Moderator: Steve Clemons, Senior Fellow, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation
His Excellency Anwar Ibrahim, Opposition Leader, Parliament of Malaysia
Shibley Telhami, Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Saban Center, Brookings Institution
Nathan Brown, Nonresident Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Thursday, February 10, 2011 5:00pm
Click Here for More on This Event
STEVE CLEMONS: Thank you all very much for joining us. I'm Steve Clemons with the American Strategy Program here at the New America Foundation. I also blog at The Washington Note. I'm a co-publisher of The Palestine Note. Today's forum is running live on all sorts of websites, including those, as well as the New America Foundation. I want to pay a special thanks to my colleague Amjad Atallah, who is the codirector of our Middle East Task Force here at the New America Foundation. I've been in such a rush that I don't know who organized this, but I'm going to give Amjad and his team full credit.
I also want to recognize just a couple of friends because I see them. But Ambassador John Malott – I was in his home in Malaysia years ago when I was working for Jeff Bingaman. And we were talking about the various monkeys and whatnot that were in the back. But that was the time that I had the opportunity to meet the deputy prime minister, who is with us today.
Also Paul Wolfowitz, it's a pleasure to have you here with us at New America today. Thank you for joining us.
The future of democracy in the Islamic world is a heavy topic. It would have been heavy at any time we were discussing this. But it's become, I think, a more consequential and heavy subject than any of us might have thought just even a couple of weeks ago, even though I think it's something we should have been discussing.
And even a fairly cynical Nixonian realist like myself finds myself reconsidering a lot of positions that I myself have had. And I think it's important to struggle seriously with the question of where trends are going and what stakes the United States has, although I think much of what we see in the world is not being shaped by us, and the currents are much, much larger. But it – but it is important.
We have several fantastic participants and speakers here to share with us their views. And of course, we're here with former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim, who was from 1993 to 1998 in that position and finance minister. He was my – if I'd had had a vote on a role, he would have been my choice to succeed Prime Minister Mahathir.
Things got a little crazy for him. He's had a tough time. I'm a Facebook friend and follow everything he's done – (laughter) – since Facebook came around. (Laughter.) What's interesting is his challenges preceded Facebook, but I've been following so much, it sort of feels like I've gone through a generation just on the Facebook side.
So the struggles in which Anwar Ibrahim has been having to struggle to try and make the case for a genuine democracy as opposed to a faux democracy in Malaysia have been profound. He heads the opposition there. And it's a tremendous pleasure for us to have him here at the New America Foundation.We also have a good friend and one of the thought leaders in this town and region who has been helping us to understand, rather than pretend to know, but to really understand what's going on in the minds of people. It's not just the Middle East. In South Asia and so many parts of the world – we can call it the Islamic world, the Arabic world, the zone of instability – what's driving their passion? What are they concerned about? What are they not concerned about?
And I know of no one better than Shibley Telhami to help frame what's real and what's not in the framework of perspective that citizens in this troubled region have. And he is currently the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland- College Park, and nonresident senior fellow at the Saban Center at Brookings.
He has contributed to publications all over: Washington Post, New York Times, L.A. Times. Most recently, the one that I really found most compelling was in POLITICO – we'll give POLITICO its due. His bestselling book, "The Stakes: America and The Middle East," is well-known. He is someone here who has been speaking and participating and writing about his polling of public attitudes in the region quite actively.
And then, we have Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment and author most recently of "Resuming Arab Palestine."
So we have a great program here to have discussion. I'm going to ask former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to share some thoughts, and then ask Nathan and Shibley to comment, and then openly act – actively open it for questions.
And I know Paul Wolfowitz has got media, as many of us do. People are coming out – I think that, you know, with all due respect to the folks in the media who are watching this right now, they are squeezing anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of a friend of a friend of a friend in Egypt, and trying to squeeze every last bit out of us, whether we know anything substantive or not. It's one of these odd times where the market has reached an irrational level. But I – there are some people like Paul and others who do know something about these subjects.
MR.: (Off mic.)
MR. CLEMONS: Yeah, we're going to squeeze him now. (Laughter.) Oh, yeah, no, exactly. (Chuckles.) So the floor is yours.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Thank you.
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you, my friend.
MR. IBRAHIM: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be back. And most of you, of course, are interested in our immediate reaction to the brilliant speech by Mubarak. (Laughter.)
But I remember, I recall vividly, the remarks from Vaclav Havel when I was imprisoned expressing a lot of sympathy for what I had to endure. And he said to me: Anwar, you think you
are in prison? You are wrong. The guys, the oppressors, the authoritarian leaders imprisoning you are actually in prison. Look what they hear, what they read and what they say. They seem to be oblivious to the stark realities happening in front of them.
And you listen to Mubarak just now, they just amplify what Vaclav Havel suggested; that these guys remain in prison and in a state of complete denial, and oblivious to the stark realities and the demands and dictates of the time.
You talk about the future of democracy. And I've always taken – held this view very consistently: The problem is not with the Muslims. The problem is about the tyrants and authoritarian leaders in the Muslim world, and at times backed and supported by many others, either Europe or the States for known reasons. But the experience, our experience in democracy is not recent. All these movements that fought against the colonial power – all without exception promised freedom and liberty to their own people.
In 1955, Indonesia conducted fair, free elections. We have the nationalist PNI, the Islamist Masyumi and the communist PKI. The three parties competed in the elections; clearly fair, free. And I always use this anecdote and remind former Vice President Al Gore that the elections in 1955 in Indonesia clearly was far free and fair as compared to Florida in the year 2000. (Laughter.) Well, he agreed, but not necessarily all Americans agree.
So what happened? It was hijacked. In the case of Indonesia, it was hijacked by the secularist, nationalist Sukarno. So it's not always this Islamophobia or the fear of Islam or Islamists that's a factor. In the case of Indonesia, of course. Professor Shibley, who is an expert in the Middle East, would suggest that the undercurrents and the cultural and the psyche of the Arabs may be quite different because you don't have that sort of a tradition as pronounced as you have, say, in Indonesia or Turkey.
But the experience in Indonesia and Turkey must be, particularly after the three decades of authoritarian rule, and when they had the reformasi – and again, very relevant in the context of discussion, Egypt – what happened when Suharto finally was compelled, persuaded, forced to resign? And that policy, I think, was there.
But what is important is we're not dealing with personalities that take over or the team. In the case of Egypt, as was the case in Indonesia, the decision to anoint Habibie was a controversial one because he was vice president – clearly someone linked, associated and seen to be supportive or complicit to Suharto's policies. But he wasn't – he was never in defense or with the intelligence of the Mukhabarat, the intelligence outfit. And no one actually had any – cast any aspersions against him for the atrocities inflicted upon the innocent people.
But then, the acceptance was with strong conditions that he made this categorical undertaking that he was supportive of the reformasi, which means immediately release all political detainees; in a matter of days have free media, which means ban the requirement to license media. I mean, in Malaysia, we still have that. You need to have a license. And maybe even – (inaudible) – appreciate the fact that you want to publish anything, you must have
permission. And the license is to be issued by the minister of home affairs or minister of internal security, as the case may be.
I asked Habibie: Why is it that one day after you assumed the presidency, you released all political detainees? When we knew that the chief of the army and the chief of the police were not supportive, we cautioned him against it. But he said, I gave – I gave my commitment to the team. I only assume the presidency if I'm prepared to undertake these measures. After three days, he freed the media, you see, assuming the free media.
So to my mind, the discourse in Egypt – or democracy in the Muslim world – must be based on these core fundamentals. The Indonesians must decide and, in this case, the Egyptians must decide. Where the Americans have some interest – the neighbors, yes, the protection, free peace and security with Israel, yes. But in this present period, we cannot be seen or perceived to be influencing a decision in Egypt purely from the dictate of outsiders because if we are true to the commitment to democracy and reform, then we must allow them to navigate. These are fundamental issues, values that we cherish.
Why I choose to highlight the experience of Indonesia because, number one, they were under authoritarian leadership. Secondly, the transition was relatively smooth. We're not talking about individuals or a team, but we talk about fundamental rule. Okay.
We can't have, for example, the anointed successor coming to tell you that, well, we still need emergency laws. Then completely, the whole basis of change is flawed and is not acceptable. So the team makes a compromise with the civil society or military or someone close to Mubarak? I don't know. And I do think I am in the position to recommend they will have to negotiate among themselves.
But what cannot be compromised is that the very day the change takes place, all political detainees must be set free. Media must be free. There must be commitment for independent judiciary. They must have an independent commission – independent commission to set up – to set up election commission to undertake to run elections.
I mean, I have seen some discussions here. They say, well, you know, give it some time. They're not prepared.
I mean, don't insult the wisdom of the masses. Don't ever imagine that here is a Muslim country full of semi-literates and illiterates who don't want appreciate the need to have freedom and democracy.
You know, have a very short timeframe; having elections to be monitored with observers international – international observers, as in the case that happened in Indonesia. Because I don't think – I don't believe civil-society leaders and those who were involved in the protest would be just satisfied by having this caretaker government, whatever transition government, setting up an election commission and assuming that they would respect the spirit of free and fair elections.
And a commission to combat this rampant, endemic corruption – leaders that have squandered billions of dollars from the public purse. They have caused just horrendous difficulties to their own people.
What is exciting to me – I'm very encouraged as a Muslim particularly because all these years, I've been battling to try and convince, look, a Muslim is like any Christian or Buddhist. Or, you know, an Arab is like, you know, an American or European. When it comes to cherishing their freedom, they would want to. The only problem is that they have never been given the chance to exercise themselves.
And because of the failure of the ruling clique elite to allow them to express themselves, it takes a spark unleashed that caused this total upheaval.
Now, it is – it is tragic that it has to happen that way for a poor, developing economy. This is not – (inaudible). Where I come from, having to struggle – one foot in parliament, the other foot in jail. I'm traveling back tomorrow to reach Malaysia on the 13th night and to appear in court on the 14th. And knowing that appeals in court means just a façade because a decision has been made – once they charge you, damn it, you're going to go to jail. There's nothing in between.
And though the choice had been made – I can choose to stay here and not return, but the choice had been made. So that is why, to my mind, when I appeal to our friends here, we are not talking about theoretical construct and academic discussions; we are talking about people's lives and their future. Not only bread-and-butter issues, but of life and death for them.
So what we can do – and particularly the United States – is to give a strong categorical commitment that consistent with our policies, we respect the decision of the Egyptians. Why this whole debate about whom should we discuss with? You would negotiate with Omar Suleiman and Mubarak, and nobody questioned who gives them the legitimacy to speak and lead on behalf of the Egyptians for all these decades? Were they elected fair and free? Were they competent and credible? The answer is resolutely no.
We did, but why suddenly when it comes to speaking or talking to this huge representation, liberal seculars or civil society or Islamists or Brotherhood – why must that be a major inhibition? We can only succeed in Muslim societies if we are seen to be respectful to the choice made by Muslims, or Egyptians in this case.
The only condition acceptable to my mind is to have categorical guarantees, constitutional guarantees that all must support the original spirit of this constitution: freedom of faith, freedom of expression, rule of law, economic justice. This includes free and fair elections.
This doesn't matter whether you call oneself liberal secularists or Islamists – must accept because that was the spirit. And in the case of Egypt, the spontaneous reaction was all for these principles: economic justice, freedom – including of faith expression and the rule of law.
And to my mind, once these institutions are in place, democracy in the Muslim world is not a problem. I mean, to equate Iran in this case is certainly – to my mind, it's misplaced. Turkey is, of course, that example.
Indonesia allowed in their free and fair and free elections parties that subscribe to the application of Islamic laws or Islamic state. People ask me, but I say, why do I deny? You can have a socialist party; you can have a communist party. Because some countries, because of their history of violent, militant communist activity, they ban the communist party.
Gus Dur Abdurrahman Wahid thought that it's not wise after all this reformasi call for freedom and democracy. But again, I said, you must have some trust. After all, if we are democrats, we cherish freedom. We have what Tocqueville said, habits of the heart that have some confidence and trust – the expressions and free expressions and ideals of human nature.
And in this case in the Indonesian experience, which to my mind is very relevant – the transition and the elections following that – if you have free media now, months before the elections, then people can call for whatever they want to. They can articulate their position.
Elections were held; parties that call for very radical application of one particular view – be it, in this case, Islamic state or Islamic law, they were given support – 2 percent of the population. The vast majority opt for a consensus because the prime – primary objectives to peace, security and order. Of course, the society is still essentially quite religious. So I don't think we need to dictate that they must allow for (pornography ?), whatever, so it became a huge debate in Tunisia. But to my mind, it's not quite relevant. They will have to navigate and find a viable alternative for these smaller issues.
What is fundamental remains that the country now has evolved to become more or less a mature democracy. The battle is still on the development and corruption. And – (inaudible) – tasks that. So I think in this context, it is important for our brothers and sisters in Egypt to learn experience.
My final note on Egypt: Tunisia, Shibley, is different. For Muslims outside the Middle East, it's a distant land. No, I'm not downplaying the importance of Tunisia – with due respect to Tunisians here – but Egypt has been the intellectual capital of the Middle East. In Malaysia or Indonesia or Pakistan or Indian Muslims, not one family member or any family that can say that they have no direct or indirect link.
Either the imam of the mosque is from Egypt or studied in Egypt or one member of the family had gone to Al-Azhar to study Islam or Cairo University or Alexandria to study medicine. And what's happening in Egypt is being monitored very closely.
In Malaysia, because of the nature of the authoritarian rule and the censorship – media censorship – then the foreign policy issues does not interest them that much, excepting, probably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But Egypt – the eruption in Egypt – has such ramifications to the Muslim world that everyone's talking about. But we're talking about what? A corrupt dictator. Talking about what? To respect the freedoms and the sentiments of the masses. And this is important. No amount of publication, New America Foundation efforts could compete the enormous, immense influence of the development in Egypt to the Muslim world.
Now, I have not updated any sort of response of – (inaudible) – from the tweets or Facebook in terms of their sentiments because of the fact that it was in the morning, in Malaysia. But can you imagine quite a number just stayed up to listen to Mubarak, not out of love for him, to listen to his – but people expected him to express his retirement or abdication in this case. They are kings and they abdicate. (Laughter.)
