VIENNA: Nobel peace laureate and leading dissident Mohamed ElBaradei said Thursday he was ready to “lead the transition” in Egypt if asked, as he left Vienna for Cairo where he was due to join in mass anti-government protests.
“If people, in particularly young people, if they want me to lead the transition I will not let them down,” ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, told journalists at Vienna airport.
“My priority right now is to see a new Egypt and to see a new Egypt through peaceful transition,” he added.
After arriving in Cairo late Thursday ElBaradei said he’ll take part in mass demonstrations on Friday.
“I have to provide them with spiritual and political support,” he said of the protesters.
“My goal is obviously to make sure that things will go in an orderly and peaceful way… I am going there to be with them.”
He said he hopes to manage the process of change in a peaceful way. “I hope the regime will do the same. There’s no going back,” he said.
Pro-democracy activists vowed on Thursday to step up the largest anti-government protests in Egypt in three decades, despite mass arrests and mammoth security.
“I continue to call on the regime to understand that they better listen and listen quickly, not use violence and understand that change has to come. There’s no other option,” ElBaradei also said.
“I hope the regime stops violence. The government stops detaining people, stops torturing people. We are still reaching out to work with them,” he said in Cairo.
The protests, inspired by the groundbreaking “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, have sent shockwaves across the region and prompted Washington to prod its long-time ally on democratic reforms.
ElBaradei said he was heading for Cairo “to make sure that things will be managed in a peaceful way.”
Six people have died and 60 more injured in the clashes so far and at least 1,000 people have been detained.
On Wednesday, the authorities banned demonstrations across Egypt, prompting a massive security clampdown which saw police firing tear gas and chasing demonstrators through the streets of a popular commercial district in Cairo.
ElBaradei said he could understand the protestors’ frustration.
“The young kids, the young people who took to the streets, they obviously got impatient and did not see any hope of trying to work in any systematic way with the regime who did not even give a sign of response that they are ready to listen,” he said.
And he warned the government against using violence.
“I hope the government will understand that the response has to be a political response and not a security response. A security response is, would lead to consequences nobody would like to foresee,” he said.
If the government were to use force, “it would lead to a very awful situation,” ElBaradei said.
“But I’ll be there with the people, particularly with young people who have led, organized, managed the peaceful demonstrations on the street. And I have to give them as much support, political support, spiritual, moral support, whatever I can do. I will be with them. They are my people and I have to be there and I’d like to see a new Egypt.” –AFP and Daily News Egypt
This story was updated after ElBaradei’s arrival in Cairo.