Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Biggest Protest Yet in Cairo; Mubarak's Money: Rumors v. Facts; Journalist Beaten, Detained in Egypt
Aired February 8, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
We continue to devote nearly the broadcast tonight to Egypt, because despite the predictions of many that the protests would shrink in size or simply go away, today the exact opposite happened. Take a look at this. The largest protest yet filled Liberation Square and for the first time spilled out of the square.
And, look, I know you have seen pictures like this before. And maybe you think it's all starting to look the same. But this is not the same. Each day is different. And each day, the people coming to the square are risking arrest, risking attack, risking their lives. And yet they are still coming.
In fact, more people came to the square today, more than ever before, people who have never been there before I'm told. Today they decided enough is enough. Imagine that courage. They have seen the violence. They have seen the blood spilled, the maimed and wounded. They have seen peaceful demonstrators attacked with rocks and clubs and Molotov cocktail and yet they still came demanding freedom, demanding change.
We are going to talk to one of the protesters in a moment. But I also want to show you this video we just got today taken last Wednesday just outside Liberation Square, captured by a European cameraman and broadcast on Al-Jazeera. Take a look at this.
The picture you see is carrying -- the pickup is carrying government loyalists throwing rocks, trying to run down anti-Mubarak demonstrators on the streets trying to hit those guys. Their plan goes awry. The pickup crashes. Guys fall out of the vehicle and the anti-government crowd drags them away, beating them as they go. Those anti-government forces later coming under rifle fire, though we don't know who was shooting at them.
One of the men we saw was hit.
We begin though tonight as always "Keeping Them Honest." And again tonight, it is the Mubarak regime we hope to keep honest by pointing out the lies they continue to tell, statements they make that are not supported by facts and that are in fact contradicted by facts. Today, some chilling words from Egypt's vice president, this man, the man who has run for years the feared the intelligence services.
He told Egyptian media that the government, and I quote, "can't put up with continued protests for a long time." He says while he wants dialogue, he warned the regime doesn't -- quote -- "want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."
Well, the truth is, police tools is exactly how that man and the Egyptian government have dealt with the Egyptian people for the 30 years of the Mubarak regime. And despite talks of reforms and changes to the Constitution, Vice President Suleiman continues to blame protesters and blame foreign reporters for creating a crisis.
Suleiman said today that the -- quote -- "presence of the protesters in Liberation Square and some satellite stations insulting Egypt and belittling it, makes citizens hesitant to go to work."
So, let's just look at that statement, because that statement is frankly a lie. The truth is that the Egyptian government itself has tried to create a crisis atmosphere. It wasn't protesters who shut down the stock market and the banks and the train service and for a time the Internet. It was the Egyptian government.
And they did that in part to make ordinary Egyptians believe the Mubarak regime is the only way to maintain stability. It didn't work. And now the banks are reopening and trains are running and the government's strategy manipulating a crisis has so far failed.
Also in that statement, he blames the protesters and reporters, satellite news stations, saying we're insulting Egypt, belittling it. For many days now, he's blamed foreigners and reporters for being behind the protests. Now he says we and the protesters are insulting Egypt, belittling it, hoping to play into people's sense of national pride.
These protesters are not insulting Egypt, belittling it. The Mubarak regime has done that for 30 years. They have insulted people by lying to them. They have insulted their people by arresting them, by torturing them, by not allowing them to express themselves.
That is insulting Egypt. That is belittling Egypt.
Take a look at these pictures from Liberation Square today, young and old. Muslim and Christian, men and women from all walks of life standing shoulder to shoulder, crying out for freedom, celebrating the freedom that they can now only experience in that one square in Cairo. This is Egypt at its best.
Do you honestly believe these people, who simply want what we all have, does the vice president really believe that they are insulting Egypt, belittling it? Those are the words of a man who believes his regime is Egypt. And it is not. That is the message of these protesters. Egypt is not a government. It is not a dictator. It is not a regime.
It is a proud country and a proud people, and millions of them are calling for change, even though the vice president says that the Egyptians aren't ready for democracy. They're certainly ready -- certainly not ready for transparency or openness or an honest picture of what's been going on. That's what the regime believes.
The Egyptian government continues to claim that only 11 people have been killed in the uprising so far, 11 people. According to Human Rights Watch, the estimate is 297, and they got that by canvassing hospitals in hospitals in Suez, in Cairo and in Alexandria.
