ElBaradei and his detractors

Mohammed ElBaradei -- now Egypt's vice-president for foreign affairs -- has taken to the Western and Arab media lately to defend the July 3 coup but also to make the case for negotiating with the Brotherhood and taking their fears and grievances at least partly into consideration. Here he is in the Washington Post: 

People are very angry. People are very angry with me because I am saying, “Let’s take time, let’s talk to them” [The Brotherhood]. The mood right now is, “Let’s crush them, let’s not talk to them.” That would last for one week, and then they would come back. It would be a disaster everywhere, inside Egypt and outside Egypt. We need to get a long-range view based on restoring order and based on national consensus and reconciliation. I hope the Brotherhood understands that time is not on their side. I’m holding the fort, but I can’t hold it for very long.

ElBaradei clearly does not have the support of the deep state (which would apparently like nothing better than an endless cycle of violence/repression) or of a considerable portion of the political and media elite, which sees this as its chance to keep Islamists out of politics for the foreseeable future. Witness the fresh onslaught of attacks on him. Here is a presenter on Tahrir TV (once a "revolutionary" channel, now apparently a mouthpiece for the intelligence and police) tearing up ElBaradei WPost interview on the air and berating him for "submitting to terrorism."

 

ElBaradei slams US handling of US crisis

'These Guys Are Thugs' - Interview by David Kenner | Foreign Policy

ElBaradei evokes Yogi Berra to describe U.S. policy on Egypt: It reminded him, he said, of "déjà vu, all over again" -- a throwback to when the United States would give the Mubarak regime a free pass on human rights as long as it protected Washington's regional interests. The opposition has compiled evidence that some of the judges overseeing the process were impostors and that Christians were turned away from polling stations.

I have a fantasy about ElBaradei becoming president and giving a public talking down to Obama about his handling of this crisis. I said fantasy.

Incidentally, however, this has become to the main excuse for US diplomats and officials to excuse their inaction in the last months (as all sorts of US aid keeps flowing to Egypt): their feelings are hurt that the opposition sometimes unreasonably blames them.

ElBaradei proposes alternative transition path

Mohamed ElBaradei seems to be picking up from the clear enthusiasm in Tahrir for an immediate transition to civilian rule and the refusal by many activists of a constitution drawn under military rule and offering a new initiative:

Egyptian dissident Mohammed ElBaradei on Friday proposed a new political timetable for the country, amid growing discontent over the military rulers’ handling of the transition from Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

The ex-UN nuclear watchdog chief called for the newly elected “parliament to elect an interim president immediately”, followed by the formation of a panel to draft a new constitution.

In a statement on his Facebook page, ElBaradei said the new charter “must define the political system and guarantee a civil state, rights and freedoms.”

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In Translation: Diaa Rashwan on Mohamed ElBaradei

Earlier this week, I penned my own reaction to Mohamed ElBaradei’s decision not to run for the presidency (here and here). I have discussed the matter with both pro-ElBaradei and anti-ElBaradei Egyptians: the former are split between those who back his decision and those who chide him for not providing an alternative, the latter say that ElBaradei was always clueless anyway.

I thought it would be interesting to showcase some of the more critical responses to ElBaradei’s decision from those who are not from his political family. Diaa Rashwan, is a political analyst and expert on Islamist groups who, post-revolution, took charge of Egypt’s most prestigious think-tank, the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (replacing the neoliberal scholar Abdel Moneim Said, a former member of the NDP’s Policies Committee who was said to be close to Gamal Mubarak and is the very ideological opposite of Rashwan).

Rashwan is from Upper Egypt, calls himself a Nasserist, was an early signatory of the anti-Mubarak Kifaya manifesto. He is said to be one of the few public intellectuals who is consulted by SCAF, and of course his position at the al-Ahram Center makes him something of a public official and, in some circles, a power-broker of influence. His trajectory in politics has been consistent with the nebulous ideology that is Nasserism, in that he is a corporatist, an anti-elitist, a nationalist, a believer in the centrality of the armed forces and the interventionist state, and that his membership of Kifaya may have made him part of the opposition to Mubarak but not a liberal – an important distinction. In the piece below, he takes ElBaradei’s decision to make a wider critique of what he terms the liberal elite in Egypt.

