CAIRO, (AP) – Former U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei sharply criticized Egypt’s ruling system Sunday, saying the country has stagnated under President Hosni Mubarak while corruption has thrived.
In his first televised appearance since he returned to his native Egypt, the 67-year-old ElBaradei said his ultimate goal is to set the country down the path of democratic reform. But he remained coy on the primary question on many Egyptians’ minds — whether he’ll challenge President Hosni Mubarak in elections slated for next year.
He also didn’t give specifics on how he would lobby for democratic change.
“I am not nominating myself,” said ElBaradei, who returned Friday for the first time since leaving his post as head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Association after 12 years in office.
“I am talking about the fate of a nation, and the future of our sons. I am saying we have a problem. We must change course. Whether I am part of that change or just light the way, this is secondary.”
Egypt has been ruled for nearly 30 years by Mubarak, who appears to be trying to set up a political dynasty by grooming his son to succeed him, although both father and son publicly deny there is a succession plan.
Respected worldwide and untouched by the corruption tainting much of Egypt’s current regime, ElBaradei, who won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, could be the most credible opposition leader to emerge as this U.S.-allied country prepares for 2011 presidential elections.
Last year, young Egyptians and activists called on him in an open letter to run for president. ElBaradei responded that he would only join the race if guaranteed that elections would be free, fully supervised by the judiciary and monitored by the international community.
He repeated those conditions Sunday, but added that if those terms are met, he would even take on Mubarak at the polls.
However, it would be an uphill battle for him to even run.
Constitutional reforms in 2005 and 2007 introduced multicandidate presidential elections for the first time, but made it practically impossible for independent candidates to run.
On top of that, the regime — backed by emergency laws in force for nearly three decades — frequently jails journalists, pro-reform activists and political opponents.
But ElBaradei didn’t shy away from criticizing Mubarak’s government Sunday, saying corruption, the abuse of power and security fears have been the hallmarks of its rule.
He rattled off a list of the country’s ills — poverty, widespread illiteracy, economic decay, social tension between Muslims and Christians — and said people have been “insulted” by a regime that denied them political rights.
“No matter how much the government says it is reforming — and I don’t doubt that it is — but I do doubt that it is reforming in the right direction and fast enough,” he said.
Broadcast live on an independent Egyptian satellite station, ElBaradei tried to use the three-hour interview as an occasion to introduce himself to his countrymen after more than for more than 20 years abroad.
He appeared at times as a philanthropist, who is moved by the wide disparity between rich and poor in Egypt and widespread corruption. He said he has never voted in any elections himself, and cited Ghandi.
“I don’t have a government (to back me) or an army. I have ideas that call for justice and freedom,” he said. “If this is something that scares the regime, then the problem in Egypt is bigger than what we initially thought.”