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THE SITUATION ROOM
Day of Departure in Egypt; President Obama Speaks Out on Egypt Crisis
Aired February 4, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: From desperate battles to a day of departure, there's a different mood in Tahrir Square right now. Our team of reporters back up live on the air bringing us the latest on the ground. Stand by.
Did this week's violence take the U.S. intelligence community by surprise? There are new questions about what they knew and when.
And just a few miles from Tahrir Square, no demonstrators, but plenty of tension -- why our team had to be very, very careful about shooting any video on the streets.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It was billed as a so-called day of departure, drawing huge crowds into the streets. But after day 11 of Egypt's crisis, President Hosni Mubarak is still in power, and President Obama is sending him a strong message. President Obama saying just a little while ago that violence and suppression won't work and that Egypt's transition process must begin now. He said, the entire world so watching.
And the world indeed watched as a massive demonstration took place in Cairo's Tahrir Square without the bloodshed of recent days, but in nearby streets, there were running battles between Mubarak supporters and foes. Egypt's health minister says the death toll from the earlier clashes in Tahrir Square has now reached 11.
For the very latest on the Egyptian crisis, let's go straight to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's joining us live from Cairo right now.
How did this day go from your vantage point, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Wolf, I thought it was an extraordinary turnout.
To see so many people who, having watched the attacks that we have witnessed and the world has watched for the last 48 hours, for people to decide nevertheless to -- to take this step, to go down to Liberation Square and stand shoulder to shoulder one with the other, continuing to call out for President Mubarak to step down, I thought it was an extraordinary act of bravery on their part.
And it was also interesting to see that the Egyptian military finally again after 48 hours of by and large standing by and allowing pro-Mubarak protesters to attack, throw Molotov cocktails, hurl stones and rocks at anti-government peaceful protesters, finally stepped in and started to check I.D.s and really make much more of an effort to keep the two sides apart.
Why they couldn't have checked I.D.s and tried to keep the pro- Mubarak protesters away from the anti-Mubarak protesters several days ago, two days ago, that, I don't understand. But they clearly decided to take a more active role today. They continue in places to take a more active role tonight.
And I think it's a big sea change, just the fact, as you said, we're standing outside. That's something we haven't -- and broadcasting, I should say, outside with lights on at night. That's something we haven't done.
BLITZER: And so, you and our crew and our fellow journalists obviously feel a bit more secure tonight than over the past 48 hours. And what I hear you saying, Anderson, is this is thanks to the Egyptian military, that they're now doing more of a job of providing security. Is that right?
COOPER: I think I don't want to make too broad of a statement. But I would say that, in some areas and certainly in the immediate area earlier today around the square, they were doing a more active job. They were -- there was a larger presence. They put out barbed wire and they were actively patting people down and checking I.D.s as people went into the square.
BLITZER: Is there any indication, though, that any of this is really having an impact on President Mubarak? Is he getting ready to step down? Do you see any sign of that?
COOPER: I don't see any sign of it.
I did find it interesting that it was his vice president who appeared on television, both in an interview with ABC and also with state television here. It was not the president himself, though he did talk with ABC's Christiane Amanpour off-camera, not granting an actual interview.
So, I thought that was -- was telling, the fact that he, although he's still in power, is trying clearly not to take as visible a role in the last day or so, and we're seeing his vice president stepping up and being more the public face of his regime.
COOPER: Anderson is going to have certainly a lot more coming up on "A.C. 360." He will be live from Cairo later tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
Anderson, thanks very, very much.
This has been a tumultuous day, huge, huge crowds at Tahrir Square. You can see what is going on over there. They're still there and it's now after 1:00 a.m. in Cairo. But a lot of folks are still there, many of them saying they're going to stay there until the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, steps down, and as we just heard from Anderson, no indications that President Mubarak is planning on doing that any time soon.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, has been out amongst these folks at Tahrir Square for most of the day.
All right, Ben, walk us through what has changed right now, if anything, seriously.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Anderson was saying, the atmosphere was completely different.
And what is significant is, as he said, that the military is standing on the sidelines and allowing these people to be clobbered, but rather actually taking an active role. They may be taking the attitude that it's easier to contain the protest movement by simply letting it go on, carry on the demonstration, but in one very limited area.
Of course, there was talk that the demonstrators were going to march on the presidential palace, which is somewhat ambitious, to say the least, given the distance between Tahrir Square and the palace. But certainly they're taking a different attitude than traditionally the Egyptian government has, whereas in the past they usually would just go after the people with billy clubs and ask questions later -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And , Ben, you have been in Cairo for a long time, but these last two weeks have been historic, tumultuous.
Do you feel personally, as a journalist covering the story today, a bit more secure than you have over the past few days?
WEDEMAN: I would like to say yes. But this story is just -- day by day is completely different.
We did have that other -- on Tuesday, that peaceful demonstration, followed by the next day by incredible violence between the pro- and anti-Mubarak forces. So I feel better today, but I really am not wildly confident that tomorrow is going to see a continuation of this trend or possibly some sort of backward step. You just can't predict how this story is going -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, very quickly, you have been in Egypt for many, many years, I'm guessing, what, eight or 10 years on and off. Did you ever think -- did you ever think, Ben, you would see a situation emerge like this in Egypt?
WEDEMAN: Well, you know, that was always -- the main topic of discussion when you would get journalists and others together is, how strong is this regime? How long can it maintain its grip on power?
And what's really shocked everybody, and, you know, Egyptians, foreigners alike, diplomats, anybody you speak with, is that how quickly all of this has happened. It's not even two weeks that this situation has been developing, and we have seen that the government really has been shaken.
There was a wide impression that Egyptians over the years, after many years of Mubarak's rule, had become politically indifferent and passive. And what we're seeing is that they have really sort of woken up and come back like a tornado. I mean, just the amount of political debate and discussion that's going on, not just in Tahrir Square, but among ordinary Egyptians, is stunning -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Ben, thanks very much. We're going to get back with you as well.
From President Mubarak on down, Egyptian leaders insist, they are insisting it will take months to carry out a transition of power.
Listen to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, talking to CNN's Hala Gorani today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AHMED ABUL GHEIT, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We Egyptians do not like opposition from abroad. And --
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But this is your own people asking you to do this.
GHEIT: No, no. It is not our own people.
GORANI: There are protesters out there saying we want...
GHEIT: The president is to transform the country. And we, all of us will transform the country not through chaos, but we will transform the country through an orderly transformation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in professor Fouad Ajami. He's director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and from Los Angeles, the Egyptian-born journalist, the award-winning columnist Mona Eltahawy.
Mona, you just heard the foreign minister say, give them patience. They can work this out. It might take a few more months, but President Mubarak has to stay in power and get the job done in an orderly way.
What do you say to him?
MONA ELTAHAWY, JOURNALIST & COMMENTATOR: I say to him that the Mubarak regime right now sounds like a bunch of old men who are terrified at the thought that a youth-driven revolution is about to unseat them.
And they can't get over it. It's paternalism at its worst. And they're doing is they're acting like this very strict father who want to scare his children into begging him to stay. It's absolute nonsense that this has to do with the outside, when Tahrir Square and other cities around Egypt have told Mubarak very clearly, go now.
BLITZER: Can the vice president, Fouad, Omar Suleiman, can he lead an orderly transition towards elections, assuming Mubarak steps down?
FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, let's understand one thing about Omar Suleiman. He's Mubarak's Mubarak. That's the truth of his position.
But he may just give everyone a fig leaf, that if these protests, if this big upheaval in Egypt has become about Mubarak, so, in part, it's about Mubarak, but it's also about the regime that has spawned the likes of Mubarak, emergency decrees, corruption, tyranny, torture, et cetera.
So, if the Egyptian people want a saving grace, they may give Omar Suleiman some running room. But I don't think it's really within Omar Suleiman's grasp. There has to be a national dialogue and a discussion about the future of Egypt. And we have to have a reckoning with the harvest of this dictatorship.