As every week, In Translation is brought to you by the fantastic Industry Arabic.

 

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Dr ElBaradei and the Theory of Perpetual Revolution

 

By Diaa Rashwan, al-Masri al-Youm, 16 January 2012

Dr ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from running for president of Egypt, and the remarks made in his statement justifying this decision give rise to many questions and observations not only related to Dr. ElBaradei’s stances, but also to the trajectory of the Egyptian revolution as a whole, especially in important segments of the young elite that contributed to its success from the beginning.

As concerns ElBaradei, the timing of his withdrawal and the contents of his statement indicate that he believes that the Egyptian revolution will not succeed in its first year and has become in need of a new revolution. This much seems clear given that he timed his withdrawal only ten days before the first anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution. Indeed, some youth coalitions are calling for this anniversary to become the launching point for this new revolution, whose only goal is summed up by their most prominent slogan – which is also the crux of ElBaradei’s statement – “toppling military rule.”

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Further thoughts on ElBaradei

I have an op-ed on Mohammed ElBaradei's decision not to contest the presidency in Egypt up at The National. I look aat how this fits with ElBaradei's trajectory since his return to Egypt in 2010. An excerpt:

When Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt after the end of his tenure at the International Atomic Energy Agency, he had a simple mission: tell truth to power. Despite a campaign to draft him to run against President Hosni Mubarak, he refused to participate in any election under the undemocratic conditions that prevailed. On Saturday, he chose to take the same path, citing the lack of a democratic framework in military-run Egypt.

In a statement to the press and a YouTube video put up by his campaign, he explained that as much as he has held high hopes for the revolution that overthrew Mr Mubarak, he cannot participate in elections held under the military-run transition process. "To achieve complete freedom, we must work outside the formal channels," Mr ElBaradei said, looking sad but nonetheless determined.

Mr ElBaradei's statement will be interpreted by his detractors as an ungraceful acknowledgement that his presidential campaign is going nowhere, and that an Egypt that overwhelmingly voted for Islamists is unlikely to elect a mild-mannered social democrat. Some might even accuse him of bad faith, using the excuse of the military's excesses and a haphazard transition to cover up for the poor political prospects of Egyptian liberals like himself.

Even so, the moment is reminiscent of how, in 2010, he had shattered a taboo. Back then, he was almost alone among Egypt's establishment grandees to dare criticise Mr Mubarak. By preferring to launch a national campaign for change rather than compete against the deposed president in a rigged system, he refused to legitimise the regime and was one of several factors that contributed to the country being ripe for an uprising. And back then, of course, that worked - even if Mr ElBaradei had never advocated such an uprising.

There is now talk of ElBaradei launching a political party or some kind of movement (or perhaps just doing more with his existing National Coalition for Change). There are certainly a lot of people who feel that while his critique of the transition may be valid, he has not been clear on what the alternative is.

ElBaradei not to run for president

Mohamed ElBaradei has just declared that he will not run for the presidency. From Reuters:

CAIRO Jan 14 (Reuters) - Mohamed ElBaradei pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency on Saturday, saying "the previous regime" was still running the country which has been without a head of state since Hosni Mubarak was deposed last year.

"My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework," the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

There have been several reasons cited, besides the whole "democratic framework" business. Aside from the manner in which SCAF has run things, ElBaradei is also said to oppose SCAF's desire to rapidly draft a new constitution before the presidential elections are held — a step criticized for being against the agreed transition order. The question now is whether the opinions of anyone but SCAF and the Muslim Brothers matter.

ElBaradei has been a lackluster political presence for the last six months, with many of his erstwhile supporters believing his political career was over, largely because of his own lack of energy. Most believed he stood little chance in an election.

Nonetheless, ElBaradei's announcement may have an impact on mainstream views of the Egyptian revolution thus far. His charge that the Mubarak regime is still in place should fan the flames of those who want a second revolution on January 25, and counters the Muslim Brothers' narrative that one must go on with the transition through parliament until a handover of power to a new president. It also encourages the narrative of a dastardly MB-military alliance against a genuine democratic transformation of the country (further evidence of that would be MB assurances of immunity to the SCAF generals — not necessarily a bad compromise, but in this context quite damaging to the MB).

The big question may be what's next: if he's not running for the presidency, is ElBaradei willing to take the lead in the movement against the current transition, including further protests against the SCAF? That's not clear just yet, and somehow I doubt that a man who has shown aversion to street protests will take that route.

Update: Here is ElBaradei's statement, published by al-Tahrir newspaper today [Ar]. And here's an English translation.

Update 2: Here's ElBaradei's video statement.

Marzouki = ElBaradei?

Moncef MarzoukiMohamed ElBaradei
David Ignatius' WaPo column yesterday, written from Cairo, highlights two paths for Egypt's transition: the quick passage to a new presidency, or a slower process in which a strong prime minister launches state reforms while a constitution is hammered out around a new political consensus. Most Egyptian presidential candidates, and political parties, have thuis far voiced a preference for option number one, chiefly because it guarantees the quickest transition back to civilian rule. Mohamed ElBaradei, almost alone, has insisted you cannot have a presidential election before a new constitution is written and that the process must take place over a longer period of time to be taken seriously:
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Review of ElBaradei's "The Age of Deception"

I must have been traveling when it came out, but I have a  review of Mohammed ElBaradei's new book, The Age of Deception, out in The National. The book is entirely about his time at the IAEA, so don't look for commentary on Egyptian politics here, but it does tell us about the man's character. That character has undergone several waves of assassination, from the propaganda of the Mubarak-controlled press in 2010 to those who see ElBaradei as some kind of Trojan horse for secularism post-revolution. Consider the lawyer who is currently trying to strip him of his Egyptian nationality (alongside Gamal Mubarak):

Meanwhile the lawsuit accuses ElBaradei of turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons during his term as IAEA director. “ElBaradei had a stake in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which makes him unworthy of carrying Egyptian nationality”, it said.

ElBaradei's book is not the most riveting read — at the end of the day, it's a company man's diary — but it certainly puts to rest any notion that ElBaradei did not try to prevent (within his abilities as IAEA chief) the invasion of Iraq and the sexing up of its WMD dossier, or try to broker a negotiated outcome to the Iranian nuclear issue. From the review:

"Early on, I often got the feeling that the Arab world - and many westerners - expected me, as an Egyptian Arab and a Muslim, to show bias in favour of Iraq. Of course, I also heard that I was being tough on Iraq to prove my lack of bias. My only bias was that of an international civil servant: an insistence on independence, professionalism and treating all parties with equal respect."
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State paper slanders ElBaradei

Regular readers of the blog know I am mildly obsessed with Egyptian state media at the moment--largely because I'm convinced it has a pivotal role to play in whether a real democratic transition takes place here or not. 

I've written about the role state media played in distorting the revolution and about the calls for change at state newspaper conglomerate Al Ahram after Mubarak's resignation. When I visited the State Radio and TV building last week I also found a lively protest there--behind the barbed wire and lines of soldiers protecting this very strategic asset, employees had plastered the building in signs and were calling for the resignation of senior officials.

Anas Al Fikki, the Minister of Information and head of state TV and radio lost his job when the Ministry itself was abolished (although this development isn't as promising at it sounds--the new head of state TV and radio has been given ministerial powers). 

But incredibly, almost none of the heads of state media have been fired. And that's why things are not really changing, as the indefatigable Zeinobia proves, pointing to articles in Al Masaa' newspaper and the state-owned flagship Al Ahram which claim that the attack on Mohamed ElBaradei during the referendum happened (according to anonymous eye-witnesses) because "he tried to bribe voters to vote no" and to cut in line. 

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Tunisia, Egypt and ElBaradei

In the Guardian, my friend Jack Shenker talks to Mohamed ElBaradei about the risks of a Tunisia-like uprising in Egypt — which ElBaradei does not want:

"What has transpired in Tunisia is no surprise and should be very instructive both for the political elite in Egypt and those in the west that back dictatorships," ElBaradei told the Guardian. "Suppression does not equal stability, and anybody who thinks that the existence of authoritarian regimes is the best way to maintain calm is deluding themselves."

The Nobel peace prize winner repeated his call for the Egyptian government to implement urgent political reforms, claiming that the citizens of the Arab world's largest nation were "yearning desperately for economic and social change" and that without drastic improvements, a "Tunisia-style explosion" in Egypt would be unavoidable. Nearly half of the country's 80 million citizens live on less than £1.25 a day, and despite record GDP growth the majority of the population has become poorer in real terms over the past 20 years.

Yet on the heels of six reported incidents of self-immolation and large anti-government demonstrations planned for next week, ElBaradei refused to throw his weight behind street-level protests, instead expressing concern at the "general state of instability" engulfing the country.

"These things need to be organised and planned properly," said the 68-year-old. "I  would like to use the means available from within the system to effect change, such as the petition we are gathering demanding political reform. The government has to send a message to the people saying 'yes, we understand you', and of course, if things do not move then we will have to consider other options including protests and a general strike.

"I still hope that change will come in an orderly way and not through the Tunisian model," he added. "But if you keep closing the door to peaceful change then don't be surprised if the scenes we saw in Tunisia spread across the region."

Grassroots activists accused ElBaradei of timidity. "From day one ElBaradei has proved himself not to be a man of the street," said Hossam El-Hamalawy, a prominent journalist and blogger. "He comes from a diplomatic background and the kind of change he wants is peaceful and gradual, something that will not shake the foundations of the establishment. But unfortunately for him the Egyptian people have far more radical demands than the ones he is articulating: this is not just about creating a clean parliament and a fair presidency, it's about the daily bread and butter of the Egyptian people."

I'm not surprised this is ElBaradei's position. This has been most Muslim Brotherhood leaders' position for a while too, as well as secular parties like the Wafd. There is widespread fear, as I touched upon in my op-ed yesterday, that an Egyptian uprising would awaken some terrible impulses that lie not far beneath the surface of Egyptian society: sectarianism, class revanchisme, and populism. Of course the regime is largely to blame for these potential outcomes, and thus far has not showed any sign of having a political (as opposed to economic) response to what's happened in Tunisia. But this debate — change from within vs. revolutionary change — is likely to intensify in the next few months, as we get closer to September presidential race.

Links 3 November 2010

  • And he's already calling for a boycott!
    Since there aren't many links today, one might pause on this news, which officially shows what everyone expected anyway. I think it's a little strange of ElBaradei to come out with such a statement before the campaign to collect signatures in his favor is over, and without a real attempt by that campaign to get him on the ballot by judicial appeal or by trying to get the people who signed the petition to get out onto the street. This might simply be another sign of a badly-run campaign, or simply that ElBaradei himself is getting tired of the whole thing and never had the energy in him to campaign seriously. Another possibility seems more likely for now: that this was a slip, and that the ElBaradei factor in 2011 is still an unknown. But it's got to be pretty dispiriting for his supporters to have their leader not stay on message. Even if all he can do is launch a boycott campaign next year, ElBaradei has got to show more enthusiasm, nerve and daring-do about it.
  • English website's Egypt election page
  • Bishara says in Algiers that Arab states run by "cartels".

Dar al-Hilal and ElBaradei's shoes

Today I went to Dar al-Hilal, in the Mounira district of central Cairo. It's a rather grand building that houses the publishing houses that puts out, among other things, al-Mussawar magazine. The picture above shows a stained glass window at the end of a long corridor where the fairly drab and depressing offices of the magazine are.

Al-Mussawar was once a great publication in the monarchy and Nasser eras, featuring fantastic photography, cartoons and articles. I have a small collection of old issues of al-Mussawar, some of which I found in Morocco. For instance, the one below dates from a few months before the October 1956 Suez Crisis and talks about war preparedness along the Suez Canal. 

 I can't judge its editorial quality today — I almost never read it. But I did pick up the last issue, part of new wave of attacks on ElBaradei, which had the cover below, with the headline: "ElBaradei Pasha: Enemy of the Workers and Peasants." I spoke to Hamdi Rizk, al-Mussawar's editor about it. Rizk is an old-school populist-nationalist, critical of ElBaradei for essentially being a "khawaga" and a "pacha" with no knowledge of "people on the street." It's a critique I've heard from ordinary people and has much more resonance than the previous attacks focusing on ElBaradei's alleged dual nationality. Rizk pointed to ElBaradei's shoes on the cover, saying they are Clark's, worth more than the monthly salary of an average Egyptian. Of course, I'm sure Mubarak and Gamal wear similarly expensive footwear, not shib-shib they picked up up in Sayyeda. I guess this is the equivalent of the perennial American debate about presidential candidates' expensive haircuts.

Rizk was affable enough — not the terrible monster I'd imagined reading his violent attacks on the Muslim Brothers (his primary field of expertise alongside Sudan) over the years in al-Masri al-Youm, where he pens a column. What struck me is that, as much as he might be accused of engaging in ElBaradei-bashing on behalf of the Mubarak regime, he also represents something real.

Call it the populist false consciousness of a media that engages in relentless nationalist manipulation with occasional bouts of paranoid schizophrenia about the foreign conspiracy against the pure white hearts of the Egyptian people.

Or call it self-interest of the administrative class that has underpinned the regime for decades, the kind that obsesses with salary scales, bonuses, club memberships and safeguarding idea of state control over society and economy in an age of globalization.  

Or perhaps even call it a truly representative sample of a part of public opinion that resents (as Rizk does) Gamal's team of economic reformists as much as it resents ElBaradei — these "khawagized" Egyptians who "think Egypt can be run from laptops" (Rizk's phrase). Maybe Rizk is earnest about his opinions, and thinks he's doing a public good by attacking ElBaradei. He makes no secret of his love for Mubarak and hope he will run again next year. He wants the next president to be like Nasser and Mubarak, to "come from the streets."

Maybe we need to start thinking about this phenomenon as Egypt's equivalent to the Tea Party movement, the manifestation of resentment against sinking purchasing power, culture wars with the elites, and a widening chasm of inequality.

P.S. I forgot to mention that the new issue of al-Mussawar's editorial is by Mr. Egypt himself, Zahi Hawass. He also attacks ElBaradei, with the headline: "I am the most famous person in Egypt" in answer to ElBaradei's similar recent statement to Austrian media. Here's a PDF scan.

Some major ElBaradei stories

I don't have time to go into details here, but I wanted to flag some important stories on Mohamed ElBaradei and Egypt's future that appeared yesterday.

First, Jack Shenker has an interview and profile in the Guardian. Jack writes:

The Guardian's interview with Mohamed ElBaradei was published in three news and feature stories across a double-page spread today; if you haven't already seen the articles then they're available here:




More interestingly for those engaged in Egyptian and Middle Eastern political analysis, a full transcript of the interview is now up online. It includes lots of material that didn't make it into the news stories, and is available here.
How good of him to make the full transcript available — it's worth reading. I like this bit:
What I want to do at this stage is call for a constitutional revolution. I’m trying to break every political rule of the game, and I think it’s much more effective not to focus on individuals. And wrongly or rightly, I think everyone is doing what they think is good for the country. That’s my message now: I do not want to reopen the past, we have too much on our hands for the future. So I’m discussing policies, not individuals; I can criticise policies, but I’m not questioning the intentions or actions of individuals. And I think at this stage, that’s the right way to do it. I said from day one that I want to coalesce the Egyptian people around one great idea, which is their salvation – a move from authoritarianism to democracy.
The New Yorker also has a "Letter from Cairo" by Joshua Hammer that gives an overview of ElBaradei's challenge to Mubarak, and the prospect of a Gamal presidency. It's subscription only, but you can get an abstract here. I read the full piece, it has a good quote from Saad Eddin Ibrahim describing Gamal as a "solid C student" when he taught him at AUC, but does not offer much new.
More later, now I have to catch a train.

 

Cook on ElBaradei

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations weighs in on the ElBaradei phenomenon in the house mag. The first part looks at what ElBaradei has done so far and the dilemma he presents the Mubarak regime, and then Cook tackles the potential for real change ElBaradei represents and how the US should react:

But it has become clear that although it continues to try to cut ElBaradei down to size, the regime recognizes the difficulties of completely marginalizing him. In fact, Mubarak and his advisers may let ElBaradei agitate, organize, and even run for president. An ElBaradei candidacy could actually help the regime in one important way: without being totally disingenuous, Mubarak and others in government could use the existence of a credible presidential contender as a demonstration of Egypt’s political reforms.

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ElBaradei fan art

 

Looking through the Facebook group and various websites, I noticed that there is quite a collection of ElBaradei groupie art out there. Here's a gallery.

In the meantime, here are the first signs of harassment and beatings of ElBaradei supporters:

Attorney General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud ordered the launch of an investigation into an incident of torture that allegedly took place at State Security headquarters in Fayoum where a physiotherapist says he was beaten, tortured and stripped of his clothes after helping to organize activities in support of ElBaradei running for the presidency.

Update: ElBaradei condemned the treatment of his supporter.

Babaradei

Can he bring change to Celesteville?

Babar's is an ideal world, a kind of upper-middle-class French Utopia whose capital is literally a heavenly city—as its name, Celesteville, indicates. Its inhabitants have various occupations, but they only work in the mornings: the afternoons are devoted to sports and recreation, and to the arts. They live in identical grass-roofed cottages, except for Babar and the Old Lady, who have larger houses at the top of a hill, near public buildings that include a school, a library, a sports complex, and a theater. During the over seventy years since the founding of Celesteville the city has grown considerably: it now includes substantial mansions, skyscrapers, and a large art museum.

Heroes, or a riff on recent Egypt news

So Mubarak had a gall bladder operation, or at least some sort of operation, and everything is fine and dandy —  well aside from an 81-year-old undergoing an operation is never quite routine. We'll spare you the indignation that he went abroad, to the Krauts of all people (second operation in Germany), to carry out a supposedly routine operation. It's not a disparaging attitude towards the fine local military hospitals, it's concern about whether he can trust his doctor not to have a sudden attack of patriotism.

The NYT had this amusing headline: Egyptian Leader’s Surgery in the News Is News Itself. But I don't think the announcement about the operation is so significant. More important are the signs of lassitude about the eternal president. I was quite amused by an invitation to a Facebook group called مبارك مات (Mubarak is Dead) which featured the fantastic following song:

(Get the song here.)

To me, this illustrates how tiresome this waiting — illustrated by some recent Egyptian films like Heliopolis — is becoming. Egypt is already in the post-Mubarak era, it's just waiting for the presidency to catch up. The euphoria over ElBaradei, frenzy every time some rumor of illness goes around, unwillingness to make a clean break with the rhetoric of traditional policies (but in fact carrying out new ones, as in Gaza, or the economy) are all symptomatic of this in-between-ness. To use that annoying word, Egypt needs closure.

Battle of the Bands: Hosni vs. The Doc

Ahead of his operation, Hosni got a little catty in answer to a question about ElBaradei:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says Egypt does not consider his rival, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency as a national hero.

But Mubarak said Mohamed ElBaradei can challenge him for president, as long as he abides by the rules _ which make it difficult for a candidate to qualify.

The state-run Al-Gomhuria newspaper, in its early Friday edition, quoted Mubarak answering a question in Berlin about ElBaradei's hero status among some Egyptians. "Egypt does not need a national hero, because the whole people are heroes," Mubarak said.

Which makes me think, I have the anthems for both presidential campaigns next year (Arabist is an equal opportunity satirist).

For the NDP's "Give Boss Hozz a sixth term" campaign:

Or is Doc B the one for you? Because this song takes it to a new level of awesome: