ElBaradei Speaks Out against Morsi: 'Not Even the Pharaohs Had So Much Authority'

Last week Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi granted himself sweeping new powers, a move that has sparked widespread backlash. In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei argues that the move threatens to plunge Egypt into a dictatorship.

Democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is critical of Mohammed Morsi. Zoom
AP

Democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is critical of Mohammed Morsi.

SPIEGEL: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi granted himself broad new powers last week. Is this a coup?

ElBaradei: He grabbed full power for himself. Not even the pharaohs had so much authority, to say nothing of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. This is a catastrophe -- it a mockery of the revolution that brought him to power and an act that leads one to fear the worst.

SPIEGEL: You are widely considered to be diplomatic and balanced. Why is your reaction now so dramatic? One of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood said that the new powers would only be in effect until a new constitution is passed.

ElBaradei: We have to look at it in the context of almost two years of transition. We have no functioning parliament and months ago Morsi assumed legislative functions. Now he's decided that there should be no opposition to the laws that he makes and that he is authorized to pass any national security measure. It is difficult to be more absolutist than that. And the constitutional convention -- what a sad gathering; it threatens to send us back to the darkest period of the Middle Ages.

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SPIEGEL: Almost all of the liberal and Christian members of the constitutional commission have withdrawn. Why is that?

ElBaradei: Because we all fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will pass a document with Islamist undertones that marginalizes the rights of women and religious minorities. Who sits in this group? One person, who wants to ban music, because it's allegedly against Sharia law; another, who denies the Holocaust; another, who openly condemns democracy.

SPIEGEL: You believe that Egypt is on the path to becoming a dictatorship once again. But Morsi was legally elected and the Muslim Brotherhood has a majority.

ElBaradei: The Muslim Brotherhood received their votes under dubious circumstances. The country is fractured. If the moderate forces no longer have a voice, a civil war threatens to erupt in Egypt. I fear that. And I fear that this incompetent government will ruin the economy.

SPIEGEL: Has the Arab Spring already failed in Egypt?

ElBaradei: I don't believe that. I fight against that. In April I founded the Constitution Party. With the Social Democrats and all liberal powers we will combine against the Islamists. We still have a chance and we should not waste the awakening; that would be a tragedy. Young people want more personal freedom and better jobs. They want a clear word from the West against Morsi. If Americans and Europeans really believe in the values that they are always preaching then they must help us and pressure Morsi.

SPIEGEL: Would you support freezing US aid to Egypt?

ElBaradei: I cannot imagine that someone with democratic principles could support such a regime for the long term.* We do not want to repeat the barbarism of the French Revolution.

* Correction: An earlier version of this interview indicated that Mr. ElBaradei would be speaking with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the coming days. That is incorrect. We apologize for the error.

Interview conducted by Erich Follath

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