The Ed Show | February 02, 2011
>> if you just joined us here on msnbc, you are looking at an exclusive live picture, cairo , egypt . it is about 14 minutes past 5:00 a.m . in the morning in cairo . reporting live is " nbc nightly news" anchor brian williams , and nbc 's chief attorney correspondent richard engel , giving us an eyewitness description of what has become public desperation, utter pandemonium, violence tonight. report of one person being shot. there were three deaths earlier today. in the last 90 mis0 minutes it has become very intense. and this is a full-blown revolution, sitting here watching it on the screen as you are at home. and it doesn't seem like either side is going to be backing down anytime soon. and brian williams -- that is really the question tonight at this point. is it too far gone? can it be negotiated? your insight.
>> reporter: well, you have to hope. i mean, not to be poetic at this late hour and live gunfire, but we think of what is represented here. the soil we're standing on. a, the largest arab nation in the world, and b, as i said earlier, the cradle of civilization. this is egypt , after all. interesting alliances, and a very dangerous neighborhood. this is now a challenge that they're for, after 30 years of corruption one way. mubarak , the man standing next to anwar sadat the day of his assassination, not far from here. is this what the new direction looks like. and richard , we've still got -- this is hand-to-hand combat on this bridge.
>> reporter: there's no front line anymore. they had a front line in tahrir square . they've broken out. and there's not that many protesters left. maybe just a few hundred of them. the pro-government supporters, and you can tell them, because the protesters have taken the low ground. they are down in the square . the mubarak supporters have taken the high ground . they are up on the bridge. but now if you'll notice some of the protesters who are charging forward right now are trying to drive back completely out of the entire area the last remaining of the pro- mubarak supporters. and if they catch them, it will be a very ugly scene indeed. because just a small group , an angry group, they are fighting, and trying to fight to the finish here on the elevated highway in cairo .
>> reporter: just one point of information, ed, we've been wondering about all these rounds we've heard. whether where they're coming from, what they're being aimed at. the last volley made its way along the cement, the guardrail on the outside of the off-ramp. if we can all visualize highways in the states, chipping away at the cement as it goes. the lesson there is it was precision aiming to come very close, make a big malaise and scare and disperse -- there's a tracer going past. yeah, richard 's absolutely right, this is the desperation fighting now. in some cases, 20 feet separate these two sides. it looks like rounds are being fired from a vehicle down on the nile. the sun can't come up fast enough for cairo .
>> reporter: we were hearing gunfire like that earlier, as people who were retreating back to the edges, in anger, apparently. they were firing back toward the crowd. not the same kind of heavy weapons that had been used in the last -- well, recently. but earlier as this was breaking up, there was also vengeance fire. now it seems like the protesters got what they wanted. firing a huge amount of gunfire, warning fire to try to stop them. but they are still chasing down the last of the mubarak supporters. the warning shots are clearly not being listened to. having no apparent effect on what is happening as the bullets fly over their head.
>> richard , the people that we're looking at right now on the bridge, are they pro- mubarak or are they the protesters?
>> reporter: and this is the absolute danger of it. i'm not even sure if the protesters know who is who at this stage. the crowds start running. somebody starts running away . and if you run away , they assume you're an enemy. so there were very clear-fought lines earlier. they were contained. now we're just seeing small bands of people that are chasing other small bands of people. and it is a very chaotic situation. generally it is the protesters who are doing the chasing. but i am sure that people who are -- there is a lot of confusion on both sides here.
>> are either one of the sides engaging with the military? it sounds like the military is just there witnessing all of this, and not engaging. it's almost like they're a referee.
>> reporter: not even a very -- not even a referee. referees intervene. the soldiers who are here are all inside armored vehicles . they don't have any communications with the protesters. so inside the armored vehicles , the visibility is very poor. it's hard to figure out what is happening. they are firing warning shots in the air. the warning shots don't have much impact. but no, i don't see either side coordinating with the military. except earlier we did see some of the pro- mubarak demonstrators run and take shelter behind some of the vehicles. but i think that was just an act of desperation. they were looking for something big and solid that they could hide behind.
