Revolution in Cairo

Live Chat with the Reporters

Charles M. SennottAzmat Khan

Correspondent for the "Revolution in Cairo" report: "The Brothers." Charles M. Sennott is Executive Editor, Vice President and Co-Founder of GlobalPost. Through nearly 25 years as a reporter and on-air analyst, Sennott has been on the front lines of wars and insurgencies in 15 countries. Follow @GlobalPost.

Associate Producer for the "Revolution in Cairo" report: "The Brothers." Azmat Khan is a Web Journalist at FRONTLINE, where she helps to produce the series' deep-content websites and its internationally focused Twitter feeds @FrontlineCZCT and @FrontlineWRLD. Follow her at @AzmatZahra.

 Revolution in Cairo Chat(02/22/2011) 
12:14
FRONTLINE: 
The "Revolution in Cairo" chat will begin today at noon ET. FRONTLINE correspondent and GlobalPost Co-Founder Charles Sennott and FRONTLINE field producer Azmat Khan will be taking your questions. They were both part of our team in Cairo reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood segment of "Revolution in Cairo."
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:14 FRONTLINE
12:17
FRONTLINE: 
You can leave a question now by entering it below. You can also submit a question via Twitter by using #RevolutionInCairo. Please note that your questions will not immediately appear in the chat, and that we may not have time to include all questions submitted. Questions may also be edited for length.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:17 FRONTLINE
12:42
FRONTLINE: 
You can watch the full report here: http://to.pbs.org/eXNTj7

Here's extensive background on the Muslim Brotherhood: http://to.pbs.org/giDCqI
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:42 FRONTLINE
12:43
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
The collected #Cairo dispatches from @GlobalPost’s Charles Sennott: http://ow.ly/41yM4 & http://ow.ly/41uvO #RevolutionInCairo [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:43 frontlinepbs
11:54
Charles M. Sennott: 
Hi, This is Charlie Sennott. I am online and very much looking forward to taking your questions.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 11:54 Charles M. Sennott
11:57
FRONTLINE: 
We'll get started in just a few minutes.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 11:57 FRONTLINE
12:00
[Comment From Andy Andy : ] 
Was there any communication between the young Brothers and the April 6 members, or did they operate totally distinctly?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:00 Andy
12:07
Charles M. Sennott: 
Yes, the youth leaders from the April 6th movement and the Muslim Brotehrhood worked together along side youth representatives from the El Baradei and Ayman Nour factions. In fact, these youths worked together quite closely through the Revolutionary Youth Council and several other coordinating committees. They were all from different socio-economic backgrounds and some were religious and some were devoutly secular. One of the most searing images from our time in Tahrir Suare came the night Mubarak stepped down. Amid all the celebrating and fireworks, we came upon the green tent where the Revolutionary Youth Council held their meetings. There we found about seven or eight youth leaders crafting a communique by flashlight using a piece of cardboard to write on (the had no paper.) The Muslim Brotherhood youth leader Mohamed Abbas was in and out of this scene but his MB colleague, whose first name was Islam, was the one holding the pen while other youth worked together to craft each sentence. it is a beautiful document titled "Birth Certificiate of a Free Egypt." You can hear the audio of a Coptic Christian woman named Sally reading the statement on FRONTLINE's website.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:07 Charles M. Sennott
12:10
Azmat Khan: 
You can listen to the audio of the communiqué from members of the Youth Revolutionary Council here: http://ow.ly/41Zna

We saw a great deal of coalition-building between very diverse groups in the square, and that's something many of those we interviewed discussed a great deal. Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch, who was out on the square day after day, talked to us a bit more about that "cross-class political moment," but also about her recognition of the possibility that that may really be confined to the square. You can read more from her interview here: http://ow.ly/41yAA
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:10 Azmat Khan
12:11
Has Egypt’s uprising changed your views on social media?
Yes
 ( 73% )
No
 ( 27% )

Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:11 
12:11
[Comment From Frank Staheli Frank Staheli : ] 
Who caused the violence in Tahrir Square and other places in Egypt? It seems to me that it was Mubarak's thugs. Is this correct?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:11 Frank Staheli
12:15
Charles M. Sennott: 
Yes, that would be a correct impression from what we saw in Tahrir Square. The April 6 movement and most of the other youth movements were disciplined in their non-violence and tried very hard to be non-confrontational with police and army on the street. But on the side streets of Tahrir and on the bridges across the Nile, we saw the "thugs," as they became known, who supported the Mubarak regime. They came out with what seemed an intention to stir up violence. Many were armed with clubs and other pretty primitive weapons. They threatened and in some cases attacked the Western media and they picked fights with demonstrators. The feeling among demonstrators, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, was that they were trying to make the protesters look violent and then get the Western world on their side. One dynamic we saw in action, and which our cameraman Tim Grucza caught on camera, was that the Muslim Brotherhood members joined the protests on about January 28th and provided some muscle to the street demonstrations. They were physical and essentially pushed back on the "thugs" and the police. There was definitely scuffling and the MB were the ones who pushed through the police lines to allow all the demonstrators to take Tahrir. But I would say the MB were relatively restrained and the youth leaders were working hard , from what we could see, to not allow the violence to escalate. They were defensive more than they were confrontational. At least, that was our camera angle on the square. It is harder for me to speak with authority about Alexandria or elsewhere as we were not there. We were only in Cairo.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:15 Charles M. Sennott
12:17
Azmat Khan: 
I think there's also a very interesting class analysis that factors into discussions about "Mubarak's hired thugs," and it's something we haven't seen reported a great deal. This Spiegel article brings out some of them, and how "the poor are easy prey." http://bit.ly/g86PcZ
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:17 Azmat Khan
12:18
[Comment From Fatima Fatima : ] 
Can you reflect on how you saw gender manifested in the protests?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:18 Fatima
12:26
Charles M. Sennott: 
In the end of the day, Egypt is still a very traditional society so it is quite a step for a young woman to go to Tahrir Square on her own to join in protests. That said, there were a lot of women. Maybe 10 to 25 percent of the total, depending on which day of the 18 days you gauged the crowd. They were mostly secular women and some came with their husbands and children. It was common to see a family outing particularly when the corner was turned and it was clear Mubarak would have to step down. There were secular women activists and leaders from the April 6 movements and supporters of El Baradei and Ayman Nour, etc. But there were also quite a number of traditional women wearing the 'hijab' or "higab," as they pronounce it in Egypt. There was a smaller number of women in the all-black 'niqab,' the more religiously conservative full body covering and veil.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:26 Charles M. Sennott
12:27
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
Also see "Gigi’s Revolution"--a personal journey inside the #RevolutionInCairo w/ activist @Gsquare86. http://ow.ly/41yUe [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:27 frontlinepbs
12:33
Azmat Khan: 
I met women in the protests who came from very different walks of life, and I hope that's apparent in the images and videos that came out. It really shouldn't be surprising that there were many women on the frontlines of this revolution, who suffered at the hands of the thugs in the days of intense battle or who were instrumental in its planning and organizing, for example, addressing crowds during the biggest rallies at night. One professor, Noha Radwan was attacked and beaten. You can hear her account at Democracy now: http://ow.ly/420JA Of course the posters of martyrs that were plastered around Tahrir Square -- and were powerful catalysts in sustaining the movement -- depicted women. Something I learned while I was in Egypt -- but haven't seen a great deal of media coverage of -- is the involvement of women-based labor unions from manufacturing cities in Egypt. I hope that with time we'll start to hear more of their stories. One consideration also worth noting is how many women told me they felt safe in the square, particularly in terms of harassment. I can attest to that as well. I've lived in Egypt before, and the climate in Tahrir when protest organizers were out in full force was like nothing I had ever experienced in terms of freedom from harassment. That sense of safety changed, but this piece by journalist Sarah Topol really delves into some of the sentiments of female protestors regarding harassment and the atrocious attack on Lara Logan: http://slate.me/eUzzXY
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:33 Azmat Khan
12:33
Twitter
FrontlineWRLD: 
RT @frontlinepbs: Watch April 6 activist Asmaa Mahfouz’s video that galvanized youth just days before the #Jan25 protests http://ow.ly/40Ges [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:33 FrontlineWRLD
12:34
[Comment From Michael Michael : ] 
Did you feel like the Muslim Brotherhood was hiding their true political intentions from you during the interviews? It seems like they weren't fully divulging their ideas, or maybe they haven't fully conceived them yet?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:34 Michael
12:38
Charles M. Sennott: 