BLITZER: Mona, we keep hearing a greater sense of urgency in the tone, at least, if not the actual words, from President Obama. And we certainly did today. But the Egyptian leadership, the Egyptian government, they say don't interfere in domestic Egypt affairs. And they seem to be scoring at least some points with Americans should not create whatever new regime emerges in Egypt.
How do you deal with that situation?
ELTAHAWY: I would tell the Obama administration very clearly that the Egyptian people have spoken loudly. Millions of them have turned out in the streets to answer the call for freedom in Egypt.
And the Mubarak regime is just buying time. If the Mubarak regime were serious about this peaceful transfer of power, they would, for example, release a young man called Wael Ghonim, who is Google's Middle East and North Africa man, a geek, a tech guy, who they arrested, that they have had him in custody now for days. And hopefully they're not torturing the hell out of him.
But he offers no concessions whatsoever. Instead, the Mubarak regime is trying to frighten the Egyptian public, is trying to divide it, when it knows its time is up. The international community should cut aid to the Mubarak regime and freeze Mubarak's assets until he finally answers his people's call and leaves.
BLITZER: Well, very quickly, Fouad, should the U.S. government right now completely sever military aid to Egypt?
AJAMI: I think that's a hard call. I just think that's a hard call.
And if you watch the Egyptians, by the way, the Egyptian regime itself, they're beginning to play anti-Americanism very, very adroitly. The prime minister of Egypt just recently said a country that is 200 years old can't tell a country that's 7,000 years old what to do and how to order its life.
I leave it to you to guess what country is 200 years old and what country is 7,000 years old.
BLITZER: Yes, I think we can all figure that one out.
AJAMI: So -- exactly.
BALDWIN: All right, I want you both of you to stand by. We have much more to talk about. Stand by for that.
One of Egypt's top opposition figures is speaking to CNN. Does the Nobel laureate, Mohamed ElBaradei, really want to run for president of Egypt?
And all week we have seen these images, Cairo's Tahrir Square turning into a mob scene. Wait until you see what this place normally looks like.
BLITZER: These are lives pictures from Tahrir Square. You can see it's well after 1:00 a.m. now in Cairo. But there are a lot of folks still milling around, a relatively peaceful demonstration today at Tahrir Square. We will see what happens tomorrow.
The demonstrations certainly have transformed downtown Cairo in recent days to a place where -- very different from what it normally looks like.
Brian Todd is here and he's got satellite images that are going to show us the stark differences before and now.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.
It really is stark, Wolf. And we can start by showing you the overall Google map of this Tahrir Square area. Now, on Friday, we understand that security forces did, at least, seal off part of these two key bridges that go into that area, the 6 October Bridge and the Kasr al-Nil Bridge. They at least partially shut off some traffic there, so access for cars and other vehicles was limited.
We're going in to a map here and show you what Tahrir Square looks like on a normal day. This was before the protests got started. You see the traffic patterns here, kind of heavy here, moderate to light in other areas, but normal. And watch this. We have an overlay that we have been able to do from DigitalGlobe. The company DigitalGlobe shot a satellite photo. This is Tahrir Square on Saturday. Look at this, no cars, clumps of people lining the entire route. We will do the overlay again, Tahrir Square before, and Tahrir Square -- let's see if we can pull this over -- during the protests, a really stark difference here, Wolf.
And what we can show you are some key flash points in the Tahrir Square area where some of the video images that we saw took place. First, again, if we can come in tight to these clumps of people, this is what it looks like Thursday. And we have some video here from Friday. Look at this. This is how crowded it got on Friday. So you can imagine if this was in a satellite photo, this would be kind of wall-to-wall people over here. So you can see some of the stark differences there.
Now, we go over here. This was a key flash point on Wednesday evening into Thursday morning. This was where some Molotov cocktails were thrown. You remember the video. You see the Molotov cocktails there, large fires taking place on trees and in buildings. This was near an overpass.
You can kind of vaguely see the overpass here just a little bit in this nighttime photo. But this is where it took place, right there near the overpass.
