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updated 1/31/2011 9:39:18 AM ET 2011-01-31T14:39:18

Guests: Howard Fineman, Richard Engel, Marc Ginsberg, Robin Wright, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Abderrahim Foukara, Michael Singh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Trouble in the Nile.  This is HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

           

MATTHEWS:  Serious business tonight.  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Leading off: Unrest in Egypt.  Egypt‘s President Hosni Mubarak went on TV about two hours ago and said he would reform and form a new government over there, dumping most of his officials, his cabinet, most of his leadership.  We‘ll see if that‘s going to satisfy the protestors.

Here at home, President Obama spoke to President Mubarak on the telephone and moments ago, he went before the cameras with this message for that man, President Mubarak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  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 protestors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me right now is Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, who‘s American ambassador to Morocco.  I also have Howard Fineman here.

It‘s an amazing moment.  Marc, you‘re the expert for that region.  I‘ll get to Howard for the presidential end of this in a moment.  It seems to me he‘s taking sides with the peaceful demonstrators, the president of the United States.  He‘s clearly marked out our position is with peaceful protest and oppose any violent attack by the army on the protestors tomorrow morning.

MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO:  Chris, if that‘s the interpretation that Hosni Mubarak and his government has, then, in effect, what the president is going to be interpreted as doing is having thrown his entire regime under the bus.  And I don‘t believe that that‘s the case.  I think there‘s been more careful calibration and probably more behind the scenes diplomacy.

Why?  Because if that‘s the interpretation of the Egyptian government, there‘s going to be far more survivalist mentality that will creep into that regime and they will indeed deploy the military in a far more aggressive way to survive.  So, I don‘t really think—I think that the president is probably playing it a little too cute by half because if he‘s saying this publicly but saying something different privately to the president, then you‘re going to see a more careful calibration.

But if he‘s saying this publicly and privately back to Hosni Mubarak, and Mubarak interprets this as basically an over-the-cliff mentality on the part of Washington, you may see a far more determined regime to basically crack down rather than implement reforms as quickly as possible.  And frankly, Chris, just one other thing: this government has shuffled the deck chairs of government and prime ministers time and again.

Don‘t be fooled here.  Just saying that he‘s going to replace this current government is not going to satisfy these demonstrators because most of those ministers are viewed as people who are in the back pocket of Hosni Mubarak.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take these two points, Marc, and interpret them as you can given your history over there, working the Middle East and your studies over there—one, the president of the United States, as I said, has called on Mubarak.  We have to assume, or at least I do, he said the same thing on the telephone, if he‘s double talking them or giving them two faces, we can‘t be sure of that.

Let‘s assume he‘s saying the same thing on the phone as he was saying on television just a few moments ago.  He said, “The government of Egypt, the president of Egypt should refrain from violence against peaceful protestors.”  Do you have any equivocation on that, Marc?  What do you make of that?

GINSBERG:  Whether or not he orders the military to take more violent action against the demonstrators.  And frankly, Chris, that is going to depend on whether the Muslim Brotherhood and ElBaradei basically tell the demonstrators to confront the military.  There‘s been a somewhat ceasefire that took place in the streets as Richard Engle reported a little while ago.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GINSBERG:  That demonstrators refused to tackle the army and the army refused in effect to take on the demonstrators.  If that bet is off, you‘re going to see a far more different situation on the ground, and that‘s where the situation gets even more complicated.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to that point.  Tomorrow morning, at daybreak, a few hours from now, in Cairo, we have the question: will the people on the streets respect the authority of the army, not just their power and their guns?  Will they show true respect for the authority, historic authority of the Egyptian army?

In other words, the army that gave them their democracy as it‘s been to the extent they have one, at least their government overthrowing King Farouk back in the ‘50s—having had the leadership to take on Israel, all the respect it‘s gained over the years?  Will that show itself in the streets tomorrow?  What‘s your judgment?

GINSBERG:  My judgment is that the army will not want to turn on the people of Egypt and use violent means in order to suppress the demonstration.  But if the army believes the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a far more front bench view here, it doesn‘t make any difference what have ElBaradei says.  The army realizes that ElBaradei is somewhat of a lone wolf politically.  He may have the support of the demonstrators in the streets, or at least a significant number in terms of democratic voice.

But there are other heroes of democracy that have paid a far better bitter price for their views than ElBaradei.  It all depends on what other people say in the streets.  Most likely it depends on what Ayman Nour, the most important democrat that‘s been jailed by Hosni Mubarak.  It also depends on what other presidential candidates emerge.

Remember, any call for new presidential elections here is also fraught with all sorts of danger, because the instability of the streets is being fuelled by money, Chris.  Not only from Iran, but also from Islamic extremists who view this as a momentous status quo in Egypt.

MATTHEWS:  How did you get that report?  How do you know about the role of money and what we‘re watching in Iran?

