Guests: Ron Allen, Martin Fletcher, Chuck Todd, Nicholas Burns, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Nicholas Kristof, Hisham Melhem, Kim Murphy
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the crisis in Egypt.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has transferred power to his vice president, but he‘s staying in the country. And for the thousands of protesters in the streets of Cairo, it‘s too little, too late.
Joining me right now from Cairo‘s Tahrir Square is Ron Allen.
Ron, what does it feel like to be there when history gets stuck in the door?
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It feels a little frightening, quite honestly, Chris, because when the crowd reacted, when the crowd exploded with anger, it was a situation that felt very volatile. We weren‘t quite sure what was going to happen.
People were pushing and shoving. They were trying to get out of the square. They were trying to do something, just something physical to vent their fury and their disappointment and their frustration.
The people who have been there now for more than two weeks really felt like they were on the verge of something tonight. There had been anticipation building all day that tomorrow, Friday, was going to be a huge day of protests. And they felt that that might help push Mubarak out.
And when word started trickling around the square that he was going to make a major address tonight, some people let themselves believe that this might be the resignation that they had been hoping for. And when it didn‘t happen, hopes were just dashed and crushed and people were just angry. They felt betrayed.
That was a word that we heard a lot, “betrayal.” They felt that they were just being played and being taken for fools, if you will. And the appointment, or the transfer of power, or whatever it‘s being called, to the vice president, people just see that as another guise, as another typical way that Mubarak has maintained his power here for so long by just manipulating the reins of power.
Even though he says that he has transferred his power, people still see him there as the president. They still see him as being in charge in some way.
They will not believe that it is over until there is a clear, tangible, visible break, and that he leaves the scene in some way. Not necessarily leaving the country, but just really leaving the scene in some tangible way.
And now there‘s just a lot of concern about what might happen here tomorrow, that pro-and-anti-Mubarak forces might clash. People are determined to stay in the square all night, and determined to take to the streets in huge numbers tomorrow, Friday—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the power of the people we‘re looking at. We have these excellent pictures from NBC, and we‘ve got some from Al Jazeera as well, watching the progress today.
The people know they might not have as much power as they want, but they‘ve certainly got power, Ron. And you‘ve been covering this for weeks now.
They have the power to get Mubarak to say, I‘m not running for re-election this September. And then he finally said it a couple of days later, even my son, whose dream—he was carrying my dreams—he‘s not running.
And then, today, he says, well, I‘m even going to relinquish the powers of the presidency to my VP. So there is a step-by-step confirmation of the power on the streets.
So, on the one hand, they know they have power. Well, tell me how you put that together with, but they don‘t get what they want exactly.
ALLEN: Well, part of the problem is that with each step, they pushed and pushed and pushed and got concessions, what seemed to be concession. But so many of these things are on paper, they‘re not tangible.
For example, at the top of the list of demands that the United States has been making lately is a dismantling of the state of emergency, martial law here, that‘s been in place for so long. That has not happened.
The foreign minister and others have said categorically, how can I do this when there are some 17,000 prisoners out on the streets? But people would like to see that happen, they‘d like to see the curfew lifted, they‘d like to see tangible steps of the dismantling of this state of emergency that allows the police to round up people, hold them without charge indefinitely, and basically operate a police state.
People want to see the parliament dissolve. They want to see that sort of thing happen in a profound, tangible way that lets them know that things are changing here. They have not seen that.
Short of that, they‘re hearing promises, they‘re hearing concessions. They‘re hearing things that they just don‘t believe are ever going to happen. And tonight is going to validate in many people‘s minds when they see the vice president move into the position in words of the president, this is confirmation of what so many people feared, that is was just going to be more of the same, that Mubarak might make some big, sweeping gesture, but at the end of the day, the regime would still be in place.
And that‘s what people see, the regime still in place—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess a couple of questions come to mind, so much, I‘d love to know what you think.
You know, one of the bad things about our country is that people are so well-armed, you might argue. One thing I‘ve noticed about the people of Egypt, they‘re not armed people. It seems like such a profoundly unnecessary thing to say, but it is important.
That crowd, they‘re not walking around carrying weapons. There‘s no rushing the police stands or the tanks. There‘s nobody really trying to incite a revolution.
Do you think that might ever come out of the crowd we‘re looking at?
Or is the crowd you‘ve gotten to know now just not that kind of people?
ALLEN: Well, the people in the square have taken pride in the fact that this has been, they say, a nonviolent, peaceful protest. They—and you‘re right, there are not a lot of guns in the streets. We don‘t see a lot of that.
At checkpoints, where police were taking weapons from people, in some places they were taking clubs and knives and weapons of that order. I have not seen a lot of guns in the country since we‘ve been here in a lot of places. And that‘s a good observation on your part.
And again, people have prided themselves on what they see as being patient, being gradual, being somewhat passive. And they‘ve only retaliated, they believe, with rocks and stones when—and petrol bombs—when they were attacked.
MATTHEWS: I see.
