tv Book Discussion on Once Upon a Revolution CSPAN February 8, 2015 2:45pm-4:01pm EST
getting involved in iraq, the army conducted a big study brought a bunch of historians together and we were supposed to give papers on the armies rolls in this nonconventional affairs. the interesting thing to west was well this is the history of the army. under current top trend that has changed. the current doctrine underwent major changes under david petraeus come with much greater focus on what they called asymmetric warfare. that would argue this is themed. the commissions they find the individual issues are different the basic conditions are pretty similar, that you are trying to restore order in a very complex world, often with very few resources. >> or more information on the recent visit to corpus christi,
texas and many other cities visited by local content vehicles, go to c-span.org/local content. >> thanassis cambanis reports on the 2011 egyptian revolution profiles to its leaders, liberal architect in a pharmacist assisting with the muslim brotherhood. [inaudible conversations] >> good evening everyone. i am david cohen and i love doing introductions here. i am carla subkeys has been. one of the reasons i love doing introductions is politics & prose as a beacon and standards that are under its current of bob graham and lissa muscatine
and the wonderful staff about having the vote discourse and dealing with difficult issues and demanding issues. we did that last night and we are doing it tonight and we have done many other books of histories, policy books novels that deal with demanding issues in either the middle east where the islamic world and so we are really pleased here to welcome thanassis cambanis and celebrate the publication of "once upon a revolution: an egyptian story". mr. cambanis is going to talk about this himself. so i am not.
we have to reflect a little bit about the era of spring and how the u.s. really had no idea that it was going to happen. even people who worked with ngos and egypt really didn't know it would happen. i had a conversation with a person i work with who was telling me he had been working with children and telling me something is really going to happen, but no one is listening. it was an early signal three or four weeks or so before things were beginning to stir up and it reflects on how little we often know about what is going on in artificial life has artificial life doesn't dig in and try and relate to people who were not part of official life.
mr. cambanis has told us a story here are two people, but more than that, it is a story and the importance of journalists. he is a journalist. he is here from babe ruth and this is really the first major presentation for this book. we welcome them again at an earlier book four years ago at politics & prose. welcome back. in telling this story he brings in a sensibility of history and culture and it's a story about how we have to have major understanding of rapid change and how to figure out ways to prevent top violent extremism. so by using journalism and history and culture by being probing, by understanding causes by listening to people
particularly these two major characters, begin to identify patterns and their significance. this is the kind of contribution we need and we need to be talking about it. and you will update your chance to ask questions and have a discussion after the initial presentation. so let's welcome thanassis cambanis to politics & prose. [applause] >> well, thank you very much for the very warm introduction and thank you to all of you for coming tonight. i am so excited and so honored to have the chance to carry this story. telling the story of the egyptian revolution at age 40 has been one of the most really
inspiring panic signing things i've been able to do and a long mostly dismal career of writing about failed invasions and occupations and wars, experian smm kind of daily grits of the middle east correspondent. and it has been a really dizzying journey. if you are here tonight, nancy paid enough attention to know how badly things seem to have turned out today. you probably have followed in the papers and egypt's utopian days of revolution turn into the restoration of old regime. you probably read about a worse in libya and yemen and syria and you've probably seen the whole bevy of clichés about the air of spring turning into an airborne terror. two nights, i to take you back to the beginning of this historical process that exploded open onto the consciousness of the world in tunisia in
december 2010 and more cinematically and more intensely , with career square in january 2011. i what to talk a little bit about the arc of history that we are watching a full. lost in the daily -- the daily politics, again, very depressing scorecard of repressive regimes versus dissonance the poll of thousands in prison for free speech offensive, lost in the numbers game is the realization that today we are watching a new kind of politics in a new kind of world being built in the arab world, being invented by it arab citizens have taken charge of their own destiny after literally generations, half a century or more of being pulled and ordered inactivated into not having a voice and not feeling like they have the strength or power to define their polities on themselves as citizens.
