Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Egypt’s best-known international figure, became vice president for external affairs in the new government after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. He discussed the Muslim Brotherhood, violence and the chances for lasting democracy in Egypt. Excerpts:
Q: What should happen to the Muslim Brotherhood members camped out at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque?
A: What we need to do right now number one, of course, is to make sure that we stop the violence. And there is a lot of violence. Once we do that, we immediately have to go into a dialogue to ensure that the Brotherhood understand that Mr. Morsi failed. But that doesn’t mean that the Brotherhood should be excluded in any way. They should continue to be part of the political process. … You have the Tea Party, and you have the American Civil Liberties Union. There is a big, wide gap, but they are able to live together under the Constitution.
Q: So members of the Muslim Brotherhood have to understand that Morsi failed but they should be able to run for office?
A: Morsi failed not because he is a member of the Brotherhood but because he failed to deliver. In a democracy, when you get 20 million people in the street, you resign. Unfortunately, we don’t have a process of recall or impeachment like you have. It was a popular uprising. … Unfortunately, people had to call on the army to intervene. The army had to intervene because short of that, we would have ended up in a civil war.
Q: Do you see Gen. [Abdel Fatah] al-Sissi?
A: I talk to him all the time. … This is a country with a lot of anger and irrational feelings, and we need to cool things down. The army has a role to play in protecting national security. But we the people need to make sure this is a transition to move toward democracy. We need to make sure we have a civilian president, a vice president, a government and that they are in charge. We also need to make sure there is a proper division of labor between what the army has to do and between governance, which has to continue to rest with civilians. We need to make that transition right this time.
Q: So you thought it was wrong to have elections before writing a constitution?
A: Absolutely. If you look at my tweets, you will see from day one I said we were heading in the wrong direction because you need to start with a constitution. This time we are starting with the constitution. We already have a committee of legal experts working on proposing amendments. We are going to have a constituent assembly of 50 people who we are going to select from all walks of life. Then we will go for parliamentary and presidential elections. I hope this whole process will be no more than nine months to a year. … Do we need democracy? Absolutely. Is democracy the way to go? Absolutely. Will a democratic Egypt have a tremendous positive impact on the Arab world and the region? Absolutely.
Q: Are you going to run for president?
A: No, my role will have been completed to put the country on the right track.
Q: Where is Morsi?
A: Morsi is in a place to protect him. There are charges levied against him. I think once we get the violence down and start a dialogue, a lot of these things could be checked.
Q: So there could be a safe exit for some Muslim Brothers?
A: This is on the table.
Q: Do you think that Nelson Mandela set a great example with reconciliation — his idea of forgive but don’t forget?
A: If you ask me, forget and forgiveness is what I would opt for. I’m not running the country, but I would definitely argue for forgiveness once we move forward. Tolerance. South Africa is a perfect example.
Q: People seem extremely angry — at Morsi, at the United States.
A: Everybody is angry — we have 90 million people who are angry. Everybody thinks they have the solution. They are talking at each other, not to each other. We had a revolution two years ago, and we see a people moving from a completely authoritarian system into a democracy. They don’t know how democracy works. They don’t know the ingredients of a democracy. It takes time.