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Egyptian Authorities Seem ‘Entrenched’ Despite Bloody Turning Point in Conflict

August 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Brown talks to Michael Giglio of Newsweek from Cairo about the scene at the frontlines of the bloody crackdown and his experience of being detained and beaten by Egyptian security forces, and NewsHour's Margaret Warner and Nathan Brown of George Washington University offer analysis on abandoned negotiation efforts.
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JEFFREY BROWN: I said earlier that President Morsi had been ousted in late June. It was actually early July.

A short time ago, I spoke to Newsweek and Daily Beast correspondent Mike Giglio covering the dispersal of a pro-Morsi site in Cairo today. He was temporarily detained and beaten by Egyptian security forces.

Mike Giglio, welcome to you.

Describe what you say today at the camp dispersal and what happened to you.

MICHAEL GIGLIO, Newsweek/Daily Beast: So, I was at the camp at Rabaa before the crackdown even started. And I was there as the police vehicles rolled in and as the police opened fire on the crowds, and was standing on the police lines watching them shoot the tear gas at the protesters and also watching them shoot live rounds, as you guys have described.

And after about an hour or so, the police seemed to decide that they didn’t want journalists at least on that side of the conflict. So they rounded up me and a couple other photographers, and they beat us after we identified as being journalists. And then they detained us for about four hours, along a number of protesters from the sit-in.

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JEFFREY BROWN: Was there any warning this morning before they came into the protest camp?

MICHAEL GIGLIO: There wasn’t.

I got there around 6:00 a.m. And this is when most people are still sleeping. So, they were all piled into their tents. A few people were awake, using the bathroom or saying their morning prayers. And then just like that, you know, there was — there was a surge of panic through the camp. And you saw people running to the exits, saying that the security forces were coming.

And there’s been a lot of false alarms like this before, but it was pretty clear that this time it was serious. And so I watched the people try in very panicked fashion set up barricades using stones, using sticks, but they were quickly dismantled when the police came.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, they were dismantled. They put up a fight, but it wasn’t much of a fight at that point?

MICHAEL GIGLIO: They put up a fight.

And there are reports, as you guys have mentioned, that both sides had firearms, and I think that is probably true. And I spoke to some people from inside Rabaa, including some of my colleagues, who saw the protesters themselves with firearms.

But I think it’s important to point out that, when the police first arrived, they were the ones that I saw, at least, initiate the firing. And I was on the front lines, like I said, of the protesters as they were trying to set barricades, and I didn’t see a single weapon. So I’m not doubting that they eventually did start using weapons, but at least at first, it was the police with a very heavy-handed response.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Mike, where do things stand at this moment?

MICHAEL GIGLIO: Right now, Cairo is a terrified city, I would say.

The streets are cleared out. It’s hard to get a taxi anywhere near the site of any of the demonstrations which are across the city. There was a curfew announced for 7:00 p.m. this evening, and there have been curfews in Egypt over the past few years, and they’re usually pretty widely ignored.

But, this time, the streets were completely empty. Every shop was boarded up. And as soon as the 7:00 p.m. deadline hit, you could see the army officers and the police officers starting to check I.D.s and really enforce it.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mike, finally, now with a state of emergency declared, what are people there telling you about the expectations for what’s next? Is it more violence?

MICHAEL GIGLIO: I think they’re ready for more violence, yes.

I think there’s a pretty widespread hope from both sides that this will somehow come to a peaceful conclusion, but I think, judging from the events of today, there’s no reason to expect that any time soon.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike Giglio of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, thanks so much.

MICHAEL GIGLIO: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: And back live now in our studio now, I’m joined by Nathan Brown, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, and our own Margaret Warner.

Nathan Brown, let me ask you first, what was the calculation, do you think, for the government to crack down today, and this hard?

NATHAN BROWN, George Washington University: Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of calculation going on in Egypt right now. It seems that people are pretty much dug in to entrenched positions.

There was a negotiation process that was under way that has an international mediation, has a domestic mediation between the Brotherhood and between the new regime. And that seems to have come to an end about last week or so. At that point, there was some determination to move forward, to move out these demonstrators, move out the protest camps and so on.

But the exact form that that would take and when that would occur, that, nobody knew.

JEFFREY BROWN: And does it surprise you the way it happened with the force it happened?

NATHAN BROWN: It doesn’t surprise me.

I think there were possibilities for a negotiated solution, as I say, and there were also possibilities for more gradual action. And those were the kinds of signals that the regime was giving out. But it’s no secret that the Egyptian security forces when they do deal with crowd control do it — have a history of doing it in the roughest manner possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret, you have been talking to both Egyptian and U.S. officials today. What do they tell you about why this came about as it did?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, I think we saw some of it Foreign Minister’s Fahmy’s interview last night.

They became convinced that this was preventing progress on anything else they were trying to do, that the military and security forces felt if they waited any longer, they would look weak. They had also come to the belief, and Egyptian officials have said this to me, that the Brotherhood didn’t want a peaceful resolution, the Brotherhood wanted bloodshed to create a — quote — “new narrative for themselves as victim,” as one said to me, they can live off for 20 years.