when they say half a million people, but when hundreds of thousand people poured into two rear squared on january 25 2011, i was far away. i was in new york city. i've been covering the arab world for almost a decade. iacono pulled firsthand the mishaps and tragedies of the u.s. invasion and occupation of iraq and i spent a lot of time talking to him looking for the act to defend dissidents in civil society, people who were toiling away with very little hope that their laborers were going to bear fruit. the people working against oppressive regimes with little to no delusions that their work was ever going to website tyrants they were opposing. i talk to these people in cafés, sometimes in places where they're able to speak quite openly because the machines didn't take them seriously. any judge activists weren't almost no pressure in the late
mubarak era because mubarak knew no one was listening to them. they were free to organize. they were free to talk not on tv so much, but in the print media. they have monitoring campaigns that document wholesale electoral fraud. no one paid attention. their work in a small demonstrations, 100 people outside of the courthouse and 2000 police surrounded and to the public and they did not consider themselves a threat. when davis calculates sedley flipped on its head, when the aspect haitians that the population would be passing suddenly was broken and the entire society of experts on arab politics, including arab politicians and activists themselves realize that everything they knew was called into question. all of our assumptions about what was possible, all the assumptions of the gradualism of historical change, all the
assumptions that nonactors are a small group of idealists can make a difference were suddenly proven to be baseless. i found myself unable to stay on the sidelines. i had to go and see this historic event beginning. i knew from the first moment it was going to be a very long story, that whatever happened in that square, whatever wall of fear was broken and whatever courageous first step that people who went and risk their lives and put their bodies on the line to challenge a police state whatever began that day is going to unfold over years and probably generations. as soon as i got there i sought out the people who understood that the game they were in was a political game and were trying to turn out moment of euphoric people power into some kind of lasting political order of movement. all seemingly chaotic people
power uprising, all leaderless revolutions do in fact have leaders. if you spend time on the ground in any wars or political process, you quickly learn how to spot the architecture of the protests architecture of the movement and look for the people who are pulling the strings are encouraging people to turn out organizing. that is what i did. i sought out these leaders. this was one of this signal elements was that its actual leaders and founders were allergic to the idea of politics. so we've been in their key moment distorted the apex of their leadership, they would say i'm not a leader. i'm not looking for a chair power. i'm just channeling what the people want. and that modesty in the beginning turned into ultimately a quite distract her pathology for the people who are trying to
change the regime in egypt. in those early days in two rear squared it was very clearly skeletons in the movement and it took shape in something called the revolutionary youth coalition. this is a group of about 20 young people and a lot of the young people were older than me, in their 40s. in a country where you have to be 70 or 80 to be considered someone who would earn their stripes and be ready to run something. four girls were just kids. for these youth leaders, some of them more like a man who grew to become my friend over the years that followed came from backgrounds that can encourage politics in a society where politics criminalize any idea of advocating for politics would we need the label of being selfish for self-aggrandizing or self-promotional. there is a small minority group
of people who had been raised by families that lived in politics and believed his dissent. a muslim brotherhood family, his grand other within the movement founded in 1928 and both his father and grandfather had spent time in exile because of their work in the brotherhood and he had trained from infancy really with the organization also in its organizational tactics. there was a small group who had the know-how of the clandestine movement, but who had to eat those of a modern, secular view in that they were personally very religious, very pious muslims. politically they wanted a secular state. there was also a small group of labor act to this leftists and communists who been then raised by families with a long history of dissent. these sort of -- they resorted
the odd men and women out but they were the ones who brought the political valhalla to the struggle. on the other side of it we had the people new to politics and the reason why two rear squared became the explosive and inspiring phenomenon. these were college kids working kids, people who had been raised to stay the heck away from politics because there was a third rail in egypt there is no point in trying to change the system. one of them who i was strong to write away because i saw the way people around him seemed to respond and be willing to be led by him was that guy who was already over 40 in january 2011. he was an architect that came from lower middle-class family. i think he was the first generation to actually go to college and his family.
he founded an architecture business after years of pulling himself up by his straps and he was the guy who was very very clearly learned the lessons that the way to get ahead was to shut your mouth. his father had spent years in prison under an oscar for the crime of belonging to the boy scouts. a lot of boy scouts happen to be muslim brothers. this guy was an anti-muslim secularists, but during one of the many roundups, and he was headed to prison for nearly 30 years and the last thing he passed on from this list do not say a word about our government, our president, our politics. it will give you nowhere. he kept very closely to that end in the year and a half before two rear realized that was a dead-end. this is how badly mismanaged egypt was a country of almost 90 million people that can't feed itself, can't employs people in good enough for them to semblance of a political
outlay. he realized after three generations, his family was plummeting. he played by all the rules. he viewed his family with the sword of rigmarole of arab nationalists, p. treated them and love of the strong army and the strong nation and he found the reward for that was a slow the to climb for the middle class down towards poverty that his grandfather pulled the family out of. ..
>> and the gulf between the secular architect and the lifelong muslim brotherhood youth activist couldn't be greater. i mean, to try and -- it's impossible to put it into american terms because we don't we don't have the experience of politics being illegal. but try to imagine, you know the most diehard young republican and the most diehard young democrat and one an atheist and one, you know a fundamentalist religious person trying to get together and come up with a common agenda for building a new state from scratch. it's a really tall order.
[laughter] and this is in a country in which there was no vocabulary of politics because the powers that be had worked very assiduously for half a century to eradicate political speech. and their propaganda had worked. the word "politics" was synonymous with narrow parochial self-interest and the word "army" was synonymous with nation, security and greatness. so to try and stand up and say the thing that's destroying our nation is military rule, is -- was almost incomprehensible. so what, um what we witnessed in that first couple of months of the uprising was something that i found inspiring not as a student of egyptian politics, but as a student of history and as a student of politics and identity all over the world. i had come to believe as a child
of the era of triangulation and moderate reform that radical change is impossible that system change is impossible, that individuals can work if they work assiduously and work hard, they can maybe nudge, they can nudge government policy one way or another maybe have a big win here or there. but i believe that both human nature and governments and state systems were very hardships to turn. and that -- hard ships to turn that it was naive, idealistic and foolish to think otherwise. and the moment that lasted about a year after the first arab uprisings began showed that, in fact, it's not impossible, that in this case something that all the experts knew was impossible had happened. and millions of people who were terrified and refused to utter even the smallest squeak of political speech were suddenly
from one end to the next willing to be killed, willing to rush towards police who were shooting them dead and rush in wave after wave in the interest of a slogan as utopian and idealistic as "bread, freedom and social justice" and the fall of the dictatorship. that was to me, mind bending. and very humbleing -- humbling as an individual. also as reporter, you know, it was catnip. [laughter] it was incredible to see these kinds of things were possible again in a world in which they'd sort of dropped off. so that was the beginning. that was the beginning of a much less sexy story which is how do you create a new politics in a broken society in a broken society in which there is almost no freedom and one of the primary tools of government is to routinely and habitually
torture, debase and humiliate your population. treat them as assumptions, treat them as -- as subjects, treat them as fools in the hopes they never challenge you. it is a very tall order to do that, and we don't know today how that's going to turn out. i couldn't begin to say that i know in the long term that what's going to happen in egypt and the arab world is going to be something as inspiring and appealing as the ethos of the early tahrir square, but i do know that whatever's going to happen is going to take at least a generation to unfold. history doesn't work on the cable news cycle. it works on the cycle of generations. and we have turned away largely from the struggle in the arab world because the struggle there today is to invent a way of talking about rights and citizenship, a way of demanding accountability from power, a way of fighting a police state that
has proven much more resilient and savvy at entrenching itself than its opponents expected. in the years that i spent in egypt after tahrir square i followed a group of about 12 activists, most of them who had been on that revolutionary youth coalition. and i watched their own internal divisions and power struggles and clashes over how to view the military, their clashes over how to view themselves as people of faith or people who were secular. i watched those struggles up wind -- unwind, sort of undo actually, a lot of their initial unity and a lot of the beauty of their early movement. by a year and a half into the uprising the revolutionary youth coalition disbanded itself, and the two men who i ended up focusing the most on my book had stopped talking to each other.
