In this installment, al-Baradei discusses the press campaign against him, his relations with the ruling family, Israel, and the Muslim Brotherhood, along with other topics of contemporary and historical interest. Some of the answers here seem pieced together, and we have a strong suspicion that they are pieced together from different parts of the marathon interview Gamil Matar conducted with al-Baradei. Also quotation marks weren’t always used (here or in the original), but readers should be able to tell when al-Baradei is speaking directly and Matar is paraphrasing him.
Although this is part 3 of TBE’s translation, this represents the second of al-Shorouk’s 3-part interview with the presidential aspirant, published in the December 23, 2009 edition.
Al-Baradei In His First Comprehensive Interview, With Al-Shorouk (Part 2 of 3): The Egyptian People Deserve Better
(TBE: We skipped translating the introductory matter.)
Al-Baradei had not so much as announced his intention to run when a fierce campaign kicked off against him. Why did this campaign occur and did al-Baradei expect it when he issued his famous proclamation?
Al-Baradei answered quickly and seriously when asked about the campaign, describing it as “true that everyone has a right to present his opinion about whether I am best suited for the position or not. But that is for the people to decide, not the [ruling] National Democratic Party. I will decide [whether to run] based on the will of the people. So the people will decide whether I am the fittest or not.
He added, “I wasn’t expecting that response at all. Unfortunately some government newspapers have become primarily outlets for government propaganda rather than newspapers. If their viewpoint is that I am not fit to run, why don’t they tell me what are the qualities the president of the republic should have? Aside from that, it is for the people to judge in the end.
What I want is that Egypt will become a democratic nation that ensures social, economic and political freedoms to its people, to a greater degree than is currently the case. It is not important to me at all who comes to power in the end.
I know [al-Baradei] to be humble, and I heard from some people who have worked with him and some of his colleagues at the IAEA that he is not high-handed in his dealings with aides or international delegates. Nevertheless, the campaign against him accused him of being patronizing.
Those people that participated in the campaign against me are from the heart of the ruling regime, who never helped me with anything. In fact the opposite is true, they worked against my candidacy for IAEA director general. When I met President Mubarak I never asked him about the reasons for working against my candidacy, and I continued to give them honest advice because my goal in the end is to serve the country.
I was an employee of the foreign ministry, and I had good relations. But self-interest often overshadowed all of that. They said that it was America and Europe that supported my candidacy, but that is not true. The African states are the ones that put forward my candidacy.
My relationship with President Mubarak was as an Egyptian citizen in a position of responsibility who saw many things that Egypt needed to do. So every year when I came to Egypt I requested a meeting with him, and told him what I thought should be done on the domestic and international fronts. It was an affectionate and respectful relationship. It continued on this basis for six years, beginning with the Iraq problem, when I requested that he intervene to solve the problem, in 2002, when problems began to reflect on the Arab world, and I thought Egypt had a role to play in trying to solve these problems.
About his relations with Gamal Mubarak, al-Baradei said that he had met him about five times and had discussed politics, and especially international affairs, since he is interested in this issue. He said that Gamal was polite and a good listener, and that his views on many subjects differed with those of Dr. al-Baradei.
The discussion then moved to the subject of al-Baradei’s candidacy for director general of the IAEA.
He said: “I worked for the agency for three years in New York beginning in 1984, then moved to Vienna after the departure of the Swiss president. The IAEA planned to elect a leader from the developing world, since all previous leaders had been from the West. They saw that I was appropriate, and there was an agreement to nominate me when suddenly Egypt said that it wanted to nominate someone else. I was surprised, to say the least, and papers here in Vienna wrote that the reason Egypt wanted to nominate someone else was because of the relationship between the government and the candidate. The government-backed candidate entered the elections, and garnered only fifteen votes. There were 6 candidates, none of which received a majority of 24 votes. A re-vote occurred, and the African states, led by Sudan, presented me as their official candidate. I received 33 of 34 votes in the first round, so that it was clear a consensus had developed.
Later we discussed this campaign and his feelings of bitterness about it. The bitterness was clear when he raised my voice a little above the tone he had been using from the beginning of our meeting.
I understood that Egypt’s position was the result of personal relations and I was hurt by it, though I later heard that President Mubarak said that he had not been personally consulted about the nomination. All I can say is that what happened was the result of poor management and a lack of understanding of the situation.
