Return to Transcripts main page


A Look at Egypt's Political Future

Aired April 28, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Three decades of emergency rule in the Arab world's biggest nation. Is there any hope for democracy in Egypt? We'll speak to the Nobel Peace Prize-winner who wants to run in next year's presidential election.

Good evening, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight, it is not uncommon for a country to declare emergency powers in times of national crisis, but when that happens and what happens when the state of emergency lasts for almost 30 years, as it has in Egypt, with a population of nearly 80 million people and a professional class that often needs to look abroad for jobs and political freedom?

The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has been in power since 1981 when he succeeded Anwar Sadat after he was assassinated by Islamic militants. The country does hold elections every few years, but so far, the ballot box has failed to deliver real change or real democracy.

In a few minutes, we'll hear from one of the most prominent Egyptians on the world stage, the former head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is now eyeing the presidency.

But first, CNN's Ben Wedeman brings us up to date from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a restlessness in Cairo these days. Outside parliament, there are almost daily anti- government demonstrations and workers protests. The drumbeat for change grows ever louder.

Keeping it barely contained is the only regime most Egyptians have ever known, led by an aging, ailing leader. Hosni Mubarak still has an iron grip on power, but after 29 years as president, he's 81 years old and recently needed surgery in Germany to have his gall bladder removed.

Officials say he's healthy, though it's not clear if he'll run in next year's presidential election.

Muhamad Kemal is a reformer in the ruling National Democratic Party.

MUHAMAD KEMAL, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: If he wants to run, then the whole party will rally around him. If he decides not to run, then the party will convene a general convention and will pick a new candidate.

WEDEMAN: If he doesn't run, many believe his son, Gamal, could be that candidate. But Gamal, despite a carefully managed leadership role within the ruling party, has failed to whip up enthusiasm.

The result is a political vacuum into which this man has stepped. Known around the world, Mohamed ElBaradei is a Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urbane and tech- savvy.

(on-screen): His supporters have set up a Facebook page which has more than 150,000 followers. Compare that to Gamal Mubarak, who has two Facebook pages but less than 10,000 followers.

(voice-over): Also waiting in the wings is the Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned, but tolerated. It's Egypt's biggest opposition bloc, but its leaders have shown little appetite for confronting Mubarak. His recent illness jolted officials into sprawling Egyptian bureaucracy, says opposition firebrand Gamila Ismail.

GAMILA ISMAIL, OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: If Mubarak falls, this means that everyone will fall. And as I was saying, this situation of panic and fear when he was ill and when he was out to Germany for surgery, they thought that everything was going to fall in a minute if he died.

WEDEMAN: Yet it's not a case of if, but when, because even in ancient Egypt, the pharaohs always died.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


AMANPOUR: And joining us now from Boston, Mohamed ElBaradei, who as we've been saying is the former head of the IAEA and the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Mr. ElBaradei, thank you for joining us.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, FORMER IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: Christiane, it's always a pleasure to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Why, sir, after being head of the IAEA, winning a Nobel Prize do you want to get caught up in Egyptian politics? Why do you want to run for the presidency?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm not -- this is not my primary goal, Christiane, is to run for the presidency. But my primary goal is to see my country, Egypt, a country where I grow up making a genuine shift toward democracy.

You mentioned, irrespective of the personalities, we have a president who has been in power for 30 years.


We have martial law for almost 30 years. This speaks volumes for the lack of democracy in Egypt.

AMANPOUR: What do you--

ELBARADEI: It's an idea that its--

AMANPOUR: Sorry. Sorry to interrupt you. I just want to ask you, what would it take for you to run? What changes or guarantees are you seeking?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm thinking what you have in term of guarantees in every democracy in the world, a free and fair election, judicial supervision, international supervision, an independent commission to look after the election to make sure that the election is not rigged as it used to be, make sure that we have equal opportunity in the media.

That current situation has to change, because the way it is crafted right now, it's only handful of people who have the right even to run for presidency. So democracy is no -- is no longer part of the Egyptian lifestyle for over 50 years. And it's an idea that its time has come.

I feel odd, frankly, sitting here argue that we need to have democracy in Egypt. It's like sitting here arguing that the Earth is flat. You know, it's -- we need to move to democracy, and we need to move to democracy as -- as early as possible. This is a basic core value.