The government hasn't done that. They have also got new numbers on arrests and detentions, but, before we give them to you, I just want you to hear what Vice President Suleiman said recently, stating what he said came straight from President Mubarak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAR SULEIMAN, Egyptian Vice President (through translator): The president stressed that the Egyptian youth deserves the appreciation of the nation and issued orders not to prosecute them, harass them or deprive them of their right to freedom of expression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Not to pursue, harass or deprive them of their right to freedom of expression. According to late word from Human Rights Watch, Egyptian army officers and military police have arbitrarily detained at least 119 people since the 20th of January.
At least 20 were picked up heading to or leaving Liberation Square. Those who have released say they were held incommunicado, not allowed access to a lawyer, not even let their families they were in custody. They were held blindfolded. Five say they were tortured, beaten with clubs, rifle butts, threatened with electricity or being violated with bottles.
Now, remember, this is from a government promising not to pursue, harass or deprive protesters of their right to freedom of expression. It's also a government that has promised not to arrested journalists reporting the story. Well, according to Human Rights Watch, they detained 26 in the last week alone.
A bit later, you are going to hear from one of them who was picked up within just the last 24 hours and you will hear from the Google executive who was detained for more than a week. His emotional words after his appearance reenergized Liberation Square today and seemed to really breathe new life into the pro-democracy movement.
So far, Vice President Suleiman's only answer to that is a veiled threat of police action. And there's something else he recently said, that Egypt is not ready for democracy.
I spoke about that earlier tonight with actor and pro-democracy activist Khalid Abdalla.
COOPER: Khalid, the vice president now of Egypt is saying that Egyptians aren't ready for democracy. When you hear that, what do you think?
KHALID ABDALLA, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: It makes me pretty angry, especially coming out of the mouths -- out of the mouth of someone who has been part of a regime that has completely prescribed, pretty much anyway, the possibility of true political participation both from the people and other parties.
They are the reason that democracy is difficult to achieve here. And I think the Egyptian people have shown very clearly that they are far more capable than the vice president of judging whether or not they are ready for democracy or not.
COOPER: And yet, for 30 years, this regime, the Mubarak regime, has ruled under emergency powers that allow them and continue on this day to rule under emergency powers that allow them to arrest anybody they want at anytime, anywhere, and basically do whatever they want with them.
ABDALLA: It's further evidence of the duplicity of -- it's the duplicity of this regime.
As far as I'm aware, I think he also came on TV, on ABC, and said that, you know, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that was behind this whole thing, which is another kind of scare-mongering tactic. It's an age-old tactic used by authoritarian regimes. In order to suppress the people, they just use fear. It's really quite simple.
COOPER: Well, in terms of the lies also that he continues to say, he's now come forward and said that Mubarak has said we should praise the youth in Egypt who have been protesting, that they are helping us move us in the right direction.
And yet, on state television, they continue to portray the protesters not just as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but as jihadists basically who are at the beck and call of foreign powers and are being paid with money and food by foreign powers to stay in Liberation Square.
ABDALLA: One of the great things that's happening -- you know, and I kind of talked about this a little bit yesterday. But as time goes on, all of the lies that they set up, whether over the last 30 years or whether over the last couple of weeks, are slowly coming out.
COOPER: Khalid, the Mubarak regime talks about the need for stability and that there is chaos. From all that I saw on the ground there and all that I continue to see via the images is, there is stability inside that square. There is democracy inside that square, as protesters check I.D.s, as protesters pat down people who get into the square, as protesters themselves keep order and allow free expression.
The chaos, the instability is all on the government's side outside of the square.
Never in my life have I seen people so happy to go through a security check. I mean, Midan Tahrir right now is the closest certainly I have ever experienced to a utopia. It's functional. It's working. It's a space that's free. It's a space in which you can express your opinions. It's a space in which you feel safe. It's a space in which you feel you're exercising your -- you're exercising your rights as an individual and as a citizen.
COOPER: We had a professor on, Professor Fouad Ajami from Johns Hopkins last night, who was saying this may be the most dangerous time for you, for the protesters in Liberation Square, because as the world's attention turns away, as reporters' attention turns away to other stories, and as Egyptians perhaps turn away, as people leave the square, you can be picked off one by one. If the apparatus of the state, if the emergency powers continue, if the secret police are still out there, which they are, that basically you can be divided and picked off.
Do you worry about that?
ABDALLA: There was -- to an extent, there was that kind of worry a little bit yesterday. But today I don't feel that at all. Again, I don't think...
COOPER: You feel the turnout today has been yet another turning point?
ABDALLA: I think it has been a turning point.
