A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Waiting for ElBaradei

Tomorrow's the big day: the second coming of Mohamed ElBaradei to Egypt. Although some in the opposition would rather he part the Red Sea and walk across, he's flying in to Cairo airport.

I guess my previous blog posts on the Mohamed ElBaradei phenomenon have made clear that while I have no doubts the man has more qualifications to run Egypt than Gamal Mubarak does (a lot of senior diplomats and scholars could), I fail to see how, structurally and under the Constitution that only Husni Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party can amend, he can even stand as a candidate, let alone win. Perhaps there is going to be a huge spontaneous excitement once he gets off the plane, but remember, the man hasn't lived in Egypt in ages; he probably knows his way around Vienna better than parts of Cairo. And the regime still gets to shuffle and deal the cards.

On the other hand, I suppose there is a lot of excitement among the opposition, since for the first time there seems to be a possible figure that many could see as a legitimate President who neither wears a uniform nor is named Mubarak. And for all Egypt's flaws, he's not going to have to worry about the kind of welcome Benigno Aquino got on returning to the Philippines, where he never made it off the tarmac alive. If the government wants to neutralize ElBaradei, it will find some scandal to tar him with or simply make organizing impossible. [Even so, he should probably avoid London balconies.]

Al-Masry al-Youm's English website has an analysis piece by Ashraf Khalil that includes the following:

Decades from now, 19 February, 2010 may just be looked back upon as B-Day. Mothers will tell their children of the blessed day when Mohamed ElBaradei returned, like a conquering hero, to personally reshape Egypt into a functioning democracy.

Or maybe not.

All possibilities seem to be in play as ElBaradei returns to Egypt this Friday amid an atmosphere bordering in some circles on the hysterical. Rumors have percolated for days about a mass welcoming committee being planned for the former International Atomic Energy Association chief when he arrives at Cairo International Airport Friday afternoon.

“We’re all going. Everybody is going,” said George Ishak, one of the founders of the Kefaya pro-democracy movement, who has been one of ElBaradei’s most high-profile advocates ever since the longtime expatriate first floated the idea last year of running for president in the 2011 elections. “I don’t want to make any predictions on numbers, but it’s going to be big,” Ishak added.

As the anticipation grows, the most pressing questions have become: How many people will attempt to greet ElBaradei at the airport? And what will Egyptian security forces do about it? After all, a gathering of people happy to see ElBaradei back in Egypt could easily be construed as an anti-government protest rally.

“If the government uses force, it will backfire,” said Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa, who issued an open call earlier this week in Al-Masry Al-Youm for a massive airport turnout. “I don’t know how the government will react. But they certainly won’t be very happy to see a warm welcome from the Egyptian public.”

Bear in mind that ElBaradei keeps reiterating that he doesn't want to be President (and then expressing his conditions for accepting). He (or his supporters) also have a slick campaign website. I also wonder if the various opposition groups talking about him aren't enthusiastic about their own imagined ElBaradeis, rather than the real flesh-and-blood man. Some people — Ruhollah Khomeini was the classic regional case — can play various factions by letting each think that he represents them when he really represents his own interest, but is ElBaradei such a man? (The original suggestion of ElBaradei came from the youth wing of the Wafd Party. The Wafd and Kefaya founder George Ishak, quoted above, are poles apart in all but their anybody-but-Gamal positions.)

Well, at least it will be something a bit different to watch. I hope I'm being too cynical here, but I rather doubt that I am.

1 comment:

Parag said...

Although Egyptians,until recently, didn’t know much about ElBaradei apart from his official biography, he is viewed having a proven international record and experience – and more importantly,a squeaky-clean reputation,devoid of corruption scandals and election fraud.
Cairo International Airport