This may peter out in smoke, but Muhammad ElBaradei's candidacy has the potential to turn into the first moment in which Egypt has had a plausible face for its opposition for a long time. It will shift the focus on the Mubarak regime, its fraudulent elections and its lack of legitimacy -- both at home and abroad. I am not surprised that opposition figures like Ayman Nour and the Muslim Brothers' Muhammad Habib seem negative in the story below; ElBaradei has much more gravitas and "presidentiability" than either. Things have just gotten a lot more interesting.
Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run
Nadia abou el-Magd, Foreign Correspondent
Last Updated: December 06. 2009 12:23AM UAE / December 5. 2009 8:23PM GMT
CAIRO // Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he would consider running for the Egyptian presidency in 2011, in statements published Friday, raising hopes among the country’s opposition. Mr ElBaradei, 67, who recently quit his position after 12 years as head of the IAEA, was expected to return to Egypt yesterday.
“I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president,” said Mr ElBaradei in a statement issued late Thursday, which has dominated the headlines of Egyptian opposition and independent dailies while being harshly criticised by the state-owned newspapers “ElBaradei’s storm,” read the headline of the Al Dostor opposition daily yesterday. “Hundreds of volunteers move from the internet to the street in support of ElBaradei”, read the headline of the independent daily Al Shorouk.
Mr ElBaradei emphasised that he did not seek this “senior post” for personal gain and he would decide to run “if the majority of Egyptians, with all their affiliations, agreed that this would be in the interest of the country ... in this critical stage in Egypt’s history”. But he said he wants “guarantees of fairness” in 2011 election. Mr ElBaradei set several conditions for running in the coming elections, which he said must be “under the full supervision of the judiciary... and in the presence of international observers from the United Nations... to ensure transparency”, which are sensitive issues for the regime.
He also called for a new constitution and “the erasing of all constitutional and legal obstacles that are limiting the right of the majority of Egyptians to run “otherwise those elections will lack the needed legitimacy and will contradict the essence of democracy which is the right of the people to choose who to represent them, and it will end in a Greek tragedy,” said Mr ElBaradei. Pro-government newspapers have criticised Mr ElBaradei as out of touch with the political reality of Egypt, and lacking real political experience.
“Imported president for Egypt,” read the headline of state-owned Al Ahram el-Messaei on Friday, along with a large front page cartoon portraying Mr ElBaradei as a foreigner. Mr ElBaradei retired last week from his post after spending three terms in office, beginning in 1997. He joined the UN in 1980, after serving in the Egyptian foreign service. He was born and graduated from law school in Egypt, then obtained a doctorate in international law at New York University School of Law in 1974.
Mr ElBaradei’s name was floated by some opposition forces and political parties here a few months ago as the issue of who will replace President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who has been in power since 1981, has resurfaced amid worries that his youngest son, Gamal, 45, might inherit power. The ruling National Democratic Party’s annual conference last month did not respond to peoples’ questions and concerns about whether President Mubarak will run again in the upcoming elections or whether his son will succeed him.
“’Never say ‘never’,” Mr ElBaradei told CNN on November 5 when asked about the possibility. “But there are clearly conditions. I will only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.’ Analysts say that Egyptians are yearning for a substantive move away from the current regime and are uninspired by the weak political opposition parties. “Egypt needs a popular leader, whose competence is not questionable, and who is free from any aura of corruption, and likely to receive the support of diverse, and conflicting, political forces and social groups. To many observers, Mr ElBaradei, the 2005 Noble Prize laureate, meets all these criterions,” said Nael Shama, a political researcher and columnist with Egypt Daily News.
However, Mr ElBaradei, and many other possible candidates, do not meet the rigid conditions spelled out in Article 76 of the constitution, which many believe was amended in 2007 to facilitate Gamal Mubarak’s takeover of power and to exclude potential rivals. It stipulates that only members of the upper levels of political parties who have been in their post for more than a year, and where their parties have existed for more than five years, can compete for the presidential post. Independents have to receive the approval of 250 members of parliament and local councils, which are all controlled by the ruling NDP.
Amendments to Article 88 of the constitution in 2007 removed judicial supervision of elections in favour of supervision by “an independent electoral commission” that would include some judges. Mr ElBaradei’s presidential bid has found support among members of the liberal Wafd party and other smaller parties as well as the pro-democracy, anti-inheritance of power, Kifaya movement. Ayman Nour, leader of al-Ghad party, had invited Mr ElBaradei to join his party to ensure he is able to run in elections. Mr Nour, 45, finished distant second to Mr Mubarak, when he ran against him in the first presidential elections four years ago.
However, Mr Nour said that Mr ElBaradei’s statement seems more like he wants to apologize for not running in the coming elections by setting conditions. “You run in elections and try to change the rules of the game,” Mr Nour told The National. Egypt’s Islamist politicans were critical of Mr ElBaradei’s announcement. “Dr Mohammed ElBaradei’s statement is like a bunch of roses thrown into a garbage pin,” said Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest opposition group, despite being technically banned.
Mr Habib said that he does not doubt Mr ElBaradei’s sincere intentions, but advised him “to keep himself away from the dirty political arena”, adding that Mr ElBaradei’s conditions do not even address the minimum of political reforms demanded by the opposition over the past 25 years. Other Islamists, like lawyer Mokhtar Nouh, said he would never vote for Mr ElBaradei because of his former job at IAEA.
“All those international agencies, despite being affiliated with the UN, serve the interests of the West, America and Israel,” he wrote in a recent column in the opposition daily Al Dostor. “None of those organisations moved to support an Arab or Islamic issue,” he added.