I think it's a turning point. It was a huge number of people. I can't judge the number of people accurately, but I can judge it by how difficult it is to walk around the square. It took hours to get around anywhere in the square. And, as I said, something very important, and you know, this was partially as well in relation to something that happened yesterday, very importantly, a guy called Wael Ghonim, who set up the page called "We Are All Khaled Said."
COOPER: Right. He's a Google executive who was just released after being held for more than two weeks.
ABDALLA: Exactly. He was on he was on television on a very important program, and, you know, he had been imprisoned for 12 days, blindfolded and came out to find basically that the whole country had changed and about 300 people had died and he didn't know anything about it.
And he was on -- he went on TV. And, you know, he had been a very important figure in terms of things happening. And on TV, he very understandably broke down and had to leave and had to leave the program. That had a huge effect on everyone in the country.
COOPER: Finally, when Vice President Suleiman goes on Egyptian television or talks to Egypt and says, as he has just in the last 24 hours, well, they're going to start constitutional reforms, they're going to set up committees to look into constitutional reforms, is that enough; is that real?
ABDALLA: No, it's not real at all. It's all talk. No, everyone knows that -- everyone really knows that the regime has completely lost any -- you know, it has no real basis to exist anymore. They are not the people who should be leading the transformation of this country. And they have made that very clear over the last 30 years and they have made that doubly clear over the last few weeks. And no one is being hoodwinked anymore. And that's very good.
COOPER: Khalid Abdalla, stay safe.
ABDALLA: I will. Thank you.
COOPER: Should point out Khalid was in the square right before he talked to us, and right after he talked to us went back to the square and is spending the night there tonight.
Talk about -- you heard Khalid talk about how people were moved to come to Liberation Square today by Wael Ghonim's television interview. I just want to play you a small portion of it just for background. He has been held since the 28th of January. He was freed yesterday. He's the administrator of the Facebook page that is credited with sparking the first protest on the 25th. Here's what he said on Egypt's Dream TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, GOOGLE EXECUTIVE (through translator): The thing that tortured me the most when I was in detention was that people would find out I was the admin of the page. I did not want people to find out I was the admin, because I'm not the hero. I was writing with a keyboard on the Internet. And my life was not exposed to any danger.
I want to say to every mother and every father that lost his child, I'm sorry. But it is not our fault. I swear to God this is not our fault. It's the fault of everyone who was holding on to power greedily and would not leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Lots to talk about tonight.
Joining us from Cairo, CNN's Ivan Watson, and Christopher Dickey, Mideast editor for "Newsweek" and contributor to The Daily Beast.
Ivan, what do you think was it about that interview which helped the turnout today into the biggest turnout we have seen in this entire protest?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure, Anderson, that strictly that interview alone pushed these record numbers in.
I think there was also a lot of people who -- who felt perhaps more safe after several days of relative calm to just go or they were driven by curiosity. But there's no question that that interview was a powerful motivator as well and that when Mr. Ghonim stepped up on the makeshift stage there, it was -- he was treated as a hero of the Egyptian revolution.
But what was very powerful was to hear a young man get up there on Egyptian television and after many of the lies and exaggerations in what has clearly been a smear campaign in state media, to say, we're not foreign conspirators, we're not spies working for Israel, for the U.S. CIA, for Iran, we are Egyptian people who are just fighting for our rights, I think that was an important -- important message to dispel a lot of this misinformation that's been out there.
Christopher, it does seem like even though Vice President Suleiman is the one who the U.S. is basically at this point kind of pinning all their hopes on and they're the ones -- Vice President Biden called him today -- and they're the ones that the U.S. is dealing with, he still is, in public statements, he's blaming these protesters for belittling Egypt. He's blaming foreign media for being in some sort of conspiracy to manufacture this crisis.
What do you make of that?
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think it's an old tactic here.
This is a government that, for 30 years, and in fact the regime goes back much longer than that, has been used to lying to its people and getting away with it. It seemed to be a relatively passive political culture. And it's really only in the last decade or so that Egypt was connected to the rest of the world in a way that it really had other voices on satellite television, on the Internet or elsewhere to contradict what the government would say.
This is a government that is completely out of step with its population, half of which is under 24 years old. And it's continuing to address Egypt as if it's addressing the Egypt of 1981, not the Egypt of today. And I think that's really reflected in these kinds of remarks.
COOPER: Ivan, are there any real moves that you have seen for transparency? Because they're talking about, well, we're going to make constitutional changes and we're going to set up a committee, oh, and we're going to investigate the killings that have taken place. And yet there's still no, as far as I have seen, any actual transparency going on.
WATSON: That's right.
