ElBaradei - AP
Egyptian pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of the UN nuclear watchdog agency and Egypt's reformist leader, talks during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011. Photo by AP
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Egypt's leadership is in "total chaos", political activist Mohamed ElBaradei said in a newspaper interview Friday, once again calling on President Hosni Mubarak to make way for a national unity government.

"I think total chaos reigns within the regime. It is like the Titanic. The rats are leaving the sinking ship," the Nobel peace prize winner and retired U.N. diplomat told Austrian paper Die Presse in an interview published on Friday.

"The army plays a central role. Until now it has been largely neutral but now the army has to side with the people. During the transition in Egypt we need the army to defend the early stages of democracy," he said.

Mubarak defied mass protests on Thursday and refused to resign. Die Presse did not say when it conducted the interview, which made no reference to Mubarak's televised statement on Thursday evening.

In his speech, Mubarak portrayed himself as a patriot overseeing an orderly transition until elections in September. He praised the young people who have stunned the Arab world with unprecedented demonstrations, offering constitutional change and a bigger role for Vice President Omar Suleiman.

ElBaradei, who has returned to Egypt after years abroad and now runs a liberal political movement, called for the creation of a three-member presidential council and a government of national unity including technocrats of undisputed credibility.

"Free and fair elections should be held after a one-year transition period," he said, by which time a new constitution could be drawn up," the Nobel peace prize laureate said.

ElBaradei scoffed at Mubarak's statement that he would transfer powers to his new deputy, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, in line with the constitution.

He continued, "the people on the street feel the same way about Suleiman as they feel about Mubarak. He is to them only a mirror image of Mubarak." ElBaradei said it was too soon to say whether he would run for president.

"My top priority is for Egypt to become a democracy in which social justice prevails. This is not a question of individuals, but rather of change of government. It is not a question of who leads the country, but how he leads the country."

He called on the United States and European leaders to come out clearly in favour of the Egyptian people "or else what is left of their credibility, especially the credibility of the Americans? If you want to invest in a new Egypt and a new Middle East, you have to make clear quickly that you stand on the side of the Egyptian people."

ElBaradei, who headed the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency until late 2009, voiced concerns about his own safety.

"I have no security here and I can hardly ask the government for security. You can't rule out that someone could think he was doing something good for the regime and the country by doing something to me. So of course that is a risk, but it is a risk worth taking," he said.