But he said a popular revolt in Egypt would be more difficult. "The Egyptian regime has always been particularly adept at playing the Islamist card. Tunisia didn't have a large Islamist opposition to frighten people with. There is a minority in Egypt that will stop at nothing to prevent Islamists from even having a chance to gain power. Also, Tunisia wasn't crucial to western security interests.
"Egypt, on the other hand, is the second largest recipient of US aid and is a pro-American pillar in the region. The US can afford to lose Tunisia. But Egypt is a different story. The Obama administration won't take too kindly to the idea of losing Egypt to the opposition, particularly when that opposition is likely to include the Muslim Brotherhood."
"This is an historic day in Egypt's history because we have started to say 'no'," said Mohammed Saleh, who had joined protesters Tuesday night. "I'll tell my children someday that I was standing here in Tahrir Square."
"These things need to be organised and planned properly," said the 68-year-old. "I would like to use the means available from within the system to effect change, such as the petition we are gathering demanding political reform. The government has to send a message to the people saying 'yes, we understand you', and of course, if things do not move then we will have to consider other options including protests and a general strike.
"I still hope that change will come in an orderly way and not through the Tunisian model," he added. "But if you keep closing the door to peaceful change then don't be surprised if the scenes we saw in Tunisia spread across the region."
SPIEGEL: Mr. ElBaradei, the opposition in Egypt has called for a nationwide "Day of Anger" on Tuesday. Do you support the protests?
ElBaradei: Yes, I do. I stand behind any peaceful demand for change. My call for reforms has gone unheard with the regime, which leaves taking to the streets as the only option. These are young, impatient people who are now demonstrating their resolve, and I very much hope that the protests will not get out of hand.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the protests will truly lead to change?
ElBaradei: They mark the beginning of an historic process. The Egyptians have recognized that they must take their fate into their own hands. For the first time in the country's recent history, they are really prepared to take to the streets. The culture of fear that the regime cultivated has been broken. There is no turning back now. Activists anticipate the biggest demonstrations in decades. These protests are a snowball that could turn into an avalanche.
SPIEGEL: Can he still prevent the protests from spreading?
ElBaradei: To do so, Mubarak would have to not stand for election and he would have to allow a democratic constitution that makes free elections possible. And naturally the martial law that has been imposed on the country for the last 29 years would have to be lifted. Without these concessions, the regime will not survive.
SPIEGEL: Israel fears a revolution in Egypt. Many people in Jerusalem believe that the Muslim Brotherhood would then come to power and declare war on the Jewish state.
ElBaradei: We should stop demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood. It is incorrect that our only choice is between oppression under Mubarak and the chaos of religious extremists. I have many differences with the Muslim Brotherhood. But they have not committed any acts of violence in five decades. They too want change. If we want democracy and freedom, we have to include them instead of marginalizing them.
Every time America is faced with this opportunity it manages to royally screw it up by sitting on it's hands. The Kurds, Lebanon, Iran, Tunisia, and now Egypt. Rather than undertaking nation destroying missions, we should be the first to reach out and encourage/help protestors and work behind the scenes to find a happy ending.
As we monitor the situation in Egypt, we urge all parties to refrain from using violence, and expect the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully. We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper. The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals.
More broadly, what is happening in the region reminds us that, as the President said in Cairo, we have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and free of corruption; and the freedom to live as you choose – these are human rights and we support them everywhere.
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)
I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)
Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
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