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Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei: 'This Is a Historical Moment for Egypt'

By Erich Follath and

Part 2: 'A Double Standard Is Being Applied'

Egyptian opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei: "I won't leave them in the lurch." Zoom
Mohamed El-Dakhakhny

Egyptian opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei: "I won't leave them in the lurch."

SPIEGEL: Many Egyptians say that the West has allied itself too closely with Mubarak, while others say that Mubarak has become a lackey of Western powers. Who is right?

ElBaradei: Take a look at our roll in the Gaza conflict. The Gaza Strip is the world's largest prison. And it is one with two prison guards -- on the one side, Israel seals the area off, and on the other side we have closed our border. Egypt's government has invoked security reasons for doing so -- they fear the Hamas, whose radical positions I do not share, but who came to power in a legitimate election.

SPIEGEL: What would you do differently in the Gaza conflict?

ElBaradei: We must do all that we can to relieve the suffering of the people there. Open the borders, end the blockade! And for the long term, not half-heartedly as is now the case on our side ...

SPIEGEL: ... and as the Israelis are now planning, at least when it comes to deliveries of food items.

ElBaradei: I don't see a danger to our national security through a permanent opening. But I do see a major problem with us continuing to be accomplices to those who humiliate the Palestinian people.

SPIEGEL: Do you still believe in a Palestinian state, that can co-exist with Israel?

ElBaradei: That is the only solution. But for that to happen, a government must come to power in Israel that respects the 1967 borders. That accepts that repression is no solution.

SPIEGEL: And the Palastinians must recognize Israel's right to exist and make sure that no further rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Both sides still have some work to do before the conditions are met for further negotiations.

ElBaradei: Exactly. But the people in the Middle East have the impression that a double standard is being applied, and that things are only ever demanded of the Palestinians. Such behavior stirs up resentment in the people of Egypt.

SPIEGEL: How can you, on the one hand, satisfy the Arab street and, on the other, cooperate with the West and negotiate with Israel?

ElBaradei: Turkey is a member of NATO and partner of the West and Israel. And yet Prime Minister Erdogan has no qualms about supporting an aid flotilla for Gaza that was supposed to breach Israel's sea blockade. The people of the Arab world are celebrating him. Erdogan's photo can be seen everywhere.

SPIEGEL: Political populism doesn't help any country -- just look at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

ElBaradei: I agree. But the so-called moderate regimes in the Middle East have not fulfilled their promises. The people were betrayed by their rulers. And the Arab League, once co-founded by Egypt, with its headquarters in Cairo, long ago became irrelevant through its wavering. What is left of it is a joke. That is why Ahmadinejad, with his radical positions, is so celebrated by the masses ...

SPIEGEL: ... and feared by leaders in the Middle East. He is strongly suspected of trying to build nuclear weapons. You know better than anyone how great the threat is. Your inspectors collected the evidence against Teheran. The CIA now says that Iran could build a bomb within the next two years.

ElBaradei: The Iran situation is multifaceted. Tehran is working on technologies that make the construction of a bomb possible and it is on the path to becoming a virtual nuclear power. But I do not believe that the Iranians are actually producing nuclear weapons.

SPIEGEL: But simply having control over the nuclear fuel cycle puts Iran in a more powerful position and puts neighboring states under pressure.

ElBaradei: That is a status issue that is overrated by the West. It is a matter of prestige. The Iranians are showing the Arab world that technologically, they have caught up with the world's leading nations.

SPIEGEL: It has been alleged that Saudi Arabia and Egypt also have plans to develop nuclear weapons. Is that all misinformation?

ElBaradei: I think it is nonsense. Of course I am very much in favor of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, without Iranian, but also without Israeli, atomic weapons. But in general, the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran is overestimated, some even play it up intentionally. In the competition for regional influence, it is not military hardware that is decisive, but soft power. It is a competition centered on who has the better ideas, the more functional institutions, the more modern society. In Egypt, in any case, the people do not identify with the state.

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