Potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei Sunday offered words of condolences to Egypt’s Coptic community, as well as restrained criticism of the ruling military council and the government of prime minister Essam Sharaf.
ElBaradei, who cut short an international tour in Europe to return to Cairo on Monday, the day after clashes between demonstrators for Coptic rights and military police and central security forces left 25 people dead and over 300 injured at Maspero, held his first press conference since what has come to be called "Bloody Sunday."
Speaking Sunday afternoon to local and international reporters who packed his campaign office in the Garden City district of Cairo near Tahrir Square, ElBaradei said that he and other Egyptians are still reeling with sorrow from the images they saw on television at Maspero last week.
“This cannot pass in peace. We cannot just mourn and condemn the deaths. But we must find radical solutions to the causes of sectarian strife in this country.”
ElBaradei called for an independent investigation into what triggered the violence that night, demanding that the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) hand over all suspects it arrested for questioning and trial in front of civilian courts
“With all due respect to the SCAF, the army was involved and therefore it cannot be jury and judge in this case,” he said.
El-Baradei also emphasised that the bloodshed at Maspero follows nine major incidents of Muslim on Christian violence since 2008 alone, which have left hundreds dead or injured. Therefore, he added, the Maspero clashes, must be dealt with in this context of rising tensions.
ElBaradei praised the law that the ruling military council passed Saturday to criminalise and punish acts of discrimination on the basis of religion and gender, but said that such a law barely scratches the surface of a much deeper issue.
“Fifty per cent of the mosques in Egypt are not under the control of Al-Azhar, the government’s official religious body. The state must regain control of all Egyptian mosques and what is being preached,” he said.
“Moreover, we have to reform the education curriculum in our school system in order to achieve some sense of equality in what we teach,” he added.
ElBaradei blasted the Egyptian state TV’s live coverage of the events that unfolded on the night of the clashes, and accused TV anchors of telling lies and inciting violence against Christians.
Ahram Online asked the potential presidential candidate to comment on calls from many critics for the resignation of the Osama Heikal, the minister of information, who is accused of setting his anchors loose against Copts during the tense hours of Bloody Sunday.
ElBaradei refused to hold the government’s official spokesperson solely responsible.
“I think all those who were responsible for the editorial policies and reports that lied and incited that night should be investigated, not just one person,” he said.
“Furthermore, I cannot pass judgment on any one person until all facts are available at the conclusion of a fair investigation," he added.
ElBaradei devoted the latter part of the two-hour long conference on reiterating his vision for how Egypt could continue on a road towards a democratic society.
He argued that the SCAF, despite good intentions, are not fit because of their military background to run day-to-day affairs in the country, and urged it to hand over power to a civilian administration promptly.
Meanwhile, the potential presidential candidate said the government of Sharaf is toothless and has no powers.
Unless we have a government that can reestablish public safety in this country, tourism will not return, international investors will not come back, and our economy will face serious dangers,” he said.
“The government must reform the police so they go out and provide a sense of security. I am at a loss why they have not changed the structure of the Ministry of Interior and its mentality.
“The problem we have is SCAF rules but has no experience. Sharaf’s cabinet has the experience but does not rule anyone,” he stated.
A reporter for Al-Masry Al-Youm asked ElBaradei if he believed that recent splits between liberal forces and Islamists, which have led to the unraveling of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated electoral bloc, the Democratic Alliance, bodes ill for an Egypt that is trying to move in a democratic direction.
“I am not concerned that people tried to form a coalition then they parted ways. It is a learning experience. We have lived in a dictatorship for 60 years and it will take us time to get election politics right,” ElBaradei said.
Finally, ElBaradei warned that the country will continue to suffer political and economic turmoil until a permanent constitution is drawn, and a president and parliament are elected accordingly with clear responsibilities and well-defined roles.
“The SCAF made mistakes because of mismanagement. Revolutionaries also erred when they split their forces after Mubarak fell. However, I am optimistic. It might take one or two years, but I am confident the revolution will win,” ElBaradei concluded.
This article was amended 17 October. The original referred to Osama El-Sheikh, the imprisoned former head of state TV, as minister of information.