In many ways, the Muslim Brotherhood is an opaque organization. There are many reasons why that is the case. One reasons is that they have grown used to operating in secrecy after years of being officially outlawed as a political movement. Their members have been beaten down and routinely rounded up by the Mubarak regime. Their assets have been seized and their social services networks have been shut down. That kind of treatment at the hands of the regime didn't exactly lend itself to "transparency" on all views. And, yes, I think they are being cagey about answering questions, particularly with the Western media. Their feeling is that Mubarak presented them in a very disparaging light and tried create an aura of fear around the Brotherhood in Egypt and particularly in the West. Mubarak set up the equation as it was either him in power holding on to stability or democracy in which case there would be chaos and the Brotherhood. We heard from many Egyptians on the streets of Tahrir that they reject that dichotomy now. Many with whom we spoke felt the Muslim Brotherhood deserve the right to organize as a party. They have rejected violence and have proven over decades that they want to participate in a democratic Egypt. We heard that sentiment even from secular activists who completely disagreed with their positions on religion, sharia, women and how to treat the Christian minority in a Muslim majority country. But as the Brotherhood emerges from the shadows and takes its place at the table in Egypt's new democracy, they will have to answer some tough questions. We tried our best in the film to put those hard questions to the young leader Mohamed Abbas and to some of the senior leadership. I think you ask the question in a very important way , Michael, by opening up the possibility that some of their ideas are not yet formed. That is very much the case, I believe. Particularly in relation to dealing with women and Christians. On Israel, they have a pretty fixed position that they disagree with the 1978 Camp David peace treaty, but that they will recognize the treaty until it can be put to a vote. If the country accepts it, they will accept it. That's how most of the leadership explained their position. Still, we in the media, particularly Egyptian journalists, will need to keep hitting the Brotherhood with hard questions. Welcome to democracy!
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:38 Charles M. Sennott
12:40
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
.@hebamorayef: I don’t believe that the #MuslimBrotherhood is waiting to turn #Egypt into #Iran. #RevolutionInCairo http://ow.ly/41zO3 [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:40 frontlinepbs
12:41
Azmat Khan: 
A lot of those whom we spoke with, including analyst Shadi Hamid, expressed that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't exactly know what it wants right now, and that it's more pragmatic for them to be vague about their platform in order to maintain support. As he said in his interview, http://ow.ly/41zTR:

"The Brotherhood, really, at the end of the day, is a slow, bumbling giant. It's hard for them to take decisive action. It's hard for them to really be bold and creative, because they're just so big. There are so many individuals and groups within that have different visions for where the organization should go. So better not to have a clear definition of their vision for Egypt, because that could alienate some of its supporters. So it has a somewhat vague outlook on politics. What would the Brotherhood really do if it came to power? What would it mean to implement Islamic law? Those are questions that the Brotherhood hasn't answered very clearly, not because they're trying to trick anyone, but because they themselves probably don't know."

