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Egypt in Crisis; Judge Overturns Health Care Law; Israel Concerned Over Egypt's Future; Egypt: The WikiLeaks Connection

Aired January 31, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak is certainly feeling the heat right now as new vice president Omar Suleiman said on state television today that Mubarak has asked him to start working immediately on "real political reform."

Right after that, the vice president's office said that talks with opposition parties are already under way.

Right now, it's 1:00 a.m. in Egypt. A Monday scene in Cairo's Liberation Square may be the calm though before the storm. In just a few hours, massive demonstrations billed as a "Million-Man" march are planned across the country. And now we're learning the Egyptian government is shutting down, get this, shutting down all mobile phone networks in the country ahead of the march. Already, essential supplies are running very, very low. There have been long lines in front of bread shops, food markets, gas stations and banks are closed. ATM machines are in the dark. A lack of security and lack of cash paralyzing the Egyptian capital right now.

And the military, the Egyptian military isn't just guarding the streets and strategic locations. Modern weapons are now protecting the very symbols of ancient Egypt. CNN's Ivan Watson is joining us now live now from Cairo with more.

Ivan, what's going on?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, on this seventh day of protests, the crowd in Cairo's central Tahrir Square of demonstrators was bigger than Saturday's crowd, was bigger than Sunday's crowd, bigger than ever, in fact.

Meanwhile, out in the streets of the Egyptian capital, we saw troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers fanning out, a dramatic increase in the amount of troops in the Egyptian in the streets of the city. Take a look at this report.


WATSON (voice-over): One of the world's most famous landmarks now guarded by army tanks.

(on camera): Soldiers have been deployed all around this city, and the tanks are even parked here at one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Great Pyramids of Giza. (voice-over): An army officer insisted the Pyramids are still open for tourists, but the soldiers wouldn't let us come any closer. On Monday, the troop presence was dramatically increased in Cairo, soldiers trained to defend their country from foreign enemies now taking on the duties of largely absent police -- an effort to restore law and order in a frightened city bearing the scars of several days and nights of unrest.

(on camera): This is part of what has Egyptians so scared right now, a number of hotels and cabarets and casinos like this that were torched and looted in the first days of the protests.

(voice-over): Most of the businesses in town are still closed. With the normal working day cut in half by a curfew that started at 3:00 p.m., Egyptians had a few short hours to shop for groceries -- among those foraging for food in largely empty streets, this family from Taiwan stranded while on vacation, hoping to catch a flight out of the country on Tuesday.

After a week of sweeping historic changes, some Egyptians taking it upon themselves to clean up the debris left by days of protests.

(on camera): There is a civic-minded dimension to this protest movement here. We have come to the street, and ordinary people, they're not being paid to do this. These are volunteers, students, demonstrators who are out cleaning up the streets.

Is somebody paying you to clean these streets?

ISRA NASRI, EGYPTIAN PHARMACY STUDENT: No, no, no. No somebody pay me. No, I'm just -- I'm volunteer. I'm coming -- no, no, no pay, no -- no money, no.

WATSON: And why -- why -- why are you volunteering?


NASRI: Because this my country. No reason. This my country. I wanted to clean it.

WATSON: What is going to happen to your country?

NASRI: I don't know, but I want it to better. That's all I want, to be better and to be -- to have a good president.

WATSON (voice-over): After years of fear, these Egyptians are no longer afraid to repeat this simple demand: They want a better government.



WATSON: Now, Wolf, thousands of people were in Cairo's central Tahrir Square this evening. And their demonstration had shifted more to a sit-in. They set up tents. They lit campfires underneath the palm trees.

And as you mentioned, the vice president giving a televised address during which he called for dialogue with opposition parties and he said, yes, I agree there are problems, questions that have to be addressed that have been raised by the youth. This has been very much a youth-driven movement so far of street protests.

