While in Cairo last week, I interviewed Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the frontrunners for the presidency of Egypt.Officially, there is no race, no clock and therefore no official contenders for the presidency. But the press and street wisdom point to ElBaradei as a heavyweight so far.
Mohamed ElBaradei is best known for his work as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize. In that role, he famously confronted the Bush administration, pointing out that he had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear weapons program. Turned out he was right.
Mohamed ElBaradei is passionate about the need for a real transition to real democracy in Egypt. He worries on the one hand that there is no clear road map for democratic elections. On the other, he fears that if elections are held too soon, the Muslim Brotherhood could claim disproportionate influence and rollback personal freedoms.Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Fareed Zakaria: Tell me, the light, the world's attention has moved somewhat away from Egypt after the glory days of the revolution. What do things look like now?
Mohamed ElBaradei: It's normal that the world moves on. There is always something new. But things are not the best right now. The security situation - law and order - is not in the best shape. People do not feel secure. They are buying guns to protect themselves.
So there is this sense of angst, which obviously has great impact on the economy that is busted. Zero investment, inflation, budget deficit, lack of tourism. And then add to that that there is no really a clear road map, where are we heading? What kind of state (are we heading towards)? Is it a presidential system? Is it a parliamentary system? When are we going to have a new constitution? When is the parliamentary election? When is the presidential election?
So it's a total opaque situation coupled with economic degradation.
So where does this leave Egypt in the sense that you have announced that you will run for the presidency. Can you start a campaign?
I can't even start a campaign. There is no law which says how you run a campaign, how you raise funds, for example. There is no deadline. When can you officially become a candidate? I think they talk about three weeks through which you can run for president, which is ridiculous, you know? I do not know whether the election is going to be this year or sometime next year.
And as I mentioned, unless you know under a new constitution what kind of country you're going to run, I can't apply for a job for which I don't have a job description.
Do you worry that if the elections were held quickly, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the most organized political movement in Egypt, would gain perhaps even an unrepresentative share and then would try to write a constitution that had some abridgments on these personal freedoms because it had a particularly strict interpretation of Islamic law?
I do worry a lot. To have an election in three months' time, when the new parties, the parties of the youth who just triggered the revolution are just in the making right now. To give them three months to compete against the Muslim Brotherhood, who have been in place for 80 years, will probably lead to a fair and free election, but not representative election.
And having an election in three months would lead to a parliament that does not represent of the different hues of the Egyptian society and that will not really be the kind of Egypt people triggered the revolution to achieve.
Should the United States be playing a more active role in helping Egypt at this point, or would that be interference?
Well, it depends what you talk about. I mean, Egypt needs economic assistance. We have five million people who are unemployed. There will be 7.5, I think, in six months. People are afraid that we will have another revolution, which is revolt of the poor.
So we need a quick infusion of money. The U.S. also and others can show their models of how you build up a full-fledged democracy. As in everywhere, you build a national consensus. You try to ensure that there is a majority rule but also a clear protection of the minority rules. We have now, as you know, quite a lot of violence between Christians and Muslims, which some say should not happen, but it's the result of many, many factors of 60 years of repression and total chaos.
People now, after the revolution, think revolution means curse. Right now, socially, we are disintegrating and economically we are not in the best shape. And politically, it's like a black hole. We do not know where we are heading.
Are you hopeful still that Egypt's revolution will be successful and that it will be a model for the Arab world?
Well, philosophically, if you look to other revolutions, there is always bumps in the road. I believe and I would like to believe that we will go in the right direction, but we'll have to do a lot of work to make sure that we learn from other revolutions. We learn from our own mistakes. But, definitely no matter what's going to happen, it will be better than what we have before. We are still poor, but we are free today.