What Happens Next in Egypt? A Look from Cairo

Christiane Amanpour analyzes events in Egypt with top journalists in Cairo.

February 6, 2011, 6:33 AM

— -- After almost two weeks of tectonic protests in Cairo that have rocked the Arab world, Christiane Amanpour sat down with five top journalists to look at a key question: what happens next?

Veteran Egyptian journalist Nadia abou el-Magd said it comes down to the protesters. "They that made revolution and they are in the position to impose their conditions," said el-Magd, who works for the newspaper Al-Ahram and The Associated Press. "They don't see that ... anybody else is in a position to impose their conditions on them."

Egyptian journalist Lamia Radi said the protestors "will try to stay as long as they can," but, she warned, there is "mounting pressure from the people who want to be back to business [and] ... the sympathy is waning a little bit, especially among the people.

"But, of course, no one wants to give up. They know they have done something unprecedented in this area, in this region, especially in Egypt where you have been under a dictatorship for maybe 7,000 years now," said Radi, who works for the newswire Agence France Presse and the newspaper Al-Shorouk.

She explained that one of the main impediments for protestors to succeed is that they are not unified. "They don't have one main leader to talk to. They don't have one head, they have several heads," she said. "And I think they have to unify their voice."

The BBC's John Simpson picked up on the idea that economic trends loom large in determining how this crisis will end. "The estimate is that it's costing this country $300 million every single day. I just think it's not going to be possible to keep the pressure up sufficient to force Mr. Mubarak to do what the crowds want him to do -- what many people in this country want him to do," Simpson said. Mubarak has "played that stubbornness card, which often seems to work in these revolutionary situations. He's not moving. He's an old man. He's got the pride and the stubbornness of an old man."

Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist from The New York Times, said that the biggest difficulty the protestors face is turning their demands into "real political capital" and seeing just how much that capital is worth. "We're talking about the changes in the constitution, perhaps the abolition of the ruling party, dissolution of parliament. There's some really far-reaching demands," he said. And "that's the challenge facing the opposition. How far does this revolution actually go?"

David Muir, who has been covering the story for ABC News alongside Amanpour, put the question of how the crisis plays out in stark relief: "It's a question of who is going to blink here. The people in the crowd believe that they have been victorious, that they're not going to give up. But how do you stay? We're now 12, 13 days into this. We see them carrying the bags of food in. And the question is, how much longer can this last?"

Regardless of how the dénouement of this monumental story plays out, Simpson told the group that this crisis would not be lost to history. "Whoever takes over, whatever government is formed, they won't be able to forget what's happened here. That will always be something they'll be careful to avoid happening again."

Shadid, who has covered the Middle East from Baghdad to Beirut, emphasized just how monumental the protests in Egypt have been. "What we've seen in the past 12 days is probably one of the most remarkable popular uprisings in the history of the modern Arab world," he said. "And what it's done, I think, in some ways I think you could also make the argument that the revolution has already happened. For the first time in, I think, a generation, Egyptians have proved that they're not going to live by the rules of a government that has basically said they can't govern themselves. I think this is a fundamental transformation of politics here."

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