Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei

Saturday, April 10, 2010; 12:15 PM

Edited excerpts from interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at his villa on the Cairo-Alexandria road, April 7, 2010.

Washington Post/Janine Zacharia: Why didn't you join the 6th of April pro-democracy demonstration in Cairo [on Tuesday]?

ElBaradei: This is a question of judgment. I will go when it makes a difference. I wouldn't go when there's a peaceful demonstration of 500 people or 1,000 people. You have to differentiate between activists and people who are leading a movement for change. At least at this stage, at this early stage, I'm trying to instill some sense of where we should be heading in the future, Egypt. It's very clear: It's a dead end street until we move into democracy. There is no other way about it. And, of course, that will impact on the Arab world, the Muslim world, everything will change, in my view at least, both internally, externally everything.

But my role is not to run in every little demonstration around Cairo or in the countryside. That's not my role.

ElBaradei: I tweeted and said it's offensive what happened yesterday. That goes everywhere now. I realize the tweets are translated in every newspaper. All the opposition newspapers have it in the next day. I did one on torture. I did one on emergency law. I did three tweets today. I discovered this is a very good way to communicate with people. I started, and will continue to use, viral videos.

ElBaradei: It's cost-benefit analysis, to go into a demonstration. I do not want to see the whole Egyptian people feel protected by my presence. They need also to feel that it is their country, it is their responsibility and they really have to fight for their freedom whether I'm there or not. There is an overexpectation of what I could do.

ElBaradei: This is a country that has been deprived of democracy since 1952. The problem is people don't know even what democracy is about, how to go about it. It's out of desperation. People have become so afraid and so pessimistic that anything could happen and that's part of the apathy you see. Everybody understands that we need to change and things are not good and we need to move to a democracy but everybody's afraid to stick his neck out or stand up and be counted or take an action. And therefore there is this desperation that somehow I'll deliver them, there would be a deliverance through me. And basically, what I'm telling them every day, I'm happy to help you. I can show you the way; I use my whatever I have, recognition, what have you, to say -- and that's what I'm doing -- that the emperor has no clothes. And I think that's what I'm doing, I'm basically finally saying the emperor has no clothes. Once everybody realizes that then we have to figure out how to dress the emperor.

ElBaradei: I do cost-benefit. I mean here again a lot of these old modes have not worked for the last 30 years. People have been going into the street. Fifty people got arrested. Another 50 somewhere else. You will see me around you when there's really a major peaceful demonstration where we can make a difference. But if the idea is just to clash with a repressive regime it doesn't advance [the agenda.] If I go into a clash with the regime, I'll go into a clash with the regime when there are circumstances that make me comfortable that it will make a difference.

WP: This sounds more like a long-term process, even more than the next 18-month election cycle?

ElBaradei: Or even a generation, frankly. Depends what you mean by change. If you mean by change of changing mindset, getting people to understand what democracy's about, how you practice it and all the implications of it -- good education, good health care, everything -- that will take, in my view will take a generation. So I take the long-term view and the short-term view. The short term is get focused on the first phase which is fair and free election, multi-party system, equal opportunity and change of the constitution.

As you saw, I said the whole way that the political system is constructed is in my view illegitimate.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company