Blake Hounshell interviews Egyptian opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, about what's next for Egyptian protesters.
Foreign Policy: You've always said that your role is to be a catalyst for change. You're not a politician; you're not a grassroots organizer. But now that change is starting to happen with these huge demonstrations, how do you see your role evolving?
Mohamed ElBaradei: I always said I'm an agent for change. I'm not a grassroots organizer; that is clear. I believe in a division of labor. I'm not trained to organize the grassroots, and grassroots has to come from the grassroots.
But I never said I'm not a politician. Obviously I've been practicing politics, if you like, for the past 30, 40 years in different [forms] either through my International Atomic Energy Agency work or before that in the diplomatic service. And that essentially is what I've been doing in the last year; it's political work.
[As for] my role, since I left the agency and since I came here last February, immediately after I left the agency people asked me to participate in the process of change. Obviously, there has been a process going on for at least five years when people started.... You have seen small protests, demonstrations, but it's always been 50 to 100 people, you know. And the government was tolerating that as a sign of freedom of assembly [laughs] and never really thought that they would be a threat at any time.
I came in February. I realized that if change were to happen, it had to come at the hands of the young people. Sixty percent of the Egyptians are 30 and below. They are the ones who have no hidden agenda.
I really had very little trust in the so-called elite. These were people -- some of them have become corrupted by the regime, have become part of the regime. Many of the rest have become, again, sort of.... Fear has become so engrained in their souls, and they have families to care for, and they have seen that the regime has continued to be extremely repressive: torture, detentions, and so on. So there was a lot of culture of fear, at least for the middle-aged people who have families. [People] have lost hope, also, after 60 years. They despair that no matter what they do it won't change anything