Could former UN nuclear boss ElBaradei bring democracy to Egypt?
A boisterous crowd greeted former UN nuclear boss Mohamed ElBaradei in Cairo Friday and urged him to run for president. He says it's time for 'real democracy.'
The hundreds of ardent supporters who gathered to meet Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, when he returned to Egypt on Friday held signs that said “Yes: ElBaradei President of Egypt.”Skip to next paragraph
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The fact that the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nobel Peace Prize winner has not declared himself a candidate in next year’s presidential elections, and would find it almost impossible to get on the ballot if he does, didn’t seem to matter to those who waited hours to welcome him. Amid chants, cheers, and songs, many declared him the only hope for change for their country, which has been ruled by an aging Hosni Mubarak for almost 30 years.
But his entry into the campaign seems unlikely, as he has set conditions for considering a candidacy that haven't existed in an Egyptian election since the 1950s. Most importantly, he said, he won't run unless the elections are free and fair.
That’s what makes Dr. ElBaradei’s movement distinctive: his goal does not seem to be to become Egypt’s president, but rather to bring democratic reform to the Egyptian political system.
“I believe that the time has come for Egypt to make a serious move towards real democracy … This is what I am advocating and is my primary goal: creating the environment that enables the Egyptians to feel that they are in charge of their destiny,” ElBaradei wrote in an email to the Monitor. “If this environment is to be created whoever is going to be elected as president is of secondary importance. The focus should be to create a government of law and not a government of men.”
ElBaradei, whose tenure as head of the IAEA ended in November, announced late last year he would consider running for president in Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections only if independent judicial review and international oversight of the elections was guaranteed. He also called for the repeal of a constitutional amendment passed in 2005 that effectively bars independent candidates from running for president.
Ayman Nour, who challenged Mubarak in Egypt's first multi-candidate elections in 2005, ended up in jail for his efforts. This week, Mr. Nour announced his intention to run again in 2011.
While many analysts are doubtful that he will be able to achieve much change, they say ElBaradei could reinvigorate a public debate about democracy in Egypt and put some pressure on the regime – if he can generate a large, sustained following.
Those gathered Friday – in a country where unauthorized gatherings are illegal – seemed to indicate that he has some energetic followers.
After his flight was delayed two hours, the large, excited, and unruly crowd at the airport exit apparently prevented ElBaradei from safely greeting his supporters. Some in the crowd speculated that he refused to meet them at the request of state security officials on the scene. He eventually exited through a different terminal, and drove through the crowd in a black SUV, which the crowd mobbed. Supporters were bitterly disappointed that he had not greeted them and blamed state security.