Every day, you hear talk, you hear signals coming from the government. But that's why we have been focusing on issues like detentions. Just last Thursday is when the military police were involved, as well as hundreds of pro-Mubarak supporters who have often been described as thugs, were involved in a raid on a prominent Egyptian human rights center that resulted in at least 30 human rights activists detained.
They were taken away in flex cuffs and in blindfolds. We're using those moments that we can find to pinpoint how sincere the government really is. Is it possible that some of the security forces here, they're working out of inertia? I'm not quite sure.
We spoke to one man who said that he had been detained shortly after the first days of the protest, along with some 500 people just carted off in vans and taken out to a center outside of Cairo for two nights. They were all crammed into a room, he said, some 500 people, no blankets, one meal a day, and interrogated, asked why they were attending these protests and then at the end of those two days -- two nights and three days, basically deposited at the gates of the compound, phones seized, money seized, just left with an I.D. card.
So we're following these cases to try to understand what exactly is the sincerity of this government that is claiming suddenly in a span of two weeks, transparency and add to extrajudicial detentions and the types of activities they have been carrying out, as Christopher Dickey said, for decades.
COOPER: And, Christopher, since Mubarak has been in power, he's operated under emergency rule. Essentially anybody can be arrested at any time, taken off the streets, taken out of their homes and they have been.
What is the just -- is there -- what is the justification the government still makes for having emergency rule?
DICKEY: Well, that there might be terrorists out there, and there have been and were crushed, for instance, in the 1990s. There was a serious attempt to overthrow the government led by Ayman al-Zawahri, who of course is the number two in al Qaeda now.
So, there has been dangers in the past. And I think there were times when the Egyptian people were interested in seeing any measures used to suppress those threats. But, in fact, those dangers have not existed in any serious levels for some time and, most importantly, this law has been used against political opposition of any sort for a very long time.
And what you just heard from Ivan is a description of what is being done to people who really are peaceful protesters, using this emergency law and using the ideas and the philosophy that have been permeating this government for -- for 30 years, that they can do anything to anybody in order to keep the state safe.
COOPER: Christopher Dickey, I appreciate you being on. We continue to follow you on The Daily Beast and also with "Newsweek."
And, Ivan, stick around. We will talk to you a little bit later on in the program.
Let us know what you think, the live chat up and running at AC360.com.
Up next, American reaction to the claim that Egypt isn't ready for democracy. We will talk to Fouad Ajami, along with David Gergen and Jill Dougherty. We will also talk about what the White House is doing and what they're not doing. And later, just how many billions of dollars has Egypt's dictator taken from the Egyptian people? How rich is he? There are a lot of rumors out there. We will try to sort out the fact from the fiction.
First, though, let's check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, yes, Vice President Joe Biden has been talking trains again. The veep is a passionate advocate of rail travel and today announced bold new expansion plans, proposals which come with quite a price tag. I will tell you just how much when we come back.
COOPER: Well, it's almost daylight now in Cairo, a dire new warning out there. Egypt's vice president saying the country cannot put up with demonstrations like the one today for much longer. And this was the largest we have seen yet. The regime, he says, isn't going anywhere.
It's the latest in a series of mixed messages from Vice President Suleiman. Before issuing the veiled threat, he spoke with American Vice President Joe Biden, who pressed him, saying changes need to start immediately. Not clear what impact that's going to have.
Remember, on Sunday, as we mentioned at the top, the vice president said that Egypt is not ready for democracy and that emergency rules should continue. If he's sending mixed messages, though, so perhaps is the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yesterday I think the vice president -- Vice President Suleiman made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy, about not seeing a lift of the emergency law. And I don't -- I don't think that in any way squares with what those seeking greater opportunity and freedom think is a timetable for progress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
We also heard today from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, praising Egypt's armed forces who protected protesters, but have also stood by and watched as pro-government thugs went on the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that the Egyptian military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion during this entire episode. And they have acted with great restraint. And -- and, frankly, they have done everything that -- that we have indicated we would hope that they would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, let's talk about that with professor Dr. Fouad Ajami with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also senior policy analyst David Gergen and foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty.
Fouad, what do you make of the White House, their moves thus far, how they are playing this with the Mubarak regime?
FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, look, I think the White House has bet it all, in my opinion, on Omar Suleiman. This is the man they are playing. This is the horse that they are playing.
And maybe that's the best they could do. This has always been, for this White House, this was a curveball thrown at them. Suddenly Arab society came apart. And suddenly the alternatives in the Arab world began to come about. And the White House wasn't really up to this task. I mean, it wasn't really looking for this moment.
