ElBaradei quits race, says no real democracy in Egypt

Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei announced Saturday that he would not run in Egypt's presidential elections and criticized the military's grip on power. 

Bernat Armangue/AP/File
Mohamed ElBaradei, Egyptian activist and Nobel laureate, seen in December.

Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei announced Saturday he would not run in Egypt’s presidential elections because the military’s control of the country made fair elections impossible.

Though he was not considered a likely winner of presidential elections to be held this year, the announcement by the former head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog brings attention to the state of Egypt’s transition: Nearly a year after a mass uprising toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, the military rulers who replaced him have not overseen a quick transition to democracy as they promised. 

Instead, the generals repeatedly delayed elections, brutally crushed protests, killing dozens of people, and made clear that they wanted control over the process of writing Egypt’s new constitution to preserve their power and privilege.

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"I said from the start that my conscience will not allow me to run for president or any official position unless there is a real democratic framework, that upholds the essence of democracy and not only its form," Dr. ElBaradei said in a statement.

He criticized the military’s leadership, comparing the generals to incompetent ship captains, and saying the military was continuing on the same road as Mubarak, “as if a revolution did not take place, and a regime did not fall.”

ElBaradei, who had a long career outside Egypt working as a diplomat, scholar, and at the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to his native country in February 2010 after boldly criticizing then-President Mubarak. Hundreds of supporters jubilantly welcomed him at the airport, urging him to run for president. He quickly became an outspoken critic of the regime and garnered a following of mostly young Egyptians who hoped he could challenge the regime. His international standing gave him protection from the kind of attacks the regime typically launched on critics, though it did launch a media campaign portraying him as out of touch from his years abroad.

Before Egypt’s uprising began, he warned that Egypt was likely to see violence if the government did not change. Many of his supporters were members of the youth groups that were the vanguard of Egypt’s uprising.

But since the uprising, some have criticized ElBaradei for not showing leadership in times of crisis, appearing more comfortable writing messages on Twitter than on the street. His support base never expanded past its mostly upper-class and liberal base. Polling and the recent parliamentary elections, in which Islamist parties won about two thirds of the seats, made clear that elite liberal candidates have a limited appeal in Egypt.

His announcement is unlikely to have a large impact in fueling protests against the military rulers ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising on Jan. 25, as many of his supporters are already opposed to the military council. But Basem Kamel, a newly-elected member of parliament and one of ElBaradei’s early supporters, says the move will help bring the international spotlight to the military’s oppression, much like his international standing brought attention to Mubarak’s oppression before the uprising.

“It will be clear for all the international media that [the military council] is not leading a transition period toward democracy but they are stealing our regime,” said Mr. Kamel.

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