After a marathon translation session at TBE HQ, we’ve finally finished the final installment of TBE’s translation of al-Shorouk’s interview with Muhammad al-Baradei, and are fully prepared to bask in the adulation of our legions of fans for having accomplished such an epic accomplishment.
In this segment, which corresponds to al-Shorouk’s third part (of three), published on 23 December 2009, al-Baradei responds to the lies spread about him in the less savory precincts of the Egyptian press, cites some damning statistics and generally comes off as presidential, whatever that means.
We’ll probably publish an omnibus edition tomorrow for the completists amongst you. Until then:
Al-Baradei In His First Comprehensive Interview, With Al-Shorouk (Part 3 of 3): In Egypt People Live In Subhuman Conditions
(TBE: We skipped the introductory matter, as is our wont.)
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.
On his preference for 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.