So, which proves that the ramifications huge and large. We don't know. I mean, the issue of Egypt is, of course – it's transient in the sense that, you know, it's just weeks in the whole of our history of a region, of a country. But its impact, to me, is probably more pronounced – it's more phenomenal in the Muslim world than the transition, democratic transition, in Indonesia.
I used to say in lectures here when I was at Georgetown – I used to say that although it's not given that much attention, but the Indonesian transformation, peaceful transformation – the largest Muslim country in the world – that means the large – the peaceful transformation to democracy is probably the most pronounced or phenomenal event in the last century, as I see it.
But now, the revolt in Egypt that has surpassed Indonesia, because when you have tyrants and authoritarian leaders refusing to acknowledge, you unleashed the people's power, which is unheard of in the Muslim world. Some friends of mine – I must conclude it, and I am aware – some friends of mine said – I was in Cairo for the Liberal International – mind you, a Liberal International conference in Cairo. (Laughter.) And Ayman Nour and all the oppositionists were there.
And I – they kept on questioning – I know, I understand, but please, this is the first time that Mubarak has given some sort of approval, so please. So I said, okay, I will not mention Mubarak, but then I talk about media freedom and independent judiciary; stop the corruption, stop the harassments; stop the political repression.
So the opposition leaders were happy. I met them and I asked, what's happening? They said, they insult the Muslim world. You have lived here under these decades of oppressive rule and nothing seems to be happening. And what's wrong? You have this university, the great intellectual tradition, et cetera, et cetera, although the university has gone to substandard levels these days, but never mind. But you have that tradition.
They said, Anwar, this is Egypt. We have been used to the culture and tradition under pharaoh for thousands of years. (Laughter.) Oh my god, I say. (Laughter.) So I think this is just – you know, some are just so fatalistic, resigned to the fact that nothing is going to change. I mean, these – I'm talking about – no, no, it is not from Ayman himself. But I was in the table, he was there, and introduced the comment from a very articulate guy, speaking in very proficient
American English – you know, not my pronunciation is very Malaysian in English. I mean the correct English. Because so I say (laughter) – because I say, "enhance" – (alters pronunciation) – and you say "enhance." (Laughter.)
Okay, so there's a position. And this was just last year. Of course, I took the opportunity, also, after discussing with them. I said, look, I want to meet Ikhwan, the leaders of Brotherhood – one or two I happen to know personally and had sessions with them. They seemed to be more confident. They said, look, our duty is not to ask whether we're going to win or not, but that we have permission; we have to do it for freedom for our people. But that was just a month before this.
That's why I think it's also – you see the failure of intelligence apparatus to notify us. In a way, it's good. I feel very confident because with all the sophisticated Mukhabarat of the world, or, the intelligence apparatus of the world, they cannot really fathom the aspirations of their people. And for people like me in the opposition under the Mukhabarat in Malaysia, I feel very encouraged. (Laughter.) I say, you guys (don't know? ). Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you so much. Let me invite Shibley Telhami to share his comments as well.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, first of all, it's an honor for me, always, to be with my friend Anwar Ibrahim on the same panel, and thanks to the New America Foundation for hosting this. Steve, you've done a fabulous job over the last few years in providing these forums. And particularly on the Middle East, it's been a great voice in our discourse in town.
You know, when I review what we expected and what we didn't expect over the past few weeks – not just in Egypt but also in Tunisia – every single year over the past decade or so, if you had asked me: What is your puzzle when you study the Middle East, when you study Arab public opinion, when you review your polls where we knew every single year the gap between publics and governments was widening – I say that there was never a question that we asked. The question was not whether or not people will have reason to revolt. The question was always, why haven't people revolted already? That has always been the puzzle for us observing the Middle East.
It has been the big question, really, in the literature as well. And so from that perspective, people were not surprised that people would want to revolt. There was not much new in that part of the story. Whatever people make up, that was not what's new. What's new is that they got the courage and found the means to be heard. And that is new.
And I think that we will analyze this for a long time, but there is no question that part of that empowerment, at least, and the organization, has to do with the information revolution; that finally it had an impact on how people mobilized. We knew that that information revolution had already taken away the monopoly of information that governments had over the public.
And I give you just an example: When we started doing the polling a decade ago in Egypt and you asked people, what is your first source for news? By far, Egyptian television was number one. In 2009, 68 percent said, Al Jazeera TV. In 2010, 84 percent said Al Jazeera is either number one or number two choice for news for them. And I'm talking, giving Al Jazeera just as an example of where the public was and where governments were on a whole range of issues.
But what I would like to do really is reflect on this issue before us, about democracy and what we can learn from the recent events. And I'd like to use, largely, some conclusions that one can draw just simply by even listening to the words of someone like Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was instrumental in starting this whole mobilization. And what we learned from him and people like him that would inform us about democratization in the Arab world – first lesson – and you could see it in talking in his interview, you could see it in the expressions of people who mobilized early on – this is not a food revolution.This is a dignity revolution.
It is very powerful. It cannot be escaped. It cannot be missed. You cannot call it a food revolution. There's no question that food matters and poverty matters, and they add to the sense of humiliation that a people have or an individual has, but this is far bigger than that. It is about humiliation. It is about not accepting a sense of resignation. It is about seeking to be proud to be an Egyptian, to be an individual.
And you know, these young people who started it most clearly were not poor, and certainly, Wael Ghonim. They're well-educated, they were comfortable – as does happen in most revolutions. This is not particularly new, but we seem to forget that most of the time. And I have to say that part of the power that generated the snowball that we saw – the snowballing that we saw afterwards is that it created this sense of dignity, this sense of empowerment, the likes of which I have never witnessed in the Arab world.
If you ask me, you're – everyone is looking at this in an Egyptian revolution. It is, but it's not just an Egyptian revolution. It is an Arab revolution and I think maybe a Muslim revolution as well, if one listens to what Anwar had to say about its impact.
If you ask me, when was the time that most Arabs were proud to be Arabs? I'm not just talking about Egyptians. Ask, when was the last time that were Egyptians were proud to be Egyptians? You'd have to go back, and maybe the '73 war, and maybe after the Suez crisis. But nothing on this scale. And we have to understand, first of all, that that is a critical motive. And there's a lot packed in here, because that's a question of identity. It's a question of dignity. It had to do with lots of issues, internal and external, domestic and foreign. And we have to understand that.
The second thing that I get out of that, particularly out of just the – listening to the words of Wael Ghonim – a moving interview. Those of you who haven't watched it, you must watch it, because it does tell you in very simple terms something far more than you'll hear from me or any other analyst. But the second thing that was striking is that this young man, when he came out of prison after 12 days being blindfolded and comes into a television studio, and weepingly (ph), he said over and over again, we are not traitors, we are not traitors.
Now, you have to understand this a little bit, because this is something far more – far deeper than you can imagine. It wasn't just about the security people asking him, are you working for someone? It is about a political culture that is terrified of foreign control, that remains anti-imperialistic, that sees foreign domination to be even bigger than getting rid of ruthless dictators. And that's why dictators use it to find in every little story that is really about them accusations of foreign control.