in bassam's case because his mistrust of anybody with an islamist background outweighed his gut hatred for the military's abuse of power. from the other man's end, he became a sort of holy fool. he became anker dooring voice -- an enduring voice for revolutionary unity and for the idea the very simple idea that everybody in the world can agree on certain core principles like the equal application of the rule of law to all citizens no matter how rich or poor the end of torture, freedom of religion and consistency in the way courts treat people. a couple of other things. and he said why can't we all just fight for that agenda? and once we enshrine these basic things, then we can fight each other to the death over how much religion to put in the constitution or all these other
secondary issues that we'll never be able to talk about meaningfully if we can't control our own government and subordinate the army and police to civilian control. for that position he was first expelled from the muslim brotherhood which had been his second family since infancy and later he was expelled from the fold of the revolutionary youth community. people like bassam came to see him as a naive, as a naive fool but also as someone they couldn't trust because they thought maybe he was still secretly working for the muslim brotherhood and that his expulsion had been staged. this is the kind of level of mistrust that the revolutionaries had for each other at that time about two years ago, that these kinds of divisions began to really calcify within their ranks. the old ore regime started to make -- old regime started to make overt moves to cam back to power. -- to come back to power. so many egyptians were tired and
afraid from the uncertainty and the economic collapses that had occurred during the transition their period, and also they were quite aptly manipulated by the security state which had its own front movements intended to rile up support for the return of a military strongman. they also, the old regime and the military and the force of the old ruling party, had a great ally in the muslim brotherhood which, when it came to elected power, proved to be just as authoritarian and just as indifferent to the causes of the revolution -- most fundamentally equal rights for citizens and accountability for past abuses and torture -- that the entire premise of that revolutionary transition period unraveled. and both the staid bourgeois liberals who for a while had hitched themselves to revolutionary change people like bassam and the one-time muslim brothers who had broken with their organization, found
themselves unable to support a muslim brotherhood regime that while elected was actually making whatever the military and the police weren't making worse than the muslim brotherhood was making worse. and so there became a great and to this day enduring chasm between those who prioritized the pursuit of islamism and those who prioritized the pursuit of revolutionary apes. after -- aims. after that, a third pillar which was the stability crowd, the people who wanted after flirting briefly with the idea of some kind of radical or utopian or even just mildly reformist program for egypt they decided that something safe would be better, and what's safe and known is rule by the egyptian military. that is the anxiety and the fear that general asis us harnessed -- assisi harnessed to
take power in a coup in the summer of 2013. that restoration of the old order came very swiftly and suddenly and has produced a lot of today sad consequences, not the least of which is the 40,000 odd people in prison for political offenses today in egypt. and the, for now, erasure of public political discourse. so a few years ago you had a sort of 24-hour-a-day salon taking place on television talk shows where you had right-wiggers, left-wingers, secular people fighting it out over the great issues of the day, how to write a constitution what it should say, all the things that you imagined people in the time of the federalist papers fighting about in barrooms. and this was taking place, you know, without making it sound pure and beautiful. it was a dirty fight. it was a dirty fight with a lot
of people who had unappealing ideas taking part in it. but it was an open, creative political fight in a region that for half a century or more had had no politics at all. that discourse has been silenced today. it doesn't exist except in the cafés of the exiles and in the prison cells where a lot of the most creative thinkers of the revolution are in prison today. bassam has moved a little bit to the right. he stayed out of prison by being a little bit too comfortable with the return of military rule. he supported the coup that overthrew morsi, although he tried not to, like the u.s. government avoided calling it a coup. and he today is running for parliament again. he was one of the only revolutionary youth to make it into that first parliament after tahrir square. he served for six months before the courts disbanded it.
