Experts discuss the role social media and youth movements played in the revolutions throughout the Middle East, as well as the need to evaluate political solutions on a country-by-country basis.
K.T. MCFARLAND: Good afternoon. I'm K.T. McFarland, from Fox News, and I welcome you all to our forum on the latest developments in the Middle East.
But before we get into all the developments in the Middle East, there are several things. One, tomorrow's meeting is with the chief executive officer of Nestle, Peter Brabeck, and with Elliott -- Michael Elliott presiding.
And most importantly, of course, is turn off your cellphones. And don't just put them on vibrate, because the sound system here is sufficiently sophisticated that it will pick it up, and you will be so embarrassed. (Laughter.) So turn everything off, your cellphones, BlackBerrys, any wireless devices.
And I would like to remind all the members that the meeting is on the record. And that means the media can cover it, and anything you say can and will be held against you.
And CFR members around the country and the world are participating in this meeting via a password-protected teleconference, and so they will be able to ask questions as well. So not only is everybody listening to it, but everybody all over the world is listening to your questions.
Now, there's no pressure at all, so we will move right on to the topic, which is the developments in the Middle East. Joining us today are three really distinguished people who have been covering this from various angles all of their lives: Right next to me is Lisa Anderson. She is the president of the American University in Cairo, and has been really present at the creation of all of the uprisings in the Middle East. On my right is Thomas Lippman, who is the adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations out of Washington, and he's a long-time correspondent, foreign correspondent, in the Middle East with The Washington Post. And finally, on my far left -- although that's not meant to convey any thoughts -- (laughter) -- is our Al-Jazeera English correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin. And you will see everybody's bios, and see the amazing backgrounds people have.
I'd like to open it up by saying that, you know, if we had come to a brilliant Council on Foreign Relations meeting six months ago, a year ago, none of us would have predicted what's happened in the Middle East. And even those people who might have thought that trouble was simmering in different countries, certainly would have been astounded at the pace of change in the Middle East, and certainly again astounded that it seems to be breaking out in almost every country in the Middle East.
So I'd like to start with the lady who was present at creation, and that is Lisa Anderson from the University of Cairo (sic). This is where it all began. The question I would have for you, Lisa, is, did it begin with President Barack Obama's speech in 2009, or did it -- and some people say that it began with George Bush's freedom agenda and his speech in his second Inaugural Address, and Condi Rice's speech at your university.
LISA ANDERSON: I don't think it was entirely a reflection of the American University in Cairo, but I do think that the kind of values that an institution like AUC represent, of critical thinking and free expression and free speech and the kind of things we teach our students, were obviously deeply embedded in the -- both in Egypt and, before Egypt, in Tunisia.
So I think it's a -- it's a sense that this generation has lost patience with the fear that their parents exhibited during the last 30 or 40 years. I think the call for dignity was very evocative to many people. And so it wasn't just AUC; although, again, I think much of what we stand for was exhibited here.
MCFARLAND: Well, I want to come back to you and ask about an update on what's going on in Egypt. But I want to turn now to Ayman and say, was this a wildfire? I mean, we saw it in Tunisia, we saw it in Egypt. And now, you know, I've just come from Fox News, and we're now covering six revolutions in the Middle East. Is this something that we're going to see starting there, spreading throughout and -- and I'm going to then ask Tom where it ends.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. I think it's very safe to say that what we are witnessing right now is an awakening of sorts. And what is fundamentally changing is the relationship between the state and the citizens; whereby for decades the state was the sole proprietor of the citizens and their rights and their activities, what we are now seeing is an awakening of people. And that's why it is spreading.
What is happening is, as a result of information, as a result of satellite channels, media, new media, it is compressing and shrinking the time and space that it is allowing people to see what is happening in a village like Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, and then suddenly be inspired by it to organize an event and go to the streets on January the 25th and 28th.
I think it's safe to say nobody could have predicted what the catalyst of these revolutions was going to be. We who have been following it very closely could see for years that there was a lot at play, things were coming to the surface.
It'd be very false to think that Egypt happened overnight. It's been -- you know, organizations have been protesting Egypt for at least the last seven years, and they deserve that credit. But nobody knew what that catalyst was going to be in which you were going to break the fear factor and get tens of thousands of Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians, Bahrainis, Yemenis onto the streets to challenge their authorities.
MCFARLAND: OK. I'm going to turn now for the opening question and ask you, Tom, where are we a year from now? With all the change that's been bubbling, we seem to think that -- (laughter).
THOMAS W. LIPPMAN: You can -- you can never --
MCFARLAND: And when you give me the answer, we're going to talk about a contract -- (inaudible).
LIPPMAN: OK. You can -- you can never go wrong being pessimistic about the Middle East. (Laughter.) And I am, and I've learned the hard way, in 35 years, to be pessimistic about the Middle East. I think it's far too soon for any kind of collective euphoria about the outcomes. We don't know -- we don't know what we're fighting to achieve in Libya, for example. Who's going to fill the vacuum? We don't know what the political outcome is going to be in Egypt. I know Lisa Anderson won't agree with me on this, but I believe the army will reassert itself as the political process moves on. I think that some places these -- the forces of the uprising(s) will simply be defeated.
And so while it's entirely exhilarating while it's going on, the outcome will not be the same in each country. The issues are not the same. The alignment of forces is not the same in each country. And it's far too soon to say where we're going to be, because there were wild cards such as Iran where we don't even know exactly how they're going to assess this or what their response is going to be.
MCFARLAND: OK. Let me just jump to Iran now that you've brought it up. You know, I remember in 1978, 1979, the great euphoria when the Shah was toppled. And the scenes in Tahrir Square in Cairo were very similar to what people saw in Tehran 30 years ago, but yet that turned out really differently. Is this going to be more of the same? Or walk me through in any of these countries but particularly the ones that we've seen so far. And I'll throw this open to any of you.
You know, revolutions have three stages. First stage, you topple the dictator. Second stage, the reformers try to govern, and they're usually not very good at it. And then third act of the play, they either get their act together or somebody else comes in, as in the case of Iran.