So, so, when negotiations failed, the U.S. left with some sense of foreboding that this was coming.

JEFFREY BROWN: But surprise? Were you sensing surprise from U.S. officials?

MARGARET WARNER: No, no, not surprise. I don’t believe U.S. officials knew the day, but their attempts to negotiate, as Professor Brown said, had come to naught.

There was a U.S.-E.U. delegation and what they were proposing to both sides was each side step back over this immediate confrontation. The Brotherhood do something to sort of rein in how much those camps spilled over into normal streets, and the government would release at least one or two political prisoners as a sign that, hey, we want to you participate.

According to the E.U. negotiator who actually did an interview today on the record, it was the Brotherhood who agreed tentatively, and it was the government that said no.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you make of the resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei? Does it suggest a real split or more consolidation by the military?

NATHAN BROWN: It looks a little bit more like a consolidation.

You do have still nominally a civilian government, a civilian president and a civilian cabinet and so on. But, right now, it seems that the military and the security forces are calling the shots. That said, I think the military and security forces have tremendous popular support. Baradei is a little bit isolated in his call for a negotiated solution when it comes to non-Islamist political forces.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, your sense is, they felt they could do this today and do it harshly, and they would have support?

NATHAN BROWN: They would have popular applause, at least over the short term.

MARGARET WARNER: And we heard — I heard that from Egyptian officials.

Last night, there was a conversation with one who was visiting Washington and talking about this whole topic, and he said, well, we can’t wait any longer. The people are demanding it. And they have convinced themselves that they are wrapped in this incredible surge of popularity and they have got people with them.

Of course, if the situation develops in a way that then they can’t deliver on jobs or order any more than the Brotherhood did, that popularity can turn into unpopularity very quickly.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what about the other side? Because you were talking to U.S. officials. We heard Secretary Kerry a little earlier. What has the response been both publicly and what you can pick up?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the question you asked earlier about is the military taking over, I think the U.S. fears it is.

If you go back to what Secretary Kerry said in Pakistan last week — it was very controversial, but he sort of said, the military — we don’t think this was a military takeover. They responded to the wishes of the people. And his exact line was, “To the best of our judgment so far, they didn’t take over themselves to run the country. There’s a civilian government.”

In effect, they were restoring democracy. Now, there’s an implied warning in that, which is, prove this. Stick to this. But, you know, what happened today, the state of emergency, and the fact that just yesterday they appointed 19 generals as governors of all these provinces, more and more suggests this is in fact military rule with a kind of civilian figurehead government.

JEFFREY BROWN: Nathan Brown, what’s your sense of the U.S. options at this point?

NATHAN BROWN: Well, I think the reaction of the executive branch will essentially be to try and deal with this new government. There will be a lot of distaste and a lot of pressure for them to perhaps ratchet down the violence.

I think, on Capitol Hill, there might be a little different kind of reaction, a sense that we’re giving an enormous amount of military aid to a military government. And so the Obama administration may come under pressure from Capitol Hill.

Ultimately, the policy of most American governments since the 1970 system has been to deal with whoever is in charge in Egypt.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your sense — I mean, did you want to add to that?

MARGARET WARNER: I was just going to say, the administration is concerned about renewed pressure from Capitol Hill. And they have two decisions to make. The military aid is one. And they could dial it back or reshape it.

The other is, there are military exercise, U.S.-Egyptian , scheduled for September called Bright Star. I think it’s every two years. And a decision has to be made pretty quickly, I’m told, about whether to move forward with that.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your sense, both of you let me try to get quickly, of what’s next, both in the immediate sense on the streets, and over the coming period? Is it more violence? Is it further rift, or does this look like it’s over now?

NATHAN BROWN: I don’t think it’s over. I think that there is a political process in Egypt that will continue, that will basically produce a regime that has a civilian face, but is essentially militarized and securitized state.

That will kind of continue, so Egypt will be able to continue to be able to say, we have a civilian leadership. At the same time, I don’t expect the Brotherhood to merely disappear. I don’t think we are going to see all-out civil war, but we could see a prolonged period of civil strife lasting for months and even years.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, of course, Margaret, they have been moving down the road of — towards a new constitution in Egypt, and U.S. officials are watching that carefully.

MARGARET WARNER: Very carefully.

And what they fear is — and an Egyptian official said to me today, you know, this camp — right now, it’s a state of siege on the ground, where the police have surrounded the camp and they have left one exit where people can in and get out, but that they are not even going to let that camp continue.

So, it could take further violence just to clear that camp. And the U.S. is — the Egyptian officials say, look, we’re the majority. They’re the minority. If they want to join, fine, but the idea we have to make compromises — quote — “That’s not going to happen.”

And they think they can go forward. The U.S. is concerned that whatever they come up with won’t have legitimacy or credibility if it doesn’t include Islamists.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret Warner, Nathan Brown, thank you both.

NATHAN BROWN: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you.