today he's running as a member of a liberal party that is in favor of the old slogans "bread, freedom and social justice," but is also okay with cissy being in power for you because as he -- for now because anything is better than the muslim brotherhood. on the other end, we have moraz who's in exile along with a lot of islamist and non-islamist revolutionary dissidents and they're still working. they're still publicly calling for a new revolution. they're doing the dramatic work of trying to resuscitate a protest movement, and they're also doing the dreary and boring work of trying to write a compact that will satisfy religious and secular people, liberal and conservative egyptians and try to actually convince people that basic norms like avoiding torture sorry,
eliminating torture avoiding police impunity removing the military from control of public life are actually in the interests of not just of egypt, but of the world. and that is, as i said earlier it's a generational struggle. it's a long, long,ing long-term -- long long long-term task. and today when we look at the region in general and egypt in particular, we can find a lot of reasons to be depressed or to the simply draw a line on the period of transitions and say those are over, and what we've got now is the old regimes maybe with a little more firepower a little bit more willingness to kill their own people to stay in power. i actually think that's a very premature read and that the evidence of these individual people who are still fighting and working tells us that actually something very different is underway. in mubarak's time he had to
apply very little violence to stay in power. he didn't actually have to repress egyptians that much because most egyptians were either all right with his rule or willing to accept the mediocre bargain that he had given them. and there's some kind of ineffable calculus where people need a certain amount of livelihood or a certain amount of freedom to remain quiet. and if you give them complete failure in termses of health and housing -- in terms of health and housing and all the basic amenities of life and you humiliate them, on the other hand, it's virtually politically -- and give them zero outlet for free expression and political say -- they will explode. and that is the, that is the equation that i think today a lot of people misread when they look at egypt. i think sisi is working ten times as hard to keep the lid on his country as any of the rulers
in the previous 60 years had to work and he's going to need to achieve some pretty hard, hard-to-do miracles to stay in power for ten years. he's going to have to solve some gut economic problems, and he's trying to approach those without any experts from outside the narrow circle of military men that he's surrounded himself with. and he's having to do that in a context where he is arresting people at a rate never before seen even under nasser in egypt. that tells me that we're simply at an early chapter in a long series of upheavals along the way to egypt figuring out where it's going, where it's going to go and what kind of political system it's going to build. and that story, egypt's story is going to be one of the most important stories for what happens in the arab world. egypt has been the embryo of all the important political ideas in the region and in the 21st
century we're ripe now for a new, powerful organizing idea for the raich world. from the last century, we have been shaped for a long time by three old ideas, arab nationalism, islamism and just straight up military tick today to haveship as the -- dictatorship as the key to stability. now it's time for something new and, i mean, that's not my me saying that, that's the arab public's declared it's time for something new. they begin the process of inventing that. and until that process is done, it's going to be much too soon to predict what's going to come. i do, i do think from the american vantage point that one lesson we need to take from this is that our old understanding of stability is broken.
we have as a matter of policy we have depended on stable allies, and we've defined stability in very i think, sort of reducktive and mistaken -- reductive terms. and that's the way we like our regimes in the arab world. so when morsi was elected president, the u.s. was quite comfortable just sort of switching, doing a fine replace on who the guy on the other end of the phobe was, treating him the same way they had treated mubarak. and, in fact a stable state is going to be a place in which the citizens have enough voice and in which the government is subject to enough accountability that it can't misrule. the core grievances at the heart of these uprisings were about humans being forced to live in
horrifying and undying in anified circumstances. -- undying anified circumstances. and that is the failure that continues to this day and that is the failure that we as humans ought to care the most about and which egyptians are going to fight again and again to overcome. something fundamental has changed. this is a region where people were trained to be afraid to talk and today in which they feel completely entitled to demand the fall of a regime. in egypt every single political demographic at some point in the last three years has taken to the street and demanded the fall of the regime ruling the country and then seeing that regime fall. revolutionaries did it, evolutionists did it, right-wing people did it in july of 2013. and if you ask every single one of them they'll say the real revolution was my revolution,
the one i did, and they all fight over which date was the date of the real revolution. but again, so we can get caught up in that squabble and forget to realize that that is a hugely transformative activation of citizenship. this is a country in which everyone feels like they have the right to say who can be in charge, and they don't like the process that the regime puts in place. they'll take to the street ask overturn i. -- and overturn it. that is something whoever's ruling egypt very anxious and motivate them to try the address some of these core human grievances not just because it's the right thing to do, but because in this new era that's going to be the only way to enduringly stay in power. i'll close just by giving a nod to the individuals who are at the heart of this book i wrote and who really were at the heart of this transformation of the way egypt viewed itself and the
way the arab world viewed itself. a lot of the people who were in tahrir square invoked the metaphor of the wall of fear. this was a country where as a reporter in 2010 if you, if i went out and is asked people about a shopping mall for an innocuous feature, they'd be afraid to give me their name. and in january 2011 under the eyes of around soldiers and undercover plain clothes policemen would proudly speak out against the regime, give he me their name and phone number ask if i wanted to take their picture, seek out tv cameras to talk to because, they said, we have broken through the wall of fear. and they demonstrated and proved and deepened that break with the old way by over and over confronting state power in the form of guns that were killing them. and that is a complete break with the old political culture
and that break remains. that change remains. and it is a new constraint going forward for egypt and for the rest of the region. i look very forward to seeing how this history plays out, and i think we're at the beginning of a long and exciting chapter of change in the arab world after half a century, and i'm very honored to have been able to talk to you a bit about this story, and i'm eager to hear your questions. [applause] >> thanassis cambanis, thank you for giving us a fresh and even hopeful way of looking at what happens. as a person i spend a lot of time working on trying to build political support for the two-state solution between israel and palestine, and it becomes very important to understand what's going on in all these countries where there's a p tendency among government authorities to
support just the status quo and those in authority. and you have challenged that. we're going to begin the question period. i want to welcome c-span here. c-span is covering this, and at some point it will be on and you can watch it again that way. we know that c-span adds to our civil discourse, our education our understanding of what's going on. the microphone is here where this gentleman is standing so if you have questions please keep them brief so everybody can get a crack and just line up here, and we'll take everyone in order. since this is a public meeting, if you're comfortable, please tell us your name and any affiliations that you want to share. so -- and you'll take over the questions. >> thanks. go ahead. >> thank you. my name is eric garcia. i am, and like you, like i mentioned, i graduated from the university of north carolina at chapel hill.
