As promised, TBE is now publishing the full al-Baradei interview – straight, no chaser – in one convenient place. We’re terribly sorry that TBE doesn’t have a “print view” to facilitate reading it on your commute back to Matareyya or Grosvenor or wherever. May we suggest this brilliant application, which renders almost any texty web page printer-friendly?
Gamil Matar interviewed Muhammad al-Baradei in Vienna:
He speaks in a calm and serious voice … Do not hesitate to address him by his first name, he says. He continues speaking enthusiastically, gesturing with his hands when stressing a point. The interview took place in a house to which he moved recently, on the fourth floor of a main street in the heart of the Austrian capital. The interview took place more than two weeks after the end of his work at the IAEA. The interview continued for approximately 5.5 hours, during which he apologized for taking numerous phone calls but never stopped talking, except once for coffee and tea.
Since Muhammad al-Baradei announced his intention to contest the next presidential election “if appropriate conditions are provided to guarantee the safety and integrity of the process,” numerous reactions have appeared. One side launched a press and political campaign against him and accused him of “arrogance” and described him as “the president of conditions,” and said that his talk of amending the constitution amounted to a “constitutional coup.” At the same time, many academic, political and media personalities welcomed his position, which “stirs up a lot of stagnant water in the Egyptian political scene.”
Al-Shorouk traveled to Vienna to understand his vision of the current situation in Egypt, and his intentions and expectations for the future…
When did you begin thinking about running for the presidency?
The subject of running for the presidency came as a surprise to me and was not on my mind. Like any Egyptian, I follow events at home, of course, but I had announced my intention not to engage in public life again, especially because my work these last twelve years has been difficult, and my wife and I wanted to finally spend some peaceful time together, and do the things we were unable to do for a long time.
But you took the “surprise” calmly, and announced that your candidacy depended upon amendments to the laws and the constitution, which some described as impossible…
What I am demanding goes beyond the technical term “amendments.” If we want a real new beginning in Egypt, we should stop talking about “amendments” to remove legal and constitutional impediments only. These amendments may help us in the 2011 presidential election, but they are merely a “patch” The important thing is what comes after that. The matter is not about one person only but rather about Egypt as a country.
Democracy takes a long time. It is not like making a cup of coffee. It needs time. But this doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from the experiences of others, like what happened in Eastern Europe with the fall of the Soviet Union, where they moved from 60 years of communist rule to democratic rule with free elections and a free press. At the same time we should not allow time to be an excuse. We might need a year or two to accomplish what we want, but it is a mistake to say we need 50 years, and the arguments that say we do are flimsy.
What arguments for postponing democracy do you see as “flimsy”?
For example, people say Egypt is poor, and this is not a sufficient reason. A long time ago I was in India to receive the Indira Ghandi prize for peace. India has higher levels of illiteracy and poverty than Egypt, and the poor there brought down governments at least twice, because they did not benefit from India’s economic opening, not the middle class.
If we are serious about democracy then there should be a number of steps. The first, quick step is guaranteeing the cleanliness and integrity of elections, and full judicial supervision. International supervision is also important. The idea that this is an impingement on national sovereignty is futile, because international supervision does not deny our sovereignty, but rather increases it and sends a message to the international community that we are members of this community. We are part of the global system and cannot leave it.
Is a guarantee of clean elections as a first step enough to make you decide to participate?
Before thinking about elections, I refuse to enter a system that denies me the right to an independent candidacy. There is not a parliamentary system in the world that denies a person the right to run as an independent. I looked at the French constitution. It states that to run as an independent one must receive 500 votes from local councils, out of a total of 45,000, meaning less than 1%. The Mexican constitution imposes no conditions. I reviewed the American, Chilean, Senegalese and others, conducting a study of constitutions east and west, north and south, and didn’t find what we have in Egypt anywhere, where the constitution contains two contradictory premises, meaning that no independent can currently run in Egypt.
Today, we talk about a party with a majority in parliament, so the conditions really make it impossible for an independent candidate to receive the necessary number of signatures. In theory the constitution does not disallow an independent candidate, but practically it is impossible. The constitution should not be a formal framework but rather a viable framework for the application of laws.
Are there other areas of the constitution that in your view need revising?
All constitutions that can be described as democratic limit terms to two, whereas you find no such limit in the Egyptian constitution. The Egyptian constitution contains 15 typographical errors. If we are not able to publish or be meticulous with our laws, then this is the biggest sign of where we are as a people. If this is the condition of our constitution, what must be the condition of other services, from the treatment of poor people in the countryside to the teaching of children in the village, does this reflect our values?
In a constitution that seeks to consolidate democracy, one authority does not prevail over the others. But in the Egyptian constitution I find that there is one branch that dominates in a way unseen in other countries. The executive, represented by the president of the republic, dominates the legislature. The constitution should maintain the boundaries between the branches of government, to guarantee their role in the nation.
What is the difference between “decision-making and enacting,” who does and who decides, the People’s Assembly or the President?
There are 33 draft laws in the constitution. I have not seen this innovation before. The constitution should contain guarantees and be self-sufficient to ensure the people’s freedom, but its articles are contradictory. For example there is a counter-terrorism article, and within it we find the constitution allows the government to enter your home and listen to your conversations. Who defines the crime of terrorism? The civilian judge and not the president. But we find the opposite in the constitution. It speaks in a theoretical way about rights then negates most of them afterwards. There is a difference between legality and legitimacy. Many articles in the constitution lack legitimacy, because they don’t comport with global values, and many times they don’t apply because they are not backed by laws. (TBE: We’re not sure about some of this, as our legal Arabic is subpar.)
The emergency law has ruled Egypt for 30 years, and the constitution is just words on paper, because the standard by which to judge it in reality is: Can the constitution protect me? Does it ensure my freedom or not? In 1975, Anwar Sadat requested that Ismail Fahmi prepare a new constitution. My colleagues and I worked on it in 1975 and we sent it to Sadat that year. We did not compose it ourselves, but rather there was a digest (encyclopedia) of world constitutions issued by the General Assembly or the People’s Assembly, and we took the best elements from each. Of course I have not heard anything about that constitution since that day, and I hope to find a copy of it now. We worked on it for more than a month, and it guaranteed a balance of powers between the branches of government and individual rights.
What were Sadat’s motives in requesting a new constitution?
Maybe his motive was that it seemed necessary after the 1973 war. All I know is that Sadat wanted a new constitution, and he asked Ismail Fahmi to promulgate it in secret. The drafting of a new constitution means creating a new human, teaching the citizenry its rights, ensuring justice and rights to freedom and economic development. A constitution is not just a piece of paper, but rather a social contract between all classes of people. We want to go in this direction, and this is the goal we want to achieve.
The people must also demand it. The issue is not just writing (constitutional) articles or voting. We need a complete overhaul over the next three, four or even five decades. The short-term goal is to amend the constitution to elect the president, but this will not solve our problems, because it is possible that this amendment would lead to a “benevolent dictator.” What we need is a new system based on democracy and ensuring a decent life to Egypt’s citizens.
The most recent amendments to the constitution include a quota for women, which some saw as complementing the seats reserved for workers and fellahin (farmers), which is similar to the “social contract between all classes of people” to which you refer. Why does the constitution provide a quota for representatives drawn from among the workers and farmers?
There was good reason for this after 1952. Now there is another quota, for women. What about the Copts? How many Copts are there in the People’s Assembly? You find only one Copt was elected, and the Copts are no less than 8% of the population, which is a problem.
Women now have 64 seats, and farmers have 50 seats, while Copts have one seat. All of this is demagoguery, it is not evidence of logical thinking. All of these should be considered by a committee composed of all political forces, from Islamists to Marxists, which will be tasked with agreeing on how to provide equality and justice in the constitution. The work will not be easy due to the presence of numerous political factions, but it must be done that way.
The new constitution must obtain social peace for all political factions: Muslim, Copt, Bahai, children and women. It must inspire trust amongst them that their rights are guaranteed and that the state will work with them to advance their rights vis-à-vis their fellow citizens. The current constitution is the fifth since the revolution, following the constitutions of 1953, 1956 and 1958, then 1964 and 1971. Five constitutions in just 50 years… If we found that the constitution is not suitable to our needs then we need to quickly put a new one its place that guarantees citizens their interests and rights will be protected, guarantees Egypt’s independence, and ensures our development in a disciplined way. The difference between a revolution and a legislative system is that progress in the latter comes from disciplined changes to the Constitution and laws.
We need a kind of national reconciliation and dialogue. It may run in parallel with the constitution so that the constitution represents our realities and not the mask we place on it.
What do you see as the starting point in restoring the constitution’s prestige and role?
If we want a real new beginning then we need to write a new constitution, because even the wisest ruler would face political, social and economic problems with this constitution. There will not be democracy or freedom without a new constitution because freedom and development and social justice are all tied together.
We find ourselves today in an unstable position, and we can’t wait two years to get out of it. The problem is that the constitution is not thought of as an integrated whole and the balance of powers that guarantees one authority does not trample others is absent. For that reason I call on President Mubarak to establish a founding committee to promulgate a new constitution, with its members elected directly and including experts in constitutional law. The committee should be an expression of all the political factions in Egypt, from the far right to the far left, because it will be tasked with paving the way for a strong social peace in Egypt.
We are not inventing the wheel, the committee may include a number of appointed jurists, so long as it includes the best of them. This social peace should be based on the national interest. We have many problems: for example between Muslims and Copts, and it is not enough to say we are all part of the national fabric and we laugh at ourselves. We must acknowledge that there are national minorities, and that minorities will always receive special protections from the judicial authorities, and we can’t just bury our heads in the sand. If we continue the discourse of “one national fabric and we don’t have any problems, based on genuine Egyptian values,” can someone describe to me what are genuine Egyptian values today?
The conditions placed on forming a party today in Egypt are laughable. If a citizen wants to form a new party, he needs to bring the matter before a committee headed by the ruling party, so it is done under the umbrella of the ruling party. There is condition that the new party needs to be different than any of the existing parties. The differences between the parties have become non-existent, and it is not easy to easily determine whether a party is different. The idea that the ruling party must agree to the formation of a new party makes the whole process a form of theater, because a party means the right of assembly, and it just needs to notify the ruling party of its formation, and the ruling party does not have the right to decide who speaks or how they speak or demonstrate and in what style.
If the constitution in its current form requested that I act in front of the ruling party if I want to found a party, to declare the reasons for my desire to found a new party, then the ruling party issues a decision accepting or rejecting my petition, then this privilege cannot, in the final analysis, belong to the ruling party, because it undermines the most basic principles of democracy. In this situation, no individual can respect himself while working in this framework, because it makes all of these processes artificial. Additionally, the demands I made are not conditions or bred of arrogance, but rather because I will not enter elections unless I have a chance of winning. Otherwise I will be just part of the décor.
Why did you demand, in your statement, that the next president will be “a consensus president”?
In 1952, the revolution was accompanied by oppressive conditions in Egypt, beginning with the trials of the Muslim Brotherhood and continuing to the persecution of Communists, then we moved from a system of national capitalism to what is referred to as an open market economy. The state was based on what one knows, and not on a true foundation. The result is that some people have been able to exploit loopholes and become billionaires. There has been a profound decline since the revolution. Some policies have been carried out while others remain unimplemented, the middle class, the belt of society, has disappeared. A new class, referred to as the nouveau riche, has appeared, and societal values are determined by this class. The result has been that the fundamental values in Egypt today are power and money and not knowledge. The question becomes: Why am I judged by the power and money I possess and not on my knowledge or abilities?
Since 1952 we have become a partitioned society. We live like tribes, not gathering together for any reason. Public values have disappeared in Egypt over the past 50 years, and a tribal spirit has grown among us. When you travel north from the capital you see how people live, with their villas and easy life and opulence, and their values are not connected to Egypt. And traveling in the opposite direction we find the most glaring poverty. We walk in the streets and we don’t see the poor. We don’t pay attention to the fundamental problems of our society.
You speak of a society that has lost its values over the past six decades and surrendered to a spirit of tribalism and fragmentation. What do you see as a way of dealing with these problems?
The first step is being open about the mistakes we have made since 1952. We have done good things, but we have made many mistakes, and we should acknowledge them. For example, among our economic mistakes there were big plans about which millions agreed, and we don’t know their fate. Like the East Branch (TBE: ???), who is responsible?
We don’t have a system of accountability. This does not mean that I am asking that anyone be held accountable right now. At this point we are not able to shift our gaze from the future to holding people accountable. Our problems are much bigger than what could be accomplished by trials and penalties. The past is the past, at least at the current stage, when Egypt is mired in problems. The question is how to move forward.
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.)
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: “ “ from Surat al-Maida. 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 Abd ak-Aziz…” rather than Abd al-Aziz 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.
Al-Baradei said during the interview that the problem is not that some people invented lies, or that this is not what worries him. What scares him is that these lies confirm to him the depths of the collapse in values from which our country suffers. He added, “The first thing that became clearly unbalanced are our fundamental values. Religion became about rites and not about substance.”
All of us grew up, whether Christian or Muslim, with shared values: truthfulness, honesty, reverence for work, tolerance, social solidarity and love. This was Islam. We didn’t have religious leaders talking about breastfeeding (TBE: Not sure about this translation.) At the same time, the queen of Holland was honoring me, and the great scientist Nasr Hamid Abu Zeid was seated next to me. He had been forced to leave Egypt because a court there peered into his heart and found that he is not a Muslim, so he left. This is a catastrophe.
“Had your lord willed it, everyone on earth in its entirety would have believed. Will you then compel all people to believe?” That is Islam as we know it. “God does not forbid you from dealing kindly and justly with those that have not fought you or expelled you from your homes on account of your religion. For God loves the just.” This is what the Quran wills for non-believers, so what about believers?
We have around us a religion of rituals and we cut ourselves off from our values. To the rest of the world, when there is a Muslim man named Muhammad or Ahmed or Ali, he avoids mentioning his name, and he has to say that he is not a member of a terrorist group. Everyone looks at us as suspicious. Why? Because the whole world sees the picture of masked terrorists using Islam to justify their actions. It will take years to replace this picture with a different picture, to show them that all Muslims are not terrorists.
My father was a religious man, he prayed and fasted. To us, Islam was love and tolerance and a model. It taught us how to treat the poor. Amongst my father’s friends in Hussein, there was a trader who was a childhood friend, those to whom we feel superior these days, and they always met at one of their shops and went together to pray on Fridays. And among them were doctors and store clerks and small traders. This is Islam.
I interrupted to ask him if the story about his father and President Sadat was true.
He said that his father was working on the National Charter, and Sadat was head of the People’s Assembly at the time. My father told him that Egypt needed to move towards a democratic, multiparty system with a free press. Sadat responded that his speech was over, so my father said that he still had more to say, to which Sadat repeated that his time was up. My father replied, “I’d like it to be recorded that I protested my being removed.”
Forty-nine years later we are still speaking about the same things, we still demand what we demanded in that era, which is our freedom as a people. It isn’t a lot but it isn’t a little either. We only want our freedom as a people.
I remember, after the story of my father and Sadat, many individuals were afraid to greet my father, and many people were afraid that he would be their lawyer. I lived with this and I saw the effects of the police state on the people.
They accused me and said, “prove to us that you don’t have Swedish citizenship.” Imagine that someone said to you that you are a criminal and in order to show that you aren’t, he requests that you prove you are not a criminal. That is libel.
I have never said that I hold any nationality other than Egyptian. They defamed me and said I was last in my class, which is a lie. I was ninth of 34. As for the story about Iraq, I responded to them in the documents I sent to al-Shorouk. They don’t read the foreign press, don’t know what was written about me when I won the Nobel, they said it was a rebuke to Bush, because I challenged him on Iraq. I imagine that I prevented a war in Iran, because when the US announced that Iran had a nuclear program, I said, “We don’t have evidence to prove that.”
Al-Baradei was careful throughout our meeting not to reveal secrets from his time as IAEA chief, as he knows a lot about the issues that fall under the rubric of national security for many countries, or negotiations about dangerous strategic issues. For that reason he was cautious in offering information about relations between Iran and the US, particularly in the recent past.
He responded by saying, “What isn’t known in Egypt or abroad is that I was the conduit between Iran and Obama in their attempts to conclude an agreement, because I am one of the few people that enjoys the trust of both the US and Iran.” “I was a neutral party, and I always try to put the truth on the table in seeking to find a peaceful solution.”
I call for anyone who attacked me groundlessly or without knowledge to go to the internet and read that the Iranians themselves said that they appreciate and respect al-Baradei, which is also the opinion of the new American administration, but not the previous one, which attempted to stop my candidacy for a third term. Friends in the US Foreign Service sent me the messages from the administration with instructions to vote against me.
Among the accusations put forward against al-Baradei after he expressed his desire to run for the presidency was that he was risky and that he had not worked in politics and so was not qualified for the position.
He responded calmly and seriously, saying, “I’ve met many presidents and kings including Obama and Chirac and Sarkozy, and I’ve had relations with the presidents of more than 50 countries. I didn’t discuss inspections with them, we discussed the problems facing the world. And beyond that, half of our work isn’t inspections, it’s development.”
I was working for an organization with employees from 100 countries, and I worked with over 150 countries, and we reached what you might call a grand bargain. When I won the Nobel Prize, they said that I was “the lawyer who isn’t afraid.” You deal with 150 countries with competing interests, and part of your job is to understand the interests of all these countries, what they want, your ability to reach a consensus, your ability to see the big picture and what is and is not possible.
Al-Baradei did not know that I had met with his colleagues from the IAEA and other international agencies before our first meeting in Vienna. I heard about his leadership style at the agency. I was told that he is very discerning, and is able to judge people’s personalities very quickly but precisely, so he does not have to force his assistants to do things for which they are not qualified or to a degree that isn’t moral.
I told al-Baradei what his colleagues had said.
I’ve always said that I didn’t get to where I am today without everyone’s support, and that support isn’t possible without teamwork, characterized by certain principles.” We still have a problem in the Arab world, we have a “boss,” and that word has disappeared from the political dictionary. The world today speaks about teamwork and working together, not about the word “boss.”
My work imposed the necessity of quick decision-making. Many times I confronted the need to quickly determine what was important and what I should focus on, and how to encourage members of the team especially working and encouraging them by example and not by fear.
At the same time, there are rewards and punishments. If someone is good they are rewarded and if someone makes a mistake they are punished. Administration of a country is like the administration of an organization. They are based primarily on management and leadership. The problems are different but the method is clear.
The Condition of Egypt Today
He came ready with Egyptian and international documents, statistics and reports on Egypt’s current condition.
When they say we don’t know what our problem is, that is not true. It is enough for someone to be in Egypt for five minutes to see some of the most important problems. Forty-two percent of Egyptians live below the extreme poverty line, meaning they live on less than a dollar a day. According to a World Bank report, there is semi-poor and poor, and 42% of the Egyptian people did not reach the line that separates the levels of poverty in the world, which is the one-third of people who live on two dollars per day. Forty-two percent of Egyptians live in the same poverty that a billion others live in.
Education is non-existent in Egypt, or the type of education that allows you to compete in economic development is non-existent. In a report on global competitiveness, Egypt was ranked 70 as a result of the inefficiency of the Egyptian labor force. In the quality of education in accounting and science we were ranked 128 of 134. In quality of education system we were 126 of 134. Even if we wanted to compete we couldn’t. And we can compare this to the Emirates, which occupies 23rd place.
In a human development report in which good health and access to education are considered rights, we dropped from 122 to 123, and in a report on transparency we were ranked 111, which means corruption is rampant.
To be practical, we won’t be able to move forward without fighting poverty. Poverty is the strongest weapon of mass destruction, and it is tied to the absence of good governance and violence and marginalization and civil wars. For that reason, if I wanted to begin somewhere, I must begin by treating the most basic problem, which is poverty. And that can only be done through education. What the government spends on education is not more than 4% of GDP. At the same time, in Turkey this year education absorbed the largest percentage of GDP. Health in Egypt only absorbs 1.3% of GDP. We need to change, and our priorities should be education, health, and good governance and administration.
In the past 30 years, the rate of increase of Egyptian incomes has been 1.2% per year. A stunning rate. We have structural imbalances in the economy as a whole, a weak rate of domestic savings and a modest rate of capital accumulation. Productivity in the main productive sectors of farming and manufacturing is decreasing. Human capital is of modest quality, along with inflation and a continuing budget deficit and debt that swallows 43% of the budget.
Unemployment has also reached dangerous levels. In 2006 it reached 9.3%, 25.1% for women, 61.8% for high school graduates, 26.8% for college graduates, compared to 14% for 2004.
It is enough to know that farming, a sector which encompasses 27% of the labor force, accounts for just 15% of national output, and has only achieved a 1.8% growth rate in national output. We cannot get past this bottleneck by institutional and legal reform alone.
In Istabl Antar
It is said that I don’t know Egypt’s poor, and it is said that when I went to Istabl Antar I went as a tourist. I went to Istabl Antar because I wanted to see how the poor in Egypt live. For that reason I arranged the trip with Azza Kamel, my brother’s wife, because she works with a charitable foundation that received an American award, and so undertook to teach arts to the poor. This was my private channel to help four shelters.
I went to Istabl Antar and I visited 40 homes, including one family of six living in a windowless room measuring two meters by two meters. I saw 40 people living in one house with only one bathroom. There is no water there, so when they need water they go down to the Nile. That’s why I said that there are people in Egypt living in inhuman conditions. I didn’t go to every informal settlement. It was enough to see one to see Egypt’s condition.
If you go to Upper Egypt you will see poverty much worse than what I saw in Istabl Antar, in Qena and Beni Sueif and Fayoum. In Cairo alone there are 81 informal settlements, with 8 million residents.
I would like to see one leader in one of these informal settlements, speaking about me as if I were a tourist visiting these informal settlements. Tell me the name of one leader who has visited them. If one day I reach the office of president of the republic, I will convene my first press conference in an informal settlement. I will say, “This is the condition of the country I received and this is the journey ahead of us.” I won’t hold the press conference from my home in a compound or palace.
I don’t require a pledge of allegiance
Some said that al-Baradei asked for a pledge of support. He responded saying:
This is an incorrect interpretation. I did not say that I will nominate myself, but rather that if I did decide to nominate myself then we must reach a consensus. I still say that the president of the republic needs to be a consensus president, meaning that he can reach out to everyone, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Copts.
National reconciliation does not mean a pledge of support but rather that there is someone upon whom all the different societal forces agree. That is what I am trying to achieve, whether or not I am nominated. I still say that we do not need a president who represents a certain section of society, or represents the majority, but rather someone who is able to represent everyone. I wasn’t speaking only about myself. I wanted to respond to the demands and the voices that urged me to run for the presidency. This did not just start now, but rather it began two years ago. Osama Anwar Okasha, Muhammad Ghoneim were the first, but it has increased now. For that reason I needed to respond, and so I said that I won’t enter the race as a token, and I said that if my condition that I be allowed to run as an independent is met then I will enter immediately. I also said that I will run if there is a desire for me to do so and support from the people.
This desire is reflected on Facebook, and amongst readers and from the people that I meet and with whom I speak on the telephone and those who send me letters.
I prefer peaceful change
It is reported that some of these people will be waiting at the airport when al-Baradei arrives in Cairo during his upcoming trip, and it appeared that he has not yet decided how to react to this possibility.
I don’t know and maybe I don’t want that to happen. I hope that the regime will deal with the opposition in a peaceful manner, like what happened in Poland and Czechoslovakia. I will arrive in Egypt as an Egyptian citizen, and I don’t want to forbid any Egyptian that wants to welcome me.
We approached the hour of my return to my hotel, although he seemed ready to go another round, in order to reinforce the substance of his message and his goals and his willingness to make sacrifices.
I am speaking out and I will continue to do so. I have credibility. What I can do is express my opinions and I cannot change anything alone. So I try to use “force of argument rather than the “argument of force.” That is what I’m trying to do, but others must help me, which is why I am reaching out to the political parties and the professional syndicates and the people, saying to all of them that if what I say reverberates with you and presents a way out for you, then I will work and struggle to realize that change. I will be in the front with you or in the back behind you.
If I do that it will be a personal sacrifice, as I have a comfortable existence, nor do I crave fame or anything of that nature. As a personal matter, I was dreaming about spending time with my wife, so if I proceed it will be in the public interest. One will succumb eventually to his age, and feel that he offered something to his country, but I don’t have a magic wand to wave and make our problems disappear.
In my opinion the issue right now is not who will be a candidate in 2011. The issue is what values society will embrace, and where do we see ourselves 20 or 30 years in the future. This means that we need to decide on the essential values we want to live by in the future. And these values have their base in the constitution.
The constitution is a repository of laws. Why?
Because the constitution is what determines how the people exercise their sovereignty, and how the people protect their rights, and the people are the source of power. How do they exercise this power and who exercises it? The constitution determines how power is distributed, and it gives the people, who are the source of all of this power, their rights in exercising their sovereignty.
For that reason if we want a real new beginning in Egypt, we need to take big strides. I spoke about removing legal and constitutional barriers, but these amendments will only help us to elect a president in a fair way in 2011. It is not an issue of tinkering but rather a structural overhaul. It is not a personal affair but rather the fate of the nation.
The issue is by no means my candidacy for presidency of the republic, or who will run or who will win, the real issue is what comes after 2011? This is what the Egyptian people should be preparing to do, to come together again as a nation, including nationalists and Islamists and Copts and leftists. All of these divisions are present in any society, but at the same time there are also fundamental values, the right of man to a free and dignified life.
Egypt’s problems are the same as those of a hundred other developing countries: a lack of freedom, poor management of the economy, poor distribution of incomes, a lack of social justice. The solution is known.
The disease has been diagnosed, but what we lack is a medical team that can treat the disease, so the problem is not in the diagnosis but in how to treat it. Doing so requires a different view.
This view won’t happen unless there is freedom, good governance, better planning and the appropriate person at the appropriate time, and a commitment to the need to make changes to the medical team if no results are forthcoming.