But we are also hearing from an official inside the Information Ministry telling us that the phone, the cellular phone networks are likely to be cut off in the coming hours. The train links have been cut off as well. It does seem like efforts by the government to try to stop or at least reduce the number of people invited to participate in what opposition groups have dubbed tomorrow's million man march -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I just saw your tweet on that, Ivan, that the phone systems, the cellular phone systems, the mobile phone systems in Egypt are about to be shut down to try to stop people from getting involved in that march.

But that -- that potentially could have the opposite effect from the Egyptian government's perspective. It could really embolden those young people especially to go out there, given how sophisticated the Egyptian mobile phone system is right now.

WATSON: Well, what we saw was the cellular phone networks were shut down on Friday, and you had running street battles taking place between demonstrators and the police, which have now largely evaporated from the streets. We don't see them out in uniform anymore, except for a few traffic cops I saw today.

And, instead now, the big rallying point has become this central square, Tahrir, or Liberation, Square. And that's a place where people are gathering. And they're not communicating via Facebook or Twitter or e-mail. Instead they're simply handing out flyers, photocopies and that is where you will see posters that have been put up inviting people to participate starting at 10:00 a.m. local time in what has been dubbed a million man match. We will just have to see what's going to happen later on Tuesday.

BLITZER: Ivan, we will stay in touch with you and all of our reporters in Cairo and Alexandria, elsewhere in Egypt.

We also have some extraordinary images just coming in showing just how tense the situation on the streets of Cairo is right now. This amateur video that we're about to show you shows a confrontation between security forces and a gathering crowd. Shots are fired and the threat seems to subside as the crowd starts chanting the people and the army are one. Watch this video.

The U.S. has launched around-the-clock efforts to airlift, to evacuate Americans out of Egypt. The State Department now saying it's evacuated more than 1,000 people today, hopes to evacuate another 1,000 tomorrow. Here's the State Department's spokesman, P.J. Crowley.


P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Roughly 2,600 people have contacted by a variety of means and registered with us that they wish to leave the country. Obviously, today we've, kind of, put a pretty good dent in that number, but, obviously, that will -- that will go up -- will fluctuate day to day, as American citizens make their own decisions about whether to stay in Egypt or to -- to leave.

And just a reminder, American citizens who have the ability to get out through commercial means are doing so at the same time.

So we're a source of -- of support, but -- but, you know, there are still commercial flights coming in out of Cairo.


BLITZER: Scrambling to keep up with the events in Egypt, the Obama administration today brought together a group of outside experts on the Middle East to discuss the situation.

Joining us now, one of those experts, Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here in Washington.

Michele Dunne, thanks very much for coming in.


So this was a group of scholars, experts invited to meet with whom at the White House?

DUNNE: To meet with some senior officials to work on Middle East, on democracy issues and also sort of on public affairs.

BALDWIN: Did they think they needed some outside experts; the internal experts weren't enough? Is that why they brought you and your colleagues in?

DUNNE: Well, not necessarily. But I think they wanted to sort of run through what are the messages that they're delivering? How do we think they're going over? Do we have suggestions for how they could better articulate the U.S. point of view?

BLITZER: Was there a consensus that emerged in terms of what the U.S. should do next?

DUNNE: I think that the outside participants thought that the administration, you know, has made progress. It's sort of gone from asking for reform and things that we're seeing as far too little to stop these demonstrations to now talking about a transition to real democracy and then we saw even later today talking now about the need for the Egyptian government to negotiate with the opposition.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Because it was only a week ago that the secretary of state was saying that this is a stable government in Egypt and then the vice president saying Mubarak is not a dictator, which seemed to suggest to a lot of outside experts and probably inside experts that they were out of touch.

DUNNE: That's right. Their initial statements I think were sort of far behind the curve. I don't think the administration wants to be out in front of the curve of events. It has no desire to be steering what's going on in Egypt but they do want to be seen to responding to what they admit are legitimate demands by the protesters.

BLITZER: So let me pick your brain because you're an expert. You called -- you said months ago that this was likely to happen. I was reading your stuff. And so what should the U.S. be doing, not a week from now or a month from now, but right now? What should the president of the United States and the secretary of state be doing?