GINSBERG:  Because information that the Israelis had taken over in 2008 when they invaded Gaza, Hamas had been able to in effect obtain a great deal of money from the Muslim Brotherhood that traced that money back to Iran.  There‘s a lot of money changing going on here to fuel this.

MATTHEWS:  But do you know that‘s the case in this situation we‘re watching?

GINSBERG:  I don‘t know for a fact—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GINSBERG:  -- but I‘m surmising that there‘s a lot of money that‘s going to be flowing across a lot of bank accounts in order to keep this going.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s my question.  Are you surprised that our president, Barack Obama, became so interventionist as to tell his partner, as he calls him, President Mubarak that they should open up the telephones over there, open up the Internet that they have closed to try to stop the spread of this revolution?  Are you surprised he got that particular on the phone?  It sounds like he did with the president.

GINSBERG:  Well, I frankly find that surprising.  And I frankly find that a little disconcerting.  I think the president really has to be careful.

We‘re not going to earn kudos in the streets by most of these Egyptians who already view us in the back pocket of this regime.  If we think that on the backs of these demonstrators we‘re going to be able to reform the image that the United States has in the Middle East, even in spite of the president‘s Cairo speech 19 months ago, Chris, you can bet your booties on it that that‘s not going to happen.  These demonstrators do not view the United States as their ally in this cause.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Howard.  Hold on there, Marc.

Howard, it seems to me, we have to look at our president here.  Weren‘t you surprise the president of the United States coming out with such particularity?  Now, Marc, the ambassador, suggests there might be a two-faced aspect to this.  I don‘t think so personally because it can be checked so quickly if the president is giving different messages.

His message on television was, “I want you, Mubarak, our partner, to relent.  Do not fire upon peaceful demonstrators.  In fact, give them a chance to organize by opening up the telephones and the Internet.”

I have to assume that Mubarak is telling him, you‘re telling me how to run my country?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think the president is following the lines of the speech he gave ironically enough in Cairo in which he took the side of democracy and social ferment, if you will, in the Arab world.  And I think at a key moment here, and by the way, we have to understand that we‘re watching something we never used to see, real diplomacy, high-stakes diplomacy in real times—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  -- within minutes on a global stage, practiced in a public way.  This president looked at himself, looked at his values and said, this is what—this is where I stand.

Now, the question is going to be, if we end up with the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, then the president is going to be called to account for the commitment he made.  But he‘s hoping, and I—he‘s got to have some kind of end game here, they‘ve got to understand where this is going.  If Mubarak is out, who‘s in?  ElBaradei probably doesn‘t have the public support.  The ambassador would know better than I, but as I‘ve said before, you know, ElBaradei has more roots in Vienna now than he does in Cairo.

Is there somebody in the army that we don‘t know about?  That the American military and Israelis and everybody else are looking at as a possible successor for Mubarak?  Who would that be?  We have no idea who that person might be.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) word for a democratic president and diplomacy.  Do you think that part of his thinking, although it may not be ruling him, our president, Mubarak—President Barack Obama is probably right now thinking, I‘m going to lead to democratization in that part of the world.  It‘s tricky.  I will take heat if this revolution takes the wrong direction, if it goes too far.  But I‘m going to risk criticizing Mubarak on national and international television, as I just did.

GINSBERG:  Chris, listen, we all want to basically support the street.  All of us empathize with the demonstrators.  But the fact remains that this is largely an unorganized movement on the part of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Egyptians.  As Howard said, waiting in the wings perhaps is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Maybe in a free and fair presidential election, you‘re not only going to have a Brotherhood candidate, perhaps ElBaradei, but the military‘s candidate, Howard, is going to be more likely than not the head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, who is going to be the person who is going to basically won for president.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to President Obama.  Let‘s get back to President Obama.  We heard him a few moments ago—for those who missed it, here‘s our president talking about what we‘re watching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There he is, calling upon our ally, a partner, Mubarak, to make political change.  He‘s telling him to not be who he is.

FINEMAN:  Yes, but the problem is, or potential problem is, that Mubarak could call his bluff here, unless we know what follows on.  Now, the ambassador just mentioned somebody from out of the intelligence operation of the Egyptian army, I‘m not a close student of this.

But the president and the people in the White House and the national security people, and Tom Donilon and everybody, they‘ve got to know who else there is who can move Egypt in the right direction, without the whole thing blowing up.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s our candidate?

FINEMAN:  Who‘s our candidate?  I have no idea who that is.

MATTHEWS:  Marc, you know who our candidate would be in a wide open situation, a chaotic situation like this, we have to sort of choose sides in real time, like we‘re doing.

Look at this.  How do you pick a leader in that?

GINSBERG:  Well listen, the problem is that we have to choose the worst of the evils.  There isn‘t a candidate that largely has the political apparatus behind him to be the true democrat that is going to emerge.  Now, I‘m hoping that maybe—maybe a democrat that has the following of so many people who‘s been jailed by Mubarak like Ayman Nour can emerge, because he has a political party behind him.

