April 4, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 602

Egyptian Government Launches Campaign to Delegitimize Former IAEA Sec-Gen Mohamed ElBaradei as Presidential Candidate

April 4, 2010 | By L. Azuri*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 602


Since former IAEA Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he is considering running for the Egyptian presidency in