A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ElBaradei's Constitutional Suggestions

I know that this blog, like a lot of blogs that focus regularly on Egypt, has been rather heavy invested in the ElBaradei story lately. Don't mistake me: I'm not endorsing or rooting for ElBaradei or anyone else, nor have I any profound animus against either the elder or younger Mubarak: I'm not an Egyptian, and I've got no voice. I would like to see the many Egyptians who also feel they have no voice find one, but I have no idea if they'd choose ElBaradei. The Muslim Brotherhood might be a contender: not mine to judge. I'm just analyzing an interesting dynamic. But for reasons noted in earlier posts and links ElBaradei has painted the regime into a corner it's not at all sure about. But I still can't see how we get from where we are to where he could have a chance to run.

Well, he and his new National Coalition for Change have listed the seven conditions under which he would run. As I think I've noted before, there's a certain amount of, well, for want of an Arabic term that comes immediately to mind, chutzpah involved when you're lecturing the incumbent who controls the state on the conditions under which you will condescend to run against him. But since that December post linked to above, ElBaradei has played a very interesting game.

The conditions are: 1) lifting the Emergency Law; 2) reinstating judicial supervision of elections; 3) local and international NGOs monitoring the elections; 4) equal media coverage for all candidates; 5) right to vote for Egyptians living abroad; 6) revisions of Articles 76, 77 and 88 of the Constitution which place draconian limitations on the ability of independents to run for President; 7) and a two term limit on the President.

Every single demand has been made before by dissidents, protesters, opposition parties, civil society advocates, human rights activists, etcetera. It's not new. But ElBaradei is not some academic or activist, but a well-known international figure.

But how does he persuade/compel a regime that disdains him at the moment (much as they loved him when an Egyptian headed the IAEA) to change its fundamental rules?

It's still early. If for example, Husni Mubarak passed from the scene from natural causes (or any other way) before the end of his fifth term, the succession could really be thrown open. For whatever reason, Husni has not placed Gamal in an inevitable succession position, such as making him a Vice President of the senior official of the ruling party. Why not is anyone's guess. A leadership vacuum before 2011 could throw the whole thing open, especially if the military and security services are not invested in Gamal (which is debatable at best).

On the other hand, when ElBaradei and friends give a list of conditions under which they must might run against a Mubarak, it's hard not to wonder if the proper metaphor is "the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."

On the other hand, this is a new game, a new dynamic. I'm pretty sure the regime doesn't understand it and I'm starting to wonder if ElBaradei does, or is simply making it up as he goes along, one step at a time.

For a fleeting moment I thought of all the opposition figures making their pilgrimage to ElBaradei's villa and was reminded of all the Iranian figures who made their way to Imam Khomeini in Paris in the last days of the Shah.

But then I recognized all the differences: the Pahlavis by then were a lot less entrenched than the Egyptian establishment (the military and security services, business community, ruling party) even if the Mubaraks were removed from the stage. ElBaradei is a famous and respected Egyptian but nobody much knows what his positions are on (non-nuclear) issues. Khomeini was a senior ayatollah in the most clerical societal tradition in the Muslim world; ElBaradei's a bureaucrat.

Still, this is interesting to watch. Something is stirring, and an unexpected development (which can happen with octogenarian leaders) could shift the equation quickly.


LJ Marczak said...

Amr Adeeb (Cairo Today) has an over one hour interview with Dr. AlBaradei conducted in Vienna shortly before his return to Egypt.

Here's the link to the first "episode". There are 14.


I think it's a good introduction to the man. Or to the man the campaign is presenting. And as always Amr is absolutely delightful to watch.

If you're pressed for time you can probably start with Episode #4.

Some themes from the broadcast:

(1) The campaign slogan appears to be "Reform you can believe in".

(2) Identified the familiar problems in the country. Solutions are a bit vague. A bit of "It's morning again in Egypt". Appears to be offering voters a "blank page" on which they can write their hopes. All are welcome in the Doctor's "big tent".

(3) Said he favors a European socialist economic system as in Sweden or Austria.

(4)Seems to believe he can conduct the political process by seminar. Get all factions around a table and have a dialogue. Decide what's best and how to implement. Recent events elsewhere may suggest that is not particularly "mufid", but I suppose there are different levels of political maturity among countries.

(5) Would allow the Ikhwan and any other group (Aqbat) to form a political party if they remained within the Constitution. He noted there were Christian Democratic parties in Europe. While there is an "out" in his formulation, this seems to me not something that would be immediately appealing to his base.
The Bani Sadr of Egypt?

Michael Collins Dunn said...


I've watched parts of the Adeeb interview and a few other intervies M ElB has given since he got back; Adeeb I think tends to be pro-regime but still a lot comes through (though I've not watched it all).

The Bani Sadr of Egypt?

Or the Shahpour Bakhtiar?

Of course Egypt isn't Iran. Nobody is Khomeini.

Still, a fascinating dynamic is developing.