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Maajid Nawaz, founder and executive director of the London think tank Quilliam, spent four years in Egyptian prison for his membership in the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he later renounced. During his time in prison, he met and befriended a number of prominent imprisoned Islamists and secular, pro-democracy activists. Metro spoke with Nawaz in London about the commotion in Egypt.
Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 30 years. How are the protests happening now?
The revolt in Tunisia provided some impetus, but discontent has been growing for a long time. The first organized protest happened while I was in prison. People are very frustrated with this man.
How involved is the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood have been conspicuous by their absence. That’s a good move on their part. Mubarak has stayed in power by saying to people in Egypt and abroad: “It’s either me or extremism.” The West has believed that Islamic extremists are the only opposition to autocratic rulers. Now the world is seeing that there’s a real democratic alternative in Egypt.
Former IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) head Mohamad ElBaradei, who has previously announced that he was running for president, has asked Mubarak to quit. How powerful is he in Egypt?
He doesn’t have a movement background, so he doesn’t have a network of people working on his behalf. Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in the 2005 election, has more popular support. ElBaradei is essentially a figurehead.
Will protesters be satisfied with anything less than Mubarak’s resignation?
No. Mubarak is on his way out. But Omar Suleiman, his new vice president, is a responsible man. When Mubarak resigns, Suleiman can continue as a caretaker president until elections are held. Given the current situation, it’s in Suleiman’s interest to work with the Egyptian people.