CAIRO: Former head of the IAEA and reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei was in a hot seat Wednesday as he answered 25 questions voted upon by users on his website as part of the “Ask Baradei” campaign.
In the 52-minute interview, ElBaradei stressed on the importance of signing the petition championed by the National Association for Change which calls for constitutional changes, maintaining that 2011, marking Egypt’s next presidential elections, is “only the beginning of change.”
“The petition is the first step towards democracy. Signing it will speed up the process,” he said.
He also hailed the support of the youth of his movement and called on every Egyptian to be hopeful for Egypt’s future.
Since his arrival on the political scene last year, ElBaradei has campaigned for collecting signatures for a petition of seven demands aiming at political reform, including the removal of restrictions on candidates eager to run for presidency and putting an end to the emergency laws.
Currently, the constitution stipulates that any viable candidate for presidency must be a member in a party that has existed for five years and be a member of its supreme committee for at least one year.
Independent candidates must secure 250 signatures from upper and lower houses of parliament and municipal councils, a requirement many deem impossible since the NDP constitutes the majority in legislative representation.
During the interview, ElBaradei quelled concerns from supporters that the government would refuse to change the constitution even if presented with a petition signed by a large portion of Egyptians.
“I don’t think that any system, be it autocratic or democratic, will be able to stand up against a grassroots movement that will resonate nationally and internationally,” said ElBaradei
“If the system stood in the face of the people’s will, it has to bear the repercussions,” he added.
On his regular trips abroad, ElBaradei said, “I have previous commitments that will continue.”
He added that being a Nobel laureate breeds responsibilities towards international security.
“The world must see that Egyptians take part in global affairs,” he said, explaining that his absence does not mean he is not following day to day developments in Egypt.
“When we talk about reform, we are referring to internal and external reform.”
ElBaradei has been often criticized for his reliance on the internet in communicating with his supporters.
During the interview, he downplayed claims that he lives in “a virtual reality.”
“Everyone is part of this reality; technology facilitates communication,” he said, adding that alongside his regular use of email and twitter he has made several trips across Cairo and the surrounding governorates.
ElBaradei said that convincing Egyptians that they have the right to choose which system should govern them and how they should be governed will be a lengthy process.
Egyptians need to believe in the philosophy and not just the person championing it, said ElBaradei, quoting Saad Zaghloul’s famous saying, “The people are above the government.”
He pointed out to leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini who all spent time away from their countries before coming back and implementing what they believed in.
When asked about the mechanisms he will use to bring about change, ElBaradei listed the new media, volunteers, field trips, televised interviews and aligning with Egyptians abroad, referring to the latter group as “a source of pride.”
“Change is a collective responsibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, ElBaradei maintained that social unrest is in the heart of politics in the face of claims that his demands are politics-specific and disregard the interests of workers.
On the rule of emergency, he said, “Equating the emergency law to the Patriot Act in the US is a political mockery,” referring to comments by National Democratic Party key member Ahmed Ezz on CNN last April.
On the status of the National Association for Change, ElBaradei said that it is an informal structure that is meant to eventually include all Egyptians, and that he is just a member and not its head.
“I am not a presidential candidate; I am an advocate for change,” said ElBaradei in response to calls by critics demanding he outline his program.
“We [members of the association] want to turn Egypt into a democratic country with a free and independent constitution,” he said, adding that while the movement is based on seven core demands, members stand at both ends of the political spectrum.
Last week, Egypt’s strongest opposition the Muslim Brotherhood announced its backing to ElBaradei’s movement, triggering speculation surrounding the national association’s political agenda.
To that end, ElBaradei explained that every member of the National Association for Change has the freedom to discuss any other matter outside the umbrella of the association.
“It is the right of every Egyptian,” he said.