TODAY | January 31, 2011
MATT LAUER, co-host: The big question's now what happens next, and what does this uprising mean for the future of the Middle East ? Michael Singh is the former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council , Martin Fletcher covers the region for NBC and is our former Tel Aviv bureau chief, and Andrea Mitchell is NBC 's chief foreign affairs correspondent. Good morning to all of you.
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: Good morning, Matt.
Mr. MICHAEL SINGH (Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Good morning.
LAUER: Michael , let me start with you. A guy who's become somewhat the face of this revolt is Mohamed ElBaradei . He spoke yesterday and said this, 'We have restored our rights, we have restored our freedom, and what we have begun can not be reversed.' Is he putting the best possible spin on this? Does Hosni Mubarak have any cards left to play?
Mr. SINGH: Well, it's developed into a bit of a stand-off there in the streets of Cairo . I mean, ElBaradei and the opposition are insisting that Mubarak has to leave. Mubarak doesn't seem to be budging and he's pouring more troops and more police in the streets. And so right now you really have a stand-off between the two.
LAUER: In fact, it seems that Mubarak in some ways is being tone deaf here. Here you have these people in the streets saying they want the end of the old regime, and yet Mubarak appoints his vice president, a key member of that old regime, his right-hand man, his former intelligence chief. This is not going to go over well.
Mr. SINGH: Well, that's right. And you have to remember, this is a proud man. He's been ruling for 29 years. And he really believes, or at least believed at the beginning, that this was an unruly minority that's trying to threaten the security of his country. And so really, the United States has to bring him around to a different view.
LAUER: You talk about a stand-off. The fact of the matter is, there will be some movement in one direction or another. When you look into your crystal ball, which direction is it going?
Mr. SINGH: Well, right now I think one of the things we have to look very carefully at is the economic situation. No containers are being unloaded in the ports, the bread -- bakeries that are run by the state aren't working, ATMs have no money. So how long can people hold out -- hold out there in the streets is the question. Is the military willing to use force if they're given the order? These are the key questions.
LAUER: Over the weekend it did not seem as if they were.
Mr. SINGH: That's right .
LAUER: Do you think that might change?
Mr. SINGH: It may change. Ad I think the return of the police to the streets may be a spark for more violence, more conflict. The people hate the police, whereas the military is respected. So right now I think things are teetering on an edge.
LAUER: Martin , it seems as if this began with some students, largely young people , in many cases using social networking to communicate. It seems other groups have now joined the fray. Is that original message being co-opted for the benefit of other people now?
MARTIN FLETCHER reporting: Well, I think there's -- the original message is being co-opted simply because it's a message that is shared by most Egyptians. The anger at the corruption, of the poverty, the joblessness is not limited to young people . The country's really uniform in that -- united, I think, in that. But the question really becomes the Muslim Brotherhood . They're a group, they were underground. They're be -- they're being seen more in the streets. They're giving out water, they're giving out food to the demonstrators there. We're hearing Muslim Brotherhood slogans.
LAUER: We've seen that tactic in other places in the Middle East as well.
FLETCHER: Absolutely. They come -- they take a real issue and they use it because they support that issue. And they're becoming popular, of course.
LAUER: So what role do you expect them to have in the future of Egypt , and how worried should the United States be about that role?
FLETCHER: Probably a larger role, much larger role, and I think the United States probably should be very worried about it. It doesn't necessarily mean the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be an immediate terrorist force. But at the same time, Muslim fundamentalism -- Muslim fundamentalism is what they are. And other areas in the region will be looking at their success, in particular Hamas , for instance, in Gaza , which is actually just a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood .
LAUER: Andrea , let me bring you in. Mohamad ElBaradei also had this to say over the weekend. He said -- talking about the call from the United States to hold elections in the fall.
LAUER: Quote, "The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who's been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy. This is really a farce. People here might be poor, but they are intelligent." How do you think the administration is -- has handled this little tightrope, or this balancing act that they've been asked to perform so far?
MITCHELL: Well, it is a very tough balancing act. I mean, here they have to at the same time, reassure King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah in Jordan and other Arab leaders that we are not abandoning them, but still signal the revolutionaries, really, the protesters that they are on the side of democracy against an ally who has been critical in making peace with Israel and importantly, in recent decade, the war on terror , the key ally in the war on terror and the key ally against Saddam Hussein in Desert Storm . So you've got a balancing act. They perhaps were a bit slow in moving and in developing a voice in the initial days. You had misspeaking by Joe Biden , off message a bit on Thursday, saying that Mubarak was an ally and not a dictator. But at the same time, by Friday the president had signaled very strongly and himself said to his advisers, 'I need to go out and speak,' and spoke at 6:30 on Friday night our time, spoke to Mubarak . They're obviously not happy that Mubarak is not listening, not getting the message. But they don't want this to move too quickly because right now there's a real vacuum. They don't see that ElBaradei has real roots, but they were very intrigued by what he did say yesterday, which is that there's a possibility of some coalition with the army.
MITCHELL: If you have ElBaradei and the army, you're beginning to broaden an interim situation.
LAUER: And, Michael , I'm going to give you the last word here. It seems as if when you listen to a lot of the coverage and a lot of the concern here in the United States over the weekend, there is an assumption that whatever follows Mubarak will be worse for the United States than what we know in Mubarak . Is that a correct assumption?
Mr. SINGH: It's not necessarily correct. I think, you know, in this type of situation, in a crisis, first you're scrambling to get information and then you're really trying to prevent the worst outcomes. And I think for the White House , the worst outcomes are the violent overthrow of Mubarak or massacres in the streets. And so right now they're trying to buy time so that then we can use our leverage, use our influence in this sort of medium term to bring about that successful outcome, that orderly transition to democracy like Hillary Clinton said.
LAUER: Michael Singh , Martin Fletcher , Andrea Mitchell , thanks to all of you for your perspective on this.