ALLEN: There were those days in the square where things were very, very bloody and very, very brutal. And there‘s obviously the potential for that. And there‘s no doubt in my mind that there are heavier weapons here that can be deployed on both sides. But at this point we haven‘t seen that, and I don‘t want to predict that. But this is just a volatile situation, Chris.
I think people were really stunned by what happened in the square tonight, the people who were there to hear Mubarak speak. And now things are more peaceful in the square, and people are just trying to digest what happened. What did he say? What happened? Because this is not what they were expecting.
MATTHEWS: Well, I hope they stay with it, because I keep thinking about our own country. Before we get into any kind of criticism of any other country, I like to remind myself of the country you and I share, which is, it took us five weeks of heavy reporting and a lot of fighting to resolve who won the Florida electoral votes a few years back, and nobody was happy with the result except the guy who won it, I suppose. But yet, it shows how messy democracy itself can be.
And trying to create a democracy is going to be messy here. And I think we‘ve got a big story to cover in the future. I guess we were all too hopeful it was all going to happen in a couple of days.
Anyway, thank you, Ron Allen. Great—really sensitive reporting.
Thank you, sir.
Well, we‘re expecting a statement about the crisis in Egypt from President Obama shortly. Well, that will be interesting, to see what he says. Maybe he‘s as frustrated as the people in the street.
Joining me now is former ambassador Nicholas Burns, veteran United States diplomat, and professor at Harvard‘s fabulous Kennedy School of Government.
Nick Burns, thank you so much. I‘ve been listening to you for years.
It‘s the first time we‘ve talked.
I‘ve got great respect for your sense of history here. And certainly we‘re watching some kind of revolution in Cairo, some kind of even bloodless revolution, which is a good thing.
Will it stay that way?
NICHOLAS BURNS, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Well, you know, I think, Chris, you‘re right. We‘re watching the most extraordinary moment in the Middle East in 50 or 60 years, because it‘s not just in this keystone country, Egypt, it‘s throughout the Arab world.
But Egypt‘s the center of the Arab world, and what‘s been remarkable, as you know, as you‘ve seen, these protests have been largely peaceful for the last 17 days. There are a lot of young people who are idealistic who want a better life, they want some freedom, they want jobs, they want an end to corruption. And America needs to support that.
And I think President Obama has done a very good job of saying, I‘m with those people and I want that same kind of future. The difficulty comes, especially after Mubarak‘s speech, in how do you translate that emotion and that passion in the streets into political change? Because the demonstrators are not organized. They don‘t have a group of people who speak for them who can sit down in a conference room with Omar Suleiman and say, here are our legitimate demands, we want to join a transitional government.
And I think that‘s the challenge now for the Egyptians moving forward. It‘s also the challenge for President Obama and the administration. How can we create an environment where some of the ideas and the emotion can be actually put into play and hopefully something better arrives at the other end?
MATTHEWS: Well, how do we get there? How do the people of Egypt get from what we‘re watching right now, which is reality, to the dream of some kind of mixed democracy where you have perhaps an original constitution of some kind, but in the end you get a republic? And I think that‘s what most people want, a republic that represents the people, ultimately.
And my question is, you have a constitution over there that doesn‘t work, it‘s rigged for the government party, such as it is. You have to change the constitution, you have to change the people in the transitional government from what we have now, and you have got to get there where we have actual political parties who can contend with the Muslim Brotherhood.
That‘s a lot of steps that have to be taken, maybe a two-year process at best. Do we have any role in getting in on that direction, on that chart, on that course?
BURNS: Well, Chris, I think you‘re right. I mean, we just cannot expect any kind of immediate change here. It‘s going to be a long process. It‘s going to be torturous.
There are going to be lots of twists and turns and maybe a lot of steps backwards, because what‘s happened since 1952? Three generals, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, have ruled Egypt. Political parties have not been allowed to grow. People who stand up and say something different from the government are thrown in jail. Right?
The Islamic parties are not allowed to develop either. And so they‘ve got to do a lot of things at once, the Egyptian people and these opposition forces.
They‘ve got to organize a little bit better. They‘ve got to see civil society take root and emerge. They‘ve got to figure out what a legitimate, practical program of reform would be. And they‘ve got to convince the government, through people power in the streets, but also through wit at the negotiating table, to move forward.
And I think the big question is, what does Mubarak‘s statement tonight mean? It was ambiguous. It was confusing.
BURNS: If he‘s handing off some power to Omar Suleiman, is this going to be a Potemkin transition period where the objective of the government is just to stay in power with maybe some different people at the top? Or are they really going to listen to these people, feel the political pressure from the people, and open up this transition process for some new ideas, new faces, people like Amr Moussa, the foreign Egyptian foreign minister, now at the Arab League, Mohamed ElBaradei, some of these very bright, young, intelligent people—and we‘ve heard from them this week—who have some good ideas?
And I rather suspect that the government is going to try to keep this closed. They‘re going to try to delay and they‘re going to try to resist substantial reform. So I would imagine this drama is going to continue on the streets and it‘s going to continue in the back rooms in Cairo.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe we should offer asylum to Mubarak?
BURNS: Well, I don‘t know if he‘s asked for it.
MATTHEWS: Should we extend it to him? Is that the cork in the bottle? Is that what the Saudis are worried about, is that what King Abdullah of Jordan is worried about, that we won‘t treat one of our allies well?
And one way to treat them well is to guarantee him a safe passage to our country and a place to live the rest of his life, and with his family. He‘s got all this money. He might like to live somewhere in the United States.
And would that relieve this horror story? Would it end it?
BURNS: I‘m not sure it would. And you and I remember back when we were a lot younger what happened when the Shah of Iran lost power. He eventually made his way to the United States, and that was a very difficult period in our relations with this new government in Iran back in 1978 and ‘79.
I would say this, Chris, President Mubarak has lost the streets. He‘s lost credibility at home. He‘s lost a lot of credibility internationally.
I don‘t expect him to come back to power. I think this was a face-saving announcement, you know, that he was trying to save a little pride as an 82-year-old at the end of 30 years in power.
I think we‘re seeing the transition to his people, Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafiq and others. And I think it‘s best if President Mubarak stays in the Middle East, because here‘s what President Obama needs to do. He‘s got to juggle these competing priorities.
He does need to stand for reform—“he,” President Obama. And on the other hand, he needs to work quietly behind the scenes, using the good relationship and the influence that the U.S. has in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, to push this process towards reform. I think if President Mubarak were to come to the United States, the image would be that the United States was anti-reform.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Tricky business.
Thank you so much, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Thanks for coming on --
BURNS: Thanks, Chris. You bet.
MATTHEWS: -- on an historic night.
I said history was stuck in the door tonight. It is. And that‘s why it‘s a tough night to report the news, because the news is still happening.
So, who is in charge in Egypt tonight? We‘re going to talk to “New York Times” columnist Nick Kristof, who‘s just back from Cairo.
And we‘ll get another live report with the protesters in Tahrir Square. We‘re going to go right to that sound and fury over there tonight.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
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MATTHEWS: -- crowd over there around you. And it‘s an arresting sound these last few weeks, the sound of the people.
Where is this headed tonight? What are the feelings you‘re hearing tonight about the failure of Hosni Mubarak to get the message that he has to go, and really go, and not just fake it by giving it to his VP?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS, DEMOCRACY NOW: Well, just hours ago, there was electricity in the air. There was jubilation in the crowd. They thought tonight was the night.
That was the indication they were getting. Tahrir was as packed as I‘ve ever seen it, and I‘ve been here every day since the protesters here took to the square.
When Hosni Mubarak began his speech, you could hear a pin drop here. I‘ve never heard a crowd so big become so quiet. Everyone was straining to hear his voice over the crackle of the loud speakers. People were huddled over listening to radio sets.
When the speech ended, it was clear that he wasn‘t going to leave.
People were enraged.
Many hundreds took off one shoe and held it in the air in disgust, a sign of disgust towards the speech. And then they immediately began chanting erhal (ph), which means “Leave! Leave!”
And it has been the slogan of this uprising, calling for the fall of this regime. The people demanding the fall of this regime. That‘s their slogan.
And while the numbers have now thinned out somewhat since this speech, I can only imagine what tomorrow is going to bring. Tomorrow is expected to be by far the biggest demonstration that we have seen so far on the streets of Cairo. Not only in Tahrir, but all over Cairo.
They‘re planning to march in various parts across the city. And they want to make the very earth shake with their feet, because every time this regime refuses to give them any of their demands—you know, they keep saying they‘re giving concessions. The regime keeps claiming they‘re giving concessions, but they have not conceded to any of the demands of the protesters, not one.
And so each time it seems the numbers just continue to swell. And that seems to—that‘s what I‘m seeing here on the ground—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Sharif, it seems like there‘s a number of demands in that crowd buried in the excitement. One demand is that he leave the country, that he become an exile. The other is that he turn over the power of his regime completely, perhaps to the military.
What demand would be satisfactory? In other words, if he left the country, turned it over to the army, and let them handle a transition period, would that be enough to say we‘ve won, it‘s over?
KOUDDOUS: Well, I don‘t think it‘s over, but certainly for him to step down is the number one request of this uprising, of this popular uprising. It‘s the glue that holds all these different strands of society together.
They‘re calling for his removal. Whether he leaves the country or not, whether he hands it over to the vice president, or leaves it to the military or not, what they want is for him to step down.
From there, there‘s a much longer struggle that many see here to achieve real democracy. They‘re calling for the dissolution of parliament. They‘re calling for all the jailed protesters to be freed. They‘re calling for many separate things.
But the first obstacle that they see in their way is Hosni Mubarak.
And they want him to step down.
Tonight‘s speech, he did not do that, and they were expecting him to. They thought that the way that they developed—that he was going to, and many people filled Tahrir, really to the brim. The day before this mass uprising—you know, usually there‘s a bit of a lull the day before one of these big gatherings, but it was just absolutely packed today. And he didn‘t do it. Very disappointing for many people here, and they have vowed to stay here until he does leave.
MATTHEWS: You know, you just saw a man there, a middle age guy, pounding both sides of his forehead in frustration. Sometimes I understand the feeling, because I thought he did step down today. I thought he did turn over his executive authority to his vice president.
What did you hear, Sharif? What did you hear him say?
KOUDDOUS: Well, people are a little confused. You know, he gave certain powers to the vice president, but he‘s still the president. He‘s also asked for parliament to consider amending one of the articles of the constitution.
These are not the demands that they‘re asking for. You know, they didn‘t demand for him to appoint a vice president, which he did. They didn‘t demand for him to reshuffle his cabinet. They didn‘t demand for him to hand over certain powers to the vice president, which is unclear exactly what that means.
What they demanded is that he stepped down, that he resign. And he hasn‘t done that.
And there‘s no equivocation here. People are not pleased with the address today—
MATTHEWS: I see.
KOUDDOUS: -- also with the tone of his address, speaking of how he had served the country for so long and talking about his condolences to the deaths. I think he said 15 protesters, when Human Rights Watch has documented 300 deaths by the regime of the protesters in this uprising.
So it remains to be seen what‘s going to come of this. But the people here are resolute, they‘re defiant. And they continue to say every time that Mubarak, you know, slaps them in the face like this, is what they‘re telling me, that they‘re just going to come out stronger and in greater numbers.
And we‘ve seen organized labor join this revolution in the past few days. And we‘ve seen the professional—today I saw thousands of lawyers in Tahrir, I saw thousands of doctors in white doctors‘ robes come into Tahrir. Different segments of society are joining this. It is simply growing.
MATTHEWS: OK. Hang in there, Sharif.
We‘re joined right now by “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof, who just returned from Cairo.
Nick, thank you for joining us. I‘ve got a lot of respect for your candle power.
And the question is, what does this all mean? I mean, we were waiting all day, hoping that there would be a real dynamic here, that something would really move faster than the reporting. In fact, it barely caught up with the reporting.
We were checking a report this morning for NBC that he was going to turn over to his vice—it turns out, he turned over powers to his vice president, unspecific powers. He apparently hasn‘t actually given up the office of the presidency.
What‘s your read on the fact right now about what‘s going on?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, I mean, to me, today‘s speech was simply a reminder of the way dictators have an amazing capacity to delude themselves and to feel that they are indispensable. They put out all this propaganda aiming to fool the people, and the people who really get fooled are they themselves.
So the notion that he would transfer some powers very vaguely to a vice president who is pretty much a clone of him, when the entire regime is considered entirely unsatisfactory to people, and think this would appease people, and then to have the vice president come out and tell young people go home, and don‘t watch satellite television, it came across to me as ultimately insulting to the intelligence of the Egyptian people in ways that—I mean, if he was trying to quench the fire out there, he ended up pouring gasoline on top of it.
MATTHEWS: You know, he was appealing for empathy with the crowd. He was saying, I‘m your daddy, daddy has been good to you. I love my children, my daughters. I‘m proud of you for what you‘ve done here, the demands you‘ve made on me. I‘m going to get the people that hurt you, the police.
Is that delusional?
KRISTOF: It‘s completely delusional. There is an extraordinary distrust of Mubarak that you encounter everywhere you turn in the country.
And people have been watching satellite television, and especially in urban areas. Even quite poor families have Al Jazeera. They have access to it.
They‘ve been watching, and they‘ve been seeing people killed. And then, to have Mubarak come out and say that he feels sorry for these martyrs, when it was his regime that ended up killing those people, I mean, this will have zero credibility with people out there. And indeed, as he was speaking, you heard the shouts of “Erhal (ph)! Erhal! (ph).” Or “Go, go!” from the people.
So it just seemed to me a sad commentary on how out of touch he is, and just how important it is for we in the United States to make sure we‘re betting on the future, and not on the past.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s try to—I know your column is read—these people like President Obama say they don‘t read columns in “The New York Times.” I do believe they do read The Times more than any other paper, especially Democratic presidents. Republicans probably read The Journal. But your column matters.
Writing your column on the air right now, what would you prescribe for our president right now?
KRISTOF: We need to come out much more clearly on the side of people who were shot and not those who were doing the shooting. We‘ve come across as extraordinarily wishy-washy throughout the whole process of Tunisia and Egypt.
When the Tahrir protests started, we said that the Mubarak regime was stable and that Mubarak was trying to search for ways to relate to the Egyptian people. I mean, that—that was delusional on our part.
And then throughout, except for a brief period when foreign reporters were being attacked—I mean, the people suffering by far the most are the Egyptians, not the foreigners. Then there was a period where he emphasized the importance of change now.
But mostly, we‘ve been talking about a slow, gradual process, a transition. And I think that that—I mean, I‘ve watched in Tahrir as people who should be our natural allies, the Facebook generation, have become increasingly irritated at the United States and feel, to some degree, betrayed that we are, as they see it, standing with their oppressor and not with the people out there.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s do—let me ask you to be a reporter, not a commentator.