And this is something we have to keep in mind. For my own thinking, if you look, particularly at the American role, whatever we say or we do, America is not trusted. Every single poll over the past decade, including the most recent one in 2010, shows that people do not trust our intentions. They didn't buy it when the Bush administration said they were spreading democracy, and even when we asked them, what is the U.S. trying to do in the Middle East? They said, first, control oil and second, protect Israel. And everything else was secondary.
After 9/11, there was a little bit of wanting to weaken the Muslim world. But beyond that, those are the two anchors of America – so America's intentions are not trusted on the question of democracy. And the more you make it about America, the more it backfires, the more there's a blowback, the more you play into the hands of those who want to keep things, the status quo, the way it is.
That is why, in my own belief – it is my own belief that the Iraq War delayed the natural forces of democratization in the Middle East, because America's hand was seen to be the hand trying to partner with the forces of change, who are tainted in the process. And that's one reason, I think, why it was delayed.
But the other reason why it was delayed is that the very American goals that have to do with America's interests – legitimate interests, particularly when you're fighting a war – were such that the U.S. was demanding support to protect American troops and fight an effective war from the very governments who were repressing the people and who were going against 90 percent of public opinion, who is very much opposed to the war.
How do you support – how do they support you? How do these governments support a policy that is unpopular without, in the process, becoming more repressive because they're terrified of what their publics might do?
So there is a sense not only that the U.S. has aims that are different from the aspiration of the public, but that these very aims, whatever we did, even if we believed that we were advocating democracy, was – had the consequence of making it less likely. And I believe we have to keep that in mind.
But the third point that I want to make, which is one that I think requires a lot of reflection about our foreign policy – I think if you look at the words of Wael Ghonim and what empowered him, what gave him the ability to start mobilizing, it is the openness to the world. He wanted what there was outside, which he didn't have in Egypt. And he had the instrument of getting his friends who thought alike together into the street by using this information revolution,
to which this public was connected. And without that, we would not have had the kind of mobilization that we witnessed.
And that, I think, is really striking, because it tells me something maybe more profound about American foreign policy and what the priorities may be pertaining to democracy. Isolated states, even ones that – where they have hungry publics because of sanctions and isolations, that are not plugged into the global information revolution, that don't have the interconnectedness of civil society – those states may actually be far slower to change, and particularly if they can point a finger at an outside power with imperialist designs in their eyes.
And witness how long – how many times we've changed regime in Cuba over the past several decades. (Laughter.) And I would think that we are going to have to rethink what we're doing in places like Iran and North Korea.
Now, it may be that our policy isn't to change government or push for democracy. That's another story. But if in fact that is a priority issue, it is my belief that isolating states, cutting them off from the rest of the world, most likely will slow the ability of the people who want to see government change act on it and be empowered and mobilized. And I think this is something that we need to think about.
Regardless of what happens – what happened tonight with Mubarak sticking to power, that era is over. The Mubarak era has ended. We're embarked on a new phase in the Middle East that is going to have far-reaching ramification. This is akin to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It is a moment that is extraordinarily powerful as a moment of empowerment.
We obviously all would like to hope for the best. We – much remains uncertain, and I'm – to be honest, we have to be modest about our ability to predict whether or not things will move in the right direction. But there is no question that today, if you poll in Egypt, if you poll in the Arab world, Arabs and Egyptians have never been more proud, no matter what the outcome. And I suspect that many people – not only in Asia and the Muslim world, but even if Africa – in Africa, feel the same way. Thank you very much.
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you, Shib, that was great. (Applause.) Nathan, the floor's
NATHAN BROWN: All right. Thank you very much, Steve, and thanks to the New America Foundation. I'm not sure I should thank you, because you've put me in a place where I'm not quite sure I fully belong. I mean, we're here with a very distinguished –
MR.: (Off mic.)
MR. BROWN: – well, thank you – but a very distinguished and inspiring opposition leader, Shibley, who is an academic who combines both enormous breadth and depth at the same time.
And then there's me. And I tend to be fairly narrow, and I will get to that narrowness in a minute. Don't worry, I'll try not to bore you. But before I do that, let me also thank members of the audience for showing up, but I assume that many of you, like me, were glued to your – to the TV screens watching the Mubarak speech.
But I'd also like to thank the two – my two predecessors on this panel who allowed me to tell the joke that you will undoubtedly hear 15 times over the next 24 hours. Question: Did you see Mubarak's last speech? Answer: I think so. (Laughter.) It will quickly become an old joke.
The – what I want to do is basically just make two points about looking out from what I know. And I – and I – and I – again, I'm a narrow academic. And so I spent much of the '90s doing research on Arab legal and constitutional systems. I mean, talk about dry stuff. And I spent most of the last decade researching Islamic political parties in the Arab world. That sounds a little bit less dry. I'm going to suggest, interestingly, it's actually a little bit less relevant.
So what I want to do is to take both of those two things, look outward from what I know to what the situation is and then close with a few words about where things are going. And let me start with that second, Islamists. A week before the – a week before the initial demonstration in Egypt, I sent off a book manuscript on Islamic political parties in the Arab world, basically saying what I thought was my last word on the subject. And what I would love to do is to come here today to say to you – this is – now reveals how incredibly important my topic is, you've got to buy my book. I have great hopes that it may even sell a third copy as a result. (Laughter.) But in fact, it was the – almost the exact opposite.
I mean, honesty compels me to say that the interesting thing here is how the Islamists are not the story. They are – they're part of the story. But I was talking yesterday – I sort of compared them to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet. They are characters and they're – and they're important to a critical part of the plot. But we do not see them as central players. Why is that? And why is it that – the concern that I actually am glad to see receding in this town about, well, it's either Mubarak or the Brotherhood, is beginning to recede.
The Brotherhood is a very broad Islamist movement and it does all sorts of things. And over the last 20 years or so, they began to do politics a little bit better. And they crested in 2005 when they ran for the Egyptian parliament. Even in 2005, they made clear that they would – they would participate under their traditional slogan, "Participation, not domination."
They ran for a minority of seats. If every single one of their candidates won – and they said this point blank – we will never – we would never seek more than a third of the seats in parliament, because with a third of the seats you can actually have a blocking group. You can block constitutional amendments. That would actually give us power; we don't want that.
But in 2005, they got a fifth of the seats in the Egyptian parliament, and the regime came down on them extremely hard. And what you've seen over the last five years – six years, now, in the Brotherhood is a steady retreat from politics, not an abandonment of the political field by any means.
But the people who are leading the Brotherhood at this time are not the people who led their successful political strategy. Some of those people are being dusted back off right now. And the Brotherhood was caught remarkably flat-footed. And it also reacted in a typical kind of Brotherhood fashion for a large and complex movement.
When the first demonstration was held, their response was well, individual members of the Brotherhood are welcome to go, but we as a movement won't participate. Then, we as a movement will participate, but our leaders won't show up. Then our leaders showed up. Then they began actually to refer to the "Egyptian revolution," a terminology that I think is a – consistently used by the – by the opposition forces only for the last week or so.
