ElBaradei backs constitution before elections in TV interview

As the divide over when a new constitution should be drafted widens, potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated his support for writing it ahead of parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for September.

“Drafting the constitution is like building the basis of the house so that you can start from a tabula rasa. Then you can hold parliamentary elections,” ElBaradei said on Sunday in an interview with a privately-owned Egyptian satellite channel. “This will also give time to new parties to deal with the people and compete.” 

In recent weeks, Islamists and secularists have publicly debated the timing of and mechanisms for writing Egypt’s new constitution. 
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Egypt’s largest Islamist group, insists on adhering to the roadmap set by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, whereby the new parliament will be entrusted with drafting the constitution. To support their position, they refer to the March referendum in which over 70 percent of voters were in favor of eight army-backed constitutional amendments, including a clause stipulating that the new parliament will elect a 100-person assembly to write the constitution.
Liberals, however, argue that the next parliament will likely be dominated by Islamists and the remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak’s party, as new secular parties will not have enough time to build a large support base. Therefore, they say, the new People’s Assembly will not be fully representative and should not have a monopoly on drafting the constitution. They call for the immediate formation of a representative assembly so all forces can write the constitution in advance of elections.
Islamists accuse such voices of disrespecting democracy and ignoring the results of the referendum. ElBaradei finds such accusations invalid, however, arguing that the way the referendum was held was undemocratic in the first place.
“Democracy requires two things; there should be a dialogue and you should give me alternatives and choices,” said ElBaradei. “This referendum was held two or three weeks after the revolution and it was not preceded by any dialogue about the alternatives.” 
ElBaradei was one of the most vocal critics of the constitutional amendments proposed by the military. Before the referendum in March, he called on Egyptians to vote "no," saying an entirely new constitution should be drafted instead of amending the old one. 
To engage with the ongoing debate over the constitution, ElBaradei recently posted a video online calling for the drafting of a bill of rights to guarantee equal rights and freedoms for all citizens regardless of religion or race.
“Nowadays, we have slogans that are being raised randomly. We are talking about civil state, religious state and secular state… We don’t want to get into slogans,” he said in reference to current feuds between Islamists and secularists over the identity of the state and the role of religion in politics in post-Mubarak Egypt. “What I am asking for is to talk about the details… Each Egyptian has rights; he should have freedom of expression, of belief, freedom from fear and the right to form syndicates, etc. These rights should not be touched whether the constitution is changed or not.”
ElBaradei first came to the forefront of Egyptian politics almost a year before the revolution erupted. In February 2010, he announced he would run for president if a set of reforms were introduced. He then campaigned for amendments to the constitution that would ease eligibility conditions for presidential candidates, put a curb on the number of presidential terms, ensure judicial oversight of elections, and lift the national State of Emergency. He also pushed his young supporters to take to the streets until the regime was forced to heed reform demands.
After Mubarak stepped down in February, ElBaradei confirmed that he still intended to run for president. But in Sunday's interview he said he may withdraw if he finds the process to be not genuinely democratic.
“The red line for me is not to be part of a décor, but if the process is really democratic and genuine, represents the Egyptian people and conforms with my beliefs and conscience, I will be the first one to run,” said ElBaradei.
At least ten public figures have announced their intention to run for the presidency. No one has formally fielded their candidacy, as the laws regulating the presidential race have not yet been issued, but most have already started their campaigns, touring the country and speaking to the media.
ElBaradei denied recent reports that he had frozen his campaign, explaining that he refuses to tour the country and hold large conferences with the masses until his platform is finished and he has a clearer picture of where Egypt is headed.
“My priority now is to make sure that Egypt has changed, that we did not only remove Hosni Mubarak to clone or improve the same regime but that the regime is being changed,” ElBaradei said.

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