and i was particularly curious about this. you mentioned two groups, you mentioned the kind of people who were politically apathetic beforehand, the kind of bourgeois liberals, and then you mentioned the islamists. but i a third group you didn't talk about at least in your lecture, the socialists, the labor unionists, the leftists, the commune communists. i haven't heard much about them in general since the end of that lean square -- the beginning. -- tahrir square. what's happened to the leftist since then? what role do they play what do they want, and how much -- what's their place currently in the egyptian civil discourse? >> well that's a great question and there's a long history of labor movement in egypt in the early uprising, they played an important organizing role. the revolutionary socialists are a sort of useful political party that had a lot of skin in the game and then organized labor
with its own not so revolutionary interests played an important role in that first year. one of the many turning points that didn't work out was in the fall of 2011 there was a huge cascade of strikes across the nation. all the major unions started going on strike demanding essentially fair wages whether health care, teachers, whatever. and there was this moment where the new political parties and the youth movements were working with and reaching out to all these striking labor unions, and there was this sort of wave where people were saying this is what's going the bring the old regime to its knees. the old regime was still in place. mubarak left, the old regime was still there. but suddenly there were strikes in every major population center, and the whole thing started to shake. and this is where we see how clever and resilient the old order was. they didn't make much -- they never made political concessions to the revolutionary youth
unless they were really pushed with their backs against the wall, but when these strikes started, they went to these unions and immediately gave them concessions -- i mean, money. many of those concessions failed to materialize, but they realized this was something that could create an enduring problem for them and they bought them off. in some of those cases they actually did have to implement wage increases or other improvements for the workers and in other cases they eventually said oh just kidding, we don't have the money. but that bought labor peace. and that moment never, never reappeared. the state has actually worked pretty hard to reinfiltrate and take corral -- control over the unions which were always largely constrained by the fact there were state agents at the top. so they weren't truly independent labor unions. the other level on which it's important though is in this war of ideas right? so i talked about the hopeful things but there are also a lot of things that aren't hopeful. there's a lot of chauvinism,
there's a lot of fear mongering and nationalism, there's a lot of mess trust of -- mistrust of pluralism, hate mongering against christians and other minority groups, and these kinds of i would say sort of toxic ideas in the body politic have a lot of currency. they're popular. so military rule is very popular, sisi is very popular. so the left actually plays an important role because even though a lot of the leftists are sort of unreformed trotzkyists who have not updated their understanding of how socialism might be applicable in today's world, nonetheless they actually have an articulated political world view and they end up in the small community of people who are talking about politics and who are talking about what a political system could look like. they have disproportionate influence because even if people aren't convinced by their ideas, they're learning what a coherent overall world view look ares like what it looks like to have
an ideology and policy platforms that come out of that. so they have more influence than their numbers would suggest but they're quite small. and, ultimately most egyptians are politically in the space of sort of what we would think of as center-right, you know? arab nationalists over just sort of -- well, most people are personally religious, but most people don't want islamist politics. so that's a short, a long short answer. next question, please. >> i hi, good evening. my name is christina -- [inaudible] and i work in foreign affairs on refugee issues. i want to start by thanking you for your very interesting speech. it was really great to hear about your experience in egypt, and it's a very interesting story. i think there's a lot of lessons that are going to come out of it. i want to say that i think it's really brave that you admitted that what happened in egypt sort of upended all of these assumptions that a lot of -- >> and myself had --
>> had about how social change happens, so very brave of you to admit that. my question has to do with how you actually pieced together the book. did you start with some articles that you had written and sort of bring it all together? maybe if you could just say a little bit about the genesis of the book and how the idea came to you to write it. >> thank you very much for that question. when so when tahrir square happened, i basically -- my head exploded. i couldn't believe i wasn't there. after a couple of days my wife said, get out of here and go to egypt or else we're not going to be able to stand living with you. [laughter] and i went to egypt, actually just to report for a book. it was the first time -- i've been a reporter mostly for newspapers for my entire adult life but i went to tahrir to see if there was a book that i felt like i could do that would be worth having, worth reading.