And suddenly, they begin saying things like we won't negotiate with – we won't accept this, because it comes from an illegitimate president. And their language got extremely strong. And then the call from Omar Suleiman came on Sunday, and they said, of course we'll show up.
This is – this is the Brotherhood, this idea that you've got this master-planning organization instead of a group of guys who aren't necessarily all that good at playing politics, who have this large movement that they want to protect for the long term so that they can continue to do their education, their charitable, their social work and so forth and so on. They're not quite sure if they want to invest all that totally in this movement. And they continue to dither right up to the – right up to the present.
That's why it is that when you often hear – and I'm glad, actually, to come after Shibley, because Shibley actually knows the data and he could probably tell you that I'm wrong, but I hope he won't do that. If you – you sort of hear this all time: well, if you have an election tomorrow, the Brotherhood would be the only organized force. That's, I'm convinced, wrong. And it's always dangerous to make a prediction, and all predictions are wrong, but I will go on the record as saying that there's very little chance of that happening and I don't know anybody who studies the Brotherhood who would think anything differently.
And the reason is this: Go back to 2005. What happened? You had – I mean Egyptians understood the system. And how did they react to this – to this electoral system that they were given? Yes, some voted for the Brotherhood. Some voted for independence. And almost everybody else stayed home. This was – this had enormously low turnout. And as a result, a small group that is highly mobilized that basically pulls out all of its voters can do fairly well. They were the only organized opposition in 2005.
If you were to have an election in 2011, you're going to have a far more politically engaged and aware population, and you've suddenly got hordes and hordes and hordes of Egyptians who are willing to work with the Brotherhood as a normal political actor, but who are not primarily organized by them, who suddenly have a group of political skills that would translate, I think, fairly easily from demonstrations to organizing electoral campaigns.
And they're organized by youth or they're labor – groups. There's all kinds of groups out there. A lot depends on the electoral rules and on who's running the election and that – and
that sort of thing, but my hunch is if you saw an election tomorrow, the Brotherhood would basically have one seat at a fairly crowded table in a new Egyptian parliament.
And that actually would be a good thing. The Brotherhood would like that. Essentially, that's what they – they're explicit about what they're aiming for. And I think – I think that makes some sense given where they've been. But that's the most likely outcome. And that's actually, as I say, a good outcome if what you're worried about is democracy.
Second point that I wanted to make was about democracy and constitutionalism. But I'm going to get into it in an odd way, with what – I'm going to begin with Shibley – with what Shibley said about the information revolution changing the environment. And there's – that's absolutely true in terms – you cannot understand how this was organized without the use of information technologies.
Of course, when the government shut them down, they could use a little older technologies like leafleting. So at this point, it's too – their reaction is too little, too late. But in terms of getting this off the ground, it was absolutely essential; no doubt about that.
But then we're talking about slightly older technologies, satellite television. Al Jazeera has changed the Arab world. In some ways, it's a different place than when I first went there – I started studying it in the early 1980s. You go to any coffee shop in the Arab world, Al Jazeera is on. Sometimes it's the sports channel, but usually it's the news. Politics is part of the fabric of everyday discussions and everyday life.
But there's a third – there's another aspect as well, in terms of the information revolution. It's not the information revolution of the 21st century or of the 1990s; it's the information revolution of the 15th century and the invention of the printing press.
This has actually changed – now, the printing press has been around for half a millennium; that's true – but the way it was used changed in some very fundamental ways in Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s, in ways that I think were invisible unless you followed it regularly and you had political discussions with Egyptians.
When I first went to Egypt in the early '80s, you couldn't have political discussion with the Egyptians. I mean, they didn't care. What was the point? Now, however, there is, in intellectual circles, an independent and extremely vibrant press. It used to be the government press, and a shrill and unreliable, sensationalist opposition press in the 1980s.
Right now, you have actually the spread of professional journalism and you have Egyptian intellectuals participating and actually sketching out very interesting alternative visions of what Egypt should look like. And what happened over the last 10 years or so, I think, in Egypt – and this is impressionistic, but I think it's an Egypt that most Egyptians would recognize, at least most Egyptian intellectuals would recognize – was a convergence among many Egyptians about what the problems with their country were.
And they were certainly severe economic problems, certainly some social problems; but fundamentally political and constitutional and governance problems, that they had a political system that was simply unaccountable. And this was discussed and discussed extensively, so that if you would go back five years and you talked to people in various political tendencies and said, what should happen to Egypt? Unless they were affiliated with the government, their blueprint for change would look remarkably similar – liberals, leftists, Islamists, no matter what.
And that is the set of demands that these protestors in Tahrir Square have essentially swung behind. It is for constitutional reform. And when you watch the crowd reaction to Mubarak's speech, what you saw was a crowd that knew exactly what he was talking about.
Of course, the patronizing language and the out-of-touch aspects of it certainly went through. But when he started talking about specific provisions of the Egyptian constitution, people knew what he was talking about, okay? People knew that a constitutional commission – revision commission had been appointed just a few days ago that was stacked with government supporters or regime supporters, and that that was not a credible process.
So when he refers to it, people know right then that this speech is essentially over. If you were to stop people and ask them, what does Egypt need? Of course, they would say a more prosperous economy, more – a – you know, jobs, et cetera, et cetera. And they would also start talking about judicial monitoring of elections, an end to the state of emergency and a fairly detailed political program that, again, has been articulated in the high-brow and middlebrow press over the last 10 or 15 years or so.
So I don't want to take anything away from Twitter and I don't want to take anything away from Facebook. But – well, I do. I mean, they certainly enable organization, but they don't – they don't enable complex thought at all. And those complex thoughts were developed in the press over the – over the last few years.
Let me wrap up with just some remarks about where this is going. And actually today, after seeing Mubarak's last speech, for the first time, I'm actually optimistic. Yes, if I had to bet, I would say this is a real possibility. I'm not – maybe even – I'll – I shrink away from the word "probability," but I'm inching towards it, of a democratic outcome.
And the obstacles are very clear. Anwar Ibrahim made reference to one of them, sort of the fatalism. But that's been shattered. And in fact, Egyptians can talk about the pharaoh – yes, they actually can. Then they can look to their history and say, that's just the way we do things. But they can draw very different things out of their history. A nationalist uprising against British occupation in 1919. A lot of this recent rebellion draws on that imagery.
And there's a generational aspect to this as well. I was talking to a young Egyptian student that I had about a week ago and just called her to say, how are you doing in Cairo? And she said, well, I want to go to the demonstration, but my mom says I should stay home. I was like, this sounds like 1969 in my school, yeah. (Laughter.)
But Egyptians can draw on it. There is – there is. And institutionally, is there? Well, here's what people, I think, don't get about Egypt. Egypt has an incredibly repressive and onerous security apparatus, but it's also a state of institutions. It's a state that has, you know, a parliament that's been around for a century, a judiciary that has some tradition of independence. It's got a fairly rich network of labor unions and NGOs.
And the problem with this is, over the last half-century, every single one of these has been co-opted and distorted at the top and basically controlled from the presidency. And that presidency is crumbling. So the institutional framework is there. What it needs to do – what needs to happen is for that to be let loose. And I think we're beginning to see that happen. Thank you.
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you so much. (Applause.)