Give me a sense of the people in the streets there. You know, I met them. I‘ve always thought from the time I was in Egypt back the first time, in 1970, coming home from the Peace Corps, and I lived there for a couple of weeks, I was impressed by the number of people like us, in a sense, the regular, middle class people like us who had gotten some higher education, they spoke English, they were curious about the war like we were. They seemed to be friendly. They didn‘t really have any problem with us.
We talked about having studied Samuelson in economics in college, and different exams we took and stuff. I felt a great kinship with those people over there.
And I wonder, are those the people in the streets?
KRISTOF: Absolutely. I lived in Egypt for a year, so this was kind of a homecoming. And the determination there was just palpable.
My favorite spot in Tahrir was a little clinic. It was a mosque that had been turned into a clinic. And I remember meeting a doctor there who had seen the protesters getting attacked. And he prepared his will and then drove 125 miles to be there to help those who had been injured.
And I was talking to one person who had been injured, who had been hospitalized seven times in 24 hours there by these attacks from Mubarak thugs. And each time he would be heeled, and he‘d be prepared, and then totter off. He had a cast on one arm and a brace on his leg, and he would go off.
I thought that was just the maximum possible human endurance. And when I was taking his picture, I backed up, and I backed into a young man in a wheelchair who had lost both of his legs and had driven his wheelchair into Tahrir to defend people and to throw rocks back at the pro-Mubarak people. And, you know, the grit and the determination out there just are so moving. And that‘s one reason why I think we should be very clearly on their side and not on the side of Suleiman and Mubarak.
MATTHEWS: Yes. You know, the other thing is it‘s nationalist, it‘s very much a middle or working class group of people. It‘s American types, in a sense, without—generalizing the way we look at things.
We believe in societies which are meritocratic, we can get ahead. It‘s not the fix about who your brother or father is. It‘s about maybe giving a chance if you worked hard at school. The values that we subscribe to in modern America, it seems like they‘re seeking that.
KRISTOF: Yes. And, I mean, I think that we sometimes have misled ourselves here by turning the Muslim Brotherhood into a bogeyman. And, you know, there are indeed real risks there, but most of the people out there, the things that they object to are corruption.
And Mubarak appears to have a personal fortune equivalent to 37 percent of Egyptian GNP. I mean, that‘s just applauding.
MATTHEWS: I know. Well, that‘s a kleptocracy. No better word for it.
KRISTOF: Absolutely. And, you know, they want freedom, they want to be able to speak. They want a free press. They‘ve all kinds of aspirations that echo around. And they‘ve been communicating on American mania like Facebook.
MATTHEWS: You know, you‘re as good in television as you‘re pert, Nick Kristof.
KRISTOF: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you sir for joining us. It‘s a very sensitive and sensible, I think, people in the middle in our country are going to be listing this, the same way I am.
Coming up, what other countries in the Middle East are thinking tonight. They‘re wondering a lot about what it means for them because this is troubling, this is viral, it‘s not just virtual, but in the real world. We‘re going to go to Tel Aviv, we‘re going to go to Beirut. We‘re going to see how they‘re reacting to this incredible tumult. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get reaction to what we‘ve been seeing ourselves from around the Middle East.
Joining me right now from Tel Aviv is NBC‘s Martin Fletcher. Martin, thank you. I was just wondering, the Israelis perhaps have never so much valued Hosni Mubarak as now, right or not?
MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know what? They appreciated him I must say the whole time he was president of Egypt, of Tunisia of course, but absolutely, they‘re looking at him now and wondering what‘s going to come next. They‘re realizing how important he‘s been for them. And that peace treaty, which he‘s kept secure for the last 30 years is of course the big issue here—Chris.
MATTHEWS: What do you think has driven him? I know looking into his heart, although I think his off-base and he have been there too long but in his heart he‘s a father of Egypt, this kind of a modern day pharaoh. He‘s kind to his people. He‘s protective of their weaknesses, disciplining them if they get too far out of hand, punishing them if they break his rules or question his rule, but what do you think leads him to do what he‘s done? Just Power or is there some vision there that he has that we‘re missing here tonight?
FLETCHER: I think the vision disappeared a long time ago, Chris. You know, this is a matter of power. And it‘s not only President Mubarak. You know, I was listening to the guest you had on, I mean, the last 20 minutes, 20 minutes or so. On the issue of Mubarak, the man refusing to give up power, being out of touch with his people, not understanding the future, where the United States should be with the future, rather than protecting the past. You know, I think to an extent, there‘s another issue. I don‘t want to say we‘re missing point, but there‘s another issue, nothing President Mubarak said today to the people of Egypt did he say without the approval of the army chiefs behind him. There‘s no way that he went off on a tangent by himself, expressing his own opinions.
President Mubarak today was expressing the opinions of the army leadership who clearly are behind him. And I think that‘s very important to understand. So, President Mubarak, the man, yes, he himself is the modern day pharaoh, the leader of his country but he‘s been in power for 30 years, no because he‘s been such a great leader. But because he is the representative of the army. The army is being the power in Egypt since 1952. All four leaders of Egypt since 1952 have come from the military. So, he‘s speaking for himself, he‘s speaking for the military. And the fact that he‘s demanding to stay in power, we don‘t know at this stage what‘s happened in the back rooms of the palace of the presidential palace. When he delayed his speech this evening, we don‘t know why he did that. Probably he was coming to some final terms of agreement with Omar Suleiman, the vice president and with the army. But clearly he‘s hanging on to power. But he has said, that he will step down in September. And I think it‘s pretty clear that that is what‘s going to happen if he lost that long.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about, if you from the country been covering all the years and living in Israel, you know, back in ‘70 when Sadat came in and began that transformation from being a Soviet-aligned country to a western-aligned country. Then of course, doing the dramatic steps in ‘78 towards peace after the Yom Kippur war, that was a decision made at the leadership level, the military level in Egypt. They decided to go western, they decided to basically cut a peace treaty with Israel. Do they represent the people of Egypt when they do that? Or are the people were rooting for sort of here way behind them in terms of their willingness to be pro western and he pro Israeli enough to cut a deal with them?
FLETCHER: Well, there‘s no doubt that the Egyptian people are uncomfortable indeed with the peace treaty with Egypt. By the way, same as the Jordanian people, but the leadership of Jordan and the leadership of Egypt see that peace treaty with Israel as a something that is very important to them, otherwise they wouldn‘t have made that agreement. Egypt go back his land and it committed itself to peace with Egypt. That led to a great economic boom in Egypt as it led to an economic boom in Israel. You know, wt the time when the peace treaty was signed with Egypt, Israel‘s defense budget was 23 percent of its gross national product. Twenty three percent of Israel‘s budget went on military expenditure.
This day it‘s down to eight percent or nine percent. So, that‘s an incredible economic boom for a boost for Israel and a similar boost for Egypt. So, there‘s tremendous interest economically on both sides to keep the peace treaty alive. The big fear, of course, is that if there are, indeed, real fair and free elections in Egypt, that will probably lead to an increased real role by the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt‘s government. Very unlikely the Muslim brotherhood would take over in Egypt. Almost no chance at all, same in Jordan again. But still they would have a major say in government presumably.
And that peace treaty then with Israel would be one of the key issues. So the Israelis obviously very concerned about that. But they don‘t expect that suddenly the new government of Egypt is going to end the peace treaty with Israel. But they are worried that it will become, you know, leaky, weaker. There will be weak points in that agreement which will lead Israel vulnerable. And the question then becomes, will Israel now need to change its army deployment, its military strategy? It‘s indeed its budget, its defense expenditure to take into account this changing defense need on the southern border. The 30 years of peace that the Israel, Egypt, peace that they brought Israel was very important to Israel.
And it changed the form, the strategy of its army. If the Muslim brotherhood are part of the Egyptian government and if there becomes a question on the southern border, Egypt, Israel rather would then have to change its military strategy, spend more money on defense, become probably a larger army than it is today. So there‘s great considerations at stake here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, a lot of people watch this show have a deep felt commitment to Israeli care a lot about it. Not just Jewish people but people that—for years. And I guess the question is, what—me the other day when I read a “New York Times” column went out, it said that, if Egypt basically goes a bit more radical and stops being our friend and perhaps Jordan becomes a little bit more questionable as an ally, it is better for Israel. Because the United States will clearly focus on Israel as the only democracy in Middle East, it would be its best friend without any complication. That to me sounded like a very strained argument, a very difficult argument to win. Does anybody believe that, that is somehow good for Israel, that Egypt has fallen or may fall as an ally?
FLETCHER: Well, you know, that argument basically takes into account consideration that if there is freedom, fair elections in Egypt, Jordan and other countries, particular those two countries because of course, they had the peace agreements, the only Arab peace agreements with Israel. If there‘s a truly democratic government elected in those countries, then the idea is well, democracy is never go to war, it will be more in the interest to the people of Egypt and Jordan to maintain the peace agreement with Israel. And, you know, democracies don‘t go to war so there will be peace.
You know, it‘s a bit of a stretch of this state when you actually live in this small country to hope to assume that a democracy which may well bring the Muslim brotherhood to power will actually be good for the country and lead to continued peace. By the way, it doesn‘t mean it‘s not true. It‘s a really strong argument, that if there‘s a real democracy in those Arab countries, then it will be harder to make war with Israel. But the popularity of the peace agreement with Israel in Egypt and Jordan is very, very iffy. It‘s very slim. I mean, the people in general are not in favor of the peace agreement. But on the other hand, that doesn‘t mean they want therefore war with Israel.
MATTHEWS: They may want an even chillier peace. Which would be the worst thing in the world but it could be as nice as.
FLETCHER: Well, I guess they want it both ways. It‘s probably be the answer.
MATTHEWS: It‘s great meeting you, Martin Fletcher. Even on television you‘re great guy. And thank you for giving us this report from Tel Aviv, your point of view over there. You know that country as well as anyone.