But the biggest political party, the most established apparatus in that country that has been both underground and above ground in the opposition is the Brotherhood.  And let‘s not forget, no matter what ElBaradei or the demonstrators want, the largest political apparatus in that country in what is largely a pro-Islamist society is the Brotherhood and not some secular nationalist government.

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is what we know right now, those of us joining right now.  That country we‘re looking at right now is going to bed.  They‘ll be getting up in a few hours.

The telephone system in the country has been taken down, eliminated basically by the government.  The Internet system in that country has been taken down.  They don‘t want any communicating going on in that country.

They want to clamp down tomorrow.  They‘re bringing in the army.  It‘s now in charge.  They‘re hoping, I think, that the historic credibility and prestigious of the Egyptian army which has really been the force for that country‘s independence and sovereignty all these years in its battles with Israel, as we know, will have that moral authority to calm things.  We will see.

Thank you, Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and Howard Fineman.  We‘ll be right back with much more on the unrest in Egypt when we return.

Plus, we‘re going to go to Cairo for a live report from Richard Engle. 

You can‘t have a better man than we‘ve got over there.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator):  Egypt is the biggest country in the region in terms of the population, geographical location.  It is the state of institutions governed by the institutions and the rule of law.  And we should be cautious and aware of the many examples around us, which drove people to chaos and mayhem where they gained no democracy or stability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s President Mubarak a couple of hours ago, giving what is really the Egyptian equivalent of “The Silent Majority” speech that Richard Nixon gave in November of 1969.

Anyway, long time diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright joins us now.  She‘s with the Woodrow Wilson Center.  And also, U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks in New York.  He‘s a Democrat, a member of the foreign affairs committee.  Thank you so much.

He‘s on the phone, but there‘s Robin Wright right there.

Robin, give me your interpretation of what‘s—who those people are in the streets and what do they want.

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON CENTER:  This is very striking, the common denominator in Egypt and Tunisia and now in Yemen as well is that a body of people who are non-ideological.  They‘re not reflecting necessarily the Muslim Brotherhood.  They have come from the streets genuinely.  They cross all elements of society.

They are—they don‘t have a leader.  This is what‘s so striking about they want.  They are—they have emerged in partly—in part because of what‘s happened in Tunisia.  And they—it‘s been shown now that people power can make a difference in bringing down a government.

I think we crossed a threshold today, not only in terms of seeing the opposition inside Egypt, but also the turning point for the United States.  The U.S. sent a very strong message to Cairo that the Egyptian behavior in repressing its own people and cutting off communication were no longer acceptable, and that reform had to happen not just down the road but now.

MATTHEWS:  And so, they are the people you meet in the streets of Egypt if you travel there as a tourist, visiting Egypt.  You meet a lot of working people.  They wear western clothes.  They don‘t seem particularly religious in their politics.  They have jobs but they don‘t make enough to really make it in the world.

Do they have an alternative in their minds as they demonstrate to Mubarak?  They want him out, they want him gone.  They want those posters down with their faces on them.  Do they have another face they want up there?

WRIGHT:  Not necessarily.  I suspect you‘ll see a wide variety of opinions.  But Egypt faces a presidential election this year and that‘s one of the reason there is such spirit behind this.  Egyptians are sending a message that they don‘t want President Mubarak or his son Gamal to be candidates in this election, that they‘re looking for something different.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve seen you travel all over the world quite courageously, Robin.  And I‘m always impressed with your ability to get into the story here.  And I mean this.

Let me ask you about this: Is what‘s finally happening in Egypt, it‘s finally seized up?  Everybody now knows the game.  As General Colin Powell once said to me, whatever they call themselves in the Middle East, they all want their oldest son to be their successor, whether they call themselves Baathist or monarchists or Islamists, it all comes down to that same thing, prime janitor (ph).

He wants Gamal in there, the military sees that, they don‘t like it. 

He really doesn‘t have support across the board like he did.

Is the military loyal to him now in terms of the succession, do you believe?

WRIGHT:  That‘s the big question.  And the reality is that the army is not just one body.  It‘s—the leaders may be loyal to Mubarak, but what about the rank and file who see their cousins and brothers and sisters and some mothers even, out on the streets protesting against Mubarak?  And are they going to be willing to shoot if ordered to do?

We saw the military deployed today.  That was a very important turning point.  Only twice before in Egyptian history, or a modern history, in 1977 and 1986, was the army deployed on the streets.  And this is the third time.  But will they be ordered to shoot?  If so, it will be very interesting to see whether the army will.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get to that daybreak question again in a moment.  I want to bring in, right now, U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, who‘s on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much.  U.S. interests here, what are they?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK (via telephone):  Yes, well, the U.S.  has a lot of interests here.  And, you know, we talk about instability in the Middle East, and Egypt being our biggest—one of our biggest allies along with Israel.  But, of course, you know, young people will have their voice.

And when you look throughout history, you see young people who are the ones who become discontent with what status quo and freedoms are not there.  And so, they go to the street.  And I think that‘s what you‘re seeing there in President Mubarak.  You know, and I know, we as a country, and I know a number of times that I visited him in Egypt or when he visited us here in the United States, I said there needed to be some change.  And it gets to a point where it boils over and young people are the ones that make change happen.

They made it—you know, we celebrated Martin Luther King‘s birthday here in the United States and my great colleague, John Lewis, who was in Washington.  He was only 17 years old during that time.  They made change.  And the young people in Egypt are now saying they want change.

MATTHEWS:  Do you feel like you know President Mubarak personally enough to know who he‘s rooting for here?  And I mean that seriously.  Is he rooting for those young people in the streets, the lower middle class who have worked over there and not gotten a break?  Or is he rooting for the old coalition the United States has between Israel and a compliant Egypt?  Who‘s he‘s rooting for?

MEEKS:  But you got to think that he is somewhat rooting for the old guard because that will keep him in power.

Now, he‘s always said at the few times, and I don‘t know that personally, I know him when he comes in, his concern has always been the Brotherhood.  And anytime you‘ve had that conversation, the Brotherhood always comes up.  And he says, you ought to need to look into it and that will be the threat to the United States of America.

However, you know, we‘ve got to deal delicately because we don‘t hurt any Brotherhood (ph) segment, but we said that maybe we should be picking a candidate.  That is something that we will talk about has to be done by those same young people and now, older people who are afraid to step up—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MEEKS:  -- but now will step up because the young people have.

MATTHEWS:  What about our president, President Obama?  Do you think the president has a sympathy there for those nonviolent protestors?  He seems to be supportive of democratic demonstrations as long as they‘re not violent.  He wants to see that government of Mubarak bow to those reasonable demands.

It seems to me that‘s what he‘s saying.  Just listen to him say this:

don‘t use violence by the military against those people with their legitimate demands.

Do you hear the same thing, Congressman?

MEEKS:  I absolutely hear the same thing and I think the president is right on by doing that.  As I said, I join the parallel, you know, a number of times I do, in our own history in talking about nonviolence.  And nonviolence can make the change, lead those young people in the streets, ask them to be nonviolent and if the military and anyone else continues to be violent against them, that will be there for the whole world to see and all good people of goodwill will then stand up and support them.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKS:  Be nonviolent, but be vocal.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I hear.

MEEKS:  Absolutely right.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  I think we hear the president—I think the president is being very transparent.  It‘s an extraordinary situation, Robin Wright, having covered diplomacy over the years, to have the president of the United States hear the president of Egypt say something he didn‘t really like because he thinks it‘s the old argument, the old defensive arguments of not changing, getting on the phone to him, talking to him for half an hour apparently, perhaps pleading with him, perhaps warning him, and then going right on national television, worldwide television and saying what he just said to Mubarak.

This is extraordinarily transparent, isn‘t it, Robin?

WRIGHT:  Oh, I think in many ways it‘s unprecedented.  And it‘s really saying to the world and putting Mubarak on notice, we will hold you accountable.  Everyone knows that tomorrow is a pivotal day.  Friday was the Muslim Sabbath.  People could turn out.

Tomorrow is a work day and if people turn out on the streets again, despite the fact that the military has been deployed, this will tell us that this movement has real legs, real momentum.  And that Mubarak‘s future really isn‘t out.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.  Robin Wright, you‘re fantastic.  Thank you for joining us, from Wilson Institute.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

We‘re going to have much more on this Egypt unrest as it continues. 

We are reporting in real time on something we don‘t know where it‘s ending.  And we‘re going to have Richard Engel, the best person we could have over at the streets of Cairo.  But he doesn‘t know and nobody knows how this is going to turn at daybreak tomorrow.  Will the army have the authority to quell the riots?  Or were the riots challenge them with violence?

And then we‘re going to see perhaps lethal action by the military.  We don‘t know what‘s going to happen in two or three hours and neither does our president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us again.  He‘s on the ground in Cairo.

Richard, what did you make of President Obama?  It seemed like he was taking sides with the peaceful demonstrators, saying to Mubarak, you‘ve got to be—you‘ve got to relent, you‘ve got to hold restraint.  No shooting at peaceful terrorists—peaceful demonstrators, and you‘re going to have to do that or we‘re not going to be on your side anymore.  It seemed like he was saying that.

What did you make of it?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  From here in Cairo, it sounded a little different.  It sounded like the United States was giving him a pass, frankly.  It sounded like the United States said, well, as long as you don‘t go out and massacre the people and you do a lit better on the reforms we‘ve been talking about—and what exactly the reforms are is unclear to a lot of people—then, you know, go ahead and stay in power and we‘ll still give you $1.5 billion a year.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about the—what about—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Yes?

