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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg On The Latest Violence In Egypt

Monday, July 8, 2013

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HH: I began the hour with John Burns in London. I’m joined now by Jeffrey Goldberg, columnist for The Atlantic and Bloomberg. Jeffrey, in the aftermath of the massacre today of 51 Egyptian demonstrators, does this tilt Egypt into civil war? Or can they still get back from the brink?

JG: Oh, well, that depends on what you mean by brink. I mean, they’ve been at the brink for five years. I think yes. I mean, you know, there’s two ways this can go. One is that the violence shocks people into a more pluralistic approach to the way their country should be run. That’s the hopeful side. The less hopeful side is that obviously, you enter a cycle of killing and revenge killing, and then it just spirals and spirals worse and worse.

HH: You know, what Burns said that’s a bit of hope, is that Egypt’s a great nation with a history that goes back far longer than its Islamic roots. But so was Iran. Do you see…

JG: Well, but what the problem with Egypt is, is that its best years are about 3,500 years ago. So let’s just be blunt, right? I mean, it hasn’t been in the overachieving category in some time.

HH: But Sadat brought order out of chaos, and then Mubarak imposed order on chaos. Can they get the Islamist genie back into its bottle, do you think?

JG: Well, it’s a very religious country, but one of the encouraging things about the last few days we’ve seen is that a lot of religious people have come out in the streets as well as the sort of classic liberals, liberals broadly defined. You know what I mean, secularist…

HH: Yeah.

JG: They’ve come out and said you know, we don’t want an Islamist dictator the same way we didn’t want this secular dictator. So that was encouraging. And you know, the truth is, I mean, just so I make myself perfectly clear here, the Egyptian people are wonderful people, talented as anyone else. They’ve just been betrayed consistently by poor governance. And you know, I’m not hopeful at all, to be blunt about this next period. I mean, every day that goes by with this kind of violence, this kind of chaos, sets Egypt further into a hole.

HH: Now Jeffrey Goldberg, massacres, for very good reason, do not play well in the West And we know what happened after Tiananmen Square, the round and lasting condemnation of the PRC. It took them a decade to get over that.

JG: Yeah.

HH: And you can go back to 1919 in the British and India. They just don’t. Does this change the way the media was beginning to develop the story in Egypt?

JG: Yeah, I think so, and I think it should. I mean, this is why to me, the idea of cutting off aid to Egypt right now seems like a bad idea. This is precisely the sort of day where you want General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you want other generals who have close relationship with the Egyptian generals, to call them up and read them the riot act, and say you know, hey, this is not acceptable. We need to use the leverage we have to pull them back from the brink of committing these kind of atrocities. Let’s not forget also that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are pretty good at committing atrocities themselves. There’s no one here who’s pure as driven snow in this drama, except for, obviously, the innocent bystander civilians who comprise most of Egypt’s population.

HH: Now are there any names that you’re looking, that you hope to see emerge on the podium? El Baradai is not the guy I think you’d want to run anything. He couldn’t run the IAEA when he ran the IAEA.

JG: Yeah, well luckily, I mean, thank God Egypt doesn’t have a developed nuclear program. So let’s put that in the category of a positive development. No, you know, look, I mean I’ve met a lot of the, I met Morsi a couple of years ago before he became president, and I thought to myself you know, this guy’s a hack. There are not a lot of people, you know, somebody said this, maybe Tom Friedman or someone, that you have a country that is pluralistic. It has a lot of different groups, but it doesn’t have a sense of pluralism. And you know, I can’t think off the top of my head of someone I’ve met over there who may be able to rise above all of this. You know, we had hopes early on, you remember two and a half years ago, that the Google generation, you know, the Facebook kids…

HH: Right.

JG: …that they would emerge, that some leader would emerge from that crowd. But the Muslim Brotherhood came in and pushed them aside. So now there’s another opportunity for the liberals to come to the fore. But there’s not, I know for a fact there’s not a lot of confidence in the American government that those people exist or are ready to try to argue.

HH: Now Jeffrey Goldberg, I tell everyone if they haven’t read The Looming Tower, I don’t really want to talk to them about Egypt, because I don’t think they understand quite what the Muslim Brotherhood is, and its tenacity.

JG: Yeah.

HH: And if nothing else, they go to jail for their cause. They stay convicted, then they go to Afghanistan. Is there any way this actually, that you see this ending in other than an Algerian sort of situation, a nine year civil war?

JG: Well, that’s where we’re at right now. We’re on the cusp of that right now where the army is simply saying you know what, we’re not going to let the Muslim Brotherhood and more extreme versions of the Muslim Brotherhood, let’s say, we’re not going to let them take over our country and turn it into a caliphate, or the seat of the caliphate or something. No, I mean, this is where, and I’m sorry to say it, but this is where I think some American intervention over the past year, year and a half, could have actually been useful. When Morsi, look, Morsi launched the first coup in this round, right? In November of last year, he asserted that his presidency was above the law, above judicial review. That was a kind of a coup by decree.

HH: Sure, sure.

JG: That was the moment when the Obama administration could have come in and said whoa, slow down there, buckaroo, and tried to goad him, push him, prod him into a more inclusive process. But look, the Muslim Brotherhood by its nature believes that Islam is the path, that jihad is the way. It’s not going to be so ready to accept partners into a governing coalition. But that’s where you know, we could have used our limited influence to some good stead, and maybe we would have been able to push this process a little bit in a way that we would like to see.

HH: Last question, Jeffrey Goldberg, there are thousands and thousands of Brotherhood supporters flowing in Tahrir Square tonight. Do you think that jihadists around the world are getting their passports, their visas, and heading to Egypt like they went to Afghanistan and Syria and Libya before this?

JG: Well, they’re busy…I don’t think so. They’re busy in Syria right now. There are some people operating in Libya. I mean, they’re in a lot of different countries. I don’t think we’ve reached, you know, we haven’t reached nearly the level of chaos that we see in Syria right now, but this is where you need the military to show restraint, and where you need the Muslim Brotherhood to realize that they could lead, they could push Egypt toward an abyss. After a massacre like what we apparently saw today, early today, you know, they’re obviously in no mood to talk about cooperating with the military.

HH: Not in the least. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, thank you.

End of interview.

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