And I think they haven't covered themselves with glory, but I think it's a very difficult call for them anyway.
COOPER: David Gergen, you pointed out it's a difficult call for them last night on the program. Now Vice President Biden has called Suleiman, using the words immediate, prompt, trying to get more of a specific I guess timetable of change.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, these demonstrations today, and the fact that there's now this human face on these demonstrators, demonstrations, with that young man from Google who gave that enormously appealing, charismatic interview, one that I think not only made a big difference in Egypt, but made a big difference around the world, and including this country, that's put enormous pressure on the U.S. government to now really push as Vice President Biden did today with Suleiman in Egypt to the administration still stands for orderly transition, but it wants a faster transition.
And there's a great fear in the administration of two things: One, they're being lied to by the government, just as the government is lying to the people. And, secondly, the government is really digging in and is going to resist change. This clearly cannot go on much longer on any side, and including the fact that the United States can't look impotent in this situation.
So I do think there's going to be continued pressure and heightened pressure on the part of the United States. One last thing, there should be, and I think the administration is making a right distinction, insiders tell me, between the army vs. the regime. Gates talked today in an admirable way, an admiring way about the army.
That's been an institution for stability. It's the regime that's corrupt and repressive and needs to be changed.
COOPER: Well, although we have heard accounts from our Ivan Watson yesterday that it's military police who are also involved in some of these detentions, although the details aren't not really clear.
Jill, what are you hearing from sources?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, for the first time, they really actively are saying they are frustrated, because I think David is absolutely right.
They feel that, OK, we have had the words; now let's have the action. And they are concerned that the people who are in power want to continue in power, and simply are playing this out for as long as they can do it, hoping that the protesters will go away.
They said today they were watching these demonstrations, the administration was, and they were bigger than ever, as you've reported. So now it's almost kind of come into this routine. Every Tuesday, they get a good crowd. Friday, it's usually even bigger.
And one factor that could play into this is it's very bad economically for the Egyptian government to have this continue.
COOPER: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Jill.
DOUGHERTY: So the economics of this, the bad impact that it's having on the economy might be one of the factors that they would want to bring it to some type of conclusion. But to do that, they have to get the opposition to work with them, or I should say they have to work with the opposition.
COOPER: So, Fouad, we know what the playbook from this regime is and we know the strategy of what they're trying to do. They're trying to buy time, divide the opposition as much as they can. How does the opposition counter that?
AJAMI: If you allow me, I did attend today a meeting at the White House. And though it's off the record, no attribution, I can tell you one thing. This protest today made a deep impression on this White House, a deep impression.
AJAMI: Absolutely, because ultimately, one never knows, and even as we have covered the story with you, Anderson, we couldn't tell from day-to-day is this -- who is going to prevail? Are the protesters going to run out of steam?
COOPER: Right. That's been the narrative of the last couple of days. And a lot of -- not on this border, but in a lot of places people saying, well, look, these folks are not going to be able to keep this going. It's going to run out of steam.
Clearly today, more people than ever before in that square.
AJAMI: This is a great moment. This is a great standoff between liberty and autocracy.
And the problem -- the problem for the Obama White House is they have not been symbolically engaged. They have not articulated a position in defense of liberty, without any equivocation. I think our president should make it perfectly clear, completely without any equivocation, that he stands for the liberty of the Egyptian people. This is one of these great defining moments. I can tell you I have been covering and studying Arab politics for something like the bulk of my life. This is the most remarkable moment in recent Arab history.
There's no violence. These are not suicide martyrs. These are not -- these are not ideologues. They're not shouting death to America. They're not shouting death to Israel. They are just people who really want liberty and they want a better life.
And look at the -- the response of the Egyptian regime. Today, they announced they've decided to give the people of Egypt 6 million state employees, 15 percent raise, because they thought, "Well, let's buy off the crowd," and it didn't work. It didn't work.
And I think this is it. You have these moments when an old world dies and a new one is not yet born, and this is a very dangerous and perilous moment. But this is a very exhilarating moment for the Egyptians.
COOPER: It was interesting, David, reading Tom Friedman today, walking around in Liberation Square, saying the 40 years he's covered the Middle East, he's never seen anything like this.
GERGEN: Yes. It is. And I must say, Anderson, you're bearing witness to this, Tom Friedman and others. That's making an enormous difference. I think keeping the cameras in there, keeping the world's attention on what's going on, is -- is one of the best ways to help them eventually get their freedom.