I have to joke that I'm going to help Nathan evolve at some point, because having 140 characters on Twitter doesn't necessarily mean you can't have complex communications and thought. It's just a more challenging terrain, as I'm – as I'm in this.
I'm going to ask my staff to do me a favor and bring me a Coke Zero. I've been talking all day to press and my voice is going, so I need that. And I'm also going to ask them to go plug in my phone, because it's dying, and otherwise I'm going to be looking for the latest as we do this. Again, we're streaming live, and so everyone knows I'm about to get a Coke. (Laughter.)
But let me mention – you mentioned Twitter and Facebook. Several years ago, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute took some of us to Dubai and to the Arab Strategy Forum that year. And it was an interesting group.
I was fortunate to be there, but Jeanne Shaheen and her husband, Bill Shaheen – Jeanne, of course, is now senator of New Hampshire; Mara Rudman, who I understand is now about to become the head of Middle East for USAID, was on the trip; but Eric Schmidt, the chairman of our board at the New America Foundation, and the CEO until April of Google, was at that meeting.
And I met a young man, Mr. Ganim (ph), who was staffing him, who wrote that speech. It was an amazing speech. And those watching the news, the journalists should go back – I haven't posted it on my blog yet – and read what Eric Schmidt told a very powerful group of assembled Arab leaders at that Arab Strategy Forum that year. I was fairly shocked at Arab's – Eric's bluntness about what the Internet and what information was going to do to these regimes, how it was going to turn the small into the powerful, how it was going to change the dynamics in the system.
And everyone at the thing heard this, but I don't think they thought about the political ramifications; they just wanted to hang out with Eric Schmidt and Google. But you could see this young man was wired and running around. And I – and I found his card the other night and I saw, wow, this was, you know, three years ago, which is, in Internet, IT time, you know, ages. But you saw the precursor when Google was just beginning to build out.
And so while you may not like Facebook and Twitter, there is potentially an interesting Google story, and interestingly, a different kind of story about the United States – not, again, wanting to, you know, make this about us. I don't believe it is about us. But I do believe it is, to a certain degree, about what people like this young man have experienced and how they think about what their rights and expectations are and their connectivity with lots of other people.
So I'd like to put this to Anwar Ibrahim. You know, none of the questions that were prepared by my staff are any good, because they all presumed that Mubarak had resigned. (Laughter.) So given that, when you were serving under Prime Minister Mahathir and you were in that role as finance minister and deputy prime minister – and Prime Minister Mahathir was a fairly robust autocratic type; I think you'd agree – what do you think is different today than in the 1990s?
And if you were – if you were in that situation today in that kind of role – not to say that you were the Suleiman of that, because you weren't head of intelligence – but to a certain degree, you had power. How would you – how do you see the difference in your circumstances in the mid-1990s today? What are the real structural differences? And then I'd like to open it up to the floor.
MR. IBRAHIM: Briefly, Steve, I think, of course, the environment changed primarily because of the access to alternative media because you know, information technology. The media was then – even then, controlled. But I would hesitate to expand this too far, because we have seen uprisings or massive demonstrations even prior to the use of Facebook and Twitter.
But of course, their use has exacerbated – I mean, has allowed for the awareness. So I think although the new technology has helped immensely – but I don't share the view that this is seen to be instrumental. I mean, the extent of repression, of corruption, of abuse of power can somewhat, at times, unleash this new movement, as you have seen.
After all, the movement in Indonesia was 1998. They were using, still, SMSs and things like that. Cory Aquino at the time, versus Marcos, was using this, you know, telephone texting messages. You could still have – and also pamphlets. So I think we need – there's both. But if you want me to refer specifically to Malaysian context, I would say that the level of penetration of the new media has its limitations.
So you will find, for example, enormous support, urban and suburban areas. But the rural heartland will be the bastion of these conservatives, I mean the rulers, in Malaysia and also in Egypt.
So you can sense the appeal is not only to the urban crowd now; that the urban crowd will virtually have decided. If you talk about Cairo, or any of the cities, have completely rejected. But then the rural (crowd ?) will take time. Unless – if they see some massive change in the cities, they will follow through.
Most of these countries, from the – at the time Suharto in Indonesia to Mahathir in Malaysia, their strategy has always been to go back to the rural heartland, because the rural heartland has no access. The level of penetration to the so-called new media is only limited to the urban and suburban areas.
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you very much. Let me open to the floor. I'm going to ask my friend here to run this. Let me go to Bob Dreyfuss. And if I don't call your name, it just means that I'm blinded, and you just share with us who you are. Bob Dreyfuss of The Nation.
Q: Hi. A lot of the American commentary is focused on Israel's anxiety over the instability now in Egypt. But I'm asking about another country, Saudi Arabia's, anxiety about it. The Saudis have, I think, crossed at least a few red lines by denouncing the rebellion in the most clumsy, harsh terms.
And they've invested a lot over the last 50 years, including, by the way, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood when Sadat was there, in neutering Egypt, making sure that what happened with Nasser never happened again, that Egypt would never threaten Saudi Arabia.
So my question is, if this all comes to pass and there's a new regime in Cairo, is there going to be resentment, anger, jealousy of the Saudis, of the royal family, of the kleptocrats in the Gulf and the Emirates and so on? Or are they – are the Saudis going to be able to buy off the next regime as well? And so what – what's the chances of this spreading at all?
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you. Sure. Shibley?
MR. TELHAMI: Well, first of all, you know, I think every single government in the Arab world is nervous. While they all say our countries are different, and they are, you know, up to a point, and certainly economically they are, and even demographically, you know, they all assumed deep down that this couldn't happen in Tunisia, it couldn't happen in Egypt.
And if I'm right and if what we're hearing is right, that this is less about food and more about dignity, they're even more nervous with that story. So it will have huge ramifications for them. How they deal with it I don't know.
But in terms of how they will deal with a new Egypt that is democratic, their first – their first attempt would be to co-opt it, to accept it, to recognize it, to see if they can move in that direction. And frankly, they know that Egypt is going to go through a period of transition that will be uncertain. And on foreign policy, whatever happens with the military, we don't know yet. I mean you know, the next two days are really going – the military's going to be tested in ways we have not seen, I think.
But everybody assumes, no matter what happens in Egypt, the military is still going to be an anchor, at least of foreign policy and national security in Egypt. And it does have links and interests with all these countries, and they probably will use that link with the institution to consolidate relations and limit the damage and observe what happens domestically. That's my guess.
Q: And how will the Egyptians feel about the Gulf, though?
MR. CLEMONS: You need to speak in the mic, because there are a lot of people watching online.
Q: I mean how – my question really is, how will the Egyptians' public opinion attitudes feel toward the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf if, in fact, there is a people-powered government there? Are they going to be angry? Will they be willing to be co-opted?
MR. TELHAMI: Well, I mean, again, it depends what it means to be co-opted, because the first thing that people want is to establish a free society of their own. And they will probably put limits on – you know, they will not be intruding into foreign policy too much.
My own guess – I'm just – give you an example of how I see it possibly going. If – you know, if you're in Egypt and you're looking at it from the outside, given that the military's going to play a role, it's probably going to be more like Turkey a few years ago if you're optimistic. So you have more – more freedom, more democracy, but the military still plays a bigger role in society.
