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Expert On Egypt Discusses Chaos In Cairo

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Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And we're going to look back for a moment to an earlier point in this conflict, before yesterday's massive protests and before President Mubarak announced that he would not seek a new term.

Here in Washington, the White House was scrambling to get a handle on the situation and to talk through its options. So it summoned several experts on Egypt for a morning meeting.

Among those in attendance was Joshua Stacher. He's an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University. He says the meeting dealt, in part, with how the White House could navigate the treacherous waters of Mubarak's then hypothetical exit.

Professor JOSHUA STACHER (Political Science, Kent State University): My sense was that they have a relationship with this president for a really long time. He's on the ropes. He's in trouble. And they're trying to find a way that they can communicate with him in a way that they're signaling what they want and they leave no room for maneuver on his part. But at the same time that it's not embarrassing or sends a message to other allies that the U.S. is only your friend when you're in power.

NORRIS: How would you characterize their level of concern about what was happening? 'Cause we're taking it back to the weekend before we saw the massive protests into this week.

Prof. STACHER: Their concern - I mean, this is a sort of major political challenge for this administration, or - and it would be for any administration. I mean, Egypt is a staunch ally. But they were extremely concerned that violence wasn't being used on the protestors. They were extremely concerned about their rights to have access to the Internet and information and to gather an expression.

There was some discussion about how, while their intentions might be very good with these policies, that some of these maybe get lost in translation a little bit for how they're heard on the streets in Cairo. No disrespect to any other media outlets, but Al-Jazeera Arabic and English have owned this movement. I mean, more bandwidth is being used and everybody's watching Al-Jazeera.

And there was some concern about why aren't they going on these news channels to kind of explain their positions?

NORRIS: Why the administration is not actually appearing on Al-Jazeera?

Prof. STACHER: Yeah. They keep denying Al-Jazeera. I've spoken with Al-Jazeera producers and they keep being - their requests were turned down. So, I mean, there's some contradictory signals going on. They're saying some really good things. And then, look, I mean, then there's this reality on the ground. There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect at this moment.

The White House respects the universal rights of the citizens - the right to assemble. What's going on in Tahrir Square at this moment is people that are dressed in plain clothes, some of them have security credentials are attacking protestors violently.

This really puts the Obama administration in an extremely hard corner because twice now, about an hour after President Mubarak has addressed his people, President Obama has come out and basically repeated and agreed with how President Mubarak is handling this. The line in the concrete has been drawn.

NORRIS: What do you mean by that?

Prof. STACHER: It's now time for the administration to decide if it's going to amplify the clear, articulated demands of the protestors that they no longer want Hosni Mubarak and they do not want to be ruled by military generals or not.

NORRIS: Did they talk in the room at all about what democratically held elections might look like?

Prof. STACHER: I actually can't remember that elections came up. And the reason I can't really remember that is because the majority of the time was spent thinking about what powerbrokers were thinking.

NORRIS: Powerbrokers?

Prof. STACHER: The majority of the time was spent thinking about what Egyptian generals were thinking. They're concerned about what the Egyptian military is thinking, as opposed to what protestors who are making rational and articulate demands might say.

NORRIS: Joshua Stacher, thank you very much for coming in.

Prof. STACHER: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: That's Joshua Stacher. He's an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University. And he was speaking with us about a meeting at the White House, where the administration met with several experts on Egypt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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