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Divisions Over Draft Constitution Continue In Egypt


In Egypt, the road to democracy is anything but easy. President Mohammed Morsi has set a vote on a new constitution to begin this Saturday. But Egyptian rights groups are warning of possible election fraud.


The political opposition says the process has been rushed and dominated by Islamists. And today, The Carter Center here in the United States said it will not monitor the referendum because there isn't enough time to prepare. Mass protest rallies are scheduled tomorrow, but Egypt's president and his supporters argue the vote is necessary to stabilize the country.

SIEGEL: Now, a talk with one of the leaders of the opposition to President Mohammed Morsi: Mohamed ElBaradei. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is coordinator of the National Salvation Front. That's a coalition of opposition groups. Dr. ElBaradei, welcome to the program once again.

DR. MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, the National Salvation Front has sometimes talked about urging Egyptians to boycott the constitutional referendum and then urging them to take part but to vote no. So first, where do you stand on that question?

ELBARADEI: Robert, this is a defunct draft constitution that has been drafted by a committee that in no way represents the Egyptian people. It has been rushed through. So on the one hand, we do not want to boycott because they might present that as a victory. On the other, we do not want to give legitimacy to a process that we do not consider it's fair process.

SIEGEL: So given that choice, what I hear you saying is you're urging Egyptians to vote no and then you're prepared to challenge the outcome if it isn't a fair election?

ELBARADEI: I think that's what is going to happen.

SIEGEL: Dr. ElBaradei, can you tell us, apart from the process by which this draft was written, a single thing that is absent from that constitution which would make Americans understand the intensity of your opposition to it?

ELBARADEI: Yeah, I give you a few examples. I mean, the - this draft constitution allow civilians to be tried before military courts, for example. It doesn't guarantee freedom of expression, and it allows for the possibility that media people got imprisoned for what they write. It only guarantees freedom of worship for the three monolithic religion and not freedom of belief for everybody as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

SIEGEL: Dr. ElBaradei, I'd like to ask you a question about most Egyptians because one problem facing emerging democracies that don't have a long history of contested elections and very freewheeling journalism and public opinion polling, one problem is that very often people don't really know what most of their countrymen want or think. Is it possible that there is a majority of Egyptians who would prefer an Islamist government running an Islamist regime?

ELBARADEI: Robert, I would say that there's at least 70 percent of the Egyptians who want to have a middle-of-the-road way of life. I mean, again, these guys are selling it as an Islamist way of life. It is not. Many of us are Muslims, but we have a completely different view of Islam. You have Islam that's based on the basic values shared by every religion: freedom, justice, equality, social solidarity. But they try now to impose something which is basically so-called Shariah law where you have 100 different views. Some of them are enlightened, some of them are extremist. And I think, comfortably, that most Egyptians do not want us to turn into a religious state.

SIEGEL: I've read accounts today that Egyptians are pleased that the army will be supervising the referendum, the plebiscite, in the absence of sufficient judges because the judges are boycotting it. Are you concerned that the conflict between President Morsi and Islamists on the one hand and other Egyptians - secular, Christian, whatever - on the other, that this conflict risks a restoring and elevating the military to the role as the real supra-governmental power in Egypt?

ELBARADEI: I think, unfortunately, what's happening that this is elevating the army to the level of being the arbiter between the so-called Islamists and the rest of the country. And the army issued a statement a few days ago basically saying dialogue is the only way in that we cannot let the country go down the drain. We are seeing the same situation as we have seen during Mubarak's time. And I should say that the U.S. is still very soft on the Brotherhood. It is not your role to manipulate the process at all, but we expect everybody to come and say, well, this is not democracy as we know it.

SIEGEL: You would welcome a statement from Washington saying this is a flawed, undemocratic constitution?

ELBARADEI: I would welcome a statement from everybody. We are under siege right now, and we expect everybody who believes in democracy to say the Brotherhood should lift their grip on power and have an inclusive process.

SIEGEL: But the argument that the Brotherhood can make in response to that is that unlike Hosni Mubarak, who would win elections with 99 percent of the vote, elections that nobody believed, the Brotherhood won an election. They contested and they won.

ELBARADEI: That's correct. That's correct. But they won an election after 60 years of repression. They had eight years of organized structure underground at a time when most of all other parties were two months old. So there was no level playing field. They knew that themselves, and they said, we are not going to grab power, but they ended up grabbing power. Second argument, Robert, that winning an election does not mean that they can roughshod the whole country into another Mubarak-style type of government.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. ElBaradei, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Robert, for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei speaking to us from Cairo, where he is coordinator of the National Salvation Front. That's the opposition coalition there. And, of course, he was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his role as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.