And again on Wednesday into Thursday, this area here in the corner of Tahrir Square, where doctors and other medical personnel were coming in and treating victims, it was kind of nestled up in this corner where people were taking refuge to be treated by doctors on Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, Wolf.
So, again, it is a stark difference. We can just show you that kind of overlay again, Tahrir Square here, and then -- well, we it didn't quite work that way, but, anyway, you can see the stark differences there.
BLITZER: Now, these are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who have gathered there.
BLITZER: And there was one notion -- it didn't materialize -- that they were going to march to the presidential palace, where President Mubarak is and his family. That's quite a distance, though.
TODD: It is quite a distance. And there is one -- well, there are two presidential palaces in Cairo that we know of. There's one that's only about 10 to 12 blocks away from Tahrir Square. But there is one that is about six miles away.
BLITZER: And that's where we believe President Mubarak is.
TODD: We think he was there at least last night. Now, he could be moving around. This situation is very fluid. But again it would be a six-mile march to the one where we believe he was last night. And, of course, heavy security is going to be around there. We did see images of the palace downtown near Tahrir Square, satellite photo images showing armored personnel carriers, tanks ringing that area. So, that was a -- that's an issue to think about, too, is where the presidential palaces are in relation to Tahrir Square.
BLITZER: And the other palace, the major palace, where we think he was, at least last night, they put barbed wire around there. And it's obviously heavily fortified right now.
TODD: Heavily fortifications there as well.
BLITZER: If the folks decide to march -- we will see if they do.
TODD: And it's a very interesting comparison as well.
When you look at some of the other famous venues in the United States where protests have taken place, check this out. We compared this. Go all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and we did kind of an overlay here of what it would look like on the National Mall the area of protests in Tahrir Square.
Check this out. We did another overlay from DigitalGlobe here. We will pull it. This is Tahrir Square, the area taken up by the protests, about a half-a-mile-long and about a tenth-of-a-mile-wide. Again, compare it to the area where many protests have taken place on the National Mall in the area of the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool here, the World War II Memorial here. It doesn't even take up a quarter of the National Mall.
And, again, we will do the overlay. This -- this is only about a tenth-of-a-mile-wide. It doesn't -- it wouldn't even go to the streets bracketing the National Mall here on either side. So, again, you get a sense of the scale of it.
BLITZER: It's a big -- it's a huge, huge area. Well, if you are getting hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, a million people there, you need a big area like that.
TODD: That's right. Exactly.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Brian, thanks very, very much. Good explanation.
Another message from President Obama to his Egyptian counterpart today -- what the U.S. leader says Hosni Mubarak should be asking himself right now.
Plus, by most accounts, the Pentagon was caught off-guard by this week's violence in Egypt. Did the intelligence community, the overall U.S. intelligence community, drop the ball? Stay with us.
BLITZER: All right, we're getting more images coming in from Cairo. We're going to show them to our viewers. It is approaching 1:30 a.m. right now in Tahrir Square. There, you see these live pictures. You still see a lot of folks milling around. They're getting ready for another day. It's already Saturday morning in Cairo.
President Obama took questions today from reporters on the uprising in Egypt, the first time since the crisis began.
Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
How did that go?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we had some tough words from the president, who is calling for an orderly transition process that begins right now. Mr. Obama's message to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: Violence and repression won't work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you end up having just gestures towards the opposition, but it leads to a continuing suppression of the opposition, that's not going to work. If you have the pretense of reform, but not real reform, that's not going to be effective.
And, as I said before, once the president himself announced that he was not going to be running again and since his term is up relatively shortly, the key question he should be asking himself is, how do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period? And my hope is, is that he will end up making the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: President Obama says he has spoken with Mubarak twice since this crisis began.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband will command the upcoming flight of the space shuttle Endeavour. Astronaut Mark Kelly says his wife would be very comfortable with his decision. Kelly credits Giffords' progress and support from friends and family. Endeavour is set to launch April 19 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We wish him all the success in the world and a speedy recovery to the congresswoman as well.
Lisa, thank you. thanks very much.
The seething discontent with Egypt's president has spread across Cairo and the entire country. You have seen the images from Tahrir Square.
