Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei 'This Is a Historical Moment for Egypt'
Part 3: 'I Am Afraid of Violence Breaking Out'
SPIEGEL: How do you plan to lead the people of your country out of this frustration?
ElBaradei: For those who have to wonder where their next meal is coming from, "democracy" remains a meaningless buzzword. First and foremost, standards of living must be improved. Egyptians suffer under cronyism and corruption. They are aware that competence and achievement are not rewarded. The gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider each day. People long for freedom and dignity, and that can only be achieved if the term "democracy" is filled with life.
SPIEGEL: How do you mean that?
ElBaradei: The president can no longer be allowed to be omnipotent. It must become possible to vote him and his government out of office when they fail. We need an independent justice system and a free press. Egyptian citizens must be allowed to elect their representatives in an atmosphere that is free of state pressure, irrespective of religion and gender. Why not have a woman as head of government? Why not a Coptic Christian?
SPIEGEL: And you want to advance this progressive program with the help of the Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood?
ElBaradei: It is true that I have spoken with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and that we discussed the struggle against Mubarak.
SPIEGEL: There is talk of a "strategic partnership."
ElBaradei: I speak with all representatives of the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is not allowed to form a party, but their individual candidates take up 20 percent of the seats in parliament. They enjoy respect because they are socially active. They have been portrayed as allies of bin Laden, which is complete nonsense. One doesn't have to agree with their conservative-religious ideas, but they are a part of our society. They have every right to participate in the development of this society if they pursue their path in a democratic manner, free of violence.
SPIEGEL: But that is exactly what observers have their doubts about. And they believe that the Islamists are using you to get into power.
ElBaradei: That won't happen. I take the Muslim Brotherhood at their word. Egypt is a country shaped by Islam. I will only avail myself as an agent for democratic change.
SPIEGEL: Are democracy and Islam really compatible?
ElBaradei: In one sura in the Koran, it says that a ruler must consult his people, only then can he rule justly. One can start there. At the end of the day, Islam, like any religion, is what you make out of it.
SPIEGEL: In October, there are parliamentary elections in Egypt ...
ElBaradei: ... and they should absolutely be monitored by international election observers, as should the presidential elections next year.
SPIEGEL: The whole of Egypt is now wondering: Are you going to run for president?
ElBaradei: At my age?
SPIEGEL: On election day you will be 69, and Mubarak will already be 83. One can't really speak of a youth movement unless Mubarak sends his son, the banker Gamal Mubarak, into the race.
ElBaradei: I have met Gamal a number of times. I cannot say that I find him disagreeable. Nothing, however, indicates that he would be an improvement over his father.
SPIEGEL: In other words, you are throwing your hat into the ring.
ElBaradei: It would require a change in the laws governing political parties and electoral rolls. Fair access to the media has to be guaranteed. And, of course, I would have to be allowed to register my movement as a party. We would have to collect money in order to stage campaign appearances. But let me be clear: If the conditions are fulfilled and if the people really demand that I run, then I won't leave them in the lurch.
SPIEGEL: Otherwise the "historic moment" will just elapse?
ElBaradei: No. One doesn't necessarily have to be in office to be an agent of change. In one of my Internet contributions, I wrote that we will overcome our fears, that civil society will take action and we will tear down walls, just like the Germans.
SPIEGEL: Were you not allowed to stand for election, what would you recommend voters to do?
ElBaradei: Should the rules not be changed, should there be no chance of a fair campaign, then I will call for a boycott.
SPIEGEL: And would you also call for the Egyptian people to demonstrate -- even though that could end in a bloodbath?
ElBaradei: I am indeed concerned that the regime will gamble away the opportunity for a peaceful transition. I am afraid of violence breaking out. For exactly that reason, I have not yet called for mass demonstrations or for civil disobedience. The regime should know: One can arrest many demonstrators, but one cannot arrest an entire people.
SPIEGEL: In your opinion, which is more difficult: Preventing Iran from making a nuclear bomb or bringing democracy to Egypt?
ElBaradei: Both are difficult. Both are possible.
SPIEGEL: Will we be seeing you in the presidential palace in Cairo, come the autumn of 2011?
ElBaradei: As André Malraux once said, that which is least expected is normally what ends up happening.
SPIEGEL: Mr. ElBaradei, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath