The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged elbaradei
Egypt's Leaderless Revolution

This piece by David and Marina Ottaway in the Cairo Review is not about Mohamed ElBaradei per se, even if it is illustrated with a picture of him, but delivers this assessment of his failings:

Mohamed ElBaradei, who emerged at various time as the great hope of Egyptian secularists, stands out as an apt symbol of the old elite’s political failings. He refused to run for president on the ground that Egypt was insufficiently democratic, but did little to make it more democratic. Nor did he seem upset when his supporters tried unsuccessfully to convince the military to name him president, skipping elections. He launched the Destour Party but also did little to build it into a viable force. After the July 2013 military takeover, he readily accepted an appointment as El-Sisi’s vice president. But ElBaradei resigned six weeks later, after the military dispersed pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo at a high cost in lives—Human Rights Watch reports that at least 817 were killed—apparently appalled by the violence that had been predictable ever since his appointment. Whatever ElBaradei’s commitment to democracy in theory, he was never ready to lead secularists in the hard struggle to make it a reality and was all too ready to accept unelected high positions in government.

Worth reading in full, as a an argument that the dominant position of the Islamists and failure of leadership all-around doomed the Egyptian revolution, although I think it has a few blind spots – such as ascribing too much intent to what those who rose up against Mubarak in 2011 wanted. 

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.”

A president would then be elected “whose powers are defined by the new constitution” followed by elections for a new parliament, he said.

“After a year of fumbling, it is time to agree on correcting the course,” he said.

Earlier this month, ElBaradei announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, saying he could not run because there is still no real democracy.

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.”

A president would then be elected “whose powers are defined by the new constitution” followed by elections for a new parliament, he said.

“After a year of fumbling, it is time to agree on correcting the course,” he said.
>Earlier this month, ElBaradei announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, saying he could not run because there is still no real democracy.

Here’s ElBaradei’s own shorthand of this plan, from his Twitter account:

The thing is, many will now wonder why he did not announce this initiative at the same time he made his announcement about withdrawing from the presidential race. ElBaradei left the scene without a clear explanation of what his alternative plan was, and this will seem opportunistic to some, especially when he did not come to Tahrir. I’ve met people who would be his natural supporters who said they’d like to punch him in the face for wasting their time for the past year – which I think is an ungenerous attitude considering ElBaradei was a crucial part of the things that made the revolution possible.

The next question will be who in parliament would back this initiative, and who in Tahrir Square among the activist groups who want an immediate transition will accept this proposal. The Freedom and Justice Party continues to be adamant about following SCAF’s transition plan, but there are signs of stress, such as this tweet today from Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater condemning SCAF’s reported adoption of a new law on al-Azhar without parliament as “a mistake of SCAF and al-Azhar”:

@khairatAlshater: لو صح إعتماد المجلس العسكري لقانون الأزهر فإن هذا يعد خطئا فادحا من المجلس و من مشيخة الأزهر على السواء - يتبع

Other parties are more uncertain. I’ve heard Free Egyptians Party officials also back the SCAF schedule, and I assume the MB’s allies are in favor. Salafi leaders are divided on this, but the al-Nour Party has not made its position clear. Things could change, but despite the large turnout in Tahrir, the many anti-SCAF chants and posters, it’s not clear how exactly that might unfold. Proposals for new elections are also likely to be unpopular with newly elected MPs. But, as I’ve written before, the creation of a transitional mini-constitution and a new president, followed by a two-year period to draft a lasting new constitution, might be a better approach.

Bottom line: There is a desire for a constitutional drafting process without SCAF oversight, that much is clear from the slogans and posters in the celebrations of the first anniversary of the uprising on Wednesday and today’s massive turnout in Tahrir (and presumably elsewhere) on that theme (although the square presumably also has plenty of people who don’t see things the same way). ElBaradei’s proposal offers a plan to do just that. But is it something that, today, is politically feasible? Too soon to tell – the “no constitution under military rule” movement will need support from political parties and the public.

