In an interview with Austrian broadsheet newspaper Die Presse, Mohamed ElBaradei has publicly addressed political conditions in Egypt for the first time since his resignation as vice president in the post-Mohamed Morsi transitional government.
ElBaradei, who has only commented on developments in Egypt in the last 18 months through occasional tweets, told Die Presse that the desire of many in Egypt to return to the Mubarak era is the result of a limited choice on the ground between the Muslim Brotherhood and army rule.
He said the situation has returned to pre-Arab Spring conditions: the Brotherhood, which had learned to organise underground for 80 years, is back underground, and the army, which has been in power effectively for 60 years and refuses to give up its privileges, is in power.
“This will not be the end of the story,” he said.
Referring to how Europe struggled for centuries to reach democracy, the 72-year-old Noble Peace Award winner said societal change does not take place in a “linear manner,” and that a revolution is always accompanied by a counter-revolution.
He said the youth have been disappointed, as they sought social justice, freedom, equal opportunities and an end to corruption. Now, he said, they are suffering from repressive laws that heavily restrict demonstrations, as well as imprisonment under flimsy pretexts.
However, a complete restoration of the old regime is not possible, in spite of the return of old regime figures, he added.
ElBaradei said the “culture of fear” is gone, and the existing elites will no longer exist in 20 years. The youth, according to him , simply needs to be ready by then.
He said that in 2011 there was not enough experience with democratic institutions and not enough will to cooperate, as those could not emerge in an authoritarian system.
He said that Egyptian society is now polarised and angry. Islamists, he believes, will not “vanish into thin air.” He argued that driving the Brotherhood underground could have negative consequences because moderation can only be reached if the Brotherhood is included in the political arena. He predicted that if they are driven underground, the result will be extremism and violence.
“We need national unity and inclusion,” he said. “We will be able to afford the luxury of political competition later.”
Asked why he had supported the protests that led to the ouster of Morsi, he said that he had only supported the call for early elections. The purpose would have been for Morsi to leave the presidency, and the Brotherhood to remain in the arena.
ElBaradei, who was appointed Vice President for Foreign Affairs after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, submitted his resignation in August 2013 in a letter to the interim president Adly Mansour after the police forcefully dispersed pro-Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo and Giza. The operation led to violent clashes that left hundreds dead.
He said he accepted the position of vice president to help “avoid civil war.” Elections would have restored calm, he said, but he did not find cooperation from the military, and fire was opened on Brotherhood demonstrations in spite of existing intentions to resolve the standoff peacefully.
ElBaradei revealed that he had insisted “from day one” in government that he would not condone violence and sought to avert the bloodshed that took place after 3 July.
He said personal threats, which he did not name, were the main reason for his departure from Egypt.
He added that a figure like him would have no role to play in the current violent circumstances.
ElBaradei is also of the opinion that the Islamist-written 2012 constitution gave the clergy the last word; a decision that at least half the population did not agree with.
“Morsi failed, because he polarised [the nation],” he said.
He also said the decision in March 2011 to hold parliamentary elections before a constitution was passed was a mistake.
A society, he said, cannot be stable without agreement on its basic values.
“In a country without a democratic tradition, everyone must work together to build institutions,” he said, giving Tunisia as an example.
ElBaradei said the Middle East is experiencing a meltdown and that the real victims are the people.
He also slammed Western diplomats who favoured despots under the pretext of stability. “Hitler, Mussolini and the Soviet Union had stability, too,” he said. “Stability that is not based on freedom, dignity and democracy is not real stability and […] is apt to explode.”
He also criticised the international community’s interventions in Libya and Syria, saying these interventions only take place when they serve geopolitical interests. The international community did not consider the consequences or the fate of civilians, according to ElBaradei. He condemned the violent intervention in Iraq, saying that dissolving Saddam’s army was one of the mistakes that led to the rise of IS.
“When we talk of extremism, we cannot limit our concern to the symptoms.”
“It is bad enough for the Islamic world to have these terrible leaders,” he said, “but in addition, many Muslims living in the West are treated like dirt, and are not sufficiently integrated.” However, he added, these realities are not an excuse for the attacks in Paris, but are still a breeding ground for jihadists.
On the other hand, he urged the Middle East not to blame all its troubles on the West, but he still urged Europe to realise that it is not “the world.”
He concluded that it should be a goal to show people in countries such as Afghanistan and India that the international community is interested in their issues, and to solve existing problems without violence, or else these social and political “bombs will explode in our faces.”