so i went. i, as i said sought out the characters who i thought were at the center of this and who were grappling with this question of inventing a new politics, and i spent a lot of time with them, and i decided that the story i wanted to tell was to follow them from january 25, 2011 until either they won or lost. and i think the way i put it at the time was follow them until they get a civilian elected president or until there's a new military coup. ultimately i got both those things in the book. [laughter] and fortunately, it was very organic. i didn't know how it was going to turn out, i didn't know which of these 12 people were going to be my main characters. they were men, women christian muslim secular atheist, you know they came from different backgrounds, very interesting people. they all knew each other and interacted although ultimately, they really fragmented, and a lot of them stopped trusting and
talking to to each other by the end of the time i cover in the book. but i followed them, i stayed in egypt for a couple of years, and then i moved to beirut and started making, just making regular trips. and i actually wrote one draft of the book that ended with morsi's inauguration as president thinking that now we, you know with that step we were at the beginning of, you know an 8 eight or ten-year process of sort of where the the battleground would move from this tumultuous, revolutionary playing field to the staid and boring field of politics. so i finished the draft of that book, we were all set to edit it when some things happened, and we took that draft and threw it away, and i wrote a new one, and i think now, you know, we got an
endpoint. with sisi coming to power it doesn't mean the process is over. but in my estimation the chapter of sisi in charge is going to be a long one. it could last only a year, but i doubt it. he's a bright, dynamic, high energy man with a lot of buy-in including from the most important voting bloc in egypt which is the millions of people who live off military salaries. and, sorry great underwriting from saudi arabia. so that did that gave us a stopping point for the story. and also there was a literal stopping point in the end of politics. all the people i know are either, with the exception of bassam, in prison, dead can, in exile or silenced. so it's a good time stop and take stock and i think there
will be room for a sequel to this story, but probably in five or ten years. >> thank you. >> my name's eleanor bakrat. actually i'm following on from what you just said. you said several times it will take a generation, it'll be a long time, but that implies that you think there's going to be change. maybe reform. i wish you'd elaborate on that a bit. because it seems to me things could also stay the same. >> i mean yes, things could stay the same. i think i think that the way i understand the transformation of society including what i talked about in the end with the activation of the citizenry means that things can't actually literally stay the same. you just can't rule, you can't rule a country like egypt with
indifferent totalitarianism or indifferent authoritarianism the way mubarak did. so it could change for the worse, okay? there could be -- the evolution of this could be that the opposition to military rule becomes a dark and toxic hypernationallist, racist opposition and that the governor stays in power through -- the government stays in power through ruthlessly locking up and torturing people. so that could be a worst case scenario change but that would mark a distinct change from the 60-year era that preceded the uprising. i think more reasonably what we can expect is -- i mean unprecedented levels of oppression today have not stopped politics from taking place and have not stopped people inside egypt from publicly opposing the regime. i was there ten days ago and people were telling me things on
the record with their name that could get them thrown in prison. that is not the kind of fear that used to exist. that is different. now, i agree with the pessimists who can say well, that doesn't necessarily lead somewhere good. absolutely. political change doesn't necessarily lead to somewhere good. it is going to lead to somewhere new. and one of the things i sympathy that is inexorable that arab politics cannot be ruled by an arab vacuum anymore. mubarak's regime in egypt really stood for nothing other than their own perpetuation. and that's not going to be enough anymore unless they can rule really effectively which they can't because fundamentally they're not very competent, right? they're corrupt, they're narrow-minded, they draw for expertise on a dry well. so they're unlikely to sort of find their new strength in
actual good governance. so they're going to find it either in opposition or finding it in articulating some new kind of politics. that has to happen. it could be a disaster. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> thank you. you can take this question and run with it any way you want but you talked about the internals of what's going on in egypt. and when the election took place and it was a free and open election and morsi came in, he was taken out, you also mentioned the fact -- if you could kind of touch on what you thought about or how you analyzed democracy opening up and then all of a sudden it going back to a dictator. but more importantly something you said earlier what's going on in the middle east with the iran sanctions with the war
building up against isis. a lot of the other countries such as turkey and iran and saudi arabia are playing on the world international stage. is the reason that we're not hearing about egypt doing this is because the internals are so difficult for them that they don't have the resources, the time otherwise? how do you see the future going forward on how they may be working internationally with some of the conflicts that are going on in their area? >> you raise a lot of great great points, and i can't address all of them -- >> sure. >> but you bring up some things that i'm glad you did, because i think they're important to tab. one is -- to talk about. one is that the region is in the grip of a cold war between saudi arabia and iran which sends tens of billions of dollars spiraling all over, all over the region and which is a big part of the coup against morsi. i mean, one of biggest drivers was saudi arabia and the emirates telling sisi that they wanted him to do a coup and that they would pay for it.
it was $12 billion was required on day one to make up for the money that qatar and the brotherhood withdrew from central bank deposits and made pledges to egypt when the experiment of brotherhood rule ended. so that's a not the kind of aid the u.s. can throw around but these oil regimes have that kind of, those kinds of resources. the other thing, though, that you brick up or that -- bring with up or that your question made me think of is there's something really important of our understanding of democracy from the outside. those of us who like the idea of democracy and who see sisi's coup as a coup can sometimes overlook how authoritarian and abusive muslim brotherhood rule was. so the brotherhood candidate for president won by a very slim are, narrow margin, and he did that by promising non-islamist revolutionary forces that he was
not going to rule as an authoritarian muslim brother, that he was going to rule as an inclusive, cocoalition-based revolutionary -- coalition-based revolutionary president who would put the common agenda first. as soon as he gained office, he betrayed all those promises. in practice what did he do? he tried to grab control of the police, get parks in position in authority for the muslim brotherhood and incited sectarian hatred against christians and against non-islamists, did everything -- all the worst things that islam phobes had hysterically predicted they would do, and then he did it. so it was a real, it was a real problem for these revolutionaries who aren't islamists and had said let's back this guy because we're all against the old regime here.
it turned out the muslim brotherhood wasn't that much against the regime until the coup that unseated morsi. so that has created -- the problem you hear about today is how this affects islamic radicalization but, in fact i think that's a distraction. i don't think, i mean, it has fed islamic radicalization in some quarts, but that process was underway before the morsi coup and will be, will continue even once the brotherhood's political role in egypt is reestablished as it will be someday. but it created a huge problem for the secular democracy types who found themselves in a position of feeling like they had to choose between democratically-elected fascist muslim brother and a democratically-acclaimed fascist secular military ruler. that's a horrible choice. now, i don't think that was the
only choice for egypt in the summer of 2013, but i understand why a lot of egyptians did. and it has made for the time being, it has made it a dead letter to talk about democracy promotion and, you know a certain kind of liberties and societies because people in the regime and even people who aren't sort of autocratic fascists by nature will say, well, do you want to end up like syria and iraq? of course not. so after what the brotherhood did, we really have no choice. and i think that is a understandable response to these unfortunate events. it's also not an inevitable response, and i think one of the mistakes of the regime and people here who are banking on it is not realizing that all the same factors that led it to explode in january 2011 are present even more intensely today than they were then. and so people who are standing up in washington in cairo and saudi arabia and the region and saying sisi is a good safe, stable bet are forgetting some
really basic lessons of recent historiment thanks for your -- history. thanks for your question. >> my name is sally craig and aye been fascinate -- i've been fascinated with egypt ever since i met president nasser in 1965 when i was a peace corps volunteer in guinea, and he was making a visit there. it was a great thrill. but my question -- and thank you so much for helping to clarify what's been happening in egypt over these last three years, four years. my question is broader than that and, you know, you're a middle eastern journalist-reporter, and i'm just curious what your take is on the how much of a disrupter the yemeni situation will be and the death of king abdullah which was just announced this evening. did you know that? >> no. >> oh. [laughter] well, he died. >> wow.
i don't think yemen is -- i think what happens in yemen is mostly going to be contained to yemen. i don't think there's a big spillover effect around region. i don't think yemeni politics drives regional politics the way egyptian politics does, for instance. um i'm not, i'm not going to go out on a big limb on something that i'm not, i haven't thought about a lot. i think saudi policy in the short term is going to remain consistent. i don't think king abdullah has had his, has been an active executor of saudi policy for quite some time, so i don't expect his death, i mean the same people are running, have been running the country for some years now. once a new monarch is installed if that monarch makes changes,
it'll take a couple of years for that to become patient, i would think. although there are some saudi experts in the audience who could address that better. and what was the other question? >> you covered them. >> okay. >> yeah. thanks. >> thank you. >> these will be our last two questions. except for the one i'm going to ask. [laughter] >> moderator's prerogative right? >> i'm michael. thank you for writing the book and coming to talk about it. in 2011 it seemed like the argument against -- or for the united states to support mubarak was that he was somebody who had been a stable ally despite how demonic maybe his government had been. but president obama decided against that and basically supported, at least tacitly the uprising. now in 2013 it seems like they made the ultimate decision. well actually stability does count more than democracy or its ideals.
just wondering from critiquing american decisions, how did we do, what mistakes did we make, and how would you do it differently? >> i don't have time to tell you all the mistakes the u.s. has made here. [laughter] but the basic, the basic problem has been not having a strategy not having an idea and reacting right? so the entire -- okay. the arab uprisings caught everyone off guard. fine. three months later what's our response? we still didn't have one. one year later? still don't have one. and that goes on to today. in the specifics the u.s. spends billions of dollars in egypt, has been on the ground in all kinds of ways some of which are quite helpful to the country for and yet has -- for decades and yet has managed to enrage every constituency in the country. so somehow today the muslim brothers revolutionary activists, ngo people, human rights community the military
that the u.s. crucially bankrolls, all of them feel betrayed and enraged by the united states because of the ways in which it has flubbed, delayed, reversed reacted to the developments on the ground. i think if the u.s. had handled it properly, the americans would have a coherent story to tell egyptians and ourselves about what, you know, what we want there. but we don't have that coherent story because we have lurched from embracing mubarak to blessing the revolution while bankrolling the military junta that was ruling egypt in 2011 to giving a bear hug to the muslim brotherhood in power. not saying, okay we're happy you had elections and we respect your transition, but acting almost as advocates for the muslim brotherhood. to have american officials bragging about the democratic credentials and tactics of the muslim brotherhood and power
when they were behaving completely autocratically was, to say the least damaging for the u.s. posture in egypt and the region. and today we're left with at a minimum a sense in the region of complete american incoherence. what does america want? do we want stability? is like, we know some things. we want countries in the region to not oppose our policies towards israel. we want their cooperation on counterterrorism and security, and that's what egypt has delivered. and that's why at the end of the day throughout this transition period the military men who have uninterruptedly held the lion's share of power in egypt have uninterruptedly also had america's blessing because they've delivered on the things that i guess when push comes to shove are actually the policy priorities of the united states. eric? >> thanassis thanks for writing book. >> thank you for coming. >> you say that middle eastern regimes can no longer exist in
an ideas vacuum, yet an extraordinary number of ordinary egyptians were so quickly willing to re-embrace an authoritarian regime. were you surprised by that? how do you explain ordinary egyptians' re-embrace so quickly of the military? >> surprised and depressed were a big part of how i felt in the fall of 2013. it was shocking to see millions of people, to to see, i mean, there were people i had spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with in trying and dangerous circumstances like bassam. and to see this guy on july 4th 2013, celebrating in a conga line because there'd been a military coup and saying to me with a straight face, it's not a coup, it's a new egyptian
invention, the popular legitimate coup. even to this day, like, i got heckled last night who said you call it a coup but people like it. [laughter] yes. it's a coup and people like it. those are not all mutually exclusive things right? so this is -- yes, it's sad it's depressing, it's horrible. it's horrible to have people who were marching in the streets two years ago telling me casually that they think, you know, that guy, you know that guy happens to be someone who i admire a lot personally and has a lot of intelligence and courage i'm glad he's in prison. why? the revolution brought us nothing but chaos, you know? that's a horrible thing to hear. i don't think it's a shallow -- it's a shallow, short-term reaction and i don't think it's, you know, i don't think it is the whole sort of the whole answer to what the resolution of
what's going to happen. and, you know, i mean, part of how i understand this is, you know most people in the world aren't super articulate when it comes to their political views. when you do honest man on the street interviews in america, most people you talk to aren't going to have a nuanced argument about rule of law. some will some won't. and in a country in which political illiteracy was a state interest for generations you're going to have a lot less of that. what happened with the sisi coup it caught me off guard to some extent the speed to which people jettisoned the revolution, but then you look at the details, and it's kind of like -- should i make this comparison? it's kind of like the rwanda genocide right? where this horrible genocide happened and people were like, how could this be and one of the things we found forensicically was years of
