Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mohammed El Baradei: We are born with a call for freedom

Dear Readers

Sorry to gush, but today I met Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Prize Winner, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and revolutionary. One of the really cool things about my current job is that I work with Dr. Laila El Baradei, who is the sister of MEB. I attended a lecture today organized by students. It was called the Leadership for Education and Development Program. The theme was "Political Activism." Mohamed El Baradei was one of the speakers. Here are the best effort I could make of notes from this event. The event was in Arabic, so I listened to the translator. Notes are mostly verbatim, but some places I summarize. These are indicated by [..] Cheers, WMB

Here is the very short Al Masry Al Youm article about it El Baradei calls for 50 strong civil consultative council.

"We do respect the Army's role because it was the protector of the revolution. Today, the Army could appoint a consultative council to help it govern. Transparency is the road to Democracy."

"Do we have the kind of parties that enrich the debate? No, we do not. It does not matter if we have a parliamentary or a presidential system. There is no perfect democracy in the world. Every day, we learn something new. It is so important to be critical, to think critically. The important thing is that you think. This is something the previous regime killed in us."

"[Law must change with the times] In the US, in 1954 they said segregation was constitutional. The Highest Court said segregation was constitutional. The same court in the 1970s said we need integration. In terms of politics in Egypt, we need a coalition. We don't necessarily want a proportional system if it will result in distortion. We want everyone to be represented. The electorate should feel you represent their interests."

"The recent law requiring that a party have 5000 signatures from 29 governorates and publish in two state owned papers is an obstruction. Each of these signatures must be publicly notarized.: This is an obstruction, an impediment. [The new parties should be allowed] Before we promulgate the laws, we need the laws to reflect the views of the people. We are still holding the old mindset. The laws are not like the scripture, or the Bible. We should be able to change. Do not restrict freedom of association."

"Democracy means respect of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. The judiciary must be independent. Open the windows of democracy for freedom. Give the people the right to debate."

"In the 1971 Constitution, it said freedom of religious affiliation or belief is absolute."

"One half of Egyptians are below the poverty line. People went to the referendum because for the first time, they felt their voice was heard. One year when I finished working at the agency [IAEA] I defended the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in politics. Each citizen should have the same rights or duties. Turkey has an Islami party but the country is completely secular. [This is the model we should follow] No one should impose his or her religious affiliation on anyone else."

"The youth are ready to hold office. I visited all the Eastern European states, their leaders are young, between 30 and 40."

"In a press conference, I said Egypt would live in this malady unless Mubarak was tried, or left the country. We should start with the head of corruption who is the former president.  There are 500 prominent figures who should be tried. Does it make sense that we have a camel battle during the Black Wednesday of the revolution? We err, but we need to learn from our mistakes. The only perfection is in God."

"The characteristic of democracy is that we do not need to take rushed decision. Take a slow decision with many views considered. I live near the pyramid side. I look at the luxurious buildings, and then the slum areas. We do a lot of injustice. How do we reduce the gap of poor and rich? We need access to education and health care. You have to know your budget, and allocate appropriately. The AUC graduates knowledgeable people. They need to help the poor. The short term goals of the country should be

  • Education
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Food

"We lack credibility with the people. If you are planting your fields, ensure a minimal level of food security. Our priorities today [must be to] build the Egyptian human being. [Help people] to live a decent life. I met John Kerry. I said that the money you spend on terrorism is squandered. The human being, when he loses hope in life, bombs himself. Help the young people meet their aspirations, and they will not be terrorists."

"Can we say that whole nationalities should be denied entry to Egypt? We should think rationally. In the past it used to take us a year to get a visa to Western countries. [We should not repeat that mistake]."

"The constitutional referendum was controversial. It was not proceeded by national dialogue. Would I have prevented [unclear] from seeking the presidency because his wife was French? No. We should think about what we are saying."

"I hope that we continue to put our faith in the Army. I do not object to the army itself, but rather to the Army as the [essence] of the state. Should we have mandatory military service? Obligatory enrollment in the Army for three years? All these issues are subject to discussion. The Army, Police Officers and Judiciary should vote. [They have not in the past] Maybe mandatory service is good, but we should discuss this. Maybe we need a reserve, or a volunteer service. I cannot give you the answer, but we need to have a public discussion of these issues."

"42% of Egyptians live under the poverty line, but realistically,90 percent of Egyptians are poor. We must guarantee people a free and dignified life. In 2010 the minimum wage was 35 LE  a month (about 7 dollars) Now it is 400 LE (about 80 dollars). The Editor in Chief of a Government Newspaper was making One million pounds a month (A lot, 250,000 dollars) It is not that the country is poor, but we need to redistribute the wealth."

"Article 2 of the Constitution. There is a great sensitivity to this. Article 2 does reflect Islamic principles. Equality and Justice are also Islamic principles. It is about the interpretation of the article. Let us focus on the real problems facing Egypt. I was in Cuba. The education rate there is 100% despite the American embargo of forty years. Castro's son chaired a program at UNESCO on how to reach out to people in villages to educate them."

Question from Audience: Do you think that Egyptian people are politically mature enough for democracy?
Answer. "The elite in Egypt has been polarized. But now, people are excited about the chance to vote. Many people voted in the referendum even though they were not well informed. [This is okay, people will learn as they exercise their right to vote.] Democracy is freedom and social justice. We are born with a call for freedom. It is inherent in us."

QFA: What should the position of the New Egypt be towards Israel? Answer: "Israel marginalized the Palestinians. The Arab World did not deal with the issue. There is no balance of power. Israel will come to us when Arab states become strong. Iran and Turkey are two strong states. A strong state is measured by what you contribute to world civilization. The Palestinian problem will not be solved in a military way. In the 40s, we had the Arab League. Recently, Arab regimes have become a joke."

QFA: Should we have a parliamentary or presidential system? Answer: "We need a popular consensus. We need an alternative to the authoritarian example. India is progressing ahead because it is a democracy. Unleash the powers and freedom of the human being."

QFA: Do you believe that Egypt can become an Islamic State? Answer: "We are always talking about mottos and slogans. Does religious reference mean we have divine and lofty values? Yes. If we believe in the true spirit of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, we must have good intentions. I met the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that prayer should be linked to action. Islam says that also. It is better to do an action, then spend the day in the mosque praying. When we speak of this political coalition [that should rule Egypt.] We should solve these problems within a humanitarian framework."



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