Ex-IAEA chief could become Egypt's leading dissident
Ex-IAEA chief could become Egypt's leading dissident
Sunday, December 13,2009 08:41
Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei’s comments about his candidacy in Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections caused a stirring debate in the country, which has been ruling by Hosni Mubarak since 1981. ElBaradei says he'd only enter the race if a free and fair vote could be guaranteed

Former U.N. atomic watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei has been in the firing line of Egypt's official press since announcing he might run for president and analysts said he may yet become a top dissident.

The Nobel laureate conditioned his candidacy for the 2011 presidential election in a statement last week on what analysts said are two remote prospects in Egypt: a clean election and constitutional reforms. ElBaradei's conditions are not likely to be met before the next presidential election in 2011 and while his chances of reaching the country's top job are slim, his coming forward has caused consternation in the official press.

Osama Saraya, editor of the state-owned daily Al-Ahram daily, wrote that ElBaradei held Swedish citizenship - which he does not - and was the foreign ministry's last pick when he was hired. He also insinuated that ElBaradei's proposals served Egypt's enemies. An Al-Ahram headline labeled his demands for changes to the constitution as a "constitutional coup."

The minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, Mufid Shehab, who regularly speaks on behalf of the government, told Al-Ahram that ElBaradei was "wrong" to think of running for the post. In a newspaper interview on Thursday, ElBaradei, who ended his 12-year stint as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month, said he could run as an independent, not affiliated to any party. "I respect parties, but I am an independent man and I can only run as an independent," ElBaradei said, adding that he would like to be able to change the constitution by working "with the people."

But running as an independent is practically impossible. Independent candidates must secure the backing of 250 elected politicians, including at least 65 members of the lower house, 25 members of the upper house and 10 members of municipal councils - all bodies dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, or NDP.

Neither constitutional reforms to ease restrictions on nominations - ruled out by Mubarak - nor a fair election are likely to be allowed, according to analysts. Election observers said presidential and parliamentary polls in Egypt are often rigged or marred by irregularities. And Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, is widely believed to be grooming his son Gamal, who is not known for his charisma or popularity, for the post.

But analysts said that despite ElBaradei's near-impossible chance of being president under the current conditions, his declared intention could see him rise as Egypt's most high-profile dissident. "He has more stature and gravitas than anyone else who has entered the field so far," said independent analyst Issandr al-Amrani. "He's the first candidate of the opposition who represents an establishment figure and the wider elite," which generally supports the NDP, Amrani said. A former civil servant in the foreign ministry, ElBaradei was feted by Mubarak, who bestowed the country's highest honor, the Nile Shas, on him three years ago.

And his 27-year absence from the country, which the official press says is proof of him being out of touch, can actually be his strength, Amrani says, because "he is not associated with figures of the Mubarak era." His high profile and popularity help explain the criticism aimed at him by the official press, said Abdel Azim Hammad, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Shoruk.

Others said that as a dissident, he has the potential to rally a wide range of people, in a country that has been politically stagnant for years, and where the largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, is officially banned.

ElBaradei, 67, retires last month after 12 years as director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. The 35-member IAEA board of governors, which has authorized investigations of Iran’s atomic work since 2003.

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