AMANPOUR: So are you -- you said it's very difficult even to be able to run. Are you able to run? What do you have to do to make yourself a viable candidate?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm -- I'm organizing, Christiane, a grassroots movement to push the government -- to send the government a clear message that they need to change the current situation, they need to join the rest of the world in becoming a democracy, and hopefully, you know, between now and the time of the election next -- the autumn of next year, we should be able -- we should be able to get the government to understand that maintaining the status quo is a dead-end street.

The way we have -- Ben Wedeman mentioned I have 150,000 people on the Facebook. There are actually now 300,000 people. In a country with penetration to the Internet of 18 percent, it speaks, again, volume of the thirst for change in Egypt, left, right and center.

AMANPOUR: OK. So 300,000 people, that's still not really -- it's kind of a drop in the ocean when you're talking about a population of 80 million and a potential voting population. And although it's been described as you having the support of the young, the educated, many of the frustrated, that you haven't really broken through -- and you can't -- if you don't have the support of the powerful institutions, let's say the military, let's say the intelligence, that kind of following, that kind of institutional presence, which you haven't got, since you haven't been there for so long.

ELBARADEI: Well, I think the military is part of the people, and the military is witnessing that Egypt is not in the best shape, that we have 42 percent of the Egyptian lives on less than $1 a day, Christiane. We have 30 percent of the -- of the Egyptians are illiterate. We have Egypt ranking 123 in the -- in the human development report.

So all the indicators are saying that, unless we change and change drastically and empower people, we are -- we are going nowhere. So I -- I believe that even the military, the so-called institutions understand that status quo is not sustainable.

AMANPOUR: What about your attempts to try to drum up a signature campaign, to try to get that sort of lobbying for your ability to enter the race? We've heard that a lot of people are afraid to sign up, they're afraid of the consequences if they're caught signing up.

ELBARADEI: That's true. I mean, that's with -- it is on the way. We have around 100,000 now that have signed up. I think it would be a snowball effect. But there's a lot of fear remnant from, again, 50 years of repression, Christiane.

And what I'm telling the people, you have to shed your fear, you have to participate. I can only help if you -- if you allow me to help you. And I -- I still believe in people. And I say my party is the people. It's not -- it's not -- I'm not part to any official institution.

And as I believe, looking around, going around Egypt in the countryside, everybody is looking for a change for a variety of reasons. People are not -- are not having -- do not see future, do not see hope. They would like to become part of the rest of the world, you know, having dignity, having hope, having -- having their sense of freedom to decide who is to govern them and how they to be governed.

AMANPOUR: So if that's the case, they are also nonetheless fairly afraid to gather. That's forbidden under emergency rule. And a recent rally was broken up quite violently.


I guess the question is, are you willing -- how far are you willing to go to get on the ballot and to get these changes that you're talking about? Are you willing to be arrested? Do you have concerns about your personal safety?

ELBARADEI: Well, there's a lot of concern always about personal safety. But as you know, Christiane, I have been working in an area where there has always been concern about personal safety. That's not my primary concern.

But I'm ready to go all the way to make sure that this country, who has been the beacon of modernity, moderation of the Arab world, and change of Egypt will have major impact on the rest of the Arab world. I'm ready to do all the way, because I think the Egyptians deserve much better than what they have today.

And I want to emphasize, again, this is a peaceful, nonviolent movement, but it's a popular grassroots movement. And everywhere I go, everywhere I travel, there's massive support for change in Egypt, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And so, just finally, how do you plan to do this, to mobilize all this masses that you're obviously going to need if you have any hope of being a viable candidate, especially when I'm understanding that you don't really have an official staff or even an official headquarters?

ELBARADEI: Well, it's very funny, because for the people, I'm a real agent for change. For the -- for the regime, I'm a virtual person. I can't -- I can't even have a headquarters. I can't raise funds. But we have a lot of volunteers. We have a lot of young volunteers everywhere in the country right now canvassing for change, explaining the people how change will impact on their economic and social life.

So there is still a lot of hope. I'm not sure. I'm not sure how it will play out. You know, in a country when you have no level playing field, it's like a black hole. But I will do as much as I can; I think I owe it to -- you know, to Egypt, I owe it to humanity that every human being should have the right to live in peace, freedom and dignity, and dignity and pride is what is missing right now in Egypt.

AMANPOUR: On that note, we'll be watching. Mohamed ElBaradei, thank you so much for joining us.

ELBARADEI: Pleasure, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And just how do politics affect the everyday life of people in Egypt? On, we have the story of what one man in Cairo is doing to cut his energy prices in half.

And coming up, how will the ruling party respond? We'll hear from its leading parliamentarian.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.


AMANPOUR: That was U.S. President Barack Obama speaking in Cairo nearly a year ago about the importance of democracy. But Egypt, a steadfast ally of the United States, has made only limited steps toward political pluralism.

We're joined now by Ahmed Ezz, one of the leading members of President Mubarak's National Democratic Party.


Mr. Ezz, thank you very much for joining us.

AHMED EZZ, EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Thank you for having me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me first ask you, why is there no clear succession?

EZZ: Well, I would -- if you allow me, I would first like to respond to some of the interesting remarks of Dr. ElBaradei on your program, Christiane, because, in fact, Egypt is going through a very exciting time. And Egypt is developing in almost every walk of life. And the political diversity taking place in Egypt today is unseen, unwitnessed in my generation.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about that.

EZZ: Dr. ElBaradei is a welcome -- yes, Dr. ElBaradei is a highly respected Egyptian, is a welcome participant in this vibrant political debate. He has a clear path to run for president in 2011 if he so chooses. Our constitution anchors politics--

AMANPOUR: We are having -- we are having a little bit of a technical problem, as you can see. We're going to go to a break, and we will come back just as soon as we get this fixed.



AMANPOUR: We seem to have got our connection to Cairo back again, so we're going to continue with Mr. Ahmed Ezz, who is a leading member of the ruling party.

Mr. Ezz, we were talking just before we had some technical problems about the political situation and who and how they can run for office. I want to know how you're going to have some political pluralism and whether or not somebody such as Mr. ElBaradei will be able to run.

And let me ask you why I ask this, because somebody, indeed, Mr. Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League and who's sometimes mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, has said when asked whether he will run, "The road to the presidency is blocked." How do you answer that?

EZZ: Well, as I was explaining earlier before the technical glitch, our constitution anchors politics and political parties with clear political platforms. There are 24 parties in Egypt. Any of these parties can field candidates in 2011.

Half of these parties, for example, have asked Dr. ElBaradei to be their candidate of choice. Dr. ElBaradei hesitates, preferring instead to run as an independent. My party, the NDP, has made it clear it welcomes Dr. ElBaradei to join the political fray.

I wish Dr. ElBaradei will do that, because in that situation, he will have to make his position clear on many issues. I have heard Dr. ElBaradei says that he is allying with a huge coalition of Egyptians, when, in fact, he is allying himself with a fringe coalition, either of the extreme left, nurturing old, tried, tested and failed policies of the '60s, or with an extreme right-wing Muslim brothers, who are nurturing democracy a la Ahmadinejad.


AMANPOUR: Let me -- let me -- let me break in there, Mr. Ezz.

EZZ: What I want to make clear is, Christiane--

AMANPOUR: Well, you made yourself very clear, Mr. Ezz.

EZZ: Let me just -- if you allow me to--

AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you, look, for the last five times that Mr. Mubarak has run, he's basically been nominated by parliament, the sole candidate, and then confirmed by a popular referendum. And as you explained, there was a change made under heavy American pressure the last time in 2005.

But it depends entirely on whether one of these legal parties that you talk about actually chooses to nominate somebody, right?

EZZ: But Dr. ElBaradei has been asked by half of the parties to be their candidate of choice. He has a clear path to run for president in 2011. It appears to me that the only obstacle to a Dr. ElBaradei candidacy is Dr. ElBaradei himself.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let me ask you this. You say that he wants to run as an independent and that that's not possible, but the Muslim Brotherhood had to run as independents last time. The other big question is, obviously, the state of emergency, the special emergency powers that have been in effect for nearly 30 years are clearly having a major effect on the ability to conduct politics or political life.

Is there any hope of this emergency law being amended or being -- or being put aside in a special anti-terrorism law coming in, as you said, is being debated, because it's affecting all aspects of life in Egypt.

EZZ: Christiane, that is inaccurate. In this heightened level of security awareness in the world, every country is grappling with how better to protect its citizens, including Egypt, and it has always been controversial. You have your Patriot Act. Our emergency law is our Patriot Act.

That has only and exclusively been used to either combat terror or to avert the threat of terror. In no way has it been used to suppress either political or social or economic life.

