're looking at these live pictures. He will be addressing the nation, indeed the world right now on the dramatic situation unfolding in Egypt as well as elsewhere in the Middle East. We will hear from the president. You will hear his remarks. We will go there as soon as he walks into the State Dining Room. We're following all the breaking news out of Egypt right now, where it's about 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning in Egypt right now.
Within the last hour, President Hosni Mubarak went on national television in Egypt, breaking his own silence about the days of violent protest aimed at ending his two decades of rule.
But President Mubarak is standing firm. He says his government will resign, but he gave absolutely no indication he's stepping down. And that has triggered yet more outrage on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Angry new protests are raging throughout major Egyptian cities.
Let's go to Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is there.
As we await the president of the United States, Nic, set the scene for us. What is happening in Alexandria?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People are still out on the streets here, Wolf. It's the young people that have led this revolution so far. They -- they certainly have the energy to stay up all night.
A young 19-year-old student, law student told us, after hearing what President Mubarak had to say that -- that he's just blamed the government. He hasn't taken responsibility himself. When he said we're going to keep coming out here and demonstrating until we get rid of the president and his regime.
Another 20-year-old student said that this wasn't enough. That let a new government form, but we're going to continue to come out and protest. If we don't like a new government that forms, then we will continue against them.
And another young student said, look, some of the MPs who have been forced out of their jobs were good. Some of them are bad. They shouldn't just be forced out of their jobs. Some of them should be arrested.
But again, the same message that they won't rest until -- until President Mubarak and his regime are out of office. Everyone here will be waiting to hear what President Obama says. Very keen to understand where the United States support lies. Is there an indication that whatever he says can add weight to their feeling that they would like to get rid of -- like to get rid of President Mubarak?
But it's been on the streets here the biggest dynamic, the biggest change we're seeing take place, the fact that the police were beaten off the streets. We were on a side street here in central Alexandria earlier today and saw that dynamic in play. That moment where the police realized they couldn't hold the crowd back and had to give up the fight. BLITZER: Nic, standby, because I want -- I want you to listen closely, and I want all of our viewers, in fact, to listen closely to the president of the United States. Within a few seconds he's going to be walking to that podium right over there in the state dining room. He's going to be speaking directly to all of us about what's going on in Egypt and throughout the Middle East right now.
For the United States, the stakes are serious. Very, very serious. Couldn't be more serious as far as Egypt and its strategic partnership with the United States is concerned. We'll see how far the president goes in expressing support or not for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who spoke just a little while ago, making it clear he's staying in power; at least will attempt to stay in power.
The Egyptian leader giving absolutely no indication whatsoever that he's getting ready to step down, although there have been reports, reports that his wife has already left Egypt, is in London perhaps. And that his son, Gamal, who had been widely seen as the heir apparent to President Mubarak, that Gamal Mubarak is also out of the country right now. We have not been able to absolutely confirm those reports. But they certainly have been evident.
Here comes the president. So let's listen.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, everybody.
My administration has been closely monitoring the situation in Egypt, and I know that we will be learning more tomorrow when day breaks.
As the situation continues to unfold, our first concern is preventing injury or loss of life. So I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell- phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
At the same time, those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully. Violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms that they seek.
Now going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt. And we've cooperated on many issues, including working together to advance a more peaceful region.
But we've always been clear that there must be reform: political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people. In the absence of these reforms, grievances have built up over time.
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. And suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people; a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens; and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.
Now ultimately, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. I believe that the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want: a better life for ourselves and our children, and a government that is fair and just and responsive.
Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization. The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future, and we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people, all quarters, to achieve it.
Around the world, governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens. That's true here in the United States. That's true in Asia. It's true in Europe. It's true in Africa. And it's certainly true in the Arab world, where a new generation of citizens has the right to be heard.
When I was in Cairo shortly after I was elected president, I said that all governments must maintain power through consent, not coercion. That is the single standard by which the people of Egypt will achieve the future they deserve. Surely, there will be difficult days to come.
But the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free, and more hopeful.
Thank you very much.
BLITZER: All right. You heard a pool reporter trying to shout a question to the president, but he walked out right away.
President Obama, a brief statement, but a very important statement, urging calm right now, urging restraint on everyone: the protestors and the Egyptian military and police, saying that everyone must refrain from violence right now. Egyptian authorities, he was specifically addressing them right at the top. Also urging Egyptian authorities to open up the Internet, the social networking sites, saying that there can be peaceful protests, urging the protesters to avoid violence.
This is a moment of promise, he says, that could emerge out of a moment of volatility.
Fred Pleitgen is our man in Cairo right now.
Fred, I assume you were listening to the president of the United States. You heard about an hour or so ago the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, speak out.
We just lost your light, but you can speak. We can hear you, Fred. So go ahead. Give us your sense of how this is going to play in Egypt, what we heard from President Obama.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm sorry. Our light just blew out here on the live position.
I don't think this is going to be enough for the protesters we've been seeing here today. What they've been saying is they would like to see the U.S. go away from Hosni Mubarak and declare that this is no longer their moment (ph). What we just heard from President Obama is that he's saying there needs to be more reform. There needs to be calm on the streets now. But that he is calling on Hosni Mubarak to implement those reforms. And that's clearly not something that many people here believe will happen. This man's been in power for 30 years here.
A lot of people here in Egypt, especially the younger generation the president was just talking about, have known no other president than Hosni Mubarak. And clearly, they're very dissatisfied with what they're getting.
People have been telling me again and again on the streets to them this is about social change: more freedoms, more rights. This is about having jobs. This is about having economic opportunities. This is about having opportunities in education, things that they say have been lacking across the board.
So certainly to a lot of the people that we've been speaking to, nothing short of President Mubarak stepping down would have been enough for them. Clearly, that's not going to be the case. They were expecting, they told me, a strong statement from America to the extent that America also felt that there needed to be change.
And you know, one of the other things that they've been talking about is they keep telling me America seems to think that, because Hosni Mubarak is their ally, this is the only person they can go with in Egypt. They say give it a chance, let the people find a new leader here, and then hopefully move forward as a beacon of stability and democracy for people here in this country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, stand by for a moment, because I want to play a little extra of what we just heard from President Obama, making the point that he just spoke with the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, on the phone. He wanted to speak with him before he addressed the American people.
And as a result, he said that when he spoke with President Mubarak, he urged him to exercise restraint and to address the grievances of the people of Egypt. Very, very carefully phrased words. Here's a little excerpt of what President Obama said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As the situation continues to unfold, our first concern is preventing injury or loss of life. So I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.
The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association; the right to free speech; and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights, and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, the president of the United States.
Nic Robertson is on the scene for us in Alexandria, Egypt. That's the second largest city in Egypt.
Same question to you, Nic. What the president of the United States just said, how do you think that's going to play, because it's the middle of the night right now in Alexandria and Cairo? But when daylight comes out, Saturday is a regular day in Egypt. It's the first working day of the week. How is all of this going to play?
ROBERTSON: People are going to look at what President Obama said. They're going to -- they're going to think about it, and they're going to reflect that he probably didn't go far enough for them.
There's no call here for national dialogue, for example. There's no demand on President Mubarak for free and fair elections. These are things that people here might have hoped for. They want -- they really would like to see and get a sense the United States is more behind the people and more prepared to be taken much further with President Mubarak than this appears to be at this stage. I think there's going to be a good degree of disappointment.
But the real thing people are going to wake up to on Saturday morning here is it's a very simple fact that President Mubarak says he's not going. He's just firing his government, and he's going to stay. And that's the challenge to the people and the protesters here. And that's what's going to rile them most of all. But they're going to disappointed they haven't heard more from the United States.
And there's something you hear circulate here at the moment here, Wolf, among the people, whether it's right or not, there's a lot of people here have heard the rumor that some of these -- some of these tear gas rounds that are being fired, fired from -- using U.S. cartridges, and although that's not something we can substantiate, that's certainly something people believe on the streets.
They really want to know where the United States stands, and they want the United States to stand behind them and their cause for democracy and all the things that President Obama listed there. But it's little things like this that's going to play on their minds, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson, I'd like you to standby. Fred Pleitgen in Cairo, stand by, as well.
We're going to take a quick break. The breaking news, though, will continue right here. It's unfolding on the streets of Egypt right now. We're not leaving the story. The stakes are clearly enormous. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Earlier in the day -- look at this, one of the bridges over the Nile River -- it got ugly out there. Protesters demonstrating, the Egyptian police responding. That's just one scene. Multiply this scene across Cairo, across Alexandria, across Suez, other cities in Egypt. The anger clearly surfacing right now.
We heard President Mubarak just a little while ago, saying yes, he's asked the current government to resign, but he'll have a new government tomorrow. He's making it clear, defiantly, he's staying in business.
We just heard President Obama say he just got off the phone with President Mubarak and urged restraint. Let's go to the White House. Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.
The words that the president spoke tonight, I assume, were very, very carefully crafted after a full day of crisis meetings going on.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This administration being very careful not to inflame the situation in Egypt.
And I don't know if you heard at the end of the president's remarks, I was in the room. I shouted at the president, asking him if it was time for President Mubarak to step down. The president ignored the question. But that's one thing the White House has not weighed in on, whether or not there should be regime change in Egypt, instead focusing on some of the issues that need to change, such as universal rights for the people of Egypt to reverse this blocking of the social media and phones there.
But again, staying away from that question as to whether or not the president of Egypt should step down.
One of the things, though, that this administration is looking at is reviewing over the -- over the last few days and looking forward over the next few days what the government of Egypt is doing, what the police, and also the military and police are doing there on the ground, and seeing how this could impact the aid that the U.S. gives to Egypt, including more than a billion dollars each year.
They want to figure out if any changes will, indeed, take place. But Robert Gibbs stopping just short of saying that there's a threat tied to the aid that the U.S. gives to Egypt, Wolf.
BLITZER: They're saying that the president right now fully, obviously, appreciates what's at stake for the United States in the aftermath, assuming President Mubarak were to leave or go down or flee the country or whatever. But no one really knows for sure. And I'm sure U.S. experts you've been talking to over at the White House and elsewhere, no one knows what's going to follow Mubarak if, in fact, he's forced to leave office.
LOTHIAN: That's exactly -- exactly true, Wolf. I mean, the situation now might look very grave, but no one knows what will happen if, indeed, he did leave, step down and flee the country.
The one thing that this administration has been very clear to point out time and time again is that Egypt has been a critical partner in the region when it comes to Mideast peace, when it comes to trying to get Iran to back off its nuclear ambitions.
So this is an important partner. But as you heard the president point out, that this is someone that they look forward to working with in the future, but realize that there will be difficult times ahead. Again, the unknown sometimes a lot worse than what you do know.
BLITZER: So what does the president have planned this weekend? Because I assume Saturday, Sunday, this situation on the streets of the major Egyptian cities and elsewhere is only going to escalate.
LOTHIAN: That's right. And this administration very, very concerned about the violence that's taking place there. The president getting up-to-the-minute information on what's been going on there, beginning with an overnight memo that was put together by his national security adviser, Tom Donlan.
And then this briefing that the president typically gets in the mornings on a whole host of issues, both domestic and foreign policy issues today focused solely on Egypt. We're told that that meeting lasted for about 40 minutes with his top national security advisers.
So the president will continue to get briefed on the situation there. And of course, that will guide what they do going forward.
BLITZER: Hold on a minute, Dan, because I want to bring on the phone the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Sameh Shoukry, who is joining us now.
Ambassador, this is obviously a tense moment. Give us your reaction, first of all, to what we just heard from the president of the United States.
AMBASSADOR SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S. (via phone): Thank you. But the president, of course, addressed the many issues related to the developments in Egypt and many of the issues that he did raise were also covered by President Mubarak, addressed to the nation this evening.
In terms of responding to the calls of the demonstrators for reform, for greater democracy, for economic development, for taking into consideration all of their aspirations.
So on many of the issues, both President Mubarak and President Obama addressed similar issues. And the President Mubarak indicated that he would be asking his new government to implement wide-range reforms.
BLITZER: Behind the scenes, Ambassador, U.S. officials tell us they were disappointed in President Mubarak's speech. Do you know whether President -- President Obama spoke with President Mubarak before or after President Mubarak's speech?
SHOUKRY: I'm only aware of what President Obama indicated in his statement. I took it that he spoke to him after his speech.
BLITZER: I did, too.
SHOUKRY: That was my understanding.
BLITZER: I did, too. And the question is, would it have been better if the president of the United States expressed his concerns directly to President Mubarak before President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people so he fully appreciated where the United States, for example, stands?
SHOUKRY: There have been communications during these last days, very direct communications between two governments where many issues raised by the president have already been conveyed.
BLITZER: How worried are you that what we're seeing in Cairo, and Alexandria and elsewhere, Mr. Ambassador, that these demonstrations will merely escalate Saturday on the streets, that a lot of people really were disappointed and angry at President Mubarak's statement?
SHOUKRY: Well, I think we have to monitor the reaction. I think it's too early. I don't have direct knowledge of what is currently on the street. And I think it is too early to assess. I think there is an expectation of what the new government, how it will be composed, and what the directions and the reform that it might declare. So I think it's better not to speculate.
BLITZER: What is next in line, though? And I don't know if this is going to happen. No one knows. If President Mubarak were forced to step down, leave office, who's next in line? Who would take over?
SHOUKRY: Well, again, that's rather speculative. But in terms of our constitution, the constitution clearly defines that the -- in the case the president is unable to undertake his responsibilities, the speaker of parliament undertakes that responsibility until elections are conducted in the span of 60 days. Again, this is a matter of constitutional law.
BLITZER: And one final question, Mr. Ambassador, before I let you go. Do you know the whereabouts of President Mubarak's wife and son, Gamal? SHOUKRY: I have no direct knowledge. Although Gamal was part of the NDP, the National Democratic Party's main body. He attended the meeting yesterday and was clearly visible in Cairo.
BLITZER: He was in Cairo as of yesterday. And Mrs. Mubarak, do you know where she is?
SHOUKRY: I have no direct knowledge.
BLITZER: You heard the reports that, at political headquarters of President Mubarak's party was ransacked, burned, looted today. You heard those reports?
SHOUKRY: Yes, I have. Yes, I have.
BLITZER: All right. So we'll stay in close touch, Mr. Ambassador, Ambassador Shoukry...
SHOUKRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: ... of Egypt. Thank you so much for joining us.
We're staying on top of the breaking news out of Egypt. What it means for the U.S., for the world. Our coverage will continue right after this.
BLITZER: They're watching all the breaking news in Egypt very, very carefully over at the Pentagon, which has very close ties to the Egyptian military. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us now with more on what's going on there.
Chris, set the scene for us.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of Egypt's highest-ranking military officers have now left the Pentagon and are rushing home to deal with the crisis there.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): While armored vehicles rumbled through Cairo's streets, some of Egypt's top military officials were huddled in, of all places, the Pentagon.
GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It would be hard to have ignored the fact that -- you know, that this was going on. And it wasn't ignored.
LAWRENCE: The high-ranking officers cut short their previously scheduled meetings with Pentagon officials to rush back to Egypt. But not before U.S. officials urged their Egyptian counterparts to handle protesters peacefully.
CARTWRIGHT: But the key activity here, I think, that's really important is to exercise restraint. And to do so, both on our part but also on the part of our counterparts in the Egyptian military.
LAWRENCE: And the U.S. has some leverage with its ally. Every other year, up to 10,000 American troops train with Egyptian soldiers, the largest military exercise in the region. The U.S. gives Egypt well over $1 billion a year in assistance. It's outfitted Egypt with fighter jets, Apache helicopters, M-1 tanks and surveillance equipment.
The last thing the Pentagon wants are those weapons in the hands of a government hostile to the United States.
KEN POLLACK, SABAN CENTER/BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: In some ways, that is one of America's worst nightmares.
LAWRENCE: But Ken Pollack at the Brookings Institution says it's not because the weapons are so sophisticated or will harm the U.S. It's symbolic.
POLLACK: Because it will once again be another major American ally whom the United States armed to the teeth, suddenly overthrown by a population that he repressed for so long and that the United States ignored.
LAWRENCE: It seems unlikely now. Protesters who fought police actually cheered the Egyptian army. And the militant Muslim Brotherhood is not controlling these protests.
But Pollack says 30 years ago, Iran's Islamic Revolution started as a middle-class revolt.
POLLACK: Revolutions are extremely unpredictable events. And the people who begin the revolution aren't always the people who wind up ending them.
LAWRENCE: There are more than 600 American troops in Egypt right now and a contingency plan to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Cairo. But the embassy staff has not asked for that, and military officials say the situation hasn't gotten to that point yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They always have contingency plans over at the Pentagon, and we're happy about that. Thank you. Let's hope they don't have to use them. Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence, our man at the Pentagon for us.
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