Mahmoud Kabil, Influential Egyptian, Speaks About Protests (Q&A)
The Huffington Post had the opportunity Saturday night to speak via Skype with Mahmoud Kabil, an award-winning Egyptian actor, former officer in the Egyptian military and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.
Kabil, 64, was born in Cairo and lived in the United States from 1981 to 1993 before returning to Egypt. His father, Dr. Ibrahim Kabil, was the Minister of Finance for the Saadist Party in Alexandria.
A transcription of the Q&A interview can be found below.
Q: Hello, I'm interested in hearing your perspective on what's happening on the ground there? Where are you located?
A: I'm located north of Cairo. Things are calm now. They have a curfew. I'm sure you know that.
In general, it started last Tuesday. It was a very healthy environment, people demonstrating -- especially youth -- about political demands, freedom, democracy and all that and on that day nothing happened, it was very civilized.
Things turned sour yesterday night because the army started taking over and then the police disappeared. We know very well that the army isn't trained to work on cities or to police cities and we had sort of vacuum and the police are non-existent since Friday at 6 p.m., so you can imagine we have a lot of neighborhoods without anyone to protect them.
Looting started yesterday, it was very ugly, they burned banks, ransacked supermarkets, and to an extent they were attacking people in their homes and what we have decided in my neighborhood is to form a small militia. We have a checkpoint and kind of by all of the youth, all of the young men of that neighborhood and we are trying to hold until we have someone to protect us, to show any army unit or whatever.
Q: So how do you see this situation developing moving forward?
A: Well, today the president assigned a vice president for the first time since 30 years, so the person he chose is very credible, General Omar Suleiman, respected and admired by most the Egyptians, so for the Egyptians and especially youth for them, this is the first step towards change.
What's really bugging the hell out of most Egyptians right now is lack of clarity. We're in the dark, we don't know what's going on. Where is the Minister of Interior, where is the Minister of Defense? Mubarak asked them to resign but it is uncertain, they don't resign, they are just assigned by the president himself. Where are they? We're in the dark.
They said they're forming new cabinets. Come on! Until now we don't have any names. That lack of clarity is bugging the hell out of us. And then that feeling of being uncertain, it's a lousy feeling. When you don't have anybody to protect you, no police, no army, no nothing, and you have to rely on yourself.
Q: Will Mubarak regime stay in power?
A: I personally realized... One, I don't think he's going to be a candidate for the next six years. Two, I don't think there will be any succession like Gamal Mubarak coming after him. What happened these last days ended that idea. So I think the military is going to handle things and let's not forget that he has until next November. So from now to then, I think the military will hold. I don't know if he's going to continue or resign or whatever, I have no idea, but the people in the streets don't want him to stay in power.
Q: How are people communicating in Egypt?
A: They shut off the Internet, and the cellular network yesterday, but today at least we have our (mobile) servers working, but network is non-existent. This is unacceptable. You can't do that to a country, you can't.
Q: How long will this last?
A: The next 48 hours (are important). If tomorrow, they don't have the cabinet assigned, if it's not in the paper and in the news, we'll see the reaction of the youth. The day after tomorrow, we'll see what happens. What comes out of that will say if it is going to continue or not.
People are starting to say, hey, no more looting. We want security. We don't want anything but security right now. People in Alexandria, families, they are panicking, they're scared. I don't know anything about who's doing that, who's responsible, I give it 48 hours. We'll know in 48 hours.
Q: What do you think of the response from the Obama administration and the United States?
A: Let's not be too critical of Obama. I think he handled the situation with care and with style. He's been courteous to President Mubarak but at the same time he said the Egyptian people have the right to have liberty and whatever they want.
You can see that guy is a big ally of the United States Army, President Mubarak. Like Mrs. Clinton said, (Egypt is) a power in the Middle East, was protecting the Camp David agreement and has been an agent of change in foreign policy in the region. President Mubarak has been very efficient during these 30 years to be an agent of peace in the region. They can't deny that and they realize that, so they're been very sensible talking to him. The person, everyone should agree has been an agent of peace and stability in the region, but these people now, youth, these demonstrators, have had enough and they have to get out. It's not an easy situation to handle.
Q: Why now?
A: It's frustration building up for the last decade. Democracy is the right of everybody. Egyptian people have the right to collect their own government or administration and we don't have that right. The last election was sort of a big scandal. That's why. One thing after the other.
Q: What has the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood been?
A: They are part of these demonstrations, but they are not the whole. It is in their interest to get rid of President Mubarak. If it's up to them, they'd like to take control, but it is a small part. The young men and women in the streets, they are a generation that never knew anybody but President Mubarak since they were born. It's a new generation, a generation of Facebook, Twitter, and now the Internet, where it's a small world and everything is known. That generation grew up thinking -- what is freedom, what is democracy, and they thought why not us?
Q: Could you discuss a little more the role of the Internet and social media in all of this?
A: I think if the Internet, Twitter or Facebook did not exist, we would have another 30 years of Mubarak.
I have to go now, to see my people, the (militia) checkpoint that we have, they are asking me to go now.