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.



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.”

The idea that the revolution has failed and is in need of a new revolution seems to be a premature and hasty conclusion that Dr ElBaradei and segments of the coalition youth have been drawing since the first two months of the revolution. In this, they rely on their own vision of success and failure, which is based on two main notions: the first is that the presence of the army in any transition formula during the revolution is incompatible with, or even inimical to democracy and the revolution, and represents a return of despotic military rule. The second notion is that the essence of the revolution is the mass movement constantly present in the street – and in Tahrir Square especially and exclusively – which aims to defend the revolution and drive it forward. On the basis of this vision and its two main notions, ElBaradei and those who have taken up his cause have been on a clear course from the beginning. The tenor of this is that the mere continuation of the SCAF in the position of running the country during the transitional period, as well as the major mistakes it committed in this role, render it incompatible with the main revolution. Moreover, it means that the SCAF has taken the place of Mubarak in a modified form, and that the country is in need of a new revolution to “topple military rule.”

During the past months, as the actions of both ElBaradei and segments of the revolution coalitions were in the grip of this idea and slogan, it was notable that ElBaradei did not personally make any effort to participate in the new post-revolution experiment in party politics, and preferred to remain an individual symbol rather than transform himself into the leader of one of the party institutions political theory holds to be the entire basis of modern democratic systems. However, the coalitions did not do this: they clung to a vision itself contrary to the one ElBaradei was operating on the basis of, as the majority of them steered clear of party activity, preferring to maintain their elitist coalitions that were founded after the revolution or a short while beforehand. To shun organized political involvement in a democratic process, the essence of which is establishing political parties, and then to shun parliamentary elections – although both of these practices are certified mechanisms in an institutionalized democracy – seems extremely contrary to the public discourse of ElBaradei and his allies in some revolution coalitions, who are constantly calling for a new, post-revolution, democratic political system to be established.

In the discourse and practice of ElBaradei and the coalitions close to him, democracy has come to seem like elite groups exercising their right to “veto” what they believe to be an error or a deviation in the Military Council’s conduct. At the same time, they do not make a real attempt to communicate with the general public, organize their ranks in party and union organizations, or promote democratic values among them and encourage them to participate in building new state institutions – most importantly, local representative councils.

The situation has become more complicated as far as ElBaradei and his associates are concerned, since despite the Military Council’s mistakes, it managed to hold the first free People’s Assembly elections after the revolution, and influential sectors of the political forces in the country have hastened to organize themselves in political parties and blocs. They have participated in these elections, and spurred nearly 60% of Egyptians to participate in them as well. They have nearly finished forming the first democratic parliament in the revolution’s new political system. It has seemed both noteworthy and paradoxical that the main political bloc should be drawn from the Islamists, which has always been classified as hostile to the democratic system, or at least not fond of it. At the same time, ElBaradei and his associates kept their constant place at the margins of the new experiment, despite the fact they have always been classified as democrats or liberals.

ElBaradei’s position, his statement, and his calls to launch a new revolution on the anniversary of the January Revolution appear to be another dangerous paradox in the vision and actions of those who believe they are closest to the democratic school. The concept of an enlightened vanguard, in its liberal or leftist understanding, still has a hold on them as they face a broad public that seems to them to be unenlightened or unable to defend their interests. It has not caught their attention that nearly two-thirds of Egyptians participated enthusiastically in People’s Assembly elections and that most of them – according to both personal impressions and scientific opinion polls – want to stay the course of the transitional period. They also agree on building a new political order based on the current course, and want power handed over to an elected civilian authority.

ElBaradei and his associates believe that a widely organized operation of deceit and repression plotted by those in charge of the country prodded Egyptians into participating in the new democratic process – which, in their perspective, is counter to the interests of these Egyptians. This solidifies their conviction that their vanguard role must continue by causing the people to rise up and encouraging them to launch a new revolution on the anniversary of their original revolution. Thus, the timing of ElBaradei’s withdrawal and the content of his statement are in complete harmony with this vision of a vanguard deserted by the masses. It is now trying to get them back by all possible means, so they do not stray far from them down other paths.

The core of this vision’s erroneousness – whose advocates grow more isolated every day – is its supposition that peoples by their very nature are revolutionary or always want to use revolutionary activity to achieve and defend their interests and their aims. In reality, there is no people in a constant state of revolution – except in exceptional cases, most prominently, foreign occupation. Peoples, in general, desire a dignified, free, stable existence. They rise up when their circumstances become straitened in order to change their situation, then they go back to their true, stability-seeking nature. This error is not new in the history of peoples or revolutions in the world, as every revolution has been accompanied by a wing or current that believes the revolution needs to carry on through popular movements in the streets, the workplace and places of assembly, and that its success is conditional on the duration and geographical extent of the ongoing peoples’ revolution.

In all these revolutions, this vision and its advocates decline in numbers and influence, while at the same time their revolutionary ideas become more vehement and radical. Meanwhile, political and party forces involved in the process of building new state institutions see their influence and impact in society spread through the mechanisms of democratic institutions. As a result, the revolution ends up turning into a state. And at the margins of this state, there remain sectors of the vanguard elite that believe in continual, permanent revolution, and they still try to provoke the masses to revolt.


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:

I visited Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, the two leading political figures. Both agreed that the military rulers must be replaced soon by civilians, but they differed sharply about priorities.

“The situation is 100 percent messy, going from bad to worse,” says ElBaradei. “People thought this revolution was about freedom and basic needs, but they haven’t seen anything yet of either.” The army has the power, but “they have no clue how to run the country.”

ElBaradei volunteers to serve as prime minister for the broad coalition government he hopes will emerge from elections: It could recreate the unity of the Tahrir revolution, he argues. The key is to gain enough time and stability to write a careful constitution that guarantees basic freedoms and keeps Egypt a “civil” state: “Democracy is not instant coffee,” says the former Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Moussa wants to move more quickly — to a presidential election by mid-2012, a few months after the new parliament is seated. He is already the leading presidential candidate, and he’s running a populist campaign that tries to offer something for every constituency. He sides with the Muslim Brotherhood — and against El Baradei — in favoring a quick constitution, without a bill of rights, that retains the ambiguous Article 2 endorsing Islamic sharia law as the main source of legislation, but also affirming minority rights.

“This is an uphill drive, but it should start right away,” says the former foreign minister.

“Make haste slowly,” advises the old Latin proverb, and that seems a good recipe for Egypt. A strong prime minister can pull the country together and get it moving again, while the country writes a good constitution. A quickie constitution that permanently enfranchises the political powers of the moment could be a disastrous mistake.

Good of Ignatius to give his take. ElBaradei's idea of being a strong PM under some new kind of arrangement with the SCAF was rumored last month, soon after the Maspero massacre of October 9. Negotiations may have taken place between ElBaradei and SCAF, and presumably either they couldn't come to an agreement over the terms. ElBaradei has proposed, back in February, a civilian-led transition council that might include one member of the military. This would be an adapted version of the same, with a strong PM addressing major reforms and the re-establishing of the police while politicians would presumably focus on the constitution and perhaps propose new legislation.

ElBaradei's take reminds of the Tunisian former dissident Moncef Marzouki, who surprised many in last month's election when his party, the CPR, came second after Ennahda. Marzouki was not known to be backed by millionaires or to have a major grassroots organization, although CPR had an established underground network of activists. Marzouki is one of the few major politicians in Tunisia to have refused to sign the "pact" that would limit the transition and constitution-writing period to one year. Instead, he wants a strong government that can begin to undertake transitional reforms, include of the judicial system and the police, and a South Africa-style truth adn reconciliation commission. He highlighted this in an excellent Mediapart interview I flagged the other day:

Moncef Marzouki, où en êtes-vous des négociations pour la formation du gouvernement d'union nationale ?

