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By SARAH EL DEEB
Egypt‘s top reform leader said Sunday that the ruling military council has too much power but no experience governing, expressing the growing frustration of many a week after more than 20 Christians were killed when the military broke up their protest in Cairo with force.
“So far, the military council, and it had said that, doesn’t have the political experience but it has the authority with no experience. And we have a Cabinet that has the experience but no powers,” ElBaradei told a news conference. He proposed an alternative government with more authority as an immediate solution to the problem.
The violence last week was the worst since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. It stunned Egyptians, and shook their confidence in military council’s management of the country. Already critical of the council’s handling of the transitional period, pro-democracy activists are now calling for the council to step aside.
ElBaradei has been one of the most influential figures among the youth who rebelled against Mubarak’s 30 year rule. The 68-year old former diplomat and ex-head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog remains a favorite presidential candidate for many who see him as a man with a vision and international experience to direct Egypt’s transition toward democracy.
The violence a week ago began when thousands of Christians demonstrated outside the state television building, protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt. Army troops waded in, and armored personnel carriers barreled through the crowds. The violence killed 26 people, including at least 21 Christians, some crushed by vehicles or shot to death. State media said three soldiers were among the dead.
In the first official news conference after the violence, the military tried to exonerate itself, blaming the Christians and “hidden hands” for starting the violence, denying its troops shot any protesters or intentionally ran them over. Witnesses said soldiers started the melee. Videos showing soldiers beating and shooting into crowds and armored vehicles seeming to chase protesters cast doubt on the military’s account.
ElBaradei called for an independent investigation and appealed to the ruling council to hand over the prosecution and trial of suspects to the civil justice system. Currently, the military prosecution is carrying out the investigation.
“The council can’t be the adversary and the arbiter at the same time,” he said.
He also said the state TV must be investigated and held responsible because it was an “instigator” of violence and a “liar.”
State TV immediately blamed the Christian protesters for attacking the troops and a presenter urged “honorable” citizens to come down in defense of the military.
ElBaradei reserved some blame for Egypt’s chaos for those behind the uprising. He said the new youth groups are divided and need to look beyond “narrow self interest” to manage the transitional period.
“I don’t think we had in the past eight months the best management for the transitional period. I think that all failed to manage it in a better manner, whether, the military council, the government, or the revolutionaries,” he said.
He said he remains in consultation with the ruling council, mostly indirectly to offer advise and opinion about the road ahead.
“My message (to the council) is that we need to make sure that we restore security and that the economy is up and running, and to make sure that we have a transitional period that is like any other country based on proper democratic constitution and parliamentary and presidential election,” he said. “If we can do this, we will be a role model for the region.”
ElBaradei, however, said the council has been slow in instituting laws and regulations to gain trust of the people and the revolutionaries. For him, he said, it is better to extend the transitional period to ensure proper laws and foundations, than to cut it short for the sake of removing the military council from power.
He said he didn’t believe the military wants to retain power, and said in the post-transitional period, the military should not have a role in managing the country’s affairs.
“We will live with the transitional period for decades. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to manage the transitional period wisely. The transitional period can be managed wisely, if we delegate a government full authority and let it manage security and economy.”