Egypt has been a military dictatorship since 1952 and has been governed by the aging Hosni Mubarak for the last 29. Technically, the country has elections, but they are far from free and generally are a means to justify the continuation of the sitting regime. There are emergency laws that and Freedom House considers Egypt as “Not Free” with the amount of freedom dropping. Yikes.
Fortunately for Egypt, the savior has returned. Mohamad ElBaradei – the former IAEA head who did extensive work on the Iranian nuclear issue – has returned to Egypt. ElBaradei said last December that he would think about running for President in 2011 if he was assured that the elections would be free and fair. From a Foreign Policy interview in December:
What I’ve said is that I would not even consider running for president unless there is the proper framework for a free and fair election — and that is still the major question mark in Egypt. I don’t believe the conditions are in place for free and fair elections. In fact, I just sent an article to an Egyptian newspaper today setting out what needs to be done before I could consider it. These guarantees [include] an independent judicial review, international oversight, and equal opportunity for media coverage — there is a lot that needs to be in place — and of course, the ability to run as an independent. The Constitution is written in a way that I cannot run unless I join an existing party, which, to me, is not how a democratic system works.
I would like to be, at this time, an agent to push Egypt toward a more democratic and transparent regime, with all of its implications for the rest of the Arab world. If I am able to do that, I will be very happy because we need to achieve democracy in the Arab world as fast as we can. Democracy meaning empowering people, democracy meaning a proper economic and social development, tolerance — it means building up modern societies.
[tweetmeme] Clearly those looking for change in Egypt can see some hope in ElBaradei. Indeed, there is an independent campaign movement for the man as well as a website and a Facebook group with over 65,000 members. But what can he actually do? A welcome party at the airport for ElBaradei showed some dreams that will probably be left unfulfilled. The Majlis reports:
Two female Cairo University students said that they believed ElBaradei would do away with the country’s long-standing emergency laws and bring freedom to Egypt. Such optimism was the status quo for the ElBaradei fan club.
As one young engineering student put it: ElBaradei will revive the spirits of the Egyptian people that have been dead due to 30 years of dictatorship. He makes the Egyptian people “hope.”
Realistically, ElBaradei will not even make it to the elections. There is a strong possibility that he will refuse to participate in the elections; he has already hinted that the position of president is not something he desires, but rather something that would be a duty for him. Alternatively, President Hosni Mubarak would love 2011 to be a seamless transition of power to his son Gamal. To ensure this transition, Mubarak might make it impossible for ElBaradei to run: From Al Bab:
Whether or not he runs for the presidency next year (and the rules constructed by the Mubarak regime probably mean he can’t) is really beside the point. What ElBaradei can do, if he plays it right, is breathe fresh life into Egyptian politics and get people talking about change in new ways.
The important point here, of course, is that ElBaradei might make the most difference not by running for President, but actively campaigning for change. So far, abroad and back in Egypt, EhBaradei has refused to start campaigning for the Presidency openly, preferring to stick to criticizing the systemic problems in Egyptian politics. As the Arabist notes, ElBaradei has focused on giving criticisms without solutions, “a position that is hardly constructive and offers no solutions.”
So I return to the question: What can ElBaradei actually do? Personally, I think the potential for a presidential campaign, much less a President ElBaradei, in 2011 is pretty much zip. Yet the popular movement created by ElBaradei and his supporters has the potential to force change. If everything was up to Mubarak, his son Gamal would win some unfair elections next year and take over. The glimpse of a possible ElBaradei run has forced the President to reconsider.
Hosni Mubarak has promised to stay in power until he dies and has dreams of Gamal taking over shortly after. Hosni has thought about not running in 2011, but, after ElBaradei announced his possible candidacy, Mubarak might make another run – one he would inevitably win. If he does take the Presidency once again, Gamal would certainly try to take over after his father’s death (Hosni’s health is declining rapidly). Yet, the military reportedly does not trust Gamal and there are rumors that the military would remove the younger Mubarak from the Presidency.
A military coup is near impossible under Hosni Mubarak, but, perhaps, likely under Gamal. An ElBaradei campaign – for change, not for presidency – helps put fuel on the fire, domestically and internationally. Unfortunately, like all coups, the removal of Gamal in Egypt would inevitably lead to chaos for the nation. Potential replacements are slim. The biggest opposition group is currently the Muslim Brotherhood – a group that has renounced violence, but still not trusted by the West. Because of the near complete absence of opposition, perhaps the best ElBaradei could do is start a popular movement for change that could represent a viable and trusted opposition movement to take over after the death of Hosni Mubarak.
There has been a lot of hope surrounding ElBaradei, but, despite the grassroots internet movement, he is still lacking the popular support that could bring him the presidency. ElBaradei and other opposition candidates – such as ‘Amr Moussa must prepare for the inevitable and plan for the chaos that will surround the death of Mubarak. There are arguments for ElBaradei to lead, rather than simply be a figurehead, but the best option for the former IAEA chief is to lead the growth of a viable opposition movement and not to lose the 2011 presidency.
Photo from Sobahnet