It's also important to consider who the Muslim Brotherhood let speak to the media. Even within the old guard, the senior leaders with whom we were able to speak, including Essam ElErian and Dr. Abdel Moneim Abou El-Fatouh, are those most often considered "reformers" or "moderates" within the group. But finding the Muslim Brotherhood's comparatively elusive hardline leaders proved a much more difficult undertaking during the tumult of the revolution, and I'm left wondering which Brotherhood voices were suppressed in the fray.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:41 Azmat Khan
12:42
Should the US engage with the Muslim Brotherhood?
Yes
 ( 69% )
No
 ( 31% )

Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:42 
12:44
[Comment From Kathleen Kathleen : ] 
Last night's program included a clip of the young spokesperson of the Brothers. He asked a protestor in the square to put his Koran away, and mentioned that they were careful not to spoil the revolution by linking the Brothers to it in the media. Do you think this was a manipulation to gain more international support or do you think the Brothers will actually honor diversity and pluralism? The other secular youth protestor interviewed was afraid to speak against them.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:44 Kathleen
12:46
Charles M. Sennott: 
This is a great and very insightful question. I can't look inside the soul of Mohamed Abbas and tell you exactly what was motivating him. But I can tell you that he seemed to be genuinely respectful of the fact that the revolution belonged to everyone in Egypt and that the Muslim Brotherhood saw no gain in trying to take it over. There was also an element of street smarts in Abbas and others in that they understood that a few careless expressions of faith by a Muslim Brother could end up being beamed out all over the world and change the color of the protest movement. They were keenly aware of their reputation and aware that the Mubarak regime would love to paint the uprising as Islamist, knowing that such a false impression would scare the West and encourage Washington to stand by the regime. In the end of the day, I would say the MB played it smart from their own perspective. That said, the movement is very open about seeking to change Egypt to a more Islamic society. Their goal is that the society will change and then the political process will accept true sharia, or Islamic law. So hiding a Koran is in its essence masking their true goals. A tough, but very good question. Hope I shed some light on just how complex the equation is.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:46 Charles M. Sennott
12:50
Azmat Khan: 
Heba Morayef (http://ow.ly/41yAA) talked to us about the Brotherhood's very complicated relationship with human rights. She has encountered members who have been persecuted by the Mubarak regime, as well as platforms Brotherhood members have proposed – even as recently as 2007 -- that have promoted discrimination inconsistent with international human rights law, particularly with respect to Coptic Christians and women. And she made a very interesting point: she told us that having experienced such violations, she hoped the Brotherhood would not then necessarily commit the same violations if in power. During the protests, the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badi claimed 500 of its members had been detained by the government since the protests began on January 25th.

Out of fear, some Brotherhood members operate in secret. I observed some of those attempts firsthand. One young Brotherhood member I was in contact with led a duplicitous life of sorts. Out of fear of losing his job, he refused to disclose to his employers that he was a member of the Brotherhood's think tank. He would not turn on his mobile phone in particular areas because he did not want it to register with a cell tower, an unimaginably frustrating experience for a journalist trying to reach him…

Another Muslim Brotherhood supporter, Omar Mazin, asked us not to film his face when we spoke to him because he feared being identified with the site he ran. After Mubarak stepped down, he told us he felt more comfortable revealing himself. I wonder whether in this "new Egypt" both of them will feel more free to affiliate as Muslim Brotherhood.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:50 Azmat Khan
12:50
[Comment From Jeremy Jeremy : ] 
At any point did you fear for your safety while covering this story?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:50 Jeremy
12:53
Charles M. Sennott: 
Camerman/producer Tim Grucza and I both traveled to Cairo straight from Kabul. So "safety" is a relative issue. Getting "beat up" seemed like an acceptable risk as opposed to getting "blown up." I don't mean to sound flip, that truly is the balance you weigh as a foreign correspondent. That said, I personally did not feel any direct threat. I think Tim and I tried our best to defuse situations if we saw combustible elements coming together. That is always the most wise way to operate in covering any conflict. Tim is a real pro and knew how to handle himself in just about ever situation. I was outraged at the regime fostering suspicions about the "Western media" as spies and enemies of Egypt. That definitely led to some of the thugs targeting us on the street. I was proud that President Obama and Sec of State Clinton spoke out so forcefully against that ... For me personally, I have covered Iraq, Afghanistan and just too damn much war. There is really no romance to it. War is terrible and terribly boring in many respects. What I loved about this story in Egypt was the excitement of it and the positive feeling in the air that millions of Egyptians were standing up in largely non-violent protests to take on a corrupt and brutal regime that had oppressed them for too long. It was thrilling. And in many ways uplifting. I hope this doesn't sound cavalier, but I would risk getting beat up by a few thugs to cover that.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:53 Charles M. Sennott
12:54
Azmat Khan: 
Charlie really nailed that.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:54 Azmat Khan
12:54
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
Charles Sennott’s two-part @GlobalPost chronicle of his journey to examine the #MuslimBrotherhood for @GlobalPost: http://ow.ly/41vXn [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:54 frontlinepbs
12:57
[Comment From Charlotte Charlotte : ] 
Good report. I am struck by the overall ominous tone of the reporting about the MB in the Western media which I find to be played up. What do you think about media coverage of the MB?
Wednesday February 23, 2011 12:57 Charlotte
1:06
Charles M. Sennott: 
Great question, and thanks for asking it. Our intention in "The Brothers" was to go beyond the ominous hype about the Muslim Brotherhood and try to genuinely explore who they are and what role they were playing in the revolution. We worked very hard to do that fairly and with a lot of insight and unblinking honesty. We also tried to do it through genuine characters, like Mohamed Abbas, who are complex and layered. The truth is that the Brotherhood's past is long and sometimes checkered. Some of their positions are very much out of step with secular opposition and with the West, particularly America which provides key military and economic aid to Egypt. That said, the Western media , to the extent you can generalize about them, have perhaps been less than sophisticated in their reporting on different Islamist movements. The media tends to pain all Islamist movements with too broad a brush. The revolution in Cairo has dramatically altered the political landscape of the Middle East and now analysts and diplomats and the reporters covering the region will have to have the courage to look clearly at the lay of the land. When the dust settles, the Muslim Brotherhood is actually a relatively moderate movement that has rejected violence and which has proven a desire to participate in an Egyptian democracy. I come away from this assignment feeling we still have to keep asking the tough questions, but that journalists also need to keep their minds open as to the role an Islamist party might play in a country as traditional and as big and as important as Egypt. We might look to Turkey and Indonesia for examples where Islamist parties have played important and productive roles in contributing to emerging democracies. ... A big question that looms over the aftermath of the revolution in Egypt is whether the U.S. will engage with the Muslim Brotherhood? It is a question posed with great context by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center. I would encourage reporters to read his analysis and put that question to the powers that be in Washington.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:06 Charles M. Sennott
1:08
FRONTLINE: 
Here's our final question. This one's from our Facebook page. Maureen asks: "Since the program was completed, do you have any updates on the direction the new government will be taking and the role the Brotherhood will be playing- both the older factions and the younger?"
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:08 FRONTLINE
1:14
Azmat Khan: 
There's been a great deal of discussion about how the Brotherhood will proceed, and a few developments on that front. Though they have announced they won't be fielding a presidential candidate in the September elections, they are preparing to form a party, the "Freedom and Justice Party." There are some who say that the internal divisions we've seen become apparent as the organization has become more politically engaged will only be exacerbated as this moves forward. This could play out in that divide between the youth and the "old guard."

Of course the central question we'll be hearing more and more about is whether and how the U.S. should engage with the Muslim Brotherhood as a party forms, and how their potential rise could impact U.S. strategic interests, whether they be Israel or Al Qaeda.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:14 Azmat Khan
1:15
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
The #RevolutionInCairo Day-to-Day--our timeline of events, conversations, & analysis from Tahrir Sq & around the world. http://ow.ly/41xNo [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:15 frontlinepbs
1:18
FRONTLINE: 
We're out of time. Thanks for your questions everyone, and a special thanks to Charles Sennott and Azmat Khan for taking part.
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:18 FRONTLINE
1:20
Twitter
frontlinepbs: 
"..the most...thrilling story [I’ve] ever covered.." @GlobalPost’s Charles Sennott on #RevolutionInCairo http://ow.ly/41A3I @nprfreshair [via Twitter]
Wednesday February 23, 2011 1:20 frontlinepbs
1:30
 

 
 
 

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Posted Feburary 22, 2011

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