Fri, Jan 15, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Ex-IAEA chief injects life into Egypt’s politics

AP , CAIRO

The UN’s former nuclear chief has yet to return home to his native Egypt after almost a quarter century monitoring the world’s atomic programs, but the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner has already created the biggest political stir in his homeland in years by hinting at a new career in politics.

Mohamed ElBaradei may one day regret plunging into Egypt’s politics — where challenges to the regime have been few and swiftly dealt with — but his move has injected fresh hope into the country’s stagnant political atmosphere.

Egypt has been ruled for nearly 30 years by President Hosni Mubarak, now 81, who appears to be trying to set up a political dynasty by grooming his son to succeed him.

Respected throughout the world and untouched by the corruption tainting much of the regime in Egypt, ElBaradei could well be the most credible opposition leader to emerge in the country in living memory.

However, the chances of ElBaradei of even being allowed to run in the 2011 presidential race are slim, thanks to a series of constitutional amendments pushed through by the government in 2005 and 2007 that practically limit the candidacies to senior members of the ruling party or a few token, officially sanctioned, opposition parties.

Even if he did run, he would be faced by a ruling party candidate backed by the government’s vast resources and enjoying the support of the security agencies, the most powerful players in Egyptian elections.

“But the frustration within Egypt is such that such a figure could inspire a real sense of opposition even if such sentiments are primarily a rejection of the status quo,” said Egyptian-American analyst Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation in New York. “He is a very compelling figure.”

ElBaradei is not expected to return home from Vienna for another month, but in an open letter responding to a campaign by young Egyptians urging him to run for president, he said he would only run if there were guarantees that elections would be free, fully supervised by the judiciary and monitored by the international community.

He also wants the Constitution amended to remove restrictions on who is eligible to run.

“What I want is for Egypt to become a democratic nation ... my words are not driven by a personal desire or motive but by a firm conviction that the people of Egypt deserve 10 times better than what they have,” he told the independent al-Shorouk daily in an interview last month.

Egypt’s authoritarian ruler of 28 years, Mubarak has not named a successor and never had a vice president since he took office in 1981.

Some commentators say the soft-spoken ElBaradei could be of more use to Egypt if he did not seek the presidency and focused instead on creating a popular movement to press for reform.

“Entering the presidential arena is the wrong start,” Abdel-Azeem Hamad, editor of al-Shorouk, warned ElBaradei in a recent article, suggesting instead a run for parliament in next year’s general election.

Others, however, say he could be the country’s savior, delivering its 80 million people from what is widely seen as policies biased in favor of the rich and against the poor and forcing Mubarak, or his successor, into introducing genuine reforms.

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