CAIRO: Democracy is the only way to guarantee equitable economic and social rights for workers, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei told leaders of labor groups in a meeting Tuesday.
He urged them to join the National Association for Change (NAC), which he founded and is a member of, and to sign his petition of seven reform demands.
The meeting, the first in a series of public conferences with potential presidential candidates organized by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, was ElBaradei’s second public meeting since his return to Egypt last week.
"Democracy will produce an economic and social reform program that addresses the real needs of workers since they would form more than 50 percent of any majority in parliament and thus their voice will be heard," ElBaradei said.
"It isn’t important whether a company is owned by the government or the private sector, but whether or not there are mechanisms to ensure labor rights and public freedoms for workers to form groups that voice their demands," he added.
ElBaradei hailed workers for their clear vision and organization and said that five labor leaderships would participate at the next NAC meeting.
Workers urged ElBaradei to advocate economic and social rights rather than democracy and demanded that workers become the core of any future action for change instead of "the fake" political elite.
Others expressed concerns that being a liberal, ElBaradei would give up labor rights in favor of capitalism.
ElBaradei assured the workers that social and economic rights have been the core of his attention for the past 20 years.
"The regime wants to spark a social debate over education and health but ignores the core issue of democracy and public freedoms," he added.
He lobbied for the signatures of 23 million workers in Egypt on the reform petition that calls for constitutional changes governing presidential elections and terms and for the end of the state of emergency. This massive number of signatures would eradicate any legitimacy the current regime enjoys, he said.
ElBaradei said he is neither a presidential candidate nor will he make significant change on his own and encouraged everyone to participate in the campaign.
"The idea of one man effecting change implies the absence of a sense of responsibility among us; the National Association is the one that will bring change and everyone can participate through signatures," he said.
"We are now approaching one million signatures; if we can reach 10 million — more than those who voted in the presidential elections in 2005 — the regime will lose any legitimacy. But I expect we can reach three million soon," ElBaradei added.
He also pointed out that collective work is a key factor in the success of his campaign.
"We have to resort to unusual means to achieve our demands by going directly to the people and starting a non-violent civil disobedience," ElBaradei said.
"The upcoming parliamentary elections are the perfect moment to demonstrate this civil disobedience; if all political parties and independent candidates boycott the elections, the current regime will fall. And those who participate will be going against the national will," he added.
In response to questions regarding his long trips abroad and absence from street demonstrations, ElBaradei said that going to the street would be a final option and would take place only once.
"If we will descend to the street then we must be at least 250,000 — not a thousand or two — for the action to be effective and significant," he said.
"My traveling is to create support for the cause of change in Egypt and to ensure that peace in the Middle East will never be attainable if it isn’t a publicly approved peace through an elected government," ElBaradei added.