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.