Il y a trois dossiers sur lesquels il faut avancer. Le premier, c'est la nature des réformes que doit conduire le prochain gouvernement. Pour le CPR, ces réformes doivent être réelles, structurelles et concrètes. Il y a deux types de réformes, celles urgentes, qui concernent la police et la justice, et le dossier des martyrs et des blessés de la révolution. Ce sont des dossiers sensibles du point de vue de la psyché collective.

Il y a ensuite les réformes de structure. Le Congrès pour la république appelle à la tenue d'états généraux, du chômage, de l'éducation, de la culture, du système judiciaire, sécuritaire, des relations extérieures, de l'énergie. Pour nous, ce concept d'états généraux signifie que les partis confrontent leurs programmes avec des spécialistes de ces questions, ainsi que des représentants de la société civile. Au bout de trente jours, pour que les débats ne s'éternisent pas, il faut que l'on mette en place les grands axes des réformes de structure. De cette manière, nous pourrons à la fois établir des réformes d'urgence et de structure, et notamment sur la question centrale du chômage. La dictature a détruit pratiquement tous les systèmes, éducatifs, de santé, etc.

Le second dossier, c'est l'élaboration d'une sorte de petite constitution, en attendant la grande. Cela nous prendra au moins une année, voire une année et demie pour se mettre d'accord sur les bases, quel type de régime, etc. En attendant, il faut une répartition claire des pouvoirs entre le président de la République, le président de la constituante et le premier ministre, de façon que le pays soit gouverné presque comme un triumvirat.

Une fois que nous serons d'accord sur les réformes et la répartition des pouvoirs, il faudra parler de celle des responsabilités ministérielles. Ce, en fonction des scores obtenus par les partis et en fonction d'une règle évidente – l'homme ou la femme qu'il faut, à la place qu'il faut – de manière que ce gouvernement soit homogène, efficace et réponde aux grandes attentes du pays. Nous sommes actuellement en train de débattre sur ces trois niveaux.

To summarize from the French, Marzouki wants three major axes for government policy:

  1. Two types of reforms need to be considered: urgent reforms that have psychological importance, such as the future of the police, the judicial system, and compensation for the martyrs of the revolution; and long-term policy on the major structural issues affecting the country: unemployment, economic growth, social justice, etc. He proposes that political parties put their programs to specialists and that a consensus be formed in 30 days (very unrealistic!) 
  2. The elaboration of a "small constitution" to give time for the big, final constitution (which he says should be like the American constitution, a document meant to last hundreds of years) to be written. This small constitution would separate powers between the prime minister, the president and the speaker of parliament, who would govern as a trumvirate. 
  3. Once this is done, ministerial posts should be distributed between parties according to electoral result and the principle of putting the right man/woman for the job.

In other parts of the interview, Marzouki particularly stresses the importance of transitional justice, which has not been addressed by the interim government so far, as well as the restructuring of a rotten judicial system so judges are no longer under the authority of the president and are made more responsive to civil society.

How much of this plan, which may not work in Tunisia since most parties are against it, could work in Egypt? The big stumbling block of course is that SCAF seems uninterested in letting go of the government. Every decision now seems to run past them. Nor have they been interested in considering structural reforms, or even at how to create a better police force. They rule by the precepts of Mubarakism: status-quoism, no thinking outside of the box, reactive rather than pro-active. This is why Egypt's transition is going so badly.

I'm not sure what ElBaradei's plan, and the similar proposal by Marzouki, offers right now. But, anticipating a future political crisis, it's not a bad model at all to salvage the situation — if the SCAF could be countered.

Update: The ElBaradei campaign is having trouble — once again, because of their man's leadership style.

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."
Although ElBaradei's views are fairly well known among those who followed the last decade of nuclear diplomacy, he reiterates them in this book lest there be any doubt. He was adamantly opposed to the invasion of Iraq even as the agency came under extreme pressure to find evidence of a non-existent nuclear programme. He could not intervene on the matter of Israel's nuclear arsenal because it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although he raised the issue nonetheless. On Iran, he felt that Tehran was ready to negotiate on its nuclear programme in exchange for economic and political concessions from the West, but that mistrust reigned and the domestic politics of Iran and the United States perpetually vexed a resolution.
In one particularly memorable incident, shortly before he meets the president, George W Bush, Cheney informs him matter-of-factly that if he doesn't lean towards the US position on Iraq, the administration will personally discredit him in the media. Bush comes across as affable but not particularly sharp - in meetings, they talk about baseball. At a later point, ElBaradei states his belief that the former president and his administration should face charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Court and is criminally responsibly for manipulating the WMD dossier to provide a pretext for the war.
Read the rest here.


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. 

It is a source of constant wonder to me that the editor of Al Ahram and its CEO, Osama Saraya and Abdel-Moneim Said, still have their jobs. When I interviewed them a few weeks ago, Saraya wrote that: "We are victims of the system, we worked under its shadow and we aren't criminals who can be accused of any charges whether it is from our colleagues or from other paper. The responsibility is collective [...]." 

Pick your poisonSaid said he wanted to resign but simply couldn't because no one had been selected to replace him (does this remind anyone else of an argument used by...Hosni Mubarak?). "I don't know who to give it [Al Ahram] to," he said. "This job is not the pinnacle of my career," he also pointed out, adding: "I am a thinker of the ranking of Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria."
Asked about the murky finances of Al Ahram, he told me: "Under my reign [sic], there is an increase in Al Ahram's incomes." But he said some figures had to be kept confidential and that "no one has ever asked for the budget." He told me the total value of Al Ahram was LE100 billion (an astounding figure; a senior financial reporter at his own paper told me estimates hovered around LE3 billion).

Abdel-Moneim Said was a member of the NDP's Policy Secretariat and a mentor of Gamal Mubarak. Because he paid lip service to the need for democratic reforms and was a supporter of peace with Israel, he was a popular guest on Western newspapers' op-ed pages and international symposia (I interviewed him several times myself). He is a Senior Fellow at The Crown Center For Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.

When I asked Said if  he had ever called on President Mubarak to step down, he said he did so "privately...many times"-- a claim that given what we all saw of Mubarak's reluctance to yield power is extraordinary (can you picture Said telling the rayyis he should step down and surviving one more hour in his own job?)

If you look at Said's record you see that -- especially after he became CEO of Al Ahram -- he was a stolid regime supporter (if a more sophisticated and articulate one that many of his underlings).

Here is Said after the scandalously fraudulent parliamentary elections in Fall 2010 (which were one of the factors that precipitated the revolution): 

The NDP had begun to prepare for this campaign five years ago, applying a minutely calibrated scientific approach that involved thorough studies of all the electoral constituencies. [...] There was one party that had a meticulously designed platform that detailed targets, costs and timeframes. That was the NDP. [...] The other parties, as a whole, presented a pitiful sight. They were weak and confused and seemed to have stumbled into the elections by accident. Most likely the intense anger of these parties and the fervent media outcry against electoral "fraud" is a way to cover up the flagrant mistakes that these parties and their leaders committed.

And on the Tunisian revolution:

In fact, there are many reasons why the Tunisian scenario cannot be repeated in Egypt. [...] Egyptian planners should not let such fallout from the Tunisian uprising needlessly complicate their task, which is to steer Egypt to change and to avoid the pitfalls of stagnation. [...] This will not happen until we remedy the adverse side effects of the uprising, most of which were the product of media sensationalism. Therefore, there will have to be serious discussion with the various media over how to handle news coverage, which should be based on accurate and properly corroborated information, facts and statistics, as opposed to wishful thinking and sloppiness. In like manner, it will be important to deal with the concrete political, economic and social realities in a particular country, instead of relying on generalisations. There will also be a need to seriously address the problem of those Western think tanks and study centres that have fallen prey to "group think" and the obsessions this mode of behaviour produces, of the sort that gives rise to those pernicious portraits that surface in the Egyptian press in particular of alleged chaos and an impending eruption of suppressed popular fury. 

