The Road out of Tahrir: An Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei

Article excerpt

After an eighteen-day revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak's thirty-year reign, Egypt must direct the unifying energy of the Tahrir Square protests toward democratization. The military council now in charge of the government has vowed to oversee the country's transition to more representative civilian rule, but the Egyptian people have expressed dismay at its lack of transparency, its crackdown on protesters and the slow pace of the transition. As the nation awaits its first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, slated to begin on 28 November this year, it remains unclear how and whether Egypt will effectively cast off the long shadow of its autocratic past.

Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2005 and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is a pro-reform politician who may run for president in the upcoming elections. El Baradei shared his thoughts on the former regime, the current state of affairs and Egypt's political future with the Journal's Rebecca Chao. (1)

Journal of International Affairs: Some argue that Mubarak and his inner circle were only the tip of the authoritarian iceberg. What are your thoughts on the persistence of the former regime?

Mohamed El Baradei: These regimes always maintain pseudolegitimacy in the form of a parliament and a party, a judicial system and a powerful propaganda machine, but in reality it boils down to a single dictator and his coterie. We have yet to purge elements of the old regime, particularly the state security apparatus, the government-controlled media, the judiciary and many parts of the bureaucracy. Though we have a new interim constitution, it is essentially the same as Mubarak's, but we are still going through a transition period.

Journal: After Mubarak's resignation, the handover of power to the caretaker government--the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)--received tremendous support from the Egyptian people. How has this changed?

El Baradei: There is growing tension between a large segment of the population and SCAR The people feel that changes have not been fast or radical enough. The army is using its strong hand to control demonstrations. There have been over 10,000 people indicted or prosecuted by military courts who should have been tried in civilian courts.

The people also feel that SCAF is dragging its feet in pursuing reform. A good chunk of the media is still from the old regime, and when you have a country where almost 50 percent of the people live on less than two dollars a day and one out of three Egyptians is illiterate, state television is how many people get their information. The youth and a large part of society are also frustrated that the Mubarak regime's bureaucracy and, unfortunately, its security system are mostly intact.

Right now, I am trying to work with the Egyptian people to make sure that we have a smooth transition to democracy, which has proven to be quite difficult and complicated. I have only met with SCAF twice, and the lack of transparency and outreach on its part is another factor complicating the transition.

Journal: It seemed that the revolt sprang mostly from urban populations. What about the rest of Egypt's citizens? Where do you think they stand on this revolution and on the transition?

El Baradei: The issues that your average Joe cares about are jobs, education, housing and health care. The government does not have the money to improve these services, and SCAF maintains that it is just a caretaker government. Nothing has been done so far that would make the average person feel like anything good has come out of the revolution. In fact, many people now feel animosity toward it. Some now believe that it is the revolution that has led the economy to be sluggish, which is bogus. The real reason behind the sluggish economy is that security is lacking. Without security, neither tourists nor investors are flocking to Egypt. …