Also, our cameras show you what's happening just a few blocks away. That part of the story coming up next.
BLITZER: Protesters in Egypt call today the day of departure. But no one is going anywhere, at least not yet. Hosni Mubarak remains president of Egypt, while people in Tahrir Square are staying put, adding to the pressure on the president.
The sights and sound on this -- on this Friday were sometimes joyful, sometimes angry, always focused on the endgame in Egypt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEDEMAN: First, there was the day of rage, then the one million Egyptian march. And today is the day of departure or farewell, where Egyptians say farewell to their president of 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The scene here is in stark contrast to what it was 24 hours ago. In the very streets where there were running battles between anti- and pro-Mubarak demonstrators, for the time being, at least, there's the semblance of calm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here sees that the system that he's built, really, is so intertwined and so incestuous, that the only way it can be brought down is by bringing the very top of it down.
WEDEMAN: It's been a very peaceful day. There have been no trouble. We're hearing that on the outskirts there may be some pro- Mubarak demonstrators, but until now, nothing has happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all gathered here to have bread together. We have cheese. We are all gathered for food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you give to other people as well?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Good for us all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's a spirit of sharing here then?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have enough supplies right now. One of the problems they've been having is that people have been trying to confiscate their supplies before they're able to get them in. All the protesters that we've been speaking to say at this point they're not lacking either food (ph) or any medical supplies, but of course, this still is a challenge to try and get all this stuff in. However, it doesn't seem to be hurting morale at all. The folks here say they're in it for the long run. And they've been telling me they're going to stay here until Hosni Mubarak steps down.
BLITZER: Well, beyond Cairo's main rallying point and battleground, there's a lot of suspicion out there on the streets. And journalists must still keep a very low profile. Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've headed away from the demonstration site to try to get a feel for what life in the rest of Cairo is like. And it really does feel as if it is just as tense as what is happening in Liberation Square itself.
(voice-over) "Put the camera down," our driver warns. "These are the guys with the president."
(on camera) So apparently straight ahead is a group of people that our driver is saying are pro-Mubarak demonstrators, and that was the group that was targeting the media. So we're going to loop back just in case.
(voice-over) "I think that President Mubarak is a good man," he says, "respected, but people want food and comforts that we don't have. People need to work." He says the attacks on the media are terrible but believes they stem from concerns that Egypt is being shown in a negative light.
(on camera) These are the images on the front pages of newspapers here. And this gentleman, who's not Egyptian but is living in Egypt for 27 years. He's saying in all of his years here, he's seen Egypt go through challenges, go through problems but nothing ever remotely close to this.
It's pretty tense out on the streets, and as anxious as we are, especially given all of the violent attacks that have happened, so we're trying to be very subtle about the way they're we're filming, using a small disk cam (ph), but people are equally worried and concerned about being seen talking to us.
(voice-over) Along the unnaturally quiet waterfront, we meet 78- year-old Fayaz (ph) reading his paper. "I come all the time," he says, "because my apartment doesn't get sunlight. Of course I am frightened for my country," he admits. "I could go to America and have no worries, but I am staying in my country. There is no way I would go anywhere else."
Sitting straight across from Liberation Square, he tells us, "Change should come peacefully. Egypt can't afford these divisions. The country can't clap with one hand," he explains.
But even out here we're quickly told to leave. "I got worried about you," our driver says. "There's a demonstration coming by." Not just worried about us but his livelihood. The pro-Mubarak crowd has been smashing vehicles carrying the media.
(on camera) We just got caught up in a pro-Mubarak neighborhood, and luckily, one of the residents there got in the vehicle and escorted us out. And we tried speaking to him about the situation, at which point he got a little agitated and said, "Look, nobody wants to talk to the international media about this. What you guys are doing here is wrong. Don't talk to anybody, and I'm escorting you out."
After we were searched in the pro-Mubarak neighborhood, they lifted one of the windshield wipers up as an indication to all of the other checkpoints we would have to go through that we'd already searched and cleared by their leadership.