DUNNE: I mean, there are a couple of key questions now. One of the key questions is whether President Mubarak is going to -- is it possible for him to stay on or not?


DUNNE: I think the U.S. administration does not want to be the ones calling publicly for Mubarak to step down. I think they think that's somewhat unseemly, that the U.S. shouldn't do that, but there definitely should be high level private contacts going on with Mubarak and with others, notably the Egyptian military about how they see this shaping up and the fact they really need to respond to these protesters and not just take half-measures, for example, as Mubarak did by naming a new cabinet, which did not respond at all really to what the demonstrators are asking for.

BLITZER: We're hearing that the administration has decided to send a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, probably someone you know, many of us know him, to go as a special envoy to Egypt.

I assume he's going to meet with President Mubarak with a special message. Now, President Mubarak knows Frank Wisner very well. He spent a lot of time in Egypt. What do you think that special envoy's message is going to be?

DUNNE: Well, I don't know what the message is going to be, but the message itself is very important. Ambassador Wisner is someone who was a close friend of President Mubarak, someone trusted and liked by Mubarak and the others that he will be meeting with. So that's good. He's a reassuring presence in that respect. He's also someone who could deliver a tough message if he's given one to deliver.

BLITZER: Yes, and he's been very involved in Egyptian affairs over these years since retiring from the State Department as the ambassador. I know he's on the board of American University of Cairo as well. So we will see what happens. We will follow that. Michele, thanks very much for coming in.

DUNNE: You're welcome.

BLITZER: We will continue to talk.

DUNNE: Thanks.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get back to what's happening in Egypt in a moment. But there's a major development happening at the White House right now.

Dan Lothian is working the story. And, Dan, it involves the U.S. ambassador to China. Tell our viewers what you have learned.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Ambassador Huntsman we are told here by two senior administration officials that he will be stepping down.

A hand-delivered resignation letter was sent to Mr. Obama today. It takes effect on April 30. Now, he has played a critical role in this relationship that the United States is forging with China. And you might recall when President Hu was here at the White House during that press conference, a reporter asked Mr. Obama about the prospects of Mr. Huntsman running against him and as a Republican candidate in 2012. Mr. Obama joked that I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever his endeavors he chooses in the future.

The president went on to say -- quote -- "I'm sure that having him work with me so well will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

Robert Gibbs said that it was well-known within the White House that he would be stepping down at the early part of this year. And he said ever since that became known that they have been looking at who would replace him. So far, though, no word on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jon Huntsman, as you say, the former governor of Utah, maybe a future Republican presidential candidate himself deciding to step down. A good time for him he believes to do so. All right, Dan, thanks very much.

Someone else is closely watching the situation in Egypt right now. We're talking about Bradley Manning. He's the U.S. soldier accused of leaking the WikiLeaks cables. Wait until you hear the link he's now making between himself and the uprising in Egypt.

And another big story in the U.S. today. A federal judge knocks down a key part of the health care reform law. So what does it really mean? Our own senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is standing by.


BLITZER: The situation in Egypt certainly on Jack Cafferty's mind. Jack is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: With Egyptian protesters hitting the streets for a week now, there's a growing sense of frustration at the lack of response from the United States.

Many point to that speech that President Obama made to the world in Cairo in June of 2009. Remember? At that time, he spoke about democracy and he warned that governments cannot suppress the rights of the people. So almost two years later, these protesters would like to know why President Obama's not putting his money where his mouth is and openly supporting them. It's a reasonable question.

Some in the Middle East are going even farther. The Israeli newspaper "Haaretz" writes that Mr. Obama will be remembered as -- quote -- "the president who lost Egypt and during whose tenure America's alliances in the Middle East crumbled" -- unquote.

The piece suggests President Obama's been too cautious, sitting on the pence and neither embracing the despised leaders nor preaching for democracy. But supporters of the administration say that abandoning a key ally in a time of crisis would damage America's interests in that region. What kind of message would it send to our other allies in the Middle East?

Also, others see Egypt as a moderate force in a region of Islamic extremists like Iran and they say Egypt has helped keep peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Meanwhile, there are signs that after 30 years, the White House is quietly preparing for a post-Mubarak Egypt.

One former official told "The Los Angeles Times" the administration recognizes it has to be on the right side of history, and that it can't try to keep Mubarak in power at all costs.

So here's the question: What is the role of the United States when it comes to violence and political unrest in the Middle East?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Stand by.

President Obama's sweeping health care reform law took a big legal blow today. And the battle looks like it could all the way to the Supreme Court. A second federal judge has ruled that key parts of the measure are, in fact, unconstitutional.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin in New York.

It's a serious setback for the Obama administration although the Justice Department says it will appeal.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And, Wolf, what makes this decision even worse than the last one is, the one in Virginia that struck down part of the law, is this judge, Roger Vinson in Florida, said as a result of the individual mandate, the part of the law that says everyone has to buy health insurance, because he says that's unconstitutional, he says the whole law has to go out the window. So he has declared the entire law unconstitutional, everything about preexisting conditions, people staying on their -- kids staying on their parents' health care plans until 26, unconstitutional. All of that is out the window if this ruling stands.

BLITZER: Well, it's going to take a long time before it reaches the United States Supreme Court. Let's say it takes six months or a year. What happens in between?

TOOBIN: Well, that seems to be up for debate at this moment. The White House held a conference call earlier this afternoon. And they said nothing changes. The law remains in effect pending the appeal.

But in the judge's opinion, he says that he believes that the administration will not implement the law. So I think the Justice Department is going to have to go back to this judge or certainly to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to get some clarification about what happens right now.

But certainly, the main point is that the United States Supreme Court is going to have to address this law sooner rather than later.

BLITZER: And it will probably be obviously a split decision at the Supreme Court. We can be sure of that. All right, Jeffrey, thanks very much.

A monster storm now barreling across account United States. It has Chicago squarely in its sights. That's not all. Three-quarters of the country could get pounded by snow, sleet and ice.

And Egypt, home of the Pyramids, looters have damaged and made off with priceless treasures already. So what are they eyeing next?



BLITZER: The chaos in Egypt, it's not just in Cairo. Alexandria also a hotbed of unrest. Why lots of people are deeply worried about Egypt's border with Gaza right now as well.

And why is Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking all the WikiLeaks cables, watching the situation in Egypt so closely? A close friend of his talks to CNN.


BLITZER: Hundreds of American citizens have started to make it out of Egypt. The U.S. has begun around the clock evacuations. And officials are hoping to fly some 2,000 people to safety by this time tomorrow. Official video today shows President Mubarak meeting with his new cabinet, but there's speculation on his whereabouts. Some suggesting he's in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh reportedly convinced that he's taken refuge, at least some people say, there. We don't know, though. Egypt's chaos is certainly not confined to Cairo. Security forces are on the streets of Alexandria, the second largest city in the country, one of two locations where the so-called million man protest movement is being organized for tomorrow.

Those massive demonstrations are planned only for -- planned to begin in just hours from now.

Let's go live to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's in Alexandria. He's joining us with more.

What's the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest here is that we're seeing the army patrolling the streets more than they have done over the past couple of evenings. It's not clear what they're looking for.

We know that the government is trying to head off this million man march by closing down the phone networks here as they did on Friday to try and thwart the big protests on Friday. And the thing that we're seeing in this city that the demonstrators are doing differently that make it more difficult to control them is they have protests in different parts of the city.

It almost doesn't matter which area, which neighborhood you go into. You will find a protest marching down a street in one direction, then another. Also gathered in the central Liberation Square, Martyrs Square in here the center of the city. That square is right at the end of the rail network. And there are rumors as well the railway system will be shut down tomorrow as well to try and stop people getting into that protest.

