BERLIN (AFP) – Opponents of Egypt’s long-running regime should be able to follow the lead set by the toppling of Tunisia’s veteran president, leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said in comments released Saturday.
“If the Tunisians have done it, Egyptians should get there too,” the former UN nuclear watchdog chief told Der Spiegel for an interview to be published Monday.
Protests in Tunisia against president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali led to his ouster last week after 23 years in power.
There is much debate in the region as to how contagious the Tunisian “Jasmine Revolution” will prove to be.
While Egypt is suffering social problems and has seen a number of people set themselves on fire in an echo of the protest which sparked the Tunisia unrest, ElBaradei pointed to major differences between the two north African nations.
In Egypt the discontent arises from “fundamental needs” in a country where more than 40 percent of the population earns less than a dollar a day while Tunisia can boast “a substantial middle class”, he said, evoking the possibility of “a revolt by the poor and the frustrated.”
The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner confirmed that he supports a national action day, scheduled for next Tuesday by the Egyptian opposition, though he would not be taking part.
“I don’t want to steal their thunder,” he explained, adding that he hoped the protests “will not degenerate.”
He urged President Hosni Mubarak not to seek another term in office when his mandate expires in September, to lift the state of emergency which has been in place for 29 and to call “free elections”.
Mubarak, 82, has not yet indicated whether he intends to stand for office again, but members of his camp say he will seek a new mandate.
ElBaradei said he is in principle ready to throw his own hat into the ring as long as the elections are “free and just”.