We've been out for around an hour and a half, and it is now after Friday prayers. The situation has gotten noticeably tenser. So we're going to be heading back to the hotel right now.
BLITZER: And Arwa is joining us now live on the phone from Cairo.
Arwa, I saw you covered your hair. I assume deliberately so you wouldn't stand out because you have blond hair. Is that right?
DAMON (via phone): Yes, Wolf. Pretty much. I mean, we're trying to be as subtle as we possibly can. And so for someone to glance at us driving through the streets, it helps not to have the blond stand out immediately. Obviously, once we're out on the streets and people take a second glance, they can realize that I'm -- or at least I look like a westerner, although I am half Arab.
But that just goes to show you how tense the situation really is. And to a certain degree, and I've obviously been reporting a lot from Baghdad for the last seven years, but a lot of what we as the international and even local media have been going through has been disturbingly reminiscent of what we had to go through in Iraq. You are out on the streets. There's this sense of unease. Are the wrong persons looking at you? Have they spotted you?
Even when we ended up in that pro-Mubarak neighborhood, sure, we had an escort out. But come the end of our short car ride with this individual, he basically said to us, Look, if you don't stop asking me questions I'm going to hand you over." Hand us over to whom? I don't know.
But it was enough for us to say, "Yes, thank you," you know, "we're sorry" and apologize and get out of there. Especially given the vicious and what some watchdog groups are calling systemic attacks against the press, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just be careful over there, Arwa. I know it's just as dangerous being a female journalist on the streets of Cairo right now as being a male journalist on the streets of Cairo.
Arwa Damon doing heroic -- like all of our journalists working the story right now. Very courageous reporting under extremely difficult circumstances. Very dangerous circumstances.
Cairo certainly isn't the only city split by protests against the Mubarak regime. In Egypt's second biggest city, today's demonstrations began outside the central mosque. Hanging over this chaos is this question: who will lead the country next? The opposition may be lining up behind one individual. We'll check it out.
BLITZER: Is a potential successor to Hosni Mubarak emerging? Let's bring back our panelists. Professor Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. And the Egyptian-born journalist, the award winning columnist, Mona ElTahawy.
Mona, Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He's telling our own Eliot Spitzer if the folks want him to be president, he's ready to serve and do whatever they want. Is he emerging as the key opposition figure right now?
MONA ELTAHAWY, JOURNALIST/COLUMNIST: Mohammed ElBaradei is emerging as a figurehead leader, yes, in that over the past few days he has been meeting with a committee of ten who represent various political voices in Egypt.
And just to give you an idea of the kind of pressure that they're coming under, they met with nine representatives of the youth movement, which was instrumental in launching this uprising on January the 25th. And the Mubarak regime arrested those nine members, which says to me that the Mubarak regime does not want anyone to talk about a peaceful transition of power.
But ElBaradei is, indeed meeting with those people, because you know, we keep getting asked who's the alternative? We have many alternatives in Egypt. Eighteen million people are ready. You know? The demonstrations in Tahrir Square have been beautiful and peaceful and have shown the best aspects of Egyptians organizing for themselves.
So those ten members of that committee are trying to get together, and they issue statements. But I believe the Mubarak regime does not want them to succeed.
BLITZER: So he's thinking of running for president. Amr Moussa, the former head of the Arab League, he's told CNN now he's thinking of running for president, too. Is there a central opposition figure who could emerge the so-called strong man?
FOUAD AJAMI, DIRECTOR OF MIDDLE EAST STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I can't improve on what Mona said. I think that's it exactly. She sketched it right.
It's the essence of dictatorship is to tell you that there is no alternatives to the despot. There are many alternatives to the despot.
And I think -- I don't have a feeling that someone like Amr Musa, so much a figure of the regime itself, so much the foreign minister of Mubarak and so much a creature of the old order, is what the country wants.
As far as ElBaradei is concerned, perhaps he has the handicap of too many years abroad. He's been away too long. I don't think it's really about individuals. It's about the ability of the Egyptians and the space given to Egyptians by the military regime, by a Muslim man to create a new system and to go beyond this dictatorship, because this dictatorship is not yet spent. Maybe Mubarak himself is spent, but the military regime is not yet spent.