But I want to go -- I want to ask Fouad, what I can't quite figure out, Fouad, is if the -- if the Egyptian regime really does dig in and resists and resists and resists, and the protestors are out there and the Americans keep on pushing and don't get anywhere, what happens then?
AJAMI: I really don't know and I won't volunteer an answer. I've always insisted we should just do it on a day-to-day basis.
The Egyptian people, these protestors are very clear. They don't want to talk about constitutional reform, because Egypt is not government constitutionally. It's a tyranny. It's governed by a dictator.
What they want, they've told us what they want. They want the dictator gone. They want an end to the state of emergency. They want to abolish the fake parliament that the man saddled his country with. And I think their demands are very clear.
And you know, you have this man. He's dug in. He doesn't want to go. It's about his own macho. So his own pride is more important than the safety and the happiness and the tranquility of his people. It's amazing.
COOPER: Fouad, I think it's an important point that I asked a protestor, Khalid Abdullah, before about. But you know, for all this talk about the Egyptian government, about stability and trying to stop this crisis, inside that square is the one place there is stability and is the one place there is democracy and the one place there isn't a crisis.
It's everything on the periphery and it's everything the government has tried to do to those people that is creating a crisis.
AJAMI: You're so right. Inside that square there is a real sense of community. If you'll allow me, a friend of mine, an older friend of mine, one of the country's most outstanding professional architects, called me the other day. He actually called me -- I have to let you know -- after watching this show. And basically said something that moved me enormously.
He said, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak rid me of my love of Egypt. They rid me. They cured me of my love of Egypt. And these protests, these people in Medina Tahrir, Liberation Square, they returned to me my love of my country. They returned my faith in my country.
And this is what makes it so difficult for the preeminent liberal power, for us here in Washington, in the United States, to try to equivocate. And if we are betting it on this autocrat, Omar Suleiman, he is destined to disappoint us.
GERGEN: Fouad, without breaking confidences, can you say whether the government, our government, the White House is sort of hoping that the Egyptian army gets Mubarak out of there and has him take a long leave and then moves on with reforms?
AJAMI: That really come up. And I want to make -- I want to be careful, because I would like to go back again.
AJAMI: This was my first visit to the Obama White House. So I have to -- I have to be very careful.
COOPER: We don't want you to break any confidences. Fouad Ajami, appreciate your expertise, as always. David Gergen, as well. Jill Dougherty, as well.
COOPER: Still ahead, one factor fueling the revolution in Egypt, the huge gap between rich and poor. Estimates of President Mubarak's personal fortune are fanning the outrage in Liberation Square. The question is how much is Mubarak really worth? We're trying to find out. It's not so easy. Tom Foreman digs into the math, ahead.
And later, the facts on how many people are being detained and tortured in Egypt, even as the new vice president insists it's safe for protestors to speak their mind. A reality check ahead.
COOPER: I want to show you a picture taken today by an iReporter in Liberation Square. The sign held by the protestor on the left says, "My father won't steal $70 billion from me." A reference to one of the highest estimates of Hosni Mubarak's personal fortune.
It's impossible to say exactly how much money the Egyptian dictator has stashed away. But even the lowest estimates are in the tens of billions. Meantime, 20 percent of Egyptians live in poverty.
According to the World Bank, the median -- median annual income in Egypt is just $2,070. That's compared to $17,700 in Saudi Arabia, $46,360 in America. Tom Foreman has been looking into the Mubarak fortune.
Tom, what have you found?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we know that a variety of news organizations, as you mentioned, toss around some very big numbers, putting Mr. Mubarak's personal fortune at somewhere between $40 and maybe $70, $75 billion. We also know that those number involved a lot of guesswork. Just look at that range: $35 billion. So these could be way, way off.
Part of the trouble is also at this high-end estimate, it just doesn't fit in very well with what we know about other rich people in the world.
For example, "Forbes" says the richest man in the world right now is this Mexican telecom owner. His wealth is estimated at almost $54 billion. So look at that, $54 billion, versus $75 billion, $70 billion. This would make Mubarak the richest man in the world right now. That raises some eyebrows and makes people say maybe this isn't quite right.
Look at another part of this. The Egyptian constitution says, "The salary of the president shall be fixed by law. He may not receive any other salary or remunerations, may not exercise any free profession or undertake any commercial, financial or industrial activity," and on and on it goes."
Now obviously, there are a lot of questions as to whether or not he pays attention to the constitution. But even if this regime is corrupt, to amass such a huge fortune, you'd have to be talking about a very long-time constitution-bucking levels of corruption, which would be relatively hard to hide, Anderson.
