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ElBaradei reaches out to Muslim Brotherhood in interview

In an interview with DiePresse, Mohammed ElBaradei discusses Egypt’s struggle for democracy and his aspirations for Egypt’s future
Mohammed ElBaradei, shown here after a press conference in Cairo in 2012 (AFP)

In a recent interview with the Vienna-based newspaper, DiePresse, Mohammed ElBaradei surprised many by stating that he supports full participation by all political movements and parties in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

“One of the lessons of the Arab Spring is that we need national unity, inclusion. We cannot afford the luxury of political competition. We need inclusion, just as in Tunisia. There the Islamists are in parliament. This is the only way. You can not demonise them for ever, as in Egypt today,” ElBaradei told DiePresse, in a far-ranging interview that covered the last four years in Egypt’s struggle for democracy, his involvement in the government and his aspirations for Egypt’s future.

“Egypt has a very angry, polarised society. The Islamists will not dissolve into thin air. It is a big mistake to push the Muslim Brotherhood underground,” ElBaradei said. “One doesn’t need to be Einstein to understand this….those who want moderation must welcome the Islamists. Pushing them underground will only reap violence and extremism. This is one of the major lessons to be learned from the Arab Spring.”

ElBaradei, an Egyptian national, left a 25-year-long career with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2009 and returned to Egypt. Three years later, in April 2012, he founded a new political party, the Constitution Party, which he claimed was to be a party that would rise above ideology.

The inception of ElBaradei’s Constitution Party came just a few months before Egyptians voted in the country's first democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, ran on a platform that was at odds with ElBaradei’s political ambitions.

A strong Morsi opponent

From the beginning of his new political career, ElBaradei publically expressed his opposition to Morsi’s new government, and openly criticised the transition of power to the new government and a new president in June 2012.

ElBaradei’s current reconciliatory statements are a stark departure from his pro-coup interview in the New York Times on 4 July 2013, where he expressed full support for the ouster of the Morsi government. "You will have a president [Morsi] with imperial powers, he is going to be the legislator, he is going to be the executive, which is a total mess," he was quoted as saying.

Following the arrest of Morsi and the killing of thousands of Egyptians in massive crackdowns that extended for months under Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ElBaradei was briefly appointed to the position of deputy prime minister and then served as interim vice president. He expressed support for the arrest of Morsi, and the mass string of arrests, where thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members were imprisoned.

When asked by the New York Times about the actions of the military, ElBaradei said, “The security people obviously are worried - there was an earthquake and we have to make sure that the tremors are predicted and controlled.”

“They are taking some precautionary measures to avoid violence; well, this is something that I guess they have to do as a security measure,” he said. “But nobody should be detained or arrested in anticipation unless there is a clear accusation, and it has to be investigated by the attorney general and settled in a court.”

ElBaradei said he had “emphasised to all the security authorities here that everything has to be done in due process,” adding, “I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy.”

But shortly after being appointed interim vice president in 2013, ElBaradei resigned and relocated to Austria. In his absence, Morsi supporters have continued to hold mass demonstrations, calling Morsi’s removal a military coup. Thousands of them and other Sisi opponents have since been killed or jailed amid a massive crackdown on dissent in general.

During protests marking the fourth anniversary of the 25 January 2011 revolution, which ended the autocracy of longstanding President Hosni Mubarak, at least 19 people were killed and 429 others arrested across Egypt.

“The Arab world was and is still looking for dignity. In the 21st century, we cannot tolerate more repressive regimes. The world has changed. The younger generation wants freedom," ElBaradei told DiePresse.

Lessons from the revolution

When asked to share lessons learned from Egypt’s revolution and the morale of the people, ElBaredei said, “Perhaps we were too optimistic. The challenge of every revolution is to agree on what happens tomorrow. Revolution never comes from a vacuum.”

“There was an army that was in power for 60 years and had privileges that they did not want to lose. Now the reign in Egypt is as it was before the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood is back underground, and the army is in power.”

ElBaradei, who was strongly criticized by many following his departure to Vienna, said he still has hope for the future of his country, and he stressed that changes as fundamental as the changes for which the people of Egypt aspire take time.

“Europe took three centuries and bloody wars to settle its religious, ethnic and national conflicts and find to democracy. Social changes never run linear but in a circular motion. Revolutions follow counter-revolutions that follow revolutions. The young generation that gave birth to the uprising at Tahrir Square, is very disappointed. They wanted freedom, social justice, gender equality and an end to corruption.”  

“This is not the end of the story,” ElBaradei said.

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