And what we really need to focus on, what has happened in Egypt, in fact, is the fall not just of the Mubarak regime, but of the free officer (ph) regime which was born in 1952. And Mubarak was just the latest inheritor. So how can Egypt find a way out of the straightjacket of this military autocracy? That is the question for us.
BLITZER: Just want to correct myself. Amr Musa, still the head of the Arab League right now.
And very, very quickly, Mona, are you more optimistic this approaching weekend than you were last weekend when we spoke?
ELTAHAWY: I am absolutely, Wolf. You know, Mubarak had been strangling Egypt for 30 years. Here we are in day 11 of this uprising. And as an Egyptian, I am ecstatic watching my sisters and brothers in Egypt organize, continue to come out in greater numbers.
You know, today, during Friday prayers, Christian Egyptians stood and protected Muslim Egyptians as they prayed. We are seeing this wonderful coming together that we haven't seen in Egypt since 1919, the revolution of the last century.
I am ecstatic. I am very optimistic, because what's happening in Egypt is sweeping across the entire region. Every Arab friend of mine is saying congratulations and saying, "Do it. The revolution must succeed."
BLITZER: You want to get more from Mona, you can always follow her on Twitter, @MonaElTahawy. I do, as well.
Fouad, I tried to follow you on Twitter, but I didn't see you. Are you on Twitter? Are you yet on Twitter?
AJAMI: No, I'm a technophobe, Wolf.
BLITZER: One of these days you'll be with all of us on Twitter. Then you can follow me, @WolfBlitzerCNN on Twitter, as well. Guys, thanks very much. We'll continue this conversation.
Egypt's second biggest city isn't immune to the chaos. In Alexandria, protesters won't sit still.
Plus the protests seemed to take some officials in Washington by surprise. Is this an epic failure by U.S. intelligence agencies? We're looking into this part of the story.
BLITZER: In Egypt's second largest city, protesters poured into the streets. Let's go there. CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Alexandria for us.
It looks like there was a huge crowd on the streets today, Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as big as any other day. The message to the crowd was very interesting. The imam who was giving the prayers before the -- before the crowd started moving off to march in the streets was talking about unity, about not giving into the government, about demanding not only that President Mubarak steps down, but the whole regime, and reminding everyone gather ad t the mosque that they weren't there representing a religious interest or a political group, but they were all there representing the one view: to get rid of President Mubarak.
And it really does seem to be, there's a real energy to get people out on the streets, but also an energy to try and maintain this unity of view and unity of purpose and not allow President Mubarak, as they see it, putting half measures in place and commitments that they don't think he'll follow through. And that's why they're sort of being leaded [SIC] -- led in the prayer and in a discourse here to stay united and not be put off -- put off their course, because some people here are dissatisfied with the continuing protests, Wolf.
BLITZER: And what about life in Alexandria? It's a huge city of commerce. Does it continue or does all that come to a halt?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, it's stuttering to a halt. The fishermen here can't get out. The banks are open some days, not others. There are traders on the streets some days, not others. But most of the stores are closed. You can't get money from the ATMs. So it's becoming more and more difficult for people here. And that's a lot of what -- where all this resentment that's building up is coming from, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Alexandria for us. We'll continue to check in with you. Thank you.
Here's a question. Did the United States intelligence community miss all of these signs leading up to this week's chaos in Egypt? We're taking a closer look.
BLITZER: Were American intelligence agencies caught flat footed? Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is looking into this story for us -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the intelligence community isn't speaking publicly about it. U.S. officials say they were not caught flat footed, but one says he was surprised.
STARR (voice-over): A nation in uprising. The military on the streets. Violence from Tunisia to Egypt, raising critical questions about whether the U.S. intelligence community failed to predict things were about to boil over. The top U.S. military officer says the Obama administration was caught off guard with the eruption in Egypt.
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Well, I think actually it has taken not just us but many people by surprise.