ENGEL:  They‘re on.  They‘re on.  They just opened up.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

ENGEL:  It was flooded with messages.  That happened as I was waiting in your last commercial break.  The BlackBerry service and cell phone service were switched back on.  I haven‘t had a chance to check the Internet, but I assume that‘s back on, too.

So, already, we have seeing something.  But this isn‘t real change.  The Egyptians had this yesterday.  They have it back now.  I don‘t think that‘s going to fundamentally change the equation, but it is showing responsiveness.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s going to show causality, too, because the president of the United States says, let‘s turn on the telephones, turn on the Internet and they turn them on.  Most people will say there‘s a connection.

ENGEL:  And here they are—they might.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—

ENGEL:  They could also—they can also say that the Egyptians just turned them off because today was a big day of scheduled protests.  It was a day of rage, something that they had planned for in the morning.  They had pre-positioned all of their vehicles around the country.  They were—when we woke up in the morning, even before the protests started, there were armored vehicles set up on corners and the phones were off. 

So it could have been a tactical thing.  I‘m not sure if you could necessarily say the president, you know, told them to turn the phones and then, you know, let there be light and there is light. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of light, how many hours now before daybreak and the action begins tomorrow morning between the army and the protestors?

ENGEL:  I‘m not sure if there is—if that‘s going to happen tomorrow.  Certainly not—well, if today was any indication, not between the army and the protesters, more likely between protesters and police. 

There are no scheduled protests tomorrow.  People will undoubtedly come out.  There will be small protests, I suspect.  People might decide they‘re going to keep pushing it.  Now, I could be totally wrong on this, but in Tunisia, it took about a month for this to develop and for the president of that country ultimately to be forced out. 

Protests do need to regroup to a degree and figure out what worked and what didn‘t work.  There may be some protests tomorrow.  I‘m not sure if they‘re going to be on the same scale.  I wouldn‘t say that it‘s going to be like today and it‘s going to—they‘re going to keep push to have the government gone. 

They might pull back and see what happens in the next few days, three, four, five, six days.  It‘s not over, but I‘m not sure if it‘s going to end tomorrow, either. 

MATTHEWS:  Interpret, if you can, what you think the people in the streets heard from Mubarak today and what they heard from Obama.  What do you think their reaction is, or their interpretation of those two presidential remarks in the last couple of hours?

ENGEL:  You could practically hear the eyes of 8 million people in Cairo rolling in their sockets.  They‘ve heard this many, many, many times from the Egyptian president.  We‘ll do better, more reforms, more democracy, and they haven‘t seen anything. 

And then they‘ve seen from the United States, well, you know, we‘re serious, you had better do it this time, and nothing ever happens.  So people—this is not a speech that is going to convince many people that suddenly the world has become more sincere and more concerned about the citizenry of Egypt. 

MATTHEWS:  So check me on this, as an American based here who spent very little time in the world that you know so well, when I hear our president say, don‘t fire on peaceful protestors and open up your telephones and open up your Internet and let the people who are collaborating against you organize themselves and begin to make political change, give people greater freedom and justice, is the president siding with the demonstrators against the government?  Or is he playing a game here?  What do you think he‘s doing here? 

I thought he was taking the side of the demonstrators, urging some kind of significant political change in that country. 

ENGEL:  I didn‘t hear a lot in the direction of significant political change.  I heard a lot about reform.  And that is one of these very squishy words.  I don‘t think the United States wants to see a massive upheaval in Cairo and in Egypt in general.  These have not been terribly successful in Iraq.  Egypt has been a stable country.  It has been a country that has been—played a large role in keeping the rest of this region intact.  So.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s true. 

ENGEL:  . yes, give the people a little more freedom, don‘t treat them so badly, and don‘t cheat on so many elections, but I don‘t know if that‘s necessarily calling for a revolutionary—or a revolution in society here, or if that‘s what the United States really wants. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s just a difference in interpretation.  If he was talking about me the way he talked about Mubarak, I wouldn‘t like President Barack Obama today if I were—but you heard it differently. 

We‘re going to keep trying to interpret it.  Richard, you‘re the expert, I bow to that.  Thank you so much for joining us.  I‘ll see you in the morning, I guess. 

Much more on the Egyptian protests, we‘re going to get the view from the White House in a moment and the outcome President Obama is looking for.  That‘s what we‘re looking for, what does our president want and what do we want as Americans? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  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 also 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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, tonight we‘re in the middle of a real story in a real part of the world that matters to us in a very deep way, the Middle East, and, of course, our long-time ally Egypt.  Chuck Todd is NBC‘s White House correspondent. 

Chuck, you‘re very good as a reporter.  Is this too hard to report right now?  What is the inclination of our president with regard to this turmoil in Egypt? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, what was fascinating was watching the White House today act like us.  All they were doing was monitoring the situation any way they could, whether it was with Al Jazeera, whether it was watching Egyptian television, which they got wired in via their own satellite feeds. 

They were at a loss for information for about the same amount of time as we were.  They had their secure uplinks with the ambassador—with their own ambassador in Cairo, of course.  And so they were getting some—a little bit better information than we were, but not much. 

And then it was later in the afternoon, about 4:00, where the decision was made, the president needed to speak, he needed to tell Mubarak that he was going to.  And then that‘s when they found out Mubarak was going to speak.  And then they organized, and that‘s when they had that conversation.

But, Chris, I can tell you, you know, if you‘ve watched the language over the last three days, you know, at the beginning, they were trying to give Mubarak more of the benefit of the doubt.  And I‘m not going to say that they‘ve given up on him, they haven‘t.  But they‘re a lot more nervous.  And I think that‘s what you can see in the president‘s statement, which was laying the groundwork for what could be. 

You know what, we‘ve given you everything—we‘ve given you as long as we can give you, Mubarak. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way it‘s getting to be interpreted here.  And I just wonder whether there‘s another interpretation.  How did you read his very clear statement, open up your telephone system, open up your Internet, stop interfering with legitimate political protests, do not under any circumstances use lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. 

He was tying the hands of Mubarak.  He was saying, don‘t do certain things and we want you to do other things, a real kind of calling it in from the bench.  You‘re not the quarterback anymore, I‘m the owner of the team, telling him what to do, and effectively, apparently, because Robin Wright and—rather, Richard Engel, our colleague over there, just pointed out, hey, guess what, my BlackBerry is working now.

Here‘s the question:  Does the president have a horse in this race? 

Or is he just sort of following his sympathy towards democratic protest? 

TODD:  No, he doesn‘t have a horse.  And in fact, I had one senior aide say to me, hey, we are not getting into the presidential game, because I was asking him some question about ElBaradei, like, you know, did the president bring that up with President Mubarak?  And then, stop, we‘re not getting involved in this part of the conversation, we simply want either, if Mubarak is not going to put in the reforms, then somebody has got to put in reforms. 

But they want Mubarak to have action.  You know, before, Chris, Mubarak always—you know, when these lectures would come, and I was hearing Richard Engel‘s report, he was talking about how Egyptians are just rolling their eyes. 

Well, before, Mubarak used to be able to basically use Israel almost as a way to, you know, keep—you know, there is that—that‘s the alliance, right?  That‘s the trio.  It‘s Israel‘s only Arab ally, really, in Egypt, you know, the one that they can count on when they really absolutely have to. 

And that has been sort of the alliance there, this little triangle.  And Mubarak is always—whenever maybe he has felt pressure, he can send a back-channel signal through the Israelis to tell the U.S. to back up.  And that‘s what may be undone. 

What I‘d—of course, what we‘d all want to know is, they spoke for 30 minutes, Chris, it only takes three minutes to talk about turning your Internet on and turning the phones on.  What was the other 27 minutes about, you know?  What were the warnings that they were putting in there?

MATTHEWS:  Now this is a tough question for any reporter, because it might jeopardize any credibility or friendships you might have there.  Marc Ginsberg was arguing—the former ambassador under President Clinton to Morocco, was suggesting that he was speaking with two faces. 

He was saying something conciliatory to President Mubarak on the phone and was much more tough in chiding him, at least—well, strongly, I would argue, on national television.  Is it your sense he wouldn‘t risk it?  My sense is, just as a Barack Obama watcher, he will say pretty much the same thing to Mubarak on the phone as he says on television. 

TODD:  And not only that, here‘s what I can—at least as best as I‘ve been able to piece together.  So it was about a 4:00 meeting this afternoon, what they call a principals meeting, which you know, Chris, that‘s actually everybody except the president, at the time.

It‘s Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen.  You had Bill Daley was in there.  And the president stopped by.  And that it was at that point they made the decision.  The president was going to have to talk and he was going to tell Mubarak what he was going to say before he did that.  And it was at 4:00 they made the decision. 

They—you know, they called the presidential palace in Egypt.  They organized the schedules to figure out when.  And that‘s when Mubarak‘s folks basically said, look, we‘re going to talk to the public and then we‘ll talk afterwards. 

And now, of course, we know those events.  And so, look, Chris, I‘m pretty confident what the president said to Mubarak and what he said that he said to Mubarak is one in the same on that front.  I don‘t think he‘s playing games here. 

Guess what?  In the age of WikiLeaks, when you know these cables could end up getting leaked.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly.  That‘s what I think.

TODD:  . in some form or another, it‘s a straighter conversation.  I think it was a very, very transparent day here. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘re all in this together.  I think American interests are very hard to discern right now in terms of this situation.  I don‘t think this is left versus right in American politics one bit. 

TODD:  It‘s not kabuki theater.  This is not old-fashioned—yes.