COOPER: So I mean, it seems like we're -- frankly just don't know. I mean, what do the Mubaraks -- I mean, they're not talking about this. He's obviously a very wealthy man. No one is disputing that, do they?
FOREMAN: No. Nobody is disputing that. It's plausible that he could indeed, as you said, have billions and billions of dollars.
Much of the speculation on his supposed fortune swirls around his time in the military and the notion that he may have engineered massive profits for himself in military contracts, and then played out those connections over the years.
There's no proof of that, but even if it were proved, locating that money for some sort of national reclamation, if that's what people want, is fraught with problems. The Swiss could possibly reveal whether or not he had hidden assets in their country this week. We're waiting to see that.
But that's just one place he could have stashed money. Think about all the tax and money havens around the world. We've been chasing rumors all day about property here family members may own all over the globe.
But one forensic accountant we spoke to said, "Look, there are rulers who are driven from power years ago, and authorities have yet to track down all of their secret wealth," Anderson.
COOPER: Compared to the afternoon Egyptian, he's obviously extraordinarily wealthy.
FOREMAN: Yes, yes, that's -- and that's really why this is such political dynamite. There are 80 million Egyptians, and as you mentioned, one out of every five lives on less than $2 a day.
That has fueled the anger and has led to this revolt. And that could keep this hunt for Mubarak's money alive for many years, however much it is and wherever it might be hidden.
COOPER: It's frustrating to figure this out. I should point out the bottom line is there is no transparency in the Mubarak regime, hasn't been for 30 years. That's part of the problem in trying to track this down is there's no accounting, there's no public accounting, he's not accountable to anybody, even though there is this constitution.
And even the Egyptian military, which is very mysterious, they own property. They own businesses that they generate huge sums of money in ways which aren't really clear to outsiders.
So there's a lot of stuff going on inside the regime that, frankly, we can't figure out at this point, which is I think clearly the bottom line in Tom's report there. Tom, appreciate it.
Isha Sesay is following some other stories in a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Vice President Joe Biden today unveiled a White House plan to spend $53 billion on high-speed rail over the next six years. And that's on top of the $10.5 billion the administration has already spent on fast rail. Details of the new investment will be in the proposed budget due out next week.
A new study by Canadian researchers predicts that polar bears will have fewer cubs and more miscarriages as climate change melts ice on Alberta's Hudson Bay. An estimated 900 polar bears live in the area, down from 1,200 a decade ago.
And Anderson, check out the woman on the right of your screen. She's the one in the red coat running towards six men trying to break into a jewelry store in England. She stops them by clobbering them with her handbag. They were armed with sledgehammers.
COOPER: Are you kidding?
SESAY: The woman you're looking at is 65 years old. She has earned the nickname Super Granny in British papers. Four suspects have been arrested.
I say, go, granny power.
COOPER: Amazing. She could have been, you know, severely hurt. So she's very lucky. But that...
SESAY: She's very, very cute (ph). She's making me proud.
COOPER: I'm told she's 75, I'm hearing in my ear. Amazing. Isha, thanks. We'll check in with you coming up.
Our coverage of the protest continues. We're going to go back to Cairo for the latest. I mean, this is just extraordinary. I know these images start to all look alike. This is the largest turnout of people in the -- in the 14 days of these protests. That is just an extraordinary fact.
You heard from Fouad Ajami. It's had a big impact at the White House today in terms of policy. And those -- people believe it's the strength, the continued strength of this pro-democracy movement.
We're going to talk about what's happening behind the scenes, on the ground to protestors and journalists, the beatings and the detentions. We'll talk to one journalist who was just detained for hours by the Egyptian secret police, within the last 24 hours. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Human rights groups as well as the White House are imploring the Egyptian government to stop harassing and detaining journalists and protestors.
Vice President Biden asked his Egyptian counterpart in a phone call today to immediately end the arrests and beatings. The fact that they are still asking this tells you something.
It was a week ago the pro-Mubarak mobs began an all-out assault on reporters and protestors. Last Friday, Egyptian authorities said "No, no, no, reporters are welcome." That's what the press office there said.
Human Rights Watch said today army officers and military police have arbitrarily detained at least 119 people since the end of January. Tortured them in at least five cases that they know about.
James Hider is a Middle East correspondent for "The Times of London." In the last 24 hours, he was detained by the Egyptian secret police; released a short time later. He joins us via phone from Cairo, along with our own Ivan Watson.
Jim, you were detained in the past day by the Egyptian secret police. You say you were treated relatively well, but you say the message was clear. What was it?
