CAIRO — Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat and Egypt’s most prominent liberal, said Thursday he worked hard to convince Western powers of what he called the necessity of forcibly ousting President Mohammed Morsi, contending that the leader had bungled the country’s transition to an inclusive democracy.
ElBaradei also defended the widening arrests of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies and the shutdown of Islamist television networks that followed the removal of Morsi on Wednesday by Egypt’s generals.
“The security people obviously are worried — there was an earthquake and we have to make sure that the tremors are predicted and controlled,” he said. “They are taking some precautionary measures to avoid violence; well, this is something that I guess they have to do as a security measure.
“But nobody should be detained or arrested in anticipation unless there is a clear accusation, and it has to be investigated by the attorney general and settled in a court.”
ElBaradei, whose precise role in the interim government that is replacing Morsi’s is unclear, vowed to ensure that “everybody who is being rounded up or detained, it is by order of the attorney general — and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is no crime.”
In tandem with the military’s ouster of Morsi, judicial authorities replaced the attorney general he had appointed, reinstating the prosecutor installed by Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic president ousted in Egypt’s 2011 revolution.
The Mubarak appointee, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, spent years prosecuting Islamists. But ElBaradei said the generals had assured him this time would be different, because they intended to operate as an institution in a civilian democracy, with respect for due process.
“There is some concern about a few of them who got asked to appear before the attorney general,” he acknowledged. “I was told that there are a number of accusations and they need to be investigated.”
But he insisted military officials had told him that when they detained Morsi, “he was treated with dignity and respect.”
Security officials had told him the Islamist satellite networks that were shut down “have been calling for vengeance and murder and incitement to kill, so they have to shut them down for a while,” ElBaradei said, adding that in some stations “there were weapons.”
ElBaradei, in turn, had “emphasized to all the security authorities here that everything has to be done in due process,” he said. “I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy.”
On the day of the takeover, ElBaradei said, he had spoken at length with Secretary of State John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, to help convince them of the necessity of removing Morsi in order to restart Egypt’s transition to a democratic government.
He insisted that supporters of the military takeover were “sending a message of reconciliation and an inclusive approach” and that he believed the Muslim Brotherhood should be welcomed back to participate in parliamentary elections and the political process. Muslim Brotherhood officials have so far rejected any suggestion of working with what they called the “usurper authorities.”
With so many millions in the streets demanding Morsi’s exit and the president intransigent, ElBaradei argued, a military takeover was “the least painful option. We did not have a recall process. People ask for the recall process with their feet.”