What do you think's going to happen in Egypt? That's where everybody is looking now. They've got -- they've done stage one. They've done act one. They're in the middle of act two trying to figure out how to govern. And where does it go?
ANDERSON: Well, it's certainly true. I am more optimistic than Tom.
I think the -- in the first instance, I think it is true, as he pointed out, that this is a very varied region. We have tended, over the course of the last 30 years, to sort of see it sunk in stagnation with these aging rulers and so forth. And so as you lift the lid, you begin to realize how very different these countries are.
And so what happened to Libya is undoubtedly going to be very different from what happens in Egypt. And I think one of the things that we should be attending to is encouraging that differentiation. We don't have to think of these countries as all the same. And from that perspective, I am very optimistic about Egypt. I think there is a cadre of very well-educated, very thoughtful, very committed people who know how hard the slog they're in now is.
And in that sense, I think Ayman also is right here. You need to recall that this is a situation where people -- even though everyone was surprised by the spark, people in Egypt were prepared. They had thought for years and years and years about how they would manage; were they able to actually mobilize people into the streets; what would they do with them; how would they manage that and so forth and so on? So from that perspective, I think it's -- there's ample reason to be cautiously optimistic that there will be groups of people who are committed to developing new political parties, designing party systems, thinking this through in a way that is, as I say, very different from what's going to happen in Libya and in Tunis, for that matter.
LIPPMAN: I hope that turns out to be correct. But even if it does, it won't necessarily presage a similar outcome in Tunisia or Bahrain and certainly not in Syria, let's say. And so we -- to me, the important thing to remember is that none of these uprisings or whatever you want to call them is about us. And the interests to the United States are not necessarily going to be either damaged or enhanced by the outcomes of any of these countries except in the sense that we favor freedom -- free societies over repressive ones. I -- and I think, again, that's something else we can't judge yet.
MCFARLAND: Ayman, let me throw it over to you. What about countries like Syria, Bahrain, Yemen? Are these different scenarios in the Gulf, as opposed to North Africa or the Middle East?
MOHYELDIN: Well, I think when you look across the Arab world, with the exception of -- obviously Iran's not part of that. But when you look across the Arab world, there are transnational issues that a(n) Arab citizen in Libya is suffering from just as much as that in Syria, just as much as that in Bahrain. And that is, you know, they're very endemic: corruption, authoritarian rule, lack of freedom, lack of democracy, lack of accountability.
MCFARLAND: And demographics, right? They all have baby boom populations?
MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. I believe like 60 percent of the population in the Arab world is under the age of 30. So you get a sense of really what -- the forces that are shaping the region.
Now, what I would like to say, though, is that the problems are similar; the solutions are different. And for somebody to just look at Libya, part of the violence that we're seeing in Libya and why the revolution there was very different, you can't ignore the fact that Libya is a much more tribal society than that of Egypt and Tunisia. So if you're trying to understand why Tunisia went one course, why Egypt went a second and why Libya's going a third, you can't ignore the composition of these societies.
Now, you know, much to the chagrin of many people here, it would be very false to assume that the United States' foreign policy had a role in any of these revolutions except that it supported these regimes that the people hated so much. And so it was just a catalyst among many that triggered these revolutions. But in reality, every revolution -- and I think -- if I can just say very briefly that one of the problems I've been hearing in speaking to a lot of people is that they come and ask me and say, well, do you think that Egypt can follow the Turkey model; can -- you know, can Turkey be a good model for a secular Muslim country? And I think that's very sad, and I think it's tragic, because you don't want to impose models on other countries. Every country has its unique set of characteristics, and you really need these countries to develop their own voices.
There may be a rush right now to try to see, well, what role is the military in Egypt going to play; well, what role is it going to play in Tunisia; what's going to happen with the airstrikes in Libya. And the reality is you really have to give time for these people to actually develop themselves, develop their voices, build their own institutions, which they haven't been able to do for decades.
MCFARLAND: Let me -- let me go back to the Iran example of 1978, 1979. The same argument was made at that time, that we have to let Iran -- you know, the U.S. doesn't intervene, U.S. doesn't send military forces on the side of the rebels or to prop up the shah. The United States doesn't get involved in nation building, even -- though Iran was a wealthy country, but it didn't have any of those institutions that you're talking about, a free press, independent judiciary, political parties, et cetera. Is there a role -- especially if you think it's not a United States thing, is there a role for the United States in helping with what you're talking about every one of these countries has to do?
MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. I think the United States is a country that espouses values and ideals. It should really work on promoting those values and ideals over its interests. The sad reality of it is, it doesn't do that in the eyes of Arabs. When you go to the Egyptian street and Tunisia and Libya and Bahrain and Yemen, they will tell you that the United States espouses values, ideals, democracy, human rights, but every single foreign policy that is articulated vis-a-vis any of these countries works against those. That's why you had Mubarak in for 30 years, Libya for 42, Tunisia for 23 years, all very close allies of the United States.
MCFARLAND: Yeah, but let me ask Lisa. The one thing I was struck with when we watched Tahrir Square -- nobody burned the American flag. And you know, normally you think of a demonstration in the Middle East and that's all you see, is the American flag being burned. Yet in Egypt that wasn't the case. Why? If Ayman is right that the United States has been supporting dictators and these are revolutions against dictators, why were we not caught up in the same batch?
ANDERSON: I think -- I mean, in that sense, I think it is -- this -- these are intra-battles. These are battles for rights, for dignity, for access to information and so forth and so on that people finally feel that they are empowered to make those claims against their own government. And that permitted them to have a focus on the governments themselves, not on the external supporters of those governments and so forth.
I do think Ayman is right. People in the region do feel that the United States -- the policies have not been consistent with the rhetoric for years, that we support freedoms of various kinds and then we have simultaneously supported governments that repress those freedoms. But what was really wonderful and continues, in my estimation, to be wonderful about these stories now is, these are people who battling for their own rights in their own countries and think that they can design the institutions that will permit them to enjoy those rights.