MATTHEWS:  Not one bit.  This is trying to figure it out in the interests of everyone here.  We all know we want peace in the Middle East.  We all sort of like peaceful countries that can get along with Israel to some extent, even if it‘s a cold peace.  We have a lot of generalized American opinion here.  And I think we‘re looking to see where it‘s headed. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck, as always. 

TODD:  You got it, buddy.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck Todd, at the White House, our chief White House correspondent. 

Our coverage of the crisis in Egypt continues after this.  This is HARDBALL on a very difficult night on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. 

I‘m so glad you could get in here on short notice, Abderrahim.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AL JAZEERA:  It‘s.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Give us a sense, you‘ve been listening to our conversation here.  We‘re trying to interpret U.S. interests here.  We‘re trying to interpret what Mubarak has got.  Let‘s start with the immediate situation in the streets of Cairo.  What can you imagine as the optional things that are going to happen in the next few hours over there when day breaks? 

FOUKARA:  Well, the—first of all, the disconnect between Washington and Cairo.  Washington is talking about reform.  Many of the demonstrators in Cairo are talking about Mubarak actually leaving.  So that‘s the first thing. 

And then there are the two different political clocks.  President Obama is here in D.C., the demonstrators and President Mubarak in Cairo.  It‘s interesting that what the president said earlier today, the way I read it, being here in D.C., is that I know that a lot of people are actually calling for your political head, and they want you to leave in Egypt, I‘m going to do you one more favor and I‘m not going to call for that.

But at the same time, the president is asking—President Obama is asking President Hosni Mubarak to allow people in Egypt to do just those very things that may end up putting the noose around his neck. 

Let them demonstrate peacefully.  Let them speak their mind.  Let them have their phone.  Let them have their Facebook and so on.  And we know that that‘s how the word has spread for this big demonstration today.  We know because of the existence of those things, demonstrations may whittle somewhat down tomorrow and the day after, but they‘re not going to die out. 

MATTHEWS:  It just seems like in South Africa, I‘m more familiar with that, where they just said, we‘re going to legalize the communist party, legalize the ANC, all of those statements that said to the white Apartheid government, you‘re gone.

FOUKARA:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  . but you think there is still—if Mubarak were to do the things that President Obama asked him to do a few hours ago, could he survive? 

FOUKARA:  I think the door has already been opened, the door that leads to other doors.  The fact that President Mubarak is talking about dissolving the current government and forming a new government, I don‘t think that‘s going to wash down well with.

MATTHEWS:  Because we all know.

FOUKARA:  Because that has been tried.

MATTHEWS:  .that that government is basically him. 

FOUKARA:  It has been tried.  And the people have tried that outcome before.  The question now that remains is, what next, both President Obama and for the Egyptians as a whole?

We know this thing, as has been stated earlier in your program, it‘s not led by political parties.  This is a popular revolt led basically by young people. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, put on your Middle East hat now.  Think of yourself back in the Middle East right now.  Think of the other countries watching what we‘re watching on television.  What will be the reaction in Amman, Jordan, right now to this, on all sides?  Are they scared? 

FOUKARA:  Well, not just Jordan.  I mean, the axiom—the conventional axiom is that it may not happen in Egypt like what happened in Tunisia, but if it happens in Egypt, it will happen elsewhere.  Egypt is.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the blockbuster. 

FOUKARA:  That‘s the blockbuster.  Egypt is crucial to the Middle East in every major way you can think of. 

MATTHEWS:  Which other countries, name them, would be vulnerable to this kind of insurrection?

FOUKARA:  Everyone is worried now.  You‘ll have. 

MATTHEWS:  Amman, Jordan, Yemen? 

FOUKARA:  You‘ll have Jordanians, the Yemenis, the—everyone. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the stronger countries, like we have the Baathist states like Syria?  Could a country that strong in its government, and dictatorial, you could argue, could they be vulnerable? 

FOUKARA:  I‘ll give you a barometer.  Immediately after the president in Tunisia left—fled the country, what did many of those governments—including the government in Syria, they increased food subsidies.  That‘s how worried. 

MATTHEWS:  Payoffs. 

FOUKARA:  Payoffs.  That‘s how worried everybody is in the leaderships of all of these countries. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you believe the United States‘ policy is being read as the president spoke tonight?  When he did those strong sort “Dutch uncle,” as we say in this country, advice to Barack—I mean, to Mubarak, when he said, don‘t fire on the people, don‘t use lethal force when the army gets in the streets tomorrow and there‘s peaceful protests, open up the telephones, open up the Internets, begin political change, how is that read if you‘re, say, King Abdullah in Jordan right now? 

Is he saying, wait a minute, is he micro-managing my country now?  Is he going to do that to me tomorrow? 

FOUKARA:  I—given the extent of what has actually happened in Egypt, I don‘t think that‘s going to be the other leaders‘ top concern in the region.  I‘ll tell you why. 