And on foreign policy toward a country like Israel – the Israeli-Egyptian relationship had two components. One component was, end the war, and a peace agreement. That is unlikely to be challenged, certainly by the military – but I think even the common interest. The other side is that Egypt over the past few years had become an active ally of Israel. It has become the biggest, essentially, partner of Israel's foreign policy. Mubarak became Netanyahu's best friend in the Middle East, replacing the Turkish relationship that had been – historically been an anchor of Israeli strategy. And the Israelis essentially, early on, started with Iran and Turkey, non-Arab states, being the allies. They lost Iran first, and then quickly, they're losing Turkey, and Egypt was really filling that. That is over. That part is over.
The peace treaty will remain. I think there would be no war. But the active coordination with Israeli foreign policy is over in the short term, because no government's going to be insensitive to its – to its public opinion. And I think that is probably going to be the lesson drawn by countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and elsewhere.
This is going to impact their foreign policy in a big way. If Mubarak in fact does fall, it's going to have a – strong ramifications for how they conduct their foreign policy. They all are aware that the publics are somewhere else from where they are.
In a public opinion poll that we do – I do a poll in Saudi Arabia and in Jordan as I do in Egypt – and one striking thing over the past few years has been that the heroes of the people in these countries are exactly the enemies of the governments. And that should make you think about where they are and makes their – these governments particularly fearful.
They all assumed – they knew that the publics were angry, but they assumed the publics are not going to be able to mobilize. And I think that they were shocked and surprised by what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and they all are reassessing.
MR. CLEMONS: Yes, right here, Cha (ph). And then if –
Q: Yeah, Chao Chan (ph), Bethesda, Maryland. Who are the Muslim Brotherhood? And how were they crushed in 2005 election? Is it because this so they won't participate actively? Thank you.
MR. CLEMONS: Thank you. Question on the Muslim Brotherhood. Nathan? Anyone? Anwar?
MR. BROWN: I didn't quite understand the question.
MR. CLEMONS: The question is basically, can you share what you know about the Muslim Brotherhood? (Laughter.)
MR. BROWN: At great length, and –
MR. CLEMONS: Let's not go on too long.
MR. BROWN: Oh, no, no, no, no. Yeah, I'm happy, now, if I go on for, like, five hours. But the – I mean essentially what I would say is that – go back to what I said. The Brotherhood is a broad reform organization. And what that was able to do in a very restrictive authoritarian environment – you know, I talked about in Egypt where you could discuss politics, and that's absolutely true. What you couldn't do is organize in politics. And so basically all opposition movements died because they couldn't do politics. They could talk, but they couldn't do anything.
The Brotherhood was different. It had this wide range of social activities which you could draw on, which put it in perfect position to run in the kind of crooked elections Egypt had. It was the only one that could mobilize any kind of constituency. That will be a very, very different game right now. They could be crushed, it would be marginal – and they also essentially agreed to play by those rules.
They didn't write those rules, but they agreed to play by them because it essentially protected the entire organization and allowed them to continue their work, and they could use politics as a way to get their message out to support the rest of their agenda. They're going to have a very difficult time adjusting to a democratic environment – not because they don't accept democracy; that's much less of a problem for them from an ideological level. On an organizational level, to live in a world where you can found political parties, where they've got to sit down and form coalitions and negotiate with the liberals and leftists and nationals of different stripes, that's going to be a different world for them.
MR. CLEMONS: Let me just say that there is an interesting resource out there, because in those – I think there's a lot of fiction, myths and what-not about the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a – on Al Jazeera's website somewhere, a forum on political Islam that was held last year that I attended. And there were representatives of political Islamic movements from throughout the region, many Muslim Brotherhood members from the region.
And it was a very interesting experience. And you got to see very quickly how vapid and uninformed our own media commentary on these groups were – one, on how much diversity of view there is, and two, as my colleague Peter Bergen, who is, you know, no dove on these issues has said, that the Muslim Brotherhood he looks at in Egypt is a sophisticated, well-organized group that will have to be part of another thing, and we need to find a way to get over our allergies and begin to organize.
There was an interesting question – I can't talk about where I heard it, but there was a Republican USAID-related spokesman who said, you know, we are legally restricted in our USAID activity in Egypt from doing anything with the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a terrible thing, he said. We need to remove it, because it puts us – it creates a wall where actually, in terms of those people who want to look at the United States as either satanic or on the side of good, that it creates this distance. And we're not engaged. It was very interesting to hear a key Republican voice say this. But let me open the floor, again, to another – other questions, comments. Yes, right here.
Q: Thank you very much. I'm Benjamin Tuah (ph). I'd like to – my question plays off Steve Clemons's comment about what is real and not real and what Nathan Brown said about the surprise about the change that's in the level of concern about the Muslim Brotherhood. We've been talking about the changes in Egypt, but it seems to me that there could be profound changes in the United States in our understanding of the Middle East and of what is real and not real. And I wonder if you all could comment. Are we possibly at a tipping point?
MR. CLEMONS: Well, a tipping point there – and let me jump on your question, too, particularly for Anwar Ibrahim. What would be your advice to the U.S. government right now and what to do? I mean, from – really, what is just – what is your zinger line if you were on "Rachel Maddow" tonight, which – (laughter) –
MR. SHIBLEY: (Off mic.)
MR. CLEMONS: – yeah, I'm supposed to be on, but I'm basically going to be on the second hour. But – so give us a preview, Shibley, Anwar. What is – what really – I know this isn't about us, but what is your advice and what President Obama and his team – because it's not just the president. He's got a team. Shibley and I have been talking to them. They're working very hard with this message. The events are naturally way ahead of where we're at. But what are – what are the things you would tell President Obama to do?
MR. IBRAHIM: First, the message must be consistent and coherent. What is the message? You respect the wishes and sentiments of the people. Now, you must engage. And if I lead a coalition of opposition parties, the secular, ethnic-based Chinese party, the one really –
the multiracial, multi-religious Justice party, and the Islamist party – you know, the engagement works in meaningful ways. They will have, then, to engage in every single issue.
We can only work on if there is a clear guarantee of freedom of faith, freedom of expression. And they will have to navigate. What choice do we have? Do we cut and wage war against one-third of the Muslim support groups? We have seen the extent and level of success in Indonesia, in Turkey and in Malaysia, because these parties have participated in democratic process for decades. Not everyone shares their views and sentiments, but we must engage.
In the case of Brotherhood, I must confess, yes, I continue to engage with them and have huge discussions. The years when I was at Georgetown, battling many of my friends here to say, why this phobia? You mean to say, the moment you engage, you agree? No. "You engage" means you allow for this sort of participation. And I think this is an opportunity for us to – in this sort of engagement, to allow them to participate. And mind you, I believe I know some of them. You can see – (inaudible) – peace today, the position of Brotherhood. You can see the shift. People say, well, it is expediency, it is opportunism. Whatever, but you can draw the line.
That is why in the experience in Indonesia, we are not talking about which party, which individual, which team. We are talking about the fundamental principles that must be agreed upon prior to this settlement, which means the fundamental issues must be agreed upon. It cannot be negotiated.