Coming up, we‘ll get to what the White House, actually not the White House but the people living in it including the president are thinking tonight. They‘re not happy with something Mubarak said in his speech there apparently, it wasn‘t what they were hoping for. They would hoping for something big, you know, change they could believe in, remember that phrase? Well, they were hoping for that tonight, they didn‘t get it.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPT: We are not a satellite state, followers to others being dictated orders from others. We shape our own decisions according to the pulse and demands of the people. We will prove all this by the spirit and resolve of the Egyptians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s actually Egyptian president, still President Hosni Mubarak taking a not so veiled swipe at our country. What do the people in the White House think about Mubarak‘s moves today and those words?
Joining me right now is NCB News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd. Also with me is Hisham Melhem, Al-Arabiya Washington Bureau Chief. Hisham, thank you for joining us, Hisham. Let me go to Chuck Todd our guy. Chuck, it seems to me that that was a very dispiriting speech for us, from Egypt because it leaves as I said history stuck in the door over there and this turmoil continuing.
CHUCK TODD, NCB NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only that, it‘s extremely dispiriting for President Obama. Look, he went out, he was traveling today in Marquette, Michigan. And he went out, and before his remarks to tout what he was touting, had something to do with his budget, expanding wireless. He said we‘re watching history unfold. Very resounding, very optimistic tone, dropping the hint, you know, almost playing to the crowds, almost and all of the reports that saying, looks like Mubarak is going to go. This is going to be the big moment. He didn‘t get ahead of the news, but you could hear the optimism meaning in his language.
Then he watches Mubarak‘s speech on Air Force one. These guys have been behind closed doors for three hours since he landed. They‘re trying to come up with a written statement at this point. We‘re not going to see President Obama on camera. Because as one official said to me, it‘s like, we‘ve got to word this carefully. We got to do this just right. This is not what they expected. Their own intelligence, you had Leon Panetta testifying on Capitol Hill. Every indication was, Mubarak was going in some form. They don‘t believe that‘s what happened tonight, obviously. Just like a lot of folks in Tahrir Square. And so, now they‘re just frankly scrambling and try to figure it out. We know that Vice President Biden, Vice President Suleiman had talk a lot. Nobody will confirm that they talked today and very recently, but it‘s pretty clear they did. The result of that conversation I think we will see in the president‘s statement that we thought we would have gotten 20 minutes ago and we still haven‘t got.
MATTHEWS: According to the White House point of view, who is president of Egypt right now?
TODD: Right now, they want to believe that Suleiman is in charge. That what‘s they‘re going to—that would be the thing to expect in the statement. That, that‘s what they will push forward to say, OK, and they want to—because everything in the last 72 hours has been every time Suleiman has said something about the reform process, as one official told me yesterday, we always want to move the bar. Think of it as when you‘re teaching your kid to swim, they come to you and you step back a little bit further. And that‘s what they‘ve been hoping to do with Suleiman, to develop this trust and this relationship and say OK, keep coming, keep going. You said you‘re going to meet with some opposition leaders, meet with all of them. You say, you‘re going to come out with some plan for reform, actually, jointly release that statement. So that everything he said, they will move that on. Obviously a little bit of a wrench in the plans on one hand. On the other hand, expect them to get a little bit optimistic about what Suleiman said he would do, because that might be the only choice they have diplomatically tonight.
MATTHEWS: Hisham, who do you think is president of Egypt right now?
HISHAM MELHEM, AL-ARABIYA WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Mubarak and his cronies. Look, I mean, all of these people belong to the military institution. I mean, it‘s the military establishment that‘s been ruling Egypt since 1952. Four presidents, four generals. And now Omar Suleiman who was also in the army and has a checkered history as a security guy. And today what you‘ve seen from speeches, Mubarak as well as Omar Suleiman and other indication that the regime is circling the wagon in preparation for the confrontation, not only those who are behind the uprising but also with the United States.
Today, they are raising the specter of foreign dictate, foreign intervention and the specter of fauda, chaos in Arabic. And the message was clear. Mubarak was not only defiant, but petulant, but also indignant, because some of his people are criticizing him. And he said it, he was the patriarch of Egypt. He projected himself as the patriarch and the savior of Egypt. And he still lives in denial, insulated and isolated like those generals who inhabit the novels of Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. It is unbelievable. And the people at the State Department, I spent my day today at the State Department waiting for an interview with Secretary Clinton, and from 10:00 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon, and it was destroyed because of Mubarak‘s speech.
And they are disheartened at the State Department. And I think one of the reasons, I think Chuck will corroborate this, the administration is extremely concerned because of the attack today on foreign intervention and a foreign dictator and all of that. They don‘t want to do anything and they are not going to say anything that could be construed or abused or exploited by those people in Egypt who would like to blame the United States and the foreigners for what‘s taking place. And that‘s why they are waiting, and that‘s why they are going to choose their words extremely carefully. And that‘s why we did not have that interview with Secretary Clinton today.