But it seems that the army here is stepping up their efforts to have a better idea of what's going on in the city where and when -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Based on your eyewitness account, Nic, have you seen a shift in the relationship between the protesters in Alexandria and the Egyptian military? Forget about the police right now. We're talking about the army. Has there been a change over the past 24 hours?

ROBERTSON: You know, we saw the army here just drive past this hotel about maybe eight or nine hours ago shooting a heavy caliber machine gun in the air, trying to scare protesters away from the square behind me here. We haven't seen that before. That was the first evidence we've seen where the army appeared to sort of challenge the protesters on the ground, firing in the air, not firing at them. And it had the desired job of chasing them away. We hadn't seen that 'til now.

But when you talk to the people, they see the army in two very clear ways. The soldiers, the low-ranking soldiers, they say, "Those soldiers are on our side." And we've seen it ourselves. They're much more friendly to the people. It's the officers, the senior officers that people here think are still loyal to President Mubarak. And they have concerns that...

BLITZER: All right. Looks like we just lost that satellite connection with Nic. But we'll be in touch with him.

The Mubarak regime certainly has cooperated with the Israelis and the United States to keep the peace. Egypt is counted on to keep weapons out of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. Hamas viewed by the U.S. government and the Israeli government as a terror organization.

Egypt says it has blocked dozens of border tunnels. Take a look at these. They're big enough to actually smuggle livestock. But Israel says weapons and rocket parts still reach Gaza.

And what happens if Egypt just stops policing its border? Three years ago when Israel responded to rocket fire by sealing off Gaza, Palestinians blew holes in the Egyptian border fence. Thousands of desperate people poured across while Egyptian guards simply watched.

Of all of Egypt's neighbors, Israel certainly must be watching with the most concern right now. After several wars, Egypt became the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel. That was back in 1979, and that peace has held ever since. But Israelis right now are deeply worried about what happens next.

Let's go to Jerusalem. CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is joining us live.

Fionnuala, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out today. What did he say?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was the first time that a government official had gone on camera and publicly made a statement. He did speak yesterday at a cabinet meeting, but he elaborated somewhat today after a meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. And he said that how Egypt handles this situation would have an impact on the security of Israel.

And then he went on to draw a comparison with the revolution in Iran and said that the situation was extremely dynamic and fluid, and that led him on to directly compare what is happening in Egypt with what happened in Tehran in 1979.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What may develop and in fact has already developed in a number of countries, including Iran itself, is that they have oppressive regimes in the form of extremist Islam, and they certainly are suppressing human rights and trampling them into the dust. And they're not allowing any democracy whatsoever, no freedom, no rights whatsoever. And these regimes also constitute a danger to peace and stability of all civilized people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SWEENEY: Well, the Israeli prime minister refusing to comment on his preference for any potential post-Mubarak situation in Egypt but essentially saying that Israel was watching the situation extremely closely and urging Egypt to open dialogue with the protesters and to allow them freedom of expression -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know the Israelis have a very good relationship with the new vice president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman. Do they want Mubarak to step down and hand over power, the Israelis?

SWEENEY: Well, Israel, of course, would be in favor of democracy. But in terms of Hosni Mubarak, he has kept the peace for Israel, particularly around Gaza, by patrolling it very securely and doing a lot of work as far as the Israelis have been concerned.

So Wolf, it is a situation for Israel, better the devil you know. But Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly saying he wouldn't go into any possible post-Mubarak situation but said that, because the situation was so dynamic and so fluid, that his fear was that if change happened too quickly without the structures in place for democracy, that that could have an impact on Israel's security.

BLITZER: All right Fionnuala, thanks. Fionnuala Sweeney reporting for us from Jerusalem.

The army soldier suspected of telling all to WikiLeaks gets just one hour of television a day in a detention center. Guess what he's watching? We'll give you a clue, it's Egypt.

And thousands of tourists flee Egypt amid all the chaos going on. The ancient treasures that lured them there in the first place may now be in danger.


BLITZER: Now, a fascinating link to tell you about. We're learning that the U.S. army private suspected of divulging top-secret information to WikiLeaks believes he may be responsible for the protests and the unrest we're seeing in Egypt right now. And apparently, he's happy about it.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now with details. I'm not sure it was exactly top secret, but it was secret information that he was providing, allegedly, to WikiLeaks. What's going on here, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that these WikiLeaks cables were read in Egypt. You know, they concerned Egypt, went into detail about some of the messages that were being passed between the U.S. and Egyptian governments.

And Private Manning, as you mentioned, you know, he has not been convicted of anything. But he has been charged. And one of his friends visited him in his detention center in the brig in Quantico and says that Manning has been using his one hour a day that he's allowed to watch TV to keep very close tabs on what he can on what's going on in Egypt.


DAVID HOUSE, MT RESEARCHER, FRIEND OF MANNING: That was yesterday talking to Bradley Manning. We talked for 2 1/2 hours. And Tunisia and Egypt were a very large part of our conversation.

LAWRENCE: You got a sense that he felt a real connection to what is going on there?

HOUSE: Talking to Bradley Manning, yes. Events happening today in Egypt are exactly in line with what he views the Internet as a powerful force for, and that is a force for good, a force for democracy. He views the power of social media as a force that can unite people and allow them to rapidly organize and to actually outsmart tyrannical regimes.

This is one reason he believed why the Egyptian government had unplugged the Internet in Egypt, in order to prevent this young educated class of people from rapidly organizing.


LAWRENCE: And again, some of these leaked cables show that behind the scenes the U.S. State Department was supporting a pro- democracy activist there in Egypt, pushing for the release of some of the dissidents who were being imprisoned. So you know, all of this was read in Egypt and looked at as a sign possibly of what support maybe they could expect from the United States government.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right, Chris, thank you.

A King Tut statue is smashed into pieces and tossed on the ground. Looters vandalize and steal some of Egypt's priceless artifacts dating back thousands of years. And now Egypt's army is stepping in to protect what some call the greatest open-air museum in the world.

And military propaganda from China or an all-too-familiar movie moment.


BLITZER: Some of the world's most priceless treasures now facing danger in Egypt. Looters have already damaged a statue of King Tut and carted off ancient artifacts in the unrest boiling over in the country. Now many of Egypt's museums are frightened that they could be targeted next.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's working the story for us. What do you know, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities said that the country's major archaeological sites, monuments and museums are now being protected by the army. But there's still a lot of concern. Zahi Hawas (ph), the top antiquities official, wrote in a blog this weekend, quote, "My heart is broken and my blood is boiling" after reporting ten looters got into the Cairo museum. He and many others are hoping that national pride will protect priceless artifacts.


SNOW (voice-over): Soldiers stand guard outside the Egyptian museum in Cairo, home to thousands of historical treasures. But it hasn't quelled concerns after looters entered the museum on Friday night.

Thomas Campbell is director of the New York Metropolitan Museum, which has close ties to Egypt.

THOMAS CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR, METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART: Anyone who's had the privilege of visiting the museum will recognize it's one of the most significant collections in the world. So seeing damage to these artifacts is deeply troubling.

SNOW: For many, the images were a flashback to artifacts destroyed in Iraq in 2003.

CAMPBELL: I think that's the thought that went through everyone's mind.

SNOW: But Campbell says the situation appears to be different than what happened in Iraq.

In Cairo, the antiquities chief reported over the weekend, the museum was safe and that the damage was linked to a group of criminals apparently looking for gold. Then came images of civilians guarding the museum along with the military.

Egyptologists like Bob Brier, who says he's visited the museum more than 100 times, are now trying to assess the damage.

BOB BRIER, EGYPTOLOGIST: It's not just abstract objects. We know these pieces. You know, we've stood in front of the cases and talked about them to our students, and now to see them lying on a floor smashed, it's horrible.

SNOW: Of the items is damaged, Egypt's antiquities chief says looters broke 13 glass showcases. Among the artifacts damaged is a statue from King Tutankhamun's tomb dating back more than 3,000 years.

(on camera) What are we looking at here?

BRIER: I'm pretty sure I think I know what this is. This is another Tutankhamun object. It's a panther. The panther is over here. This is the big base that it was on, and standing striding on top of the panther was Tutankhamun, showing his power; he's controlling the panther.

SNOW: Despite fears for the safety of other museums and archeological sites throughout Egypt, there is hope in seeing images of civilians protecting these treasures.

CAMPBELL: It's extremely moving, and it symbolizes the great value that the Egyptian population place on their -- on their cultural heritage. They are the guardians of a heritage that is significant for the world.


SNOW: As you can imagine, Egyptologists are expressing concern about what's to come in the next few days, especially at monuments, archaeological sites that are outside Cairo -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. Let's hope for the best.

Let's talk to two women who are just back in the United States. They had been in Egypt. Marian Gergis and Mikaela Anderson are joining us. They just landed at JFK.

Marian, how hard was it to get out of Egypt during these tumultuous days?

Marian, can you hear me?

MARIAN GERGIS, TOURIST: I mean, me and Mikaela were pretty lucky, because we went part of a tour group so once we -- yes, I can hear you.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GERGIS: Can you hear us?

BLITZER: Yes, we hear you fine, but go ahead. Tell us how hard it was to get out.

GERGIS: Hello?

Once we got to the airport, I mean, it was crazy. People were on the floor sleeping. People were on the line, just trying to get through and buy tickets just to get out of Cairo. But Mikaela and I were actually pretty lucky, because we came part of, like, a tour group. So they kind of just, you know, brought us in, and we checked in. Took us about, what, two hours to check in maybe?


GERGIS: About two hours to check in.

ANDERSON: Anyone who wasn't in a tour group really had a difficult time, though; not getting through.

GERGIS: Right. And we heard that our flight was one of the only flights flying out of the airport. So we're not sure how true that is. But we got very lucky to get out.

BLITZER: And Mikaela, did you see any of the demonstrators, the protesters while you were there? I know you were in Cairo and then you went to Luxor. What did you see?

ANDERSON: Yes. Well, when we were flying back to Cairo to, you know, take part of our tour, we got trapped at the airport, because they were having curfews. So we were stuck there till about 2 in the morning.

Then they had to transfer us to a different hotel, because we were staying at Safir, I believe, Hotel about two blocks from the museum. So we lucked out. We weren't in the middle of it, but we stayed at the Radisson Blue instead. And there were some locals out there that were standing guard with, you know, large sticks, metal rods, bats, blockading the streets. Just, we -- you know, they were taking precautions, thinking they might do damage. So they kept everyone in hotel rooms, telling us not to leave. But it appeared they were just protecting their property from anyone who might be looting.

BLITZER: Well, we're happy you guys are back. I'm sure your families are a lot happier than we are. Good work. Thanks for coming in, Marian Gergis and Mikaela Anderson.

Should the U.S. take a more active role in what's happening in Egypt and the Middle East? You're telling what you think to Jack Cafferty. "The Cafferty File" coming up.

And China shows off its military might. Why is it more like the scene from a Hollywood blockbuster, literally?


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is: "What is the U.S. role when it comes to violence and political unrest in the Middle East?"

Lou writes, "There's always been conflict in the Mideast. We will continue to be affected by it as long as we are so dependent on their oil. Our Sputnik moment should be making a car that can run on anything but oil. Think of the peace we could have if we weren't always trying to pacify some oil-rich dictator."

Pete in Georgia says, "To stay out of their business. We've spent billions and billions of dollars on corrupt governments all over the world, and for what? The people of these countries know nothing of our generosity, don't care about it, and in the end up, they wind up hating us, regardless."

