Amidst escalating controversy in Egypt about the constitutional obstacles placed against candidates under the amended Article 76 of Egypt’s 2007 constitution, Mohammed El-Baradei, the former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced in November 2009, that he might run for president in the 2011 elections in Egypt. El- Baradei said that the condition for his declaration to run must be a “written assurance” from the Egyptian government, about the integrity and the freedom of the electoral process. The former IAEA chief similarly told CNN in an interview, that “I will study the possibility of running for presidential candidate in Egypt if there is any written guarantee that the electoral process will be free and fair”. Similarly, he sent a note to AL-SHOROUK newspaper, that “he did not announce willingness or unwillingness to participate in the upcoming presidential election…and that he will clear his position on the presidency after November ”.
The initial declaration by Mohammed El-Baradei elicited what Wikipedia termed “mixed reactions” in Egypt’s political circles. Some saw it as an embarrassing message to the ruling regime in Egypt from a citizen with an international clout and “heavy weight”, which might help to push the regime to solve the problem of power devolution in the country. Others also figured that El-Baradei’s declaration of intention could help open horizons in the political life that has long been “strangulated” in Egypt, by the ruling regime of Hosni Mubarak. In reaction to El-Baradei’s move, the Al-Wafd Party and other opposition forces announced that they were ready to support Mohammed El-Baradei if he eventually decided to run. El-Baradei in the meantime is said to prefer to run as an independent candidate, not of any of the parties.
Although no one is sure of the plans of President Hosni Mubarak, it might be assumed that he would still run come 2011; however, there are also indications that his son Gamal Mubarak is actually being groomed to take power from the dad. Many of the opposition parties make the accusation that there is an “inheritance scheme” being perfected by father for the son, in a presidential contest that has also seen the mention of other names. These include the Egyptian-American Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Ahmed Zewail; he however was reported to have said “I am a frank man…I have no political ambition, as I have stressed repeatedly that I only want to serve Egypt in the field of science and die a scientist”. The Secretary General of the Arab League and former Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa was another name being peddled and he did not deny an intention, leaving the door open. Moussa argued that “It’s the right of every citizen that has the capacity and efficiency to aspire to any political office that would allow him to contribute to the service of the nation”.
But it is the expected candidacy of Mohammed El-Barardei which seemed to have gingered the political space, giving hope of the possibilities of an alternative platform in the rather predictable space of Egyptian politics. It seemed clear that El-Baradei was making very good use of his international position at the head of IAEA, in making the first declaration; he asked for unanimity of nomination of his candidacy by all Egyptians and the availability of many elements along with the “written guarantee” from the Egyptian government. These include a full judicial supervision, international monitoring of the elections by the UN, establishment of an independent national committee to oversee the process and a new constitution which guarantees freedoms and human rights. “If I decide to run for high office, a position which I do not seek, it will be because the broad majority of Egyptians people with their various affiliations see that this is in the best interest of the country”, El-Baradei was quoted as saying.
The former IAEA chief also called for the elimination of constitutional and legal obstacles restricting the rights of Egyptians to nominate themselves for the presidency; he argued for real and equal opportunity for everyone regardless of partisan or personal considerations. But there are real hurdles on the way for El-Baradei, because under constitutional amendments made in 2005, anyone wishing to run for Egyptian presidency has to be a member, for at least a year, and occupy a high ranking position in one of the official parties founded at least five years previously. The independent candidate must get the support of 250 members elected by the People’s Assembly, Shura Council and local councils, according to Article 76, which has been amended twice in two years. It is an obstacle which might be difficult to surmount by El-Baradei. Many observers in Egypt say that Articles 76 and 77 are the biggest obstacles for any candidate wishing to challenge the status quo crafted by President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling regime.
But there are also other controversies surrounding El-Baradei’s intended candidature. Some argue that he is not even fit to run because he has stayed away for more than 20 years from the country and is therefore not aware of the true needs of Egypt in this period. Fouad Badrawi, a deputy leader of the Wafd Party, which first announced plans to nominate El-Baradei, said that while El-Barardei was a respected Egyptian figure, his statement so far does not offer a clear vision to tackle the constitutional crisis in Egypt. Similarly, Abdul Ghaffar Shokr, a leader of the Tagammu Party, said the issues raised by El-Barardei were not different from those that the democratic forces in Egypt have been concerned with over the years. If El-Barardei chooses to run, Shokr said it would be welcome, especially because, in his views, El-Barardei has demonstrated political maturity through the points he highlighted. The candidacy, he suggested, must go hand-in-hand with a comprehensive reform process, based on modernity, good governance, social justice and development of the educational system. On the other hand, Dr. Mohammed Habib, first deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, described El-Baradei’s statement as “useless”, because the ruling government will not respond to them, furthermore, they were incomplete without seeking end of state of emergency, ensuring public liberties, including freedom of the press, establishing political parties, allowing peaceful demonstrations, abolishing special law courts and limiting presidential terms to two.
Mohammed El-Baradei, according to www.answers.com, was born into a professional family in Cairo, Egypt, on June 17, 1942. His father, Mostafa ElBaradei, was a lawyer who once became president of Egypt’s national bar association. Mohammed enrolled in law school at the University of Cairo receiving a law degree at the age of 22 in 1962. Thereafter, he joined the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he gradually rose through the hierarchy until he joined the UN in 1980, as a senior fellow, directing the program in international law at the UN Institute for Training and Research. In 1984, he joined the IAEA as a legal adviser and by 1997 he succeeded Hans Blix as the director general of the organization. He brought a background of western education and familiarity with the developing countries to the organization. He got a second term in the saddle in 2001 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005. El-Baradei has shaken up the lethargic world of Egyptian politics with his declared interest in the presidency of the country. But will he really get the chance to play the political role he seeks? The answer is up in the air.