TODD: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Hisham. Let me go to Chuck. What tonight‘s states worried about saying what‘s wrong? Are they afraid—what are they worried about putting their language together right now?
TODD: Well look, we do know that yesterday, President Obama and the king of Saudi Arabia did have a very testy conversation about the situation with Mubarak. Some of the reports about what the king said don‘t quite, were not corroborated by folks here, but they did admit there were obviously some disagreements there. So, at this point, they really are trying to close ranks here. At one point, Chris, about an hour ago, we couldn‘t find a press agent here, at the White House. Andrea Mitchell couldn‘t find anybody at the State Department. Jim Miklaszewski was struggling to find anybody to talk at the Pentagon. This is a situation that Hisham just point, that now the administration realizes they have to make sure every part of the national security team is speaking with one voice because they‘re having separate conversations.
Military to military between the Pentagon and the Egyptian army. You have the State Department contacts, and of course, you have the vice president side of thing, Vice President Biden, Vice President Suleiman. And so now, they‘re just being extra careful because of everything Hisham warned about because anything they say now is going to get parsed, reparsed and repackaged in a way that could be harmful to our diplomacy. And that‘s what they‘re all fearful of now and that‘s why we don‘t have the statement. It‘s been an hour that we were told we would going to get a written statement and we still don‘t have it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Chuck Todd, you‘ve got to give report there. It tells us how difficult a situation the president is in clarifying our position as a country and all this. Chuck Todd, thank you. Hisham Melhem, thank you sir.
Coming up, back to Tahrir Square as the protesters continue to demonstrate tonight, late into the night against President Hosni Mubarak who still in office, he says, he relinquished his authorities, and a lot of his powers to his V.P., but he‘s still there. He isn‘t stepping down and they‘re not happy. You‘re watching HARDBALL only MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve got a full hour of HARDBALL coming up at the top of the hour of course at 7:00 Eastern. Joining me right now on the phone from Cairo is “Los Angeles Times” reporter Kim Murphy. Kim, give me your sense of the street right now as we go well past midnight.
KIM MURPHY, REPORTER, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”: Well, things have calmed down quite a bit since in the couple of hours since Mubarak spoke. Obviously, there was a sense of absolute rage in the immediate aftermath of the speech. People surged out of the square to the point that we were worried about instant violence. They moved in a mass towards the radio and TV building, which is heavily fortified with tanks and armored personnel carriers and several hundred of them just kind of hung out there and have vowed to remain there through the night. But it was largely peaceful. Everybody else kind of said, well, let‘s go home and come back tomorrow because obviously tomorrow, they‘re expecting massive, massive demonstrations to start a series of mosques around the city and make their way to other, as yet unknown locations.
Possibly including the radio and TV building again, and the presidential palace and back Tahrir Square. But a core very large group remains in Tahrir. And when I was over there last, little while ago, there were, I would say, you know, dozens and dozens of young men arriving, not leaving. The mood inside of the square was, you know, there was a little bit music started up again, a couple of speeches. People were kind of sitting down and smiling and drinking sodas. A few were kind of clapping and singing the national anthem. And I think people appear to be ready to regroup, talk, think and wait for what could be a really interesting day tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: They‘re holding their shoes up with the sole of the shoes facing forward to the cameras up to the stage. What does that mean in the Middle East land dialect? What‘s that message in the idiom over there?
MURPHY: Well, it is the most—one of the most extreme signs of disrespect that you can show. And we all remember that from the shoe in Iraq—as President Bush.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. Right.
MURPHY: It means we don‘t like what you‘re saying.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this. Was there something that could have been said today that would have fed the euphoria? What was the answer that they—has anybody formulated what it is they want today? I know that will change in a week. But right now, I keep getting different answers. One says leave the country, Mubarak. The other says, step down Mubarak, go to Sharm-el-Sheikh, one says, throw out your regime, turn it over to the army, perhaps. Or give it up everything, turn it over to the streets. What would possibly satisfy the main body of people we‘re looking at right now in the streets?
MURPHY: Well, you know, that‘s been the problem from the very beginning. There isn‘t a main body, really. There‘s no leadership over there. You go over there and you try to find out, well, you know, what do you guys want? Who‘s in-charge? And they‘re starting to form a committee with spokesmen and that sort of thing.
MURPHY: But none of them really exactly agree. I can tell you this, if Mubarak had said I‘m handing over power, all power to Suleiman, the vice president, he‘s going to be the president of Egypt and I‘m leaving, I think you would have gotten wild cheers and everybody would have been happy.
MATTHEWS: OK. We have to go.
MURPHY: And the next day, everybody would have said, that‘s not enough.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
MURPHY: We want the generals out.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. It‘s Kim Murphy, got to run, from the L.A. Times. Thanks for joining us from Cairo. Coming up before our HARDBALL, Rachel Maddow is going to join us. We‘re going to sort out what‘s going on in Egypt and what it means for America. HARDBALL starts in just a moment.
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United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
PASTE THE TRANSCRIPT HERE