Egypt's reform leader criticizes military rulers

AP News
Posted: Oct 16, 2011 1:10 PM
Egypt's reform leader criticizes military rulers

Egypt's top reform leader criticized the country's military rulers Sunday as having too much power and no experience governing, expressing the frustration of many a week after more than 20 Christians were killed when the military broke up their protest in Cairo with force.

Mohamed ElBaradei also criticized Egyptian state TV's role in the deadly clashes last Sunday night, saying it lied and instigated violence.

"So far, the military council, and it had said that, doesn't have the political experience but it has the authority with no experience. And we have a Cabinet that has the experience but no powers," ElBaradei told a news conference. He proposed an alternative government with more authority as an immediate solution to the problem.

The violence last week was the worst since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. It stunned Egyptians and shook their confidence in military council's management of the country. Already critical of the council's handling of the transitional period, pro-democracy activists are now calling for the council to step aside.

ElBaradei has been one of the most influential figures among the youth who rebelled against Mubarak's 30-year rule. The 68-year-old former diplomat and ex-head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog remains a favorite presidential candidate for many who see him as a man with a vision and international experience to direct Egypt's transition toward democracy.

Many, however, blame him for failing to capitalize on this support. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has maintained a tight group of supporters and experts and unlike other presidential hopefuls, he has kept a low profile in the media and public protests or rallies.

The violence a week ago began when thousands of Christians demonstrated outside the state television building to protest an attack on a church in southern Egypt. Army troops waded in, and armored personnel carriers barreled through the crowds. The violence killed 26 people, including at least 21 Christians, some crushed by vehicles or shot to death. State media said three soldiers were among the dead.

In the first official news conference after the violence, the military tried to exonerate itself, blaming the Christians and "hidden hands" for starting the violence and denying its troops shot any protesters or intentionally ran them over. Witnesses said soldiers started the melee. Videos showing soldiers beating and shooting into crowds and armored vehicles seeming to chase protesters cast doubt on the military's account.

ElBaradei said he is not going to blame one side or the other without a proper investigation into the clashes. But he took issue with the military rulers' reference to "hidden" or "foreign hands."

"I get goose bumps when I hear that there are hidden hands and counter-revolution and political groups (that are blamed for events) and that we never know who they are or see their pictures," he said.

ElBaradei called for an independent investigation and appealed to the ruling council to hand over any suspects for prosecution in the civil justice system. Currently, the military prosecution is carrying out the investigation.

"The council can't be the adversary and the arbiter at the same time," he said.

He also said State TV must be investigated and held responsible because it was an "instigator" of violence and a "liar."

State TV immediately accused the Christian protesters of attacking the troops and a presenter urged "honorable" citizens to defend the military.

He also urged Cairo's Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious center of scholarship, to take the lead in addressing Islamic radicalization and reducing sectarian tension in Egypt.

ElBaradei reserved some blame for Egypt's chaos for those behind the uprising. He said the new youth groups are divided and need to look beyond "narrow self-interest" to manage the transitional period.

"I don't think we had in the past eight months the best management for the transitional period. I think that all failed to manage it in a better manner, whether, the military council, the government, or the revolutionaries," he said.

He said he remains in consultation with the ruling council, mostly indirectly to offer advice and opinion about the road ahead. He said he didn't believe the military wants to retain power.

"My message (to the council) is that we need to make sure that we restore security and that the economy is up and running, and to make sure that we have a transitional period that is like any other country based on proper democratic constitution and parliamentary and presidential election," he said. "If we can do this, we will be a role model for the region."

ElBaradei said he hoped new laws from the council would go into effect in the coming days, as promised, including a law that would bar former Mubarak loyalists and ruling party members from participating in political life. These measures, he said, may restore some of the lost confidence in the military.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are due to begin on Nov. 28. The new parliament will be instrumental in writing the country's new constitution.