What are the fundamental guarantees in a – in a modern constitution? You call it secular. I wouldn't call it secular. I would call it constitutional guarantees. What is it? Freedom of faith, freedom of expression, rule of law, economic justice. Spell it. And I think, at least in our limited experience and discussions with – in fact, this morning I was asking Assam (ph) himself, personally, about the article, his interview with the BBC. I said, is this going to be a consistent message? You know, because people are monitoring. He said, this has been a decision that we have made, and we continue.
Well, the rest is – the only option is to wage war against them. And at the time, like, the position of – (inaudible) – against the Taliban – and – (inaudible) – horrendous – but the difference between Al-Ikhwan and the Taliban is huge, as you know. It is far more sophisticated. You have a group of very competent, professional intellectuals leading the movement.
MR. CLEMONS: Sure. Thank you. Shibley, what are you going to tell Rachel tonight?
MR. TELHAMI: My message is clear, which is, the success of this revolution is really bin Laden's nightmare.
MR. CLEMONS: Right.
MR. TELHAMI: And I think that is – I think that is my core message, which is that, look, there is a huge wave of change in the region.
MR. CLEMONS: But you're not saying that bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood are the same.
MR. TELHAMI: No, no. Just let me be clear on what I'm saying, because it's very important –
MR. CLEMONS: Okay. I wanted to get that.
MR. TELHAMI: – that if you look at the drive for change in the region, what's extraordinary about this movement is, it's peaceful. It is astonishing the extent to which it has remained peaceful over 17 days, with millions of people going to the streets. And I hope it remains that way.
But if a peaceful revolution succeeds in getting the aspirations of the people, that is bin Laden's nightmare, because those are the same regime that bin Laden has been telling people, they cannot be dislodged without killing and fighting.
MR. CLEMONS: Good point.
MR. TELHAMI: And this is not just a revolution that is peaceful, but it is a revolution that's not ideological. And whatever the role of the Islam – Muslim Brotherhood is, it has not been a key role in mobilizing or even getting the numbers out there. And if you heard the chant in the streets of Cairo today, the chant was, Egypt is above all, and we will not allow any party to hijack this revolution.
Now, having said that, I'm a realist, and I know what parties are and what politics are. And I agree, you know, with Nathan that testing the size of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood under a year ago or five years ago is very different from testing them in an environment of change. How much of it was an anti-Mubarak move? If we had put anybody – like, ElBaradei could have won against Mubarak. He may not win in an environment where there are 20 other candidates that are legitimate.
The Muslim Brotherhood could have won more seats when, in fact, the – you know, there was essentially a vote against the regime. We don't know for sure. But the wave of what we witness in the streets today is – does not indicate an overwhelming power of the – of the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, in any case – my own view of it is, first, it's not a militant organization. I think, you know, there's nothing in its history – there were – you know, on the margins, people – you know, groups that have been militant. The main question about the Brotherhood is really whether or not they're going to be tolerant if they were to come to power, whether or not they will just end democracy, you know, and just take over and apply Sharia law.
And if you look at what we're witnessing today, in terms of the wave of the revolution that is – are exactly against this notion, this empowerment that we have, this wave, I think it does give us some hope. But I think we ought to be modest about our ability to predict. The Muslim
Brotherhood is a well-organized group. It has some core following. They will be players in any political system. We don't know how much.
MR. CLEMONS: Nathan, final comment?
MR. BROWN: Well, I agree with everything that's been said so far. I would – I would basically just say two words of advice, one short term, one long term. Short term, what should we do – what kind of message should we get out? Essentially, I would say it's actually much less important, the question do we engage with Muslim Brotherhood or do we not. I mean, who we talk to among opposition actors, that's kind of a diplomatic job and a diplomatic tool.
But we can get out the message that they don't spook us and that, basically, an Egyptian political system that comes out of this that is pluralistic, when all legitimate political players have some voice in the process, is one that may cause some headaches for us, but one that fundamentally we can deal with.
So that's the short term: Just get out the message. You've got to come to – to Egypt's current leaders, it's not what you say to us; it's what you say to your own people. And you've got to take those demands seriously and you've got to negotiate with them.
Second, long-term message – and it's a more worrying one, in a sense: that basically we've had a fairly consistent policy in the region for a generation, and it's been based on a couple of things: an Arab-Israeli peace process that is, quite frankly, dead. And I don't say that with any joy. I miss it. It could have produced something good, and it didn't. That's dead.
A very close security relationship with Egypt. Shibley mentioned the – sort of the Israeli- Egyptian partnership; that was a part of it. That will come under pressure. I don't think it's completely dead, but I think we will be dealing with an Egyptian government that will probably feel far more the pressure of public opinion, and with other Arab states that do care, that will have to address this vast gap between them and their – and popular sentiment.
So we've got some long-term, sort of, thinking to do in the region. It's not the region we have been living with basically since Richard Nixon was president.
MR. CLEMONS: Well, speaking of Richard Nixon, you know, one of the interesting things about Nixon when he was there is, they felt, when they came into office, this doubt about the United States, this doubt about America's ability to achieve things. And they felt they had to change global gravity, which is what led to the normalization with China, et cetera.
And I sort of feel a little differently on the Arab-Israeli peace situation right now, where it is one of the areas where possibly you could demonstrate, again, with a different kind of thing – because I look at the fact that – what was Egypt about? I agree with Shibley that, to some degree, you acquiesce to terms of an arrangement that were predicated on holding a peace partner together with Israeli.
As that froze and paralyzed and we didn't keep the momentum going to see a normalization strategy between Israeli and 57 other nations come forward, you always needed Egypt more than you otherwise would have. You always needed that dictator somewhere else more than you would have in that circumstance. And so it seems to me that as you step back and look at the region and your engagement strategy, that it comes together.
But in just closing, one of the things that I had – I think that the United States is struggling with is the tensions, inherently, between regime change, which so many people in the public want – which, for them, they're fairly flexible: anything without Mubarak counted as regime change, even if the military had a dominant role, in my view – versus regime adjustment.
And I think that significant parts of the Egyptian population think that we basically tried to engineer a "Mubarak-lite" arena, even though I don't think the White House believes that's what they were doing. But I do believe that is at least the way many people in the world are seeing where we came out.
And someone in the White House slipped me a note the other day and said, Steve, we are – because I raised the question, if the government has the power, the incumbents have the power, the incumbents determine who are in the room, the incumbents determine what the menu is, the incumbents decide who stays outside the door, you know, this is – as somebody said, this is like a hosted dinner party. It's not a potluck.
And what you really need is a situation immediately where the terms and what the stakes are and what the – you know, the – you know, what the look of all this is is immediately put into place. And I think that's what has not happened. And I think the White House, to some degree, wants that but doesn't know how to say it in a way that will be compelling or that'll be there. And I worry a lot about it.
But I think it's been a fascinating discussion. I want to thank all of you for joining us. Such a pleasure to have Anwar Ibrahim with us, although it doesn't take away from our friends Nathan Brown and Shibley Telhami from joining us. But thank you so much for being here. I'm glad you came back to town. (Applause.)