JIM HIDER, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT (via phone): They wanted us to have Egyptian accreditation, which we have applied for, which almost every journalist here has applied for but nobody has received yet.
And they also are asking for this Egyptian accreditation now on the access to go to Tahrir Square. So we were detained by the More (ph) police on the road to Suez, handed over to the secret police for about four hours, who questioned us and told us we couldn't come into town without this Egyptian accreditation.
COOPER: So they want this accreditation, but they're not giving out the accreditation. This wasn't your first run-in with security forces and they haven't always been so polite, right?
HIDER: No. Last week I was arrested by the army. I was covering a prison break and the army put a gun to the back of my head, hit me to the ground, kicked me. Even after I explained I'd a journalist and they questioned me for about an hour.
And then last Thursday I was attacked by a mob and just across the river, which we just stopped to talk to people in the street about life, general conditions of how people are surviving and we got mobbed and an Egyptian colleague of mine was beaten up by a mob.
COOPER: Ivan, when you hear the vice president of Egypt still saying that reporters are part of the problem, that foreigners and reporters are in league with the protestors, are trying to belittle Egypt, they're trying to insult Egypt, which is what he said in the last 24 hours, doesn't that send a message to thugs or gangs or anyone on the street that reporters and foreigners are targets?
WATSON: That's right. And it ramps up xenophobia, Anderson, in a country that really depends, a large part of its economy depends on foreign tourism. It seems like a very short-sighted strategy to maintain legitimacy in the face of what is clearly a popular revolution.
And that's why this case of the Google executive, the Egyptian Waed is so interesting, because it took the government nine days -- nine days -- to admit to his family and to the rest of Egypt that he had been in detention when the family had been frantically looking for the man's body in hospitals and trying to figure out what exactly had happened to him.
And so when he then stepped out on Egyptian television and said that he had been detained, blindfolded for that entire time and all he had been doing is asking for basic human rights, that did send a powerful ripple effect through the country.
COOPER: James, what do you make of the public statements being made by the vice president of Egypt? On the one hand he talks about, well, constitutional reforms and we'll set up a committee. Yet in the next breath he's saying these protests can't be allowed to go on much longer and these people are insulting Egypt, as are reporters? WATSON: Well, almost every speech he makes seems to be full of contradictions. On the one hand trying to look as if he's making concessions. On the other hand, making inflammatory remarks about foreign influences and foreign journalists.
It's possible that they just don't quite understand what a democratic media would look like, and they don't know exactly why journalists would need to work quickly on conditions on the ground on a big story like this. And we don't have the time to be waiting a week for a piece of paper from a press office.
COOPER: We've got to leave it there. James Hider, continue to stay safe, and Ivan Watson, as well.
Today, day 15 of the protests in Egypt, the largest crowd so far gathering in the square. Remarkable images. We're going to have the latest from Cairo coming up at the top of the hour.
And the first living service member from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor is stepping out of uniform. We'll tell you where he is headed next.
COOPER: All right. Let's get a quick check of the headlines. Isha has another "News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
SESAY: Anderson, a 10-month federal investigation indicates there are no electronic problems with Toyota's recalled cars. That means floor mats, sticky pedals or driver error caused the vehicles to speed out of control.
The nation's only living Medal of Honor recipient from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is leaving the U.S. Army. Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta will focus on his education using the G.I. Bill. Giunta served two tours in Afghanistan and earned the Medal of Honor in his actions in battle against the Taliban in October 2007.
Sinners, sin no more. There's a new app for your IPad and iPod Touch to help you with confession. It even has the blessing of the Catholic Church. This won't replace face-to-face confessions with a priest. Instead, the $1.99 confession Roman Catholic app offers a step-by-step guide for followers, password protected, of course.
And new trouble tonight for Lindsay Lohan. The Los Angeles district attorney's office says Lohan will be charged tomorrow with felony grand theft.
SESAY: She's accused of leaving a jewelry store -- oh, yes.
COOPER: I leave -- I leave for a few days and this happens?
SESAY: And guess how much it was worth?
COOPER: I have no idea.
SESAY: Twenty-five hundred dollars. She left, allegedly, without paying for it. Her attorney is saying that she's innocent and will fight the charges.
I know you used to watch the reality show.
COOPER: I used to watch -- I watched a few episodes of that show called "Living with Lohan." She wasn't even on it. The whole thing was like a scam.
Anyway, all right. We usually end the show making -- with something to make you smile, the "RidicuList." We had one prepared for tonight. Frankly, we ran out of time. That's the way it goes. We thought our discussion was more important
Up next, the latest from Egypt. More coverage ahead.