And today? He is busy arguing that the revolution has gone too far...

Society has returned to its original state, which is only natural, since the ills that infect it can not be remedied by demonstrations in Tahrir Square, even by conjuring up the bogeyman that goes by the name of "the remnants of the NDP and State Security" [...] Equally surprising to see a kind of free-for-all in tearing down the material and moral capacities of our national security services when it is obvious to anyone with a rational mind that in order to put an end to crime and gang violence we will have to rebuild the Ministry of Interior agencies, including the State Security Intelligence agency, so that it can perform its original tasks of fighting terrorism and espionage [...]The romantic phase of the revolution has reached an end. The age of innocence should lead to a new age of maturity and robustness, which begins by dealing with the facts as they are, not as we would like them to be, and with the realities as they are, not as we imagine them to be.

But as the revolutionaries campaigned and pushed further, they were blind to see the cracks that were beginning to fissure the Egyptian state and that needed to be mended. Instead, they saw another opportunity to lash out against the old regime, which certainly is to be faulted, at the very least for perpetuating itself in power for so long. Yet, hurling blame does not stop rifts or forestall collapse.

Forgive my skepticism, but even though he says he'd be "happy" to resign, I get the sense people like Said are clinging to their positions for dear life. I suspect it's because if they go, the very system goes, and changes will occur that may prevent them from ever coming close to power and influence again. ElBaradei has said that all heads of state media are obviously counter-revolutionary and should be fired. No wonder they have it in for him. 

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.

ElBaradei and Egypt's state of play

A few tidbits about the outcome of the recent elections in Egypt — I didn't really want to blog about them a lot because they were a travesty, but here are some thoughts about the post-election game. 

I wrote this on the day after the poll to a friend who asked about the opposition after the elections:

I think the regime has been in panic mode to handle this situation for the last week. The Wafd, having decided to boycott the second round, can only come back at this point as the second opposition party after the Tagammu, although it had expected to be the first with around 15-20 seats. Individuals may decide to come back and claim their seat to make full use of the money they spent getting elected, but for now it appears the party will sit things out. The Wafd actually has money, but has mostly not been allowed to spend it building party infrastructure and networks etc. They may decide to fold back and regroup, preparing for the post-Hosni moment.

The Tagammu is in the midst of a big leadership crisis it might not survive. Although it looks like it won about 6 seats, you have a core of the party that has rebelled. In Egypt this usually makes a party vulnerable to being frozen by the Political Parties Committee, but that's not that likely here.

The MB is reeling from this election, which will probably enable more confrontational elements of the Brotherhood to surface — by confrontational I mean the people who want to confront the regime politically rather than make deals with it. The leadership appeared to be convinced, like the Wafd, that they would retain 15-30 seats or more. But the quietist trend probably dominates, with a fixation on the the post-Hosni moment.

Individually, these and the rest of the opposition have little choice but to retreat and wait out succession, and work on their grassroots. The logic will be to wait hoping that succession will provide some kind of reset mechanism for the political system, or at least an opportunity for renegotiation with the regime. Since it's all so opaque, that is probably too sanguine an approach: there is nothing that guarantees the next president will have the power to redistribute the political system, although there may be a honeymoon period.

The logical alternative is to collaborate and build on the tentative alliances formed in recent years to create a real national opposition movement, or a committee for the salvation of Egypt, or even Ayman Nour's idea of a shadow parliament and shadow government. I'm just not sure that the leadership is there to do that, though. Were Mohammed ElBaradei to provide more dynamic leadership he might become a gathering point, but he has thus far shown little willingness to do so. I can't imagine most of the Wafd's leaders taking part seriously, even if they have been seriously shaken by the election. The MB, to take part in such a grand coalition, would have to yet again bear the brunt of arrests and attacks on economic interests. Other parties only have a few personalities. I suspect we won't see serious movement in that direction for a few months anyway, with time taken to reassess the situation.