>> if you just joined us here on msnbc, you're looking at an exclusive live picture from cairo , egypt . it is 22 minutes after 5:00 in the morning, reporting live on the scene. richard engel , nbc chief news foreign correspondent, and also brian williams , " nbc nightly news" anchor. they are witnessing the violence unfold right on the bridge in cairo , egypt . brian , we're told that the americans have been told that if you want to leave the country, you need to get to the airport. is there any organization at all amongst americans traveling within the city trying to get to the airport immediately? what do you see? how many americans do you think have left, and how many are still behind? any sense of that?
>> reporter: well, we were given numbers that have since changed from the state department . when we got here a few days ago, new state department employees were arriving just to help with that job. i met a naval attache -- another car got torched down here -- i met a naval attache down at the airport who was just going to live at the airport. public servant. he had been assigned to get americans out of here. on the other hand, ed, during our travels here in the last couple of days, we've visited cairo 's suburbia, vast suburbia. beautiful gated homes, palm trees , swimming pools. windows were papered over to be too enticing a target for looters. virtually all the stores have been closed steadily this whole time, along with schools and banks. the banks reopened today. you could withdraw small amounts. but there are some americans , my colleague lester holt set out to cover this story today, but sadly it was interrupted by the pro- mubarak sponsored violence. there are some americans who are going on about their lives. this is where they live now. and they live -- they've got children in private schools and they live in the suburbs. we've got rounds being fired perhaps from an apc, about 300 yards down in front of us. another group just lit an automobile that had the sole misfortune of being parked out here on the ramp. a lot of this is just so random, richard , if that's the right word for this violence. the final throes of this particular day-long battle. and this is desperation.
>> brian williams reporting. i think you made a very profound point, brian , that the sun can't come up fast enough for egypt . the state department is now telling all remaining u.s. citizens who wish to depart egypt on a u.s. government flight to report to the airport immediately, and that further delay is not advisable. as the situation continues to deteriorate in cairo , egypt . gentlemen, can you tell us if it is this -- the same situation in other cities and in other parts of egypt ? has this begun to spread throughout the country? or is it centrally located in cairo , and at tahrir square ? a sense of what is happening throughout the country.
>> reporter: tahrir square is certainly the home address for this protest. but there have been angry, very large demonstrations in alexandria, violent demonstrations and clashes in suez, others in saeed. it has taken place in several cities. so far it is an urban conflict. the rural communities in egypt have not been involved in this. the farmers, the people who don'tnt cities. and i think that has to do with poverty and frustration you feel in a place like cairo . 18 million people live in the city. many of them live -- about half the country lives at the line or below the poverty line . when your government doesn't perform well, it can create explosive frustration.
>> brian , what do you think was the response of some of the people that you've come in contact with in cairo in your reporting about how they view the united states and president obama 's statement yesterday that action should be taken now, and of course, today white house press secretary robert gibbs said now was yesterday. how is this all being received by the people? how is the united states being viewed in all of this?
>> reporter: well, a couple of things. since cairo 's a different city today than it was yesterday, yesterday everyone in cairo wanted to be on camera. today they wanted our cameras. the population that we come in contact with down in the square had changed. the entire story line changed. we were seeing, through the help of people who speak the language said u.s. stay out of egypt . tougher language than that. some of the protesters showing the faces of our last five american presidents making the point that these were mubarak friends, sponsors, helped to prop him up. and it was getting a little more vehement. the pro-democracy protesters who filled this square wanted one thing, they wanted a full-on barack obama endorsement. they wanted to hear barack obama tell hosni mubarak the time to go was yesterday. and of course, diplomacy being what it is, the u.s. has other friends and allies in this region watching very closely to see what happens to longtime rulers, who have a friend in the united states . that didn't happen. and now today this changes the tenor. i spoke to a senior white house official today who expressed just great frustration over this situation. how much they were scrambliing intern internally, as everyone was. we were on morning joe this morning, horses went by and so did camels with men on top. i made eye contact with one of the men leading the column of horses. he was a big broad-shouldered guy with a yellow shirt . i later saw him on videotape arriving in the square . busting up the defensive lines of the other protesters. he was ripped off the back of his horse. his horse was beaten. he was beaten. he entered the square whipping other humans. this turned from kind of another protest day. i woke up to the sound of drums this morning, coming through town. i thought it was going to be a day that looked like the day before. but that's the first rule these days in cairo , everything changes every couple of hours?