STARR: Now suggestions President Obama expressed displeasure to his intelligence chief over a failure to pick up on Tunisia, where protests there inspired similar uprising across the region.
Congressional Democrats now want to know if the intelligence community failed to realize tens of thousands of Egyptians would rebel after years of massive unemployment, social unrest, and dissatisfaction with an authoritarian regime.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: You can't just gaze into a crystal ball and try to guess what can't be predicted, but I do want to get a general sense of when you all told the president that we were faced with something that was as serious as what we have seen in recent days.
STARR: Top intelligence officials say some of it couldn't be predicted.
STEPHANIE O'SULLIVAN, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CIA: We have warned of instability. We didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that happened in the last -- end of the last year.
STARR: The White House insists the president is satisfied.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president expects that, in any case, that he will be provided with relevant, timely and accurate intelligence assessments, and that's exactly what's been done throughout this crisis.
STARR: But Admiral Mullen, privy to top levels of intelligence, said the tsunami of protests across the Middle East caught U.S. officials in the wave.
MULLEN: To a great degree, I think the timing of it certainly caught us as it moved from Tunisia and sort of across to the really difficult challenge that's there right now in Egypt.
(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: A U.S. official says that the administration was warned by the intelligence community after that initial unrest in Tunisia, but clearly no one anticipated what has happened in the subsequent weeks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that. Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon.
We're staying closely on top of what's happening in Egypt. Stand by for more on that.
Also, keeping 100,000 fans safe at the Super Bowl.
BLITZER: That's it, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The NFL commissioner admits, and I'm quoting now, to "a few challenges" ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl there. Snow sliding off the roof of Cowboys Stadium causing several injuries today, and weather snarled air traffic at the airports. One former MVP says Dallas was unprepared.
Inside the dome, though, it will be packed to the rafters. And officials are less worried about frostbite, more concerned about potential terrorism. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has that.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on Sunday 100,000 people are going to be in this stadium. Another 110 million around the world will be watching. That could make this a very tempting terrorist target.
(voice-over) Sniffing out danger. Security is a critical part of this Super Bowl and an integral part of this stadium.
(on camera) And I'm wondering if, when you were building this stadium, you were thinking about security?
JERRY JONES, COWBOYS OWNER: Well, yes, as a matter of fact.
MESERVE (voice-over): Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent millions on security features, including vantage points for law enforcement sharp shooters.
JONES: We've got a lot of place for snipers in here.
MESERVE: Multiple entrances allow faster screening and faster evacuation if needed. And surveillance cameras record virtually every inch of the venue.
But more, much more is being brought to bear.
Special radiological detection teams like this will be seeking out threats like dirty bombs. DEBBIE WILBER, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: There were ten hits at last year's Super Bowl. All of them were determined to be medical isotopes.
MESERVE: When it comes to security, preparing for the game looks a lot like preparing for a war, with specialized equipment and personnel from all over the country on hand to detect and deal with a wide variety of possible threats.
And on game day, airspace within a 30-mile radius of the stadium will be tightly restricted, patrolled by Norad fighters.
(on camera) What's the price tag?
MILT AHLERICH, NFL VP OF SECURITY: Well, we probably can't put an exact figure on that, because it's a little hard to define what an F-18 costs protecting the skies, but it's over $10 million, I would say, when it's all said and done. And from our side, alone, it's $5 million.
MESERVE (voice-over): There is no specific credible threat to the game, officials say, but the Tucson shootings and a rash of home- grown terror events are very much on officials' minds.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: That's one of the reasons why we have the "If you see something, say something" campaign. Because we want everybody to be part of our security. That's a shared responsibility.
MESERVE: That message is being spread well beyond the stadium. But despite all the preparation and precautions, officials admit they are still on edge.
(on camera) What's your biggest worry?
JAMES SPILLER, DALLAS AREA RAPID TRANSIT: You know, the biggest concern always is that people see something and don't say anything.
MESERVE: Organizers are trying to strike a balance. They want security to be visible enough that it's a deterrent, but not so visible that it makes this less of a party.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Jeanne, thanks very, very much.
That's all the time we have. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. For everyone else, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.