Relations with Israel
The funny thing is that the two [entities] that don’t stand with me today are Israel and the NDP-controlled press, for more than one reason. When Israel attacked Syria, I was the only one to say that it violated international law. No one, not even Egypt, spoke on the matter at that time. Even the Europeans did not speak, and when I attended a luncheon with 25 European leaders, I asked them what credibility they had if they saw what happened and said nothing?
The same with the case of Iran. Israel wanted to say that Iran has a nuclear program, whereas I reiterated that there was an imbalance in the Arab region as long as Israel was not a signatory to the relevant treaties. All of this was not done to please the Israelis. I went to Israel based on a collective decision, which included the Arab League, not for the purpose of inspections. Like Pakistan, the Israelis took me on a flight, to see how close their borders are to Jerusalem. For other political reasons, Israel receives special treatment, whereas for me, as director general of the IAEA, it should be treated as a regular country like all others.
It saddens me to say that there is a similarity between Egyptian government newspapers and Israel with regards to their attacks on me. Just because I expressed sympathy for the six million Jews who died does not mean that I agree with the way they treat the Palestinians. The IAEA has not issued a single decision against Israel, as the agency consists of its member-states, and as such has not issued a statement against Israel in the past 15 years.
As for how al-Baradei sees current relations between Egypt and Israel not from the perspective of an employee of an international agency but rather as an Egyptian citizen, he said: “Relations are tense, of course, and they will remain tense as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved, and if we don’t admit that we are not taking ourselves seriously. Today Israel has changed the rules of the game.
“When Israel was established in 1948 Palestine was to occupy 40% and Israel 60%, and the refugees had a right to return or compensation. In 1967 further changes occurred. Today Jerusalem is part of Israel and Palestinians cannot return. The goal of Israel is “Code Post” changed. (TBE: “Code Post” is in English in the original. We have no idea what it is supposed to mean in this or any context. Our best guess is that he said “Goal Post” and it was transcribed as “Code Post.”) Today Israel kills many individuals, and for that reason relations will remain tense in the Arab region, and the system will continue without credibility.
The Egyptian Nuclear Program
I knew that al-Baradei, in his capacity as second secretary to the Egyptian UN delegation in Geneva, was assigned by the head of the delegation, ‘Omran al-Shafi’i, with responding to a request from President Sadat to research Egypt’s joining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Al-Baradei recalled the issue, saying that he wrote a memo stating, “It is not in our interests to join the treaty if Israel does not do so. Egypt and the rest of the Arab states joined the treaty and we entered the Camp David treaty with no reference to regional security and Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
There was negligence in the Egyptian nuclear file. Nuclear material was not accounted for and machines were not used. We bought equipment valued at $10 million and never used it. Negligence… I’ve never spoken about this matter with President Mubarak. I left it to the IAEA inspection teams, lest it be considered a conflict of interest. And now it is nearing completion, due to a combination of Egyptian expertise and negligence. Egypt was supposed to alert us to any nuclear material it possessed, but it did not do so, and this is just an example of the lack of discipline in Egyptian government institutions today. (TBE: We’re no experts on Egypt’s nuclear capability. We assume al-Baradei is talking about events in 2004-5, which interested readers can learn more about here.)
Al-Baradei also pointed out that more than one Arab country has asked him to advise them on their nuclear program. Some of them have nuclear programs, the Emirates foremost among them but also including Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan, and are importing human capital from the US and France, and sending payments for training abroad.
Sadat in Jerusalem
It was necessary to return to al-Baradei’s years working with Minister Ismail Fahmi, when he shared an office with Amr Moussa. I knew that al-Baradei was heavily indebted to Fahmi, especially considering that the minister often traveled to the UN headquarters in Vienna as well as shuttling between Vienna and New York, and is known for having high-level diplomatic experience.
On this issue al-Baradei said, “When Sadat decided to visit Jerusalem, I was Fahmi’s closest aide. Sadat had not disclosed the details to Fahmi, and when what happened happened, we were surprised, that he wanted to convene the five countries in Jerusalem, which he said in Romania. We said that it was not the appropriate time to do so. When we returned to Egypt, Sadat said, without consulting anyone, “I am ready to convene a conference in Jerusalem.” He was supposed to travel to Syria the next day, with Fahmi. The following day, after we had put our bags on the plane, Sadat left for Syria, which angered Fahmi. He decided to submit his resignation, a decision I supported not because we didn’t believe in peace but rather because he was agreeing to conditions before any final settlement, which was not a good idea. So Fahmi wrote his resignation, and I delivered it to Sadat’s deputy, Hosni Mubarak, because Sadat himself was in Syria.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Our discussion turned to the important role the Muslim Brotherhood plays in Egypt’s politics, and whether al-Baradei had a relationship with them and what was his opinion of their role.
He said: I don’t know much about them, but I don’t think anyone should object to their participation in politics as long as they do so within the framework of the laws and the constitution, meaning that they do so in orderly and peaceful manner, and in the framework of developing the country on the basis of democracy in a majority-Muslim society that contains a Coptic minority who must be respected, and that religion is for God and the homeland is for all. As they represent a large segment of the population, I cannot forbid them from working, and they should work within the legal constitutional framework.
There is a contradiction in the constitution that I mentioned earlier, that it says that the country’s religion is Islam, and I said that the majority of the country is Muslim but that the country does not have a religion. The Ministry of Health doesn’t have a religion, the Ministry of Industry is not Muslim. Islamic law is the principal source of legislation, but there are a number of problems that we have not yet succeeded in solving, including the relationship between religion and state. And not just in Egypt but in the whole world.
There is a Quranic verse that states: “And let the People of the Bible rule with what has been revealed by God” from Surat al-Maida. (TBE: Special thanks to TBE Quranic interpretista Lady HaSha) The Quran here does not permit the religious to simply adhere to their religion in ruling, but rather to other religions as well. We unfortunately don’t read about our religion nor do understand it.
Muslims, like Copts, share a common destiny in this country. We should all share in it, and as long as we all work in a peaceful way, and as long as we are reasonable, and as long as we are working towards a common goal and not clash, then there is no one in Egypt who isn’t working in his country’s best interests, then everyone will have their own opinions and I will respect them.
As for the clear calls for change and the passionate youth, I call for the youth and the older folks to engage with politics. Doing so is not a luxury but rather a way of life, meaning that I always ask myself what I can do to ensure a better life. For that reason it is strange to say that the universities should not be politically active. It is irrational, because politics is a part of life.
I welcome these initiatives, because I appreciate peaceful work towards changing the constitution.
It was of course necessary to hear al-Baradei’s opinions about Egypt’s current foreign policy, its status in the world and how to restore it, along with the evolution of Egypt’s foreign policy. We spoke about Iran’s, Turkey’s and Israel’s increased diplomatic activity in the region and the role reversals in Arab politics and the frightening appearance of a power vacuum in the Arab world.
Al-Baradei said that Egypt’s national security objectives would not be realized based on the international framework nor at the Arab level. Today the Arab states have become enemies of one another, so that half the Arab states are involved in civil wars or wars with each other.
At the Riyadh summit, King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz said that the principal problem is that the Arab regimes lost their credibility, and I said to him that I will continue to repeat what I said to him, and that I used the correct word. (TBE: This sounds strange in the original as well. We think a correct version might read, “I said to King Abdullah…” rather than Abdullah saying that the Arab regimes had lost credibility, which seems unlikely.”) If the result is that Egypt was absent from the Arab scene for ten years, and many changes happened in the intervening period, and feelings were hurt, and some countries took a different path. The Arab world will only stand up if Egypt does so, and Egypt will only do if it has the backing of the Arab world. Our problem is that we are not closely integrated into the Arab or Muslim worlds, and this has implications for our abilities. We have diplomatic capital, without a doubt, but I look at Iran and I wonder: Why are they treated differently, and the response is immediate, because Iran has to give both positively and negatively, whereas I don’t do so. (TBE: We think what he’s saying here is that Iran drives a hard diplomatic bargain, whereas Egypt does not.)
Talk turned to al-Baradei’s political future in the event that he does not run for president. He said that of course he will continue to speak out. I have international credibility and I will use it in the service of the Egyptian people, and I will continue for the rest of my life because what I am saying to you now does not come from personal desires or motives at all, but comes from the conviction that the Egyptian people deserve ten times better than what they have now. In countries like South Korea or Spain or Greece in the 1960s, personal income was on par with Egypt’s at that time. Now South Korea is ranked 25, Spain 15 and Greece 24. In the sixties Greeks were working in Alexandria because there were no employment opportunities in their country, and Egypt was seen as an open market.
Now they are much better off than us, and they don’t have any resources or anything.