I remember in 2005 Madeleine Albright gave a closed door meeting to some opposition figures (Saad etc.) and told the people in the room, "there is not a viable opposition movement in Egypt that we can support." The regime will continue to ensure there isn't, and the opposition hasn't showed any more savvy in creating a real alliance. Their calculus must be: either risk alienating the regime by backing ElBaradei or a national movement calling for radical change, or wait it out for a hypothetical better future. Especially as they are expecting outsiders to back the regime (US, France, Italy, UK, EU and of course the Arab states).

So for now, probably no street action, but next year there could be. The demands for annulment by NGOs is not likely to get that far. The opposition is weak and under siege, but its biggest problem is a lack of leadership. And ElBaradei spent the elections in Brazil...

I would correct that last line: yes, ElBaradei was in Brazil ostentatiously ignoring the election, but he's come back with what seems renewed willingness to campaign for reform. In the last week he's toured parts of Upper Egypt and gained new attention as a potential unifier of the opposition. Here's something else I wrote last week:

An immediate interpretation of the election results is that those opposition movements that had advocated a boycott — and first and foremost among them Muhammad ElBaradei and his National Association for Change — are vindicated. ElBaradei’s call for a boycott was based on the premise that any form of participation in elections that are held in an unfair environment is tantamount to an endorsement of the regime. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood and even more so the Wafd, participation was seen as an attempt to appease the regime, as well as a reflection of the fact that despite its limitation, parliament can serve opposition groups as a platform from which to reach out to the media and claim some leadership roles. 

If the decision by major parties to participate in the elections was a bad sign for ElBaradei, the election’s results has pushed the opposition back in his direction. ElBaradei has shown his disdain by spending the election season in Brazil, and recently returned to Cairo and embarked on a national tour. The Muslim Brothers are lending him verbal support for a first post-election protest, but remain undecided about whether this means using their considerable ability to mobilise supporters. Any such move would likely trigger another fierce crackdown against the Islamists, just after over 1,300 of its supporters were arrested as part of a pre-election crackdown. ElBaradei still has to show a greater willingness to lead the opposition, and other actors such as the Wafd have similar calculations to make about whether they want to alienate the regime. Thus, even if the conditions post-election appear ripe for a renewal of the stand of the Egyptian position that refuses the current political framework, the state retains a great capacity for dissuasion and repression.

Talking to people in the MB, I get the feeling that decision to actually mobilize supporters on the street has not been made. I doubt it will be, and can understand why: they would face yet another massive crackdown. Only the right political context and momentum among the opposition would make that likely, as well as as the MB accepting to be by fast the biggest element in an united opposition but not necessarily have the biggest say.

Nonetheless, the regime is already reacting to ElBaradei's recent comeback. Two incidents in the last few days are noteworthy: 

- ElBaradei was refused entry into the journalism syndicate by syndicate chair Makram Mohammed Ahmad, a regime loyalist if ever there was one. Zeinobia provides indignant coverage.

- In Minya, local Christian figures were blocked from meeting with ElBaradei.

- Salafist groups are beginning to attack ElBaradei. This is probably at the instigation of security, or to ingratiate themselves with the authorities after the recent signs that the government is unhappy with some Salafists (for instance the closure of the al-Nas satellite channel):

Mahmoud Amer, head of Egypt's Al-Sunna al-Mohamadiya religious group, issued a religious edict this week calling on Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to "repent" for inciting civil unrest and calling for a popular boycott of next year's presidential elections.

“The temporal ruler has the right to kill [ElBaradei] or imprison him if he refuses to repent,” Amer said. “Mubarak represents Egypt's legitimate Muslim ruler, and defying him is a sin.”

“Whatever mistakes the ruling regime may make, the adverse effects of civil disobedience and unrest on society promise to be much greater,” he added.

They are playing with takfiri fire here, this is close to calling ElBaradei an apostate.

Here's another take on the state of the Egyptian opposition - it's not rosy.

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.