Commentary

ElBaradei’s Anguish

Mohamed M. ElBaradei, Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, captured during the session 'Stopping the Spread of Nuclear Weapons' at the Annual Meeting 2007 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2007. Photo/Wikimedia

After months of performing like Egypt’s Cinderella leader, jet-setting between Cairo and his old home in Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei has finally reached the limits of his frustration.

At a press conference last week, ElBaradei said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over from Mubarak, had governed “as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen”.

“My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework,” the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog said.

His surprise resignation came as a protest to the ruling military council’s failure to put the country on the path to democracy. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a group of the Egypt’s highest military officers, took over as “interim rulers” of the country immediately after the February 11 resignation of 30-year-dictator Hosni Mubarak, Mubarak, now 83 years old, is currently on trial along with a number of high-level political and military figures for corruption and for killing peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square, where the Arab Spring revolution was born.

In the pre-Tahrir Square days, ElBaradei was among prominent Egyptians constantly mentioned for the post of president, should the revolution succeed. He played a somewhat coy game during this period, expressing reservations about taking on the monumental task of leading his countrymen into a new era of non-corrupt, transparent and responsive government.

The Nobel laureate, regarded as a driving force behind the movement that forced the former president Hosni Mubarak to step down, told the Guardian newspaper that the conditions for a fair election were not in place.

With Parliamentary elections to the lower house over, and the parties of the Muslim Brotherhood and the yet more conservative Salafists winning more than enough seats to effectively control the lower body, it was highly doubtful that ElBaradei could have won enough support from the Liberal parties to gain the presidency.

But it would be a big mistake to count the Nobel-prize-winner out just yet. The historic journey along Egypt’s road to good governance has barely begun.

The polished international diplomat again called on the SCAF and their puppet civilian government to move with all possible speed to enact fundamental political reforms. The citizens of the Arab world’s largest nation were “yearning desperately for economic and social change” and that without drastic improvements, a “Tunisia-style explosion” in Egypt would be unavoidable, he told the Guardian.

Nearly half of the country’s 80 million citizens live on less than £1.25 a day, and despite record GDP growth the majority of the population has become poorer in real terms over the past 20 years. Unemployment is epidemic, Graduates with PhD degrees are driving taxies or working as waiters. Many of the members of the last two graduating classes of Cairo University have never held any job for which they were trained.

However, Baradei has rejected the idea of a “second revolution” – a huge gathering in Tahrir Square, much like those of the recent past – because of the very real possibility of widespread violence and death.

William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.

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