When President Obama told the Egyptian government a few weeks ago, when they were having elections, let us have international observers, and Mubarak said, what?  Over my dead body.  Well, what has happened in Egypt actually gives the Obama administration added ammunition... 

MATTHEWS:  A hammer. 

FOUKARA:  . to say.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FOUKARA:  Yes.  So, look, the United.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the people in the streets who are watching will settle for an election at this point, a real election with honest observers that will keep it honest? 

FOUKARA:  Well, that‘s what I was leading up to.  The Obama administration is in a pickle, but it also has an opportunity.  It‘s in a pickle because nobody knows exactly—if Mubarak left the country tomorrow, nobody knows exactly what horse to bet on. 

The opportunity is, and I think.

MATTHEWS:  We could see the horses. 

FOUKARA:  You can see the horses. 

MATTHEWS:  If you have an election. 

FOUKARA:  Exactly.  But I think the opportunity is, given that the U.S. is losing so much influence... 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the best. 

FOUKARA:  . in the Middle East, the opportunity is that they have seen that the Middle East is in a period of transition.  It‘s not too late for the U.S. government to actually get on the right side of these movements happening right across the Middle East.  That will, in the long term, in my view, restore credibility to the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s Osama bin Laden?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I thought Al Jazeera always had a little bead on this guy anyway.  Just kidding.  You were fantastic, Abderrahim Foukara.  Thank you, sir.  You are a great colleague to have on. 

Much more on the crackdown in the streets of Egypt coming up, and what are the United States‘ means to do anything?  Do we have any leverage over what‘s happening over there?  I‘m not sure we do.  We may just have to watch. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Michael Singh is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace (ph).  He was a senior director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council. 

Michael, thank you for joining us.  Give us a sense, a little wider view.

MICHAEL SINGH, FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: 

Hey, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re all trying to figure out tomorrow morning.  Maybe that‘s too early.  Even now is too early to find out what‘s going to happen tomorrow morning over there in Cairo. 

And, of course, we‘re trying to interpret the president‘s view.  I think he‘s leaning over towards change over there in a very soft landing kind of way.  Give me—vet that, what I just said, and then move on to what you think the larger implications of what‘s happening are. 

SINGH:  Well, you know, I think that Chuck Todd nailed it on the head.  You know, when this sort of thing happens, you‘re desperate at first to gather information and figure out what the in the world is going on. 

You have to remember that, you know, we talk about, well, we‘ve got the embassy there and diplomats, but the embassy will be on lockdown.  I mean, there are people I heard today that were attacking the embassy.  And so it‘s not like our diplomats are out and about.

And so what you‘re trying to do is get out of this sort of reactive posture and really get ahead of this thing.  And I think that right now what President Obama wants to do is not so much take sides between one outcome or another, but buy time, try to get through this sort of, you know, chaotic patch so that they can get to a place where there‘s a medium-term or a long-term scenario where they can start really using levers of influence. 

Right now we don‘t have many levers.  So I think it probably would happen.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you‘re Tom Donilon at the White House—if you‘re Tom Donilon, Michael, at the White House, you‘re advising the president, and very politically advising him, you know, talking turkey with him, are you saying, Mubarak is 83 years old, he has been our friend, we need to treat him fairly or the world will see you‘re not, but he‘s going to be gone before the end of your first term, probably.

He is going to have to hand it off to somebody, can‘t hand it off to his son, so they‘re going to—he‘s just going to have to face facts.  He needs to make a transition.  He can‘t have his poster up anymore.  Would you say that to him? 

SINGH:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s quite what they would say to him. 

I don‘t think we‘re quite that sort of blunt in the type of conversation.  I think the debate that they have in those 30 minutes of that phone call is, how do you get through this? 

And I think that what you heard Mubarak say is something he really believes.  Mubarak believes this is a minority of people trying to dictate, you know, Egypt‘s future in the streets. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SINGH:  And that they should be resisted for the security of the country.  I think what President Obama tries to convince him of is, no, that‘s not the case, you really need to do serious things to meet the demands that these people have.  And that‘s sort of the debate they have back and forth. 

For the U.S., for Tom—what Tom Donilon is saying to the president, is, it‘s bad for us if this guy is violently overthrown.  It‘s bad for us if this guy sort of consolidates his rule by killing a lot of people. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SINGH:  We really need to get through this patch and sort of hold his hand to get him through here so that we can then look at.

MATTHEWS:  How about the.

(CROSSTALK)

SINGH:  Only a minute.  Could we push for an election, a real observable election where we‘re keeping it honest?  Would that be satisfactory to both sides? 

SINGH:  We have to do that.  You know, there‘s a presidential election scheduled for September 2011.  That really has to be what we‘re focused on, getting through this and getting a real election. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well said.  OK.  We‘re getting to something, an honest election in Egypt.  That‘s something.  Thank you, Michael Singh, from the Near East Institute. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL” coming up right now.

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