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Mohamed ElBaradei Hits Out at West's Support for Repressive Regimes

Exclusive: Ex-nuclear chief says west must rethink Middle East policy as speculation grows he may run for office in Egypt

Jack Shenker in Cairo

Mohamed ElBaradei with fellow worshippers outside the El-Hussein mosque in Cairo. (Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

Western governments risk creating a new generation of Islamist
extremists if they continue to support repressive regimes in the Middle East, the former head of the
UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has told the Guardian.

his first English-language interview since returning to Cairo in
February, the Nobel peace prize-winner said the strategy of supporting
authoritarian rulers in an effort to combat the threat of Islamic
extremism had been a failure, with potentially disastrous consequences.

is a need for re-evaluation ... the idea that the only alternative to
authoritarian regimes is [Osama] Bin Laden and co is a fake one, yet
continuation of current policies will make that prophecy come true," he
said. "I see increasing radicalisation in this area of the world, and I
understand the reason. People feel repressed by their own governments,
they feel unfairly treated by the outside world, they wake up in the
morning and who do they see - they see people being shot and killed, all
Muslims from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Darfur."

said he felt vindicated in his cautious approach while head of the
International Atomic Energy Authority. He revealed that all his reports
in the runup to the Iraq war were designed to be "immune from being
abused" by governments. "I would hope that the lessons of Iraq, both in
London and in the US, have started to sink in," he said.

there are dictators, but are you ready every time you want to get rid of
a dictator to sacrifice a million innocent civilians? All the
indications coming out of [the Chilcot inquiry] are that Iraq was not
really about weapons of mass destruction but rather about regime change,
and I keep asking the same question - where do you find this regime
change in international law? And if it is a violation of international
law, who is accountable for that?"

ElBaradei, who has emerged as a
potential challenger to the three-decade rule of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, said
western governments must withdraw the unstinting support for autocrats
who were seen to be a bulwark against extremism.

"Western policy
towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view. It
has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society
and empowering people, but rather it's been based on supporting
authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping."

67-year-old added: "If you bet on individuals, instead of the people,
you are going to fail. And western policy so far has been to bet on
individuals, individuals who are not supported by their people and who
are being discredited every day."

The popularity in the Middle
East of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Hezbollah leader,
Hassan Nasrallah, he said, should be seen as message to the west that
its "policy is not reaching out to the people. The policy should be: 'We
care about you, we care about your welfare, we care about your human

On his return to Egypt, ElBaradei was greeted at Cairo airport by more than 1,000
, despite a ban on political gatherings. He has not yet
announced whether he will stand in next year's elections against
Mubarak, a key US ally who has ruled the Arab world's largest country
for 28 years.

ElBaradei said western governments needed to open
their eyes to the realities of Egypt's "sham" democracy, or risk losing
all credibility in the battle against extremism.

"The west talks a
lot about elections in Iran, for example, but at least there were
elections - yet where are the elections in the Arab world? If the west
doesn't talk about that, then how can it have any credibility?

if you empower the liberals, if you empower the moderate socialists, if
you empower all factions of society, only then will extremists be

George Bush made the spread of democracy in the
Middle East the centrepiece of US foreign policy, but the Iraq
invasion largely discredited the initiative in the region. In a landmark speech in Cairo last June Barack Obama appeared
to back away from his predecessor's aspirations.

"America does
not presume to know what is best for everyone," Obama said. "No system
of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other."

speech was largely welcomed in the Arab world at the time as a retreat
from the neoconservative agenda, but some democracy activistsvoiced
concern that it heralded the US backing away from the cause of human
rights in the region.

Current Egyptian law effectively prohibits
independent candidates from getting their name on the ballot paper,
which has fuelled ElBaradei's demands for a "constitutional revolution"
to make the poll free and fair. Analysts believe Mubarak, who is 81 and
currently recovering from a gall bladder operation, is planning to
engineer a succession of power to his youngest son, Gamal.

said he was not afraid of intimidation by Egypt's vast security
apparatus, but revealed that several foreign governments had expressed
concern about his safety in the country, following recent reports of his
followers being arrested and tortured by police.

Speaking at his
home, he said: "I hear that from so many different governments, people
coming to me and saying 'you should be careful'. But I don't want to go
around with bodyguards ... people who are extremely poor and deprived are
coalescing around me in the streets saying 'we need change', and I want
to listen."

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