media incitement, these networks of radio stations that were essentially, brainwashing people into seeing things a serb way. well -- a certain way. well, in egypt huge, concerted brainwashing of the public. just yesterday we had leaks from sisu's office where his chief of staff is haranguing a subordinate and telling him what all the newscasters are supposed to say and the talk show hosts are supposed to say, and you could see it in life. i mean, the sort of beautiful salon of ideas that i described was certainly replaced by a coordinated symphony of patriotic hogwash. and it came from every direction, in the papers, on the radio, on the tv. and, you know, that works. you know, on the one hand, we learned in this period people aren't cheap. on the other hand, we learned that you can manipulate publics especially if you have the entire resources of all the media at your disposal. that's impossible for us to
imagine. you work in a newsroom, could you imagine someone, even your boss trying to tell you what to do? [laughter] it doesn't work. so i have friends egyptian friends who are very pessimistic and who took -- whose response to the coup and its aftermath was to just give up. and some of them have gone off into exile or they've gone you off to get ph.d.s or do something else and they've said, you know what? you know, the people don't want us, i'm going to go do something else and hopefully put myself in a position to be able to contribute more next time there's an opening. and actually bassam is a good example of this because he gets, he gets penned a bit as a sellout for being willing to tamp down his criticism of sisi. but, you know what he says is, he says we had a moment where we could have won and we didn't, and we lost. this is like sort of when he puts aside the bs about the popular legitimate coup and all this, and he says, you know, we
did three major uprisings in three years, and at the end of the day, the people weren't with us, you know? there was a small group of us who wanted this. the people weren't convinced. we failed to convince the people. so he doesn't put it on the people. he doesn't say the people are stupid, the people are prone to fascism, he says we failed to convince them, so we've got to figure out a better way to convince them. that's not the whole story. the old regime is quite strong in pulling all these strings and, ultimately, it's responsible for the fact that it's dominating the country. it's not that the revolutionaries lost the game, they were beaten. but he's right that they have to come up with a better story to tell. you can't change an eons-old military dictatorship is a vague slogan of "bread freedom and social justice." we all are in favor of bread freedom and social justice. even sisi is, everyone is. you've got to have a better story to tell, and that's the story he's trying to write now
as a political party leader designing his own cadre school with a curriculum of political education that he hopes in ten years will mean that his social democratic party actually has a thousand operatives who know something that none of the people in tahrir square knew about politics. >> thank you. [applause] >> have a seat, that nancys. -- that nancys. it's important that those foreign policy elites hear what you have to say. one word of advice, don't shorten your comprehensive answers to questions. just do it as you're doing it. because people need o'hare what you have to -- need to hear what you have to say. i take a lot of encouragement, i for years have been influenced decades, by an essay called "from protest to politics." and i hear in what you're saying
the beginning of what might be a politics -- of politics in egypt which means organization, which means discussion, which means building from the ground up and finding ways of learning how to resolve differences. and that's how power gets shifted. so thank you very much. thank you, c-span for being here. books will be signed, just line up over here. and watch watch c-span on when this will appear and you can hear it again and invite others to watch with you. thank you. thank you very much. >> thank you all for coming. thank you so much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> booktv is on twitter. follow us to get publishing news scheduling updates author information and to talk directly with authors during our live programs.
twitter.com/booktv. >> from time to time the washington post will publish e-books on topics that their reporters cover. here's a collection of some of those books with. in "the case against cosby," the post interviewed five of the women who have accused bill cosby of assaulting them. it also looks at court records from a previous case against the comedian. next, a profile of the 36th president, lyndon johnson, and a look back at his legacy in "the great society." also on the list is a collection of eli saslow's pulitzer prize-winning articles on the impact of food stamps on a small town's economy. in "nsa secrets," the post puts into book form its reporting on edward snowden. also on "the washington post" e-book list is a series of stories on america's relationship with personal firearms and the history of gun control in "guns in america." and wrapping up the list, investigative reporter robert
o'hara jr. expounds on the potential for cyber warfare and computer hacking. to see what other e-books "the washington post" has published visit washingtonpost.com/e-books. >> the judge's decision back in 2010 is really instructive, because he said he's the first person who is a neutral person to have reviewed all of the evidence in the case. and he decided that the evidence in the case was either not credible because it was obtained through torture or coercion or for other reasons. and i remember reading, you know the first time i was able to read the diary years ago. so much more became clear to me because he talks about the torture that he was subjected to that resulted in him providing false information about himself and others. because, essentially, he was
told that -- he was told what they wanted him to say. and so he was also in a position, he says in the book, of the more incriminating the fiction he could make up the happier his interrogators were. there's one point he talks about whenever they asked me about somebody in canada, i had some incriminating information about that person even if i didn't know him. whenever i thought about the words "i don't know," i got nauseous because i remembered the words of "redacted." all you have to say is "i don't know," "i don't remember" and f-you and that, of course; was the obscenity that was used. so he says i erased these words from my dictionary. and that passage comes after you read about the pain that he goes through, and, you know, one of the things again as i think about this book and in the last
year that we've had with more information coming out about torture, our debate about torture in the last few months have been so debased in a way because it's focused on effectiveness. and, of course effectiveness doesn't matter right? it's unlawful, it's immoral. but i think this book shows yet again that there are really two things that orture absolutely garon -- that torture absolutely guarantees. one is pain and the other is false information. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. ..