Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mohamed ElBaradei's interview with the Washington Post

Interesting interview. ElBaradei sees himself as part of a gradual process by which Egyptians will eventually apply pressure on its authoritarian government. He seems very impressed with the twitter messages he sends out criticizing the government.
But my role is not to run in every little demonstration around Cairo or in the countryside. That's not my role.

I tweeted and said it's offensive what happened yesterday. That goes everywhere now. I realize the tweets are translated in every newspaper. All the opposition newspapers have it in the next day. I did one on torture. I did one on emergency law. I did three tweets today. I discovered this is a very good way to communicate with people. I started, and will continue to use, viral videos.
My take on ElBaradei is that he is non-ideological and because of that he will not be able to generate the moral force necessary to unsettle an established regime like Mubarak's. The interview does not even present a passionate Egyptian nationalist. As far has he goes, his points that if he participates in the political system now, it would benefit Mubarak; that there are fundamental changes that could be made quickly in Egypt's political system that would enable representative elections; that the political system in place is ineffective, are all valid points and demonstrate a degree of cleverness on ElBaradei's part.

But there is no psychological requirement that he must sacrifice whatever he has to sacrifice to introduce a new vision for Egypt. ElBaradei is content watching, waiting, delivering true but impactless criticisms of the current regime. Only an ideology can consistently justify significant sacrifices for a political goal, and Westerners are really increasingly stripped of ideology.

However, Janine Zacharia, his Washington Post interviewer raises the idea that perhaps ElBaradei's agitation has set back any effort by Egypt's regime to put Gamal Mubarak forward as a replacement for his father.
WP: Have you scuttled President Mubarak's plans to have his son Gamal succeed him, if there is such a plan?

ElBaradei: That's what people say. This idea of inheritance, succession from father to son has been dealt a heavy blow because they have been presenting themselves everywhere that the alternative to the current system is the Muslim Brotherhood and again presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as the equivalent of Bin Laden. Our friends in the West, in many ways, bought this. I consider a system that is afraid of its own people, as I tweeted now, because of this demonstration, is a system that won't have any stability. You can only have stability if you are supported by your people.
I expect him to be quite surprised to see Gamal inherit the throne after all. ElBaradei is right not to run, win 40% of the vote and be presented by the Egyptian regime as a validation of Egypt's political process. But what he is doing now is not very dissimilar to that. He is criticizing the government, fairly ineffectively, not being arrested and advancing the idea that Egypt tolerates dissent.

Where ElBaradei is most disappointing is in his failure to confront Mubarak's US and European supporters:
WP: What about the international community's role?

ElBaradei: If you want to be credible on human right -- freedom of speech, freedom of assembly -- you cannot just say mum's the word when the regime's a friend of yours.

Every day you see three articles on the Iranian election, was it fair, was it fixed. But I have not seen one single article talking about an election in the Arab world. How could you be credible? I said that to many of my friends in the U.S. and Europe. If you want to be credible, human rights is a global issue. You have to talk about it in a systematic way.

What I see in the Arab world, in Egypt, everywhere is increasing radicalization.

If that situation will continue you will continue to get more radicalization, not only in Egypt, throughout the Arab world. Egypt is the beacon for the rest of the Arab world.
It is not well enough understood that change that is not violent and not revolutionary but also not inside of current political mechanisms for adjusting policy can only happen when local regimes lose necessary distant support or gain distant opposition.

Nelson Mandela and his ANC would never, ever have white South Africans to give up power based on pressure he could apply. His movement reached and influenced countries whose cooperation white South Africans needed but who ultimately were not nearly as wedded to Apartheid as white South Africans were.

Gandhi did not and could not convince local Indian governors to relinquish power, but London even though distant was both necessary for its continuation and able to emotionally separate itself from Indian colonialism. The US Martin Luther King Jr. convinced white US citizens largely outside of the South to repeal legal segregation against the will of most voters directly involved in applying the policies.

ElBaradei's talking to many of his friends in the U.S. and Europe is far too mild. He seems to miss both how critical Western, especially US, support is for Mubarak. How vulnerable Egypt would be to any anti-government campaign of a fraction of the intensity of the one the US is currently waging against Iran. He also seems not to understand that Egypt's autocracy is ultimately not as important to the US as it is to Mubarak.

ElBaradei is not a revolutionary. He is not ideologically motivated to take the risks necessary to build a movement in Egypt capable of violently removing Mubarak from power. Because of that, ElBaradei is going to watch Egypt's autocracy continue. But without being a revolutionary, he could still cause the end of the regime by working to remove the distant support necessary for the regime to maintain power.

I wish he would say, from Egypt or from the US, that the United States, through its cash payments that end up in Mubarak family accounts and through its encouragement of Egypt's government, is responsible for the denial of rights to over 60 million Egyptians.

Rather than mildly attempting and failing to lobby Egypt's ruling power apparatus to institute six reforms, he would be far more successful lobbying the US to make these reforms a requirement of continued US aid to Egypt, as the Egyptian construction of a wall to starve Gaza was a requirement. Egypt's power apparatus is strongly tied to not implementing these kinds of reforms. The US power apparatus is also tied to Mubarak on Israel's behalf, but a lot less strongly and a lot less openly.

The process that will free Egypt is not yet in view. Unless we see some visible changes we can be sure that process does not involve Mohamed ElBaradei.

1 comment:

Lysander said...

Absolutely right, I'm afraid. The difference between El Baradei and, for example someone like Khomeini, is like that between hot air and solid bedrock. The latter can be a foundation for something durable, where as the former is a forgettable gust of wind.