February 04, 2011

United States, Arab Leaders Walk Fine Line as Egypt's Power Center Remains Uncertain


CNAS Non-Resident Senior Fellow Marc Lynch talks to PBS NewsHour about the future of diplomatic relations between the United States and Egypt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to Egypt and the difficult diplomatic challenge the U.S. faces there.

To examine that, we're joined by Michele Dunne, a former specialist on Middle East affairs at the State Department and on the National Security Council staff. She is now senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of the online journal The Arab Reform Bulletin. Marc Lynch, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Washington University, he also writes a blog about the Middle East for ForeignPolicy.com. And Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, an Arab language satellite news channel.

Thank you all for being here.

There are so many questions at this stage, as we watch events unfold in Egypt.

Let me start with you, Hisham. What contacts do we know are there going on right now between Washington and Cairo?

HISHAM MELHEM, Al-Arabiya Television: There are contacts on the highest levels, particularly with Omar Suleiman, the new deputy of Mubarak, and with the military. I mean, I would like to listen the conversations between Robert Gates and Minister Tantawi.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The defense secretary.

HISHAM MELHEM: Exactly, yes.

Omar Suleiman, Tantawi, and the others are very well-known to policy-makers here in Washington. They have been involved in dealing with them on security issues, Arab-Israeli conflict, combating terrorism. So, they know each other extremely well. And the United States can influence the Egyptian army.

The Egyptian army knows that they cannot survive without continuing that kind of lifeline between Egypt and the American military here. So, there -- there is that toolbox that includes this -- this kind of special relationship.
And then the hope here is that there will be a transitional period.


HISHAM MELHEM: There is a new group of intellectuals called (SPEAKING ARABIC) the wise men, who are trying to -- you know, to mediate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And let me turn to you, Marc Lynch, with a similar -- what more you can add to what -- what are the contacts? Who is talking to whom?

MARC LYNCH, George Washington University: Well, I think they are trying to send the messages by every channel.
You have had the public statements by Secretary Clinton and by President Obama. You have had private phone calls to -- to directly to Mubarak and the people around him, to people in the military. They have had contacts the opposition. They're talking to everybody. And I think they're sending a pretty clear message at this point.

I think, maybe, before you got to the -- the horrible attacks on the protesters on Wednesday, I think that there was more wiggle room there in terms of what we could be offering, in terms of what an ordinarily transition might mean.

But after the president went on TV and said, it's unacceptable that you attack, that you use violence against the protesters, and then the whole world saw what happened, I think now there is really no choice. I think the message now has to be Hosni Mubarak really does have to go now.

Obama doesn't want to say that, because he doesn't want to be in a position of dictating Egyptian politics. But I think at this point, when we -- when we hear the words ordinarily transition beginning now, I think it really has to begin with -- with President Mubarak stepping down.

To read the full transcript, visit PBS.org.