Of late, we have uncovered plots by Hezbollah, cells by Hezbollah and Egypt, plots to attack vessels in the Suez Canal, so basically it's code red alert in Cairo 365 days of the year.

We look forward to a day when we do away with the emergency law that, again, is our Patriot Act, only used to combat terrorism, but that will only happen when the Middle East is at peace with itself.

AMANPOUR: Oh, my goodness.

EZZ: And we at the NDP will be the first to want to do away with that law.

AMANPOUR: All right. Now, that may be a very long time from now, and everybody understands that the fight against terrorism has to go ahead. But the question is, then, why are some of these laws used to crush political rallies, for instance, as happened earlier this month when the police really did break up in a harsh way what was a peaceful -- a peaceful rally? Why -- why did that have to happen?

EZZ: Christiane, walking into my parliamentary chambers, if I can use the term, every day, I am in my face faced with good Egyptians who are demonstrating en bloc for either political or economic or other grievances every day in my life in parliament, that is. So that caricature image of an Egypt that is stifling dissent with no plurality, with no freedom of expression is far from the mark.

There are at least -- at last count -- 240 publications in Egypt, 15 TV networks. Dr. ElBaradei, for example, the little time that he is in Egypt, last time that is, has appeared on almost every newspaper of reference on the front page, continued to hold political rallies, has visited the Al-Azhar Mosque, has had talk -- has been on every single talk show.

So, I mean, that notion of combating by force political dissent or political pluralism in Egypt is not true.

AMANPOUR: All right, Mr. Ezz.

EZZ: There may be an aberration now and then from either side.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ezz, on that note, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. Ahmed Ezz of the ruling party in Egypt.

And we're also joined by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian intellectual who spent three years in prison on charges of defaming the Egyptian state. He was later acquitted, but he's now living in the United States teaching at Drew University.


Tell me, Mr. Ibrahim, what you make of the current situation in Egypt. What are Mr. ElBaradei's chances of actually running for the presidency in a way that makes sense?

SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, he has a good chance. After all, the whole world has changed in the last 30 years drastically in ways that 40 years ago nobody would anticipated, that Eastern Europe, even the mighty Soviet Union will fall.

So everything is possible nowadays. And, therefore, I say Mr. ElBaradei, in the little time since he announced his intention to go back to Egypt and to engage in a political campaign for reform, has shown that it is possible. And I'm confident that if he persists, if he gets an organization going, if he leads by example--

AMANPOUR: Can he get an organization going?

IBRAHIM: Sure he can. There are a lot of volunteers. He spoke very well earlier this program. And I believe that he could, and there are hundreds of thousands of people.

The problem is, he is a challenger. And we heard from an apologist for the regime, Mr. Ahmed Ezz. The problem with regime is that it has (inaudible) for any competitor so much that it will take nearly a miracle to change. But miracles do happen in the Middle East. After all, that is a region where all the miracles took place.

AMANPOUR: As you know, in the last round, there was a movement, the Kefaya movement, "Enough." Now the leading candidate, the head of that movement, was basically roughed up. He was charged on what many call trumped-up charges of fraud. And he was put into prison.

Is that something that is still a worry? Does that have a chilling effect? Will that happen again to a challenger?

IBRAHIM: Well, you're talking to an example here. Mr. Ezz can talk the talk, but unfortunately, the regime does not walk the walk. Here I am, an intellectual, 70 years old or above, who could not guarantee his freedom when he expresses himself, never used violence, never called for violence, and yet the regime had, as you indicated, had put me behind bars in three trials, and now I have about seven cases pending against me in Egypt today, and that's why I'm in exile right now.

AMANPOUR: So what exactly do you think is going to happen in the next round of presidential elections a year from now? Will Mr. Mubarak run? Or will his son be the successor?

IBRAHIM: I think one or the other. Most likely he will be the one, because the son does not seem to have fired the imagination. The son does not seem to have created the kind of appeal that would be necessary for a sustainable and serious campaign.

Mr. ElBaradei will have a good chance. And I think millions of Egyptians are willing to rally behind him. And if external powers could also demand that election, next election be free and fair and transparent, under international supervision, I think we have a very good chance of changing Egypt--


IBRAHIM: -- and the Arab world.

AMANPOUR: On that note, right now we're going to continue talking with Mr. Ibrahim at So open your laptop, and let's keep the conversation rolling there.

That's it for our program on television right now. Thank you for joining us, and we'll see you online in a few seconds.