Note: As the protests in Egypt continue into their second day, I decided to post these remarks from the leading Egyptian opposition figure, Muhammad al-Barad’i. Egypt has had many opposition leaders over the years, but none have had such a highly respected and global presence as al-Barad’i, who was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997-2009. He is most well-known for his work with Hans Blix on the WMD inspection teams that were in Iraq until the American invasion in 2003, as well as the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. He also won the Nobel Peace prize in 2005. After leaving the IAEA in 2009, there has been much speculation as to whether or not he might run for President in 2011 as he is an Egyptian citizen by birth.
Historically Husni Mubarak has been able to squash any opponents using physical intimidation and wide-spread corruption at polling centers but al-Barad’i’s international visibility would make it much harder for Mubarak to pull off such a campaign and harder for Western governments to ignore. (Of course we did pretty good job of ignoring Afghanistan President Karzai’s ballsy act of rigging the 2010 elections in his favor, so who knows?) It remains to be seen whether or not the events of the past few days will lead to a full-scale revolution like the one in Tunisia last week, or if it will just be a short-lived outburst like the massive protests in Iran after the 2009 elections.
I also included the following links with more updates on the situation in Egypt:
The New York Times – Protesters in Egypt Defy Ban as Government Cracks Down
The Egyptian opposition leader and former General Secretary for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad al-Barad’i stated that, “The time for change by way of the ballot box has to come an end in Egypt as Husni Mubarak has closed all the doors to reform and a peaceful transfer of authority. As such, taking to the street is the only way now to realize the aspirations of the people.”
al-Barad’i told the German weekly, Der Spiegel, that Egyptians have been protesting in greater numbers for the first time, “As a result of the collapse of the “culture of fear” that President Husni Mubarak’s regime has kept alive his entire time in power.” He expressed that the increasing protests in Egypt are an indication of a historic turning point, “As Egyptians come to realize that their fate is in their own hands and not in anyone else’s.”
He added, “The Egyptian regime has refused in the past and continues to refuse all calls for reform, they are completely disconnected from the reality their people are living in and can’t even look [around them] or hear [the pleas for reform]. I have warned Mubarak of the consequences of waiting for these issues to come to a head … the time has come for him to pay the price.”
Conditions for Success
al-Barad’i likened the recent Egyptian protests to an unstoppable snowball rolling down and gaining momentum. He added, “Husni Mubarak’s regime is teetering and is extremely fearful and tense in light of the recent events in Tunisia, while it simultaneously tries to portray indifference to the Egyptians that have recently committed self-immolation protesting their living conditions in all areas of life.
al-Barad’i indicated that, “The only way for the Egyptian regime to stay alive and rescue itself from a fate like the one that befell its counterpart in Tunis is for Mubarak to remove himself from nomination for a new term as President, to issue a new constitution, to call for new free elections, and to cancel the “State of Emergency” that has been imposed on the country for the past 29 years.
He holds the view that the revolution in Tunis represented a precursor to the possibility of a “spring of change” in the Arab world in which Egypt plays a leading role. In al-Barad’i’s opinion, Egyptians’ requests for bread and more individual rights is only natural in a country where 40% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.
He pointed out that, “The main difference between the conditions in Tunis and the conditions in Egypt is the presence of a broad middle class in Tunis which Egypt doesn’t have. Poverty and anger will play a main role in any possibly popular uprising.”
Defending the Muslim Brotherhood
al-Barad’i stated that it is possible that Egypt now stands on the precipice of a coming phase of instability, and he called on Mubarak and his security apparatus to respect the people’s universal right to protest, saying that, “Change is coming and no one will be able to stop it.”
He also responded to a question about his opinion on Israel’s fear of a collapse of the situation in Egypt and many Israeli’s concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood would gain power and launch a war on the Jewish state. [al-Barad’i] called for, “An end to the demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and the [false] idea of a choice between either the oppression of Husni Mubarak’s regime or the chaos of a narrow-minded religious government.
He went on to clarify that the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced themselves from violence for half a century and have focused on reforms and changes instead of focusing on gaining power. He added, “If we want to establish a free, democratic system, in Egypt, then we must include the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process instead of distancing them from it.”