P. in Pennsylvania writes: "The U.S. should be very careful not to choose sides but support a more democratic government that gives the people more rights and freedom than they have now. The U.S. has to walk a fine line when doing this. It's sort of like an outsider getting involved in a family argument. You have to watch what you say or do or the whole family's likely to turn against you." J.D. writes, "The role of the U.S. is -- in an unstable Middle East is to be the right side of history. These days being on the right side of history means giving moral support to a down-trodden populace, trying to oust a ruthless dictator, while at the same time, giving that dictator financial support to maintain a military for the purpose of putting down his enemies. It's a brilliant policy, really, in its simplicity. Being on both sides of history always guarantees that you'll come out on the right side."

Kathy writes, "It's long past time for us to stop sticking our noses into everyone else's business. How would we feel if another country tried to interfere in our affairs?"

Peter in Terrytown, New York, sums it up this way. "It's time for the U.S. to fish or cut bait. Either we support democracy, civil and human rights, and we oppose dictatorial countries, or we don't. We have the opportunity now to back the citizens of Egypt or look like hypocrites. What do we stand for if we don't support the citizenry of Egypt now?"

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think a whole bunch of leaders in the Middle East are pretty nervous right now, seeing what's -- what's happened in Tunisia, what looks like could happen in Egypt. If you're a leader of one of those countries, you're getting a little antsy.

CAFFERTY: Well, there's some stirrings, apparently, in Jordan, correct?


CAFFERTY: And little noises being made here and there. And yes, I mean, these are all a bunch of iron-fisted folks who don't allow their people a whole lot of room to do much of anything. And if they see Mubarak go, what is it, the old Shakespeare line: "He who wears the crown sleeps uneasily at night"? I butchered that pretty good, but it's something like that.

BLITZER: Something like that. You were close. Jack, I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: We have some very sad news to share with our viewers tonight. A really beloved and talented cameraman and a good friend of ours, Jerry Thompson, died over the weekend after a battle with brain cancer. He worked here at CNN for more than 25 years, covering some of our most important stories. Many of the viewers may not know his name but have literally watched history from Jerry's shoulder.

He was a quiet pro who was always determined to get it right. Through his gifted eye and steady hand, he took beautiful pictures and was a key part in many of the news events that we've covered. He leaves behind his loving wife, Inez, and their three sons. Our hearts and prayers go out to Jerry Thompson's family. We will miss him.


BLITZER: Here's a look at today's "Hot Shots."

In Guatemala, indigenous people take part in a Mayan ritual to commemorate their civil war.

If Kazakhstan, assistants prepare for an awards ceremony at the Asian Winter Games.

In Paraguay, a cowboy rides a bull during a traditional festival.

And outside of a mall in Beijing, a little girl stands next to a statue representing the year of the rabbit.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Chinese propaganda or a "Top Gun" movie moment? CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Most Unusual" blast from the past.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take off those sunglasses, Tom Cruise, and look where you may have ended up. China's state television, CCTV, was showing a training drill. Chinese fighter planes doing maneuvers. But someone online noticed that missile strike looked awfully familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the shot!

MOOS: That sure looks like the final dogfight in the movie "Top Gun." "OMG, Tom Cruise has defected," said one post.

The "Wall Street Journal" grabbed the footage before it was taken down from the CCTV Web site and slow-mo'd it to show the debris patterns matched. Maybe CCTV just needed a glitzy shot fast.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: I feel the need -- the need for speed!

MOOS: CCTV did not feel the need for speed when we asked for comment, but gave a "no comment" to others.

(on camera) "Top Gun" backfiring on the Chinese reminds us of another doctored missile photo that blew up on the Iranians.

(voice-over) Iran's revolutionary guard's Web site first published a shot of four missiles going up. Then bloggers noticed one of the four seemed to be a composite of the others. The Iranians later updated the shot, showing three missiles. One theory was they put in an extra missile to cover up a dud. At the time, CNN did its own demo. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put this picture in Photoshop to sort of show you how easy it is. Smoke from the bottom of another missile over here, which it looks like they did, because this cloud matches over here. And then you just grab up here, some of the missile there and you sort of add that in.

MOOS: Even if it doesn't add up, these days you can't believe your eyeballs, even when they're seeing great balls of fire.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

CRUISE: Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Excellent movie.

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I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.