MCFARLAND: So is there an American role in any of this, though?
ANDERSON: I agree that I think that --
MCFARLAND: An NGO role, or --
ANDERSON: Absolutely. I mean, one of the things that we're seeing already is that there are opportunities for the American University in Cairo, among others, to convene discussions about design of electoral systems, and thinking about whether parliamentary systems and presidential systems are more advantageous for certain kinds of transitions. And those kinds of discussions are the sorts of things -- they bring people from Latin America, they bring people from Eastern Europe -- all of those kinds of -- what the United States has stood for in backing transitions to democracy around the world, we can continue to do that. And I think that's the sort of productive role of supporting civil society organizations that are involved in those discussions. We can certainly continue to do that.
MCFARLAND: Okay. Let me turn to you, Tom. You -- you've been there, done that. You've covered the Middle East for --
LIPPMAN: A long time.
MCFARLAND: More time than we (have ?) to talk about.
LIPPMAN: Yeah, right. Right. (Laughter.)
MCFARLAND: And you've seen, you know, sort of spring uprisings; you've seen (hopes ?) come and go -- (audio break); you've seen Gadhafi for 40 years manage to cling to power, Mubarak for 30, the royal family of Saudi Arabia. And yet seen the Shah be toppled.
Is there something different about this --
MCFARLAND: -- or is this just another chapter?
LIPPMAN: Absolutely. Look, the Shah -- the Shah is really not a particularly good example in this discussion because the Shah was an was perceived to be a usurper who valued the pre-Islamic civilization of Persia more than he valued Islam. The Shah was an outlier in his own society.
I don't think that's true in the Arab countries that we're talking about today. And I certainly agree with Lisa that these are internal phenomena within the societies that have arisen in various ways. It's important to remember what these uprisings are not about. They are not about Israel, they are not about the United States and they are not about oil. They're about human dignity, about the participation of citizens in their own state and in their own economies and in the decision making about their lives.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the outcomes will be benign, either for them or for us.
MCFARLAND: Let me follow up on that. What you didn't mention is religion, and yet that's a part of the world that we think is driven by religion. What role does religion play if any?
LIPPMAN: Well, my two fellow panelists have been closer to events on the ground. I'm going out to Saudi Arabia in a few weeks, but I haven't been there for a few months now. But it seems to me that -- that's another thing that this -- that this collective wave of uprisings has not been about. It may yet be hijacked by religion the way the Iranian revolution was, but I think it's been instructive to me if there's one important major outcome of this entire set of events that hasn't been sufficiently analyzed, it's that this is a very, very serious and perhaps lethal blow to the extremists and the jihadis in al-Qaida who have been telling Muslims for generations that jihad and violent uprising is the only path to dignity for Muslims.
And now, that's been exposed as a sham and a hoax, as not the only path to dignity; in fact, it doesn't work as a path to dignity. It's been very important that this has not been religious.
MCFARLAND: Let me turn to you. Do you think that what these uprisings are showing -- either of you -- but particularly Ayman -- is this an ultimate narrative that's being played, that Tom's point that it's not -- that what this looks like is that it's not religious, it's not motivated by extremists -- it may be hijacked, but it has not started that way -- is this sort of an alternative narrative to say to those, you know, 60 percent of the Arab world that's under the age of 30, to say, look, there's another path that we can follow?
MOHYELDIN: Well, I certainly think it's not the narrative you would hear in the West, that's for sure. I don't think that it's the narrative. But for people who have been living in the Middle East -- in fact, if you look at the statements that were coming out of these leaders, you know, these dictators, as they were all falling, they would all wave their finger, look in the camera and say if you don't get me, you're going to get al-Qaida and you're going to get the Islamists. And they would use that to scare people in the West --
MCFARLAND: They're the bogeyman.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, and say that -- I mean, we heard it from Gadhafi saying that these are al-Qaida fighters that are fighting in Libya. We heard it from Hosni Mubarak saying that, you know, after me, there's going to be chaos in Egypt. And it's a scare tactic, but people in the Arab world were never convinced by that. They understand what religion plays in their lives.
And like it or not, the Middle East is a slightly more conservative society. That doesn't mean that you should be afraid of what religion means. Very ironically is that this revolution was not led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Tahrir revolution -- never once in the 18 days that I was inside Tahrir Square did I see a slogan for the Muslim Brotherhood. Never once did they wave the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood. There were Copts that were standing side by side by Muslims, young and old. It was truly a unique and unified protest.
So when people tried to project it ask, you know, well, is the Muslim Brotherhood behind this, is this an Islamic revolution, all of that was absolutely false. And the first people to attribute that or to attest that are the ordinary Egyptians that were standing there from all walks of life. Even the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which is even now -- in the post revolution has begun to express and shows ways of its -- you know, its metamorphosing, is actually undergoing some changes, because it realizes it is only a small sliver of the population. And they're, you know, playing to the new political reality that is emerging in Egypt.
MCFARLAND: All right. Let me go a little bit further on the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood? You know, we have the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, saying that it's now a secular organization, that's it's changed, it's eschewed violence.
And yet other people have said, oh, no, no, no, the Muslim Brotherhood is a wolf in sheep's clothing just waiting for the revolutions to fail, and then it's going to move in and hijack, as Tom -- as you just pointed out, Iran did. I'll throw it open to anybody.
MOHYELDIN: Well, I mean, I would measure it by their actions and their -- and their words. And since the end of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood said it's not going to field --
MCFARLAND: And this in Egypt. I just want to clarify.
MOHYELDIN: This is in Egypt, yeah. They said they're not going to field a presidential candidate and that they're only going to field up to 30 percent of the seats in parliament, meaning that they would never even have a majority in parliament if they won every seat that they contested in the upcoming parliament.
And it's saying that because they understand the concerns that Egyptians have towards them. They understand that they represent a small portion of the society. They also understand that a great deal of their popularity was inflated because of the fact that they were the only legitimate opposition to the Mubarak regime, and so therefore they recognize that not everyone who supported the Muslim Brotherhood for the past 20 years in Egypt is necessarily ideologically in line with them as much as they just dislike Mubarak.
So I think that the Muslim Brotherhood, like any other party, it can draw its ideological motivations from religion, but it's not necessarily going to be a religious party. In Israel, we have the Shas Party. We have the Christian Democrats in Europe. There's no reason why you can -- you have the AK Party in Turkey. There's no reason why you cannot have a Muslim Brotherhood Party in Egypt that participates and abides by the laws of a secular state.
MCFARLAND: Okay, Lisa, I want to ask you, so, you know, head fake by the Muslim Brotherhood or change of heart?
ANDERSON: I mean, one of the things that was very impressive on the eve of the revolution, actually, was the Egyptian reaction to the bombing of the church in Alexandria at the beginning of the year. And Egyptians were appalled. To a person, they were appalled by the idea that a church would be bombed. And it -- there was this enormous coming together of Egyptians, of Muslims and Christians, and you would see in Tahrir Square Christians protecting the Muslims when they were praying and Muslims protecting the Christians when they were praying. There was very much a sense that this was Egypt together.
And I think the Muslim Brotherhood saw that, and they had been reflecting on the challenges of the last 25 years. I think they don't know how much support they have because much of it was the only other game in town. They're trying to get a feel, a sense of what their genuine support is ideologically, as opposed to being the opposition. It's quite clear that a divisive religious sectarianism in Egypt today would be very unpopular.
MCFARLAND: Okay, I'm going to turn to you. Saudi Arabia is the jewel in the crown. That's where our strategic interest is. That's the oil. You're going there.
LIPPMAN: Well, you've got a -- you got a kind of battered, tarnished crown there. (This is what's doing it ?). (Laughter.)
All right. You want my two-minute speech on why not much is going to happen in Saudi Arabia?
MCFARLAND: So -- well, yeah, sure. I mean, what do you -- okay, so I would say --
MCFARLAND: -- do you think ultimately, though, is the strategic interest of the United States in the strait -- is this a proxy fight, for example, in Bahrain between Iran and Saudi, and then tell me how you think it will end.
LIPPMAN: The United States has important strategic interests, but absent opening fire across the Gulf, those interests at the moment in the Gulf are not at stake in the -- in these events, all right? Saudi Arabia is not to be confused with Egypt. It's a society in which the monarch, as an individual, is popular. The ruling dynasty is widely perceived as legitimate. They've been laboring to build a state in Arabia since the 18th century, and they get a lot of credit for that.
They have enormous financial resources. Hundred-dollar oil only enriches the Saudi state beyond -- they budget probably at $60, okay? Hundred-dollar oil -- you see what's happened. The king has now come out with what? Eighty billion dollars' worth of goodies for the population.
The -- furthermore, Saudi Arabia just emerged from a three- or four-year period of violence and shoot-outs in the streets in the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula uprising that began in 2003. They went through a period when shopping malls were locked down. They didn't like it. They didn't like demonstrations in the streets and activating the security forces.
They're an extremely conservative, family-oriented society who are taught from their first days in elementary school that Islam requires allegiance to the ruler, and a lot of them believe it. And the religious establishment -- yes, they're employees of the state. They can say what's -- eventually they do what the state wants them to, but the religious establishment has told the Saudi people that demonstration is not the way.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is not a static society. It's a very dynamic society where a lot of changes -- impelled from the top down, not the bottom up -- were already under way before all this happened. So in the short term, I don't believe you're going to see -- you're not going to see any kind of waving-in-the-streets spillover in Saudi Arabia.
MCFARLAND: What about eastern Saudi Arabia, because of the large -- the majority Shiite population in eastern Saudi, and, as you're seeing, you know, Bahrain, and is Bahrain playing out as some kind of Shiite Iranian involvement, and does it spread?
LIPPMAN: Look, you know, when the first -- when the first active-duty reporter called me the other day to ask me to talk about the Saudi forces going into Bahrain, I refused to comment because I didn't believe it. And I've since the learned the truth. This is a complicated story. There's been a demographic shift in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia as well. The Shia are no longer a majority in the Eastern Province.
The Shia -- if you got to Qatif and you talk to the Shia of Saudi Arabia, representative people in the community, business people, journalists, whoever, educators, they will all tell you the same thing: We are not and do not wish to be perceived as agents of Iran. We are Arab citizens. We want to be respected, equally treated citizens of our country.
So yes, there is a problem, and the Saudi government is extremely nervous at the prospect of a Shia takeover in Bahrain that would -- would be a stalking horse for Iran. But inside Saudi Arabia, I don't see that happening.
MCFARLAND: Okay. So stability in Saudi Arabia --
LIPPMAN: Well, what's your definition of "short term," you know?
LIPPMAN: I'd say short term is 20 years, okay? (Laughter.)
MCFARLAND: Try telling that to some 35-year-old kid in Tahrir Square.
Now let me -- let me just switch gears a little bit and talk about Libya, which obviously we've all been watching 24/7 in the last three or four days. U.S. military intervention, you know, part of a coalition, U.N. sanctioned, where is all this going?
Is this, as some say, America's third war in the Middle East? As Gadhafi says, is this the crusaders invading the Holy -- you know, invading North Africa and the Middle East yet again? Where does it -- I mean, how's it perceived, and where do you think it goes?
And is Libya just the first of our interventions, which I want to ask the two of you about?
MOHYELDIN: Well, I think there's two points to that. First, it depends on the longevity and the scope of the military operation; if we see it progress into a wider conflict with boots on the ground, so to speak, a larger military footprint. I think the concerns and the fears that most Arabs have that the United States is once again operating in a country known to have vast amounts of oil, for its own interest, is going to play out very much on the minds of ordinary Arabs.
I think a lot of people are questioning, well, you know, if Libya had a great amount of bananas to export after this, would America be carrying out airstrikes against Libya? And the reality of it is very few people can make the argument that, yes, they would be carrying out the airstrikes if Libya had amount -- a large amount of bananas instead of oil.
The concern here is that, you know, you look at it from an American foreign policy perspective, there's a great deal of concern that America has lost a lot of credibility and a lot of its currency to do good in the Middle East because of past military intervention. I think that's --
MCFARLAND: And that's Afghanistan, Iraq?
MOHYELDIN: Afghanistan, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supporting a lot of these regimes. When they look at American foreign policy engagement in the region, they don't feel that it's value driven. They believe it's interest driven.
And the problem there is that even when they want to do something good, like protect the people of Libya from a madman who's, you know, gone off the deep end, they're still considering it only because there's potential rewards down the line with these vast amounts of oil reserves that they'll be able to tap into.
MCFARLAND: Lisa, what's your take on that?
ANDERSON: Yeah, I think there is skepticism. On the other hand, I think there was, certainly in Egypt, a lot of concern that, you know, the kind of enthusiasm and energy and dynamism that one saw in both Tunisia and in Egypt was exhibited in Libya and was being crushed before everyone's very eyes. So there really was at least widespread sentiment that there needed to be some kind of intervention, that it was just really wrong to see that government be able to destroy the kind of uprising that was the same sentiment, the same, you know, desire for dignity, the same kinds of things that had just succeeded in the neighboring country.
So on the one hand, I do think that there is considerable anxiety that this is actually a fairly cynical maneuver on the part of the international community. But, you know, at some point -- and this was expressed in the Arab League -- I mean, clearly the Arab League had to make a choice between that anxiety about maligned international intentions in Libya and so forth and concern for the people for the people on the ground and concern that this was an opportunity unlike, you know, 1986 when the United States bombed. This is an opportunity to really make a difference in Libya, to end a regime which had been brutally oppressing people for decades now.
So yes, of course people are anxious about the outcome. And I think it would behoove us all to be thinking about the outcome at this point. What will happen when the guns stop? How is that country going to be knit together again? Who is going to be responsible for helping the Libyans do that? They have spent 40 years under a regime that deliberately disorganized the country. I -- much of the tribalism you see today is induced by that government.
So we need to think seriously and systematically about that, but I think there was a sense that the alternative would actually have been worse. And in that sense, this is the beginning of an era, where the United Nations' commitment to have a responsibility to protect civilians is coming into play. And people on the one hand want to see that even with this kind of anxiety.
MCFARLAND: OK, Tom, you pointed out before we opened the session that -- when I asked you about the United States, that this is a new kind of war, a new kind of intervention; that America's gone to war before to protect civilians, to do self defense, to do pre-emptive self defense with Iraq. But other than Kosovo, this is the first time we've intervened in somebody's civil war to protect somebody else's citizens.
LIPPMAN: Right. And the fact is -- I agree with Ayman that there -- at least in the short run, some people may be glad that we're saving lives by doing this, but a lot of people will wonder, what does the United States really get out of this? Why are they doing it?
It's less than five years since we and the Brits got together to de-louse Gadhafi in the first place.
LIPPMAN: Remember? This guy -- this guy was at the bad end of the bad for 30 years, and we cleaned him up; reopened the embassy, sent the oil companies back there, right? What exactly does the United States get out of this? It may be a new kind of war, but it's situational ethics. There are other places where atrocities are committed every day. We might even start with Cuba and talk about places the United States is not going to go to.
MCFARLAND: Yeah, because, for example, more people were killed in Yemen last weekend than in Libya.
LIPPMAN: And in the -- and in Ivory Coast.
MCFARLAND: And the Ivory Coast.
Okay, well, I've had it with you guys. I think we've all survived. And now it's your turn to go at them. You have three of the best experts around. So I would say, let's throw it open to the audience, and people will be walking around with traveling mics to -- so if you could please stand, state your question, and maybe it would be nice if you could tell us who you are.
Lots of questions. Let's just start in the front row and work back. And then also say if you want to direct a question at anybody in particular.
QUESTIONER: Stan Heginbotham, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.
Lisa, you're a political scientist. You know a tremendous amount about both Libya and Egypt. What are you watching in terms of organizational development, which it seems to me are critical in the coming years? What kinds of things are you watching to see proto organizations turn into effective political parties and movements in both countries?
ANDERSON: Well, once again, I think there's ample room for optimism in Egypt. I think there is a quite sophisticated understanding that, you know, what we call civil society is important in the expression of aspirations for dignity, aspirations for participation. People don't participate except through organizations and so forth.
So I think people -- again, in Egypt, I think there are -- there's a very good sense of that and a good -- you know, people are trying to figure out, after having no -- for all intents and purposes -- opportunity to create organizations like that; how do you do it, what is the legal environment that enhances organizational development and so forth?
One of the things that everybody has remarked on in Egypt was the springing up of citizen watches as soon as the police disappeared. There was an astonishing -- even to Egypt -- even to Egyptians -- to see themselves having this kind of community spirit that they had not expected in themselves. And there's clearly opportunity around that. People are beginning to think about their neighborhoods. They're beginning to think about their schools. They're beginning to think about kinds of -- (inaudible) -- for organization.
So it's not just politics. It's very ordinary kind of life that people are, you know, kind of grasping for how do you do a parent teacher association, how do you do a neighborhood watch that's constructive, that helps us organize our own participation in our own social and public life? So I think there's a lot of that. And I'm, as I say, very optimistic about that. But --
MCFARLAND: So what they need are community organizers, right? (Chuckles.)
ANDERSON: Yeah, lots of community organizers.
ANDERSON: No, I mean, but the -- on the Libya side, I think there's virtually nothing like that. This is a country where, as I say, the government deliberately disorganized people for 40 years. The only source of solace in that country for years was family, which is why you see tribalism. There's no other nationwide network at all, no economic networks, no unions, no, you know, political organizations, so forth and so on. So, literally knitting it back together is going to be a project.
MCFARLAND: OK. Let's start over on this side. Want to work the front and start working back, and then maybe we can line other people up on this side, too, sort of preposition the mic. We've got another two questions in the front row.
Yes, please. And identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, I'm Evelyn Leopold, the U.N.-based journalist Huffington Post contributor. There was a problem in Libya this morning that perhaps you could comment on. Gadhafi's compound was bombed -- I believe by us. I wasn't sure right when I came in.
MS. : British.
QUESTIONER: By the British. And the Arab League is having second thoughts about their endorsement of this. And we won't even mention the African Union, which has been split 65 ways to --
MCFARLAND: Thanks, great. Thank you.
Do you want to try this one, Ayman? This is sort of your neck.
MOHYELDIN: Sure. The Arab League, I think, doesn't represent the Arab street. That's the number-one thing. And more importantly, countries on the Arab League are afraid that if Gadhafi is, you know, attacked by the Americans, why not Bashar al-Assad, why not other leaders of -- why not Ali Abdullah Saleh, who just accused the Americans and Israel of being behind this plan to oust him. So I don't think the Arab League is any indicator of values that people are, you know, concerned about.
They're -- from day one, the Arab League has put itself in this kind of, you know, no-fly zone straitjacket. On one hand, it said it supports a fly zone, it's against foreign military intervention; but it requires a foreign military to impose the fly zone, which no other Arab country can actually impose. So in (sic; on) one hand it's telling the international community: Come, impose this fly zone, but no military intervention. So I think it's -- I wouldn't put too much weight on the Arab League.
The Arab League really was more important for the West's military intervention, that they could actually look and say, we have the blessing of the League of Arab States. But I think, in short, I wouldn't put too much credit on what the Arab League has to say.
MCFARLAND: OK, the lady in the front row.
QUESTIONER: Laura McLean with the Africa American Institute. As you -- I guess this is for Ayman -- as you survey Western media coverage of the situation in the Middle East, where do you think we're getting the most nuanced, informed coverage? And what would -- where is -- (laughter) -- what are the blind spots?
MCFARLAND: Are you sure you don't want me to answer that question? (Laughter.) OK, Ayman, go ahead.
MOHYELDIN: I'll go ahead and say Fox News.
MCFARLAND: There you go. (Laughter.) Bingo.
LIPPMAN: Take a look at this morning's New York Post, where you can read about "Madman Moammar." (Laughter.) That's how they refer to him.
MOHYELDIN: Listen, I think, you know, with all due respect to my colleagues in American media, American media tends to be extremely hyperactive. It's so competitive that it's driven to constantly reinvent ways to sell the story, as opposed to actually just stop and listen to the story. I would encourage you to go to aljazeera.net/english.
MOHYELDIN: Because, unfortunately, you aren't even able to watch Al-Jazeera English in the United States, which I think is a huge travesty. You know, Al-Jazeera English, for the 18 days of our coverage in Egypt, we had a live camera on Tahrir Square. It was the most basic, simple form of journalism: a live picture showing you the thousands of people there and letting the people there speak for themselves; sometimes so basic, you wouldn't think it's going to get you a lot of ratings, but it turned out to have increased the number of viewers on our website by 2,500 percent -- at one point more than the actual website of The New York Times. And I believe the vast majority of that is here in the United States. So it's an indication, this kind of notion that Americans are not interested in international news is false; that they don't have an appetite for something that's slightly slower paced, more engaging is also false. So I would -- that's -- you know, for obvious reasons, I'm telling you to go to aljazeera.net for -- (inaudible).
MCFARLAND: OK, the commercial's over. (Laughs.)
MOHYELDIN: No, but I will say this.
MCFARLAND: But you were a rock star. I mean, the coverage of Al-Jazeera English was spectacular.
MOHYELDIN: Well, thank you very much. I --
MCFARLAND: The commercial and the commercial endorsement are now over. (Laughter.)
I want to turn to Tom, and we've got a question from Thomas McNeice (sp) in Houston, Texas. And he says: How likely is Iran to instigate unrest in the Shia-majority oil-producing countries, in Saudi Arabia -- as you've just talked about -- but Kuwait and then southern Iraq? We haven't talked about Iraq.
LIPPMAN: Well, look, first of all, it's very difficult -- I haven't been in Iran in quite some time, okay? But it's very difficult to say who is actually pursuing what strategic objectives in Iran. I mean, I believe that the Iranian revolution is not finished. There's a great deal of internal turmoil in Iran. And while certainly there's a -- there's a strong influence, the Iranians are in a position -- if you read Vali Nasr's book, you'll see that he talks about a Shia -- a regional Shia uprising, you know, a regional Shia revival.
There are a lot of reasons why the Iranians don't want to make trouble on the Arab side of the Gulf, most of them, I think, economic. If you go to Dubai, you'll see big Iranian banks functioning in daylight. Not a lot of places left in the world where the Iranians can do that.
MCFARLAND: You mean because of the economic sanctions?
LIPPMAN: Correct. There's a reason why the Qataris are doing gas deals with Iran across the water and not with their immediate neighbor, Saudi Arabia. They have economic ties that transcend some of these other issues. And remember that when you talk about the disruption of energy supplies coming out of the Gulf, no country is more dependent on the flow of energy than Iran. And so, yes, there's a potential for troublemaking, but I think circumspection may prevail.
MCFARLAND: Okay. Let's go to the New York audience, this gentlemen here. And then we're going to go to the back of the room and work forward, okay?
QUESTIONER: Xavier Cronin with Energy Intelligence Group. This is for Tom, please. Do you believe the U.S. has any plan for restructuring Libyan society after Gadhafi is gone, I mean, or is it going to be patchwork?
MCFARLAND: And then I would expand that to say not just the U.S. but the coalition, right?
And then secondly, unrelated question: Do you think the U.S. will release oil from the strategic reserve? Will -- is it going to be $4 gasoline price? At what point will say they let's release a little oil?
LIPPMAN: On the second question, I certainly hope that they don't attempt to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a price lever. There's no shortage of oil. That's not what the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is for. I disapproved of it when Clinton did it, and I hope they won't do that. It's not necessary. There's plenty of oil. And this is a subject on which I'm a contrarian. How much would it cost you to buy a gallon of coffee at Starbucks? So I don't want to talk about -- (laughter) -- I don't want to talk about the price of gasoline, okay?
As for whether the United States has a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Libya, I don't think we have a strategic plan for getting to Thursday, to tell you the truth. (Laughter.) And I say that not in -- I don't say that gladly, but if you ask me, there's a policy vacuum where United States national strategic -- where the National Security Council or the State Department or some organization ought to be.
There's a reason why the most influential regional policymaker, when he was at CENTCOM, was David Petraeus, right? It was because somebody had to do it. So I just don't see -- the answer to your question is no, I don't believe there is a plan.
MCFARLAND: But you think there should be.
LIPPMAN: Look, if you're going to -- heaven knows, didn't we learn in Iraq if you're going to intervene in some place, you ought to know what you're doing and why and what you're going to do if -- what happens if you win, right? (Laughter.)
MCFARLAND: Much less if you lose.
MCFARLAND: Let's go to the very back of the room. There's a lady on the -- in the last row.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Wendy Luers from the Foundation for A Civil Society. This is both for Lisa and Ayman. You're saying, on the right, that you -- we should not impose on the people who have to make the decisions for themselves. Lisa's saying that you're convening experts and people from other countries who have lived through these kinds of transitions. How do you reconcile -- what is the best avenue in the -- in the minds of both of you to come in and see if you can use a Czechoslovak or a Latin American model -- and not a model, but if you can use the people from those countries who've lived through it?
ANDERSON: Well, one of the things that's already beginning to happen at AUC is that we are running programs almost daily with people coming from Latin America, coming from Eastern Europe, talking about their experience with organizing labor unions in Hungary and so forth and so on.
There's a huge interest in what other people's experiences have been in circumstances which may or may not be similar. But, you know, there is a lot of -- there's a great audience for that kind of thing.
And the thing that's also very appealing is that there's a lot of willingness on the part of people from Eastern Europe and Latin America to come and share their experiences. So these aren't necessarily academics. Some of them are, but a lot of them are the labor organizers or the people who founded political parties and so forth, who want to come and just talk about that and say: If this is useful experience to you, we're offering it to you.
And AUC happens to be conveniently located to convene a lot of that and so forth, so we've had, you know, full houses on things that were very technical questions about, you know, constitutions and electoral rule, so forth, bringing these sorts of people together. We expect that will happen all the way through the spring and well into the summer, and probably through next year. So it's a way of bringing that experience usefully, without necessarily saying we have any particular view of how that discussion within Egypt should, you know, end up. But these are people who can -- you know, you can think out loud with them. And it's been very fruitful already.
MCFARLAND: So this is -- if I can just summarize, so what you're saying is that you give the tools, but not tell them what to do with the tools.
ANDERSON: Exactly. Exactly.
MCFARLAND: OK. Ayman?
MOHYELDIN: I couldn't agree more. I mean, very briefly, it's really all about people-to-people interaction, in the sense that you have the know-how in countries that have experienced this. Even in the United States, you have civil society organizations that are, you know, very capable at partnering up with their Egyptian counterparts.
The thing about Egypt is -- you know, as we're hearing, is that Egypt is a country that has had organizations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society, and even within the government, on paper at least, functioning organizations. So you even had like the General Auditing Office, which was very capable at, like, keeping track of where mismanagement or corruption was happening. Of course, over the years it's been usurped, but there's nothing wrong with having that kind of partnership with the IRS or with others and the know-how to learn how to kind of get these government institutions back up and running, and running at a good speed.
But what I think the problem is, you don't want to have the United States as a matter of policy say to the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, say: We think the six-month timeline is a very achievable timeline for you to hold parliamentary and presidential elections. That's not a good policy decision, and that's what I mean by imposing. There's nothing wrong with them saying: You know what? We have these organizations. We have the National Democratic Institute, the IRA. We're going to help you with some political pluralism activities, civil society election monitoring. And here's the know-how to do it.
MCFARLAND: OK. In the back, the lady in the very back, yeah. Your -- look to your left.
QUESTIONER: This is Eva Tannenbaum (sp) from German paper Die Zeit. This is a question for Ayman. What do you say about the statement that without Al-Jazeera, there wouldn't have been any -- no Tunisian revolution, and then also the other revolutions, since Al-Jazeera repeated and repeated the same images and was the one encouraging to focus on the fruit seller, and not the -- not the fruit seller who was oppressed in Qatar, but the fruit seller who was oppressed in Tunisia. Would you agree with this?
MCFARLAND: How many people do you have asking questions on your behalf here? This is pretty good, Ayman -- it's the Al-Jazeera cheering section. (Laughter.)
MOHYELDIN: Well, the --
QUESTIONER: And then the second question --
MCFARLAND: Well, no, I think only one. That's a good one. OK.
MOHYELDIN: Well, first of all, the, you know, Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire; the one in Bahrain didn't. And that is the catalyst in this -- or in Qatar, I should say. The one in -- that's a very good point, but I will say this. Al-Jazeera I do not believe was the catalyst to these revolutions. I don't believe that Al-Jazeera was the voice of these revolutions. I think Al-Jazeera was a microphone to the protesters who wanted to express their voices and at no point could they find an outlet. So just like the Tunisian fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire because he had, you know, suffered so much, lived a life that had completely been deprived of dignity -- he did it to express himself -- the revolutions needed that vehicle to express themselves.
That's why I subscribe to the notion that these were revolutions powered by information -- not by satellite, not by Facebook, not by Twitter, but because of information. These are the first revolutions we are witnessing in the information age. And it's because of information that has shrunk space and time, that has allowed the people in Egypt to see what happened in Sidi Bouzid and say: You know what? We, too, are suffering from these problems. We'll go into the streets to do it.
I mean, there were five or six people that set themselves on fire in Egypt. That didn't trigger the revolution in Egypt, because it was a very different dynamic. But when people saw the images -- and I think, you know, a great deal of our footage -- I don't -- I don't want to quantify it, but I could certainly say in countries like Libya and Tunisia at some point it must have been at least half to 75 percent of our footage was viewer-generated content, meaning it was people sending us the footage. People were sending us the footage of what it was. It wasn't Al-Jazeera cameramen that were filming it.
And so that's why I don't think that Al-Jazeera was a catalyst for these revolutions. I think it amplified and it, you know, made visible what was happening on the ground.
MCFARLAND: OK, another question. Let's go to the gentleman in the back.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible) -- Trajectory Asset Management. What's going to happen in Bahrain, and how much does it matter? This is for Tom and Ayman.
MCFARLAND: Tom, why don't you start? We haven't heard from you in a few seconds.
LIPPMAN: Well, I think in the short run you now have a predominance of firepower and armed manpower, either deployed by the government or there in support of the government. The Saudi forces and the UAE police are there with what appears to be a specific mission to reinforce the government of Bahrain and try to quell things down.
That will not address the underlying situation that led to this trouble in the streets in the first place. And I -- again, Bahrain is another country where I think it's much too soon to say what the outcome is going to be, because you can -- you can -- you can suppress individual demonstrations, you can tear down that monument in Pearl Square, but I don't think you can put the idea genie back in the box. People have now seen the power of the street, the power of protest, the power of information. And I don't know whether -- as long as the prime minister remains prime minister, you're going to have an unresolved conflict between people and state in Bahrain.
MCFARLAND: Can I exercise the chair's prerogative? Can you talk about the 5th Fleet headquartered in Bahrain? Is there any effect on us?
LIPPMAN: Well, it's an important interest of the United States. The 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. I have not heard the Bahraini protesters complain about the 5th Fleet, have I?
MOHYELDIN: No, absolutely --
LIPPMAN: No. I mean, that's not what this is about. A lot of people work there, right? The 5th Fleet has -- like the United States itself, has not been the issue or even an issue in the Bahraini uprising.
MCFARLAND: Okay, let's throw it out to another question. The gentleman furthest to the right.
QUESTIONER: This is a question for Lisa. Brodrick Dockery (sp).
MCFARLAND: Identify yourself, please.
QUESTIONER: Brodrick Dockery (sp). In Cairo, what exactly needs to happen to rebuild economically and sort of move the needle on Egyptian GDP? Thank you. (Laughter.)
ANDERSON: Well, first of all, people have to get more confidence than they have now that things are beginning to start again in terms of the opening of the stock exchange, the resumption of tourism, so forth and so on. All of that in turn requires a little more confidence in the security and stability of the countryside, if you will.
I mean, the withdrawal of the police was quite a shock to people. And it has taken some time for that, even within central Cairo, to really resume a sense of security and safety. In some of the rest of the country, that still has yet to be repaired. So I think there are some kinds of basic law-and-order questions that come first.
I do think the challenge had been in Egypt that a lot of the basic raw numbers on GDP growth had not been distributed throughout the population in a way that people found satisfying or even equitable. So the challenge is how do you resume those numbers but not have it be at the -- basically all at the top, that the -- much of the development, much of the investment and so forth and so on had gone to a quite narrow part of the population. So now how do you be more inclusive?
It is not probably coincidental that the minister of finance is actually a labor economist. And I think there is a concern that on the one hand, yes, we have to get the investment coming back, we have to have the stock market reopen and so forth; but we also have to have employment and job creation. And that is the sort of long-haul. And I don't think that's the Achilles' heel of the revolution, but I do think it's going to be one of the big challenges over the course of time.
MCFARLAND: Okay, we have time for just one more question. And I think the topic that I'd love to entertain -- we haven't heard anything about Israel. Does anybody have a question either about Israel or about something that hasn't come up yet? No. Okay.
LIPPMAN: Good. Excellent. (Laughter.)
MCFARLAND: Let's take the one question here in the middle, the gentleman over here.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Rod Shepardson from SS+K. You talked about the disproportionate number of young people in Egypt, yet it doesn't seem that they're coalescing around a political candidate yet. Is that true? And if so, why?
MCFARLAND: Who do you want (that to ?) -- Ayman to answer? Anybody? Or everybody gets one last shot at this.
MOHYELDIN: I think you're absolutely right. I think the young people who are behind the revolution in Egypt are not sold on people like Amr Moussa or Mohamed ElBaradei. I think they understand the roles they played, more so with ElBaradei, but ElBaradei is still in of itself a very controversial figure.
A great deal of criticism was directed towards him for being somewhat of a shuttle activist over the past year, coming to Egypt, going back to Vienna, going to London. And so people thought that he wasn't on the streets day in and day out fighting with them, even though he was among the most vocal and most adamant critics of the Mubarak regime from day one, to his credit.
I think people like Amr Moussa, unfortunately, people view them as well as coming too late into the game. They were very much all about self-preservation. Now that the regime has collapsed, they want to throw their hat in the ring.
I think the problem in Egypt is that you still have a very -- sadly, a very patriarchical society whereby it's all about which one of these elderly statesmen has produced the most in their lifetime or saved or sacrificed the most. And that's why I think the young people are not connecting with them, because when you look at -- you know, the problem you always hear in the Middle East is these leaders are -- they always try to have a monopoly on service: I was the one who fought in the '73 war. I protected Libya for 40 years.
And they kind of, like, have that exclusively to them, as opposed to anyone else. But the youth now are saying, no, we have done and fought and sacrificed for these revolutions in our country, and we will choose who we want.
That's why you're not seeing this kind of coalescing around a certain individual so far.
MCFARLAND: Now, I've got to -- I think we have to cut it off now.
MOHYELDIN: I'm sorry. I didn't --
MCFARLAND: No, no, that's fine, but we have to end promptly at 1:00 or I think we all turn into pumpkins or something.
But I will ask, will all of you be able to stay? We have the luncheon reception --
MCFARLAND: -- from 1:00 to 1:30. And I think any one of our guests, our speakers, Tom Lippman from the Council on Foreign Relations, formerly of The Washington Post; and Lisa Anderson, who's from the American University in Cairo; and Ayman from Al-Jazeera will all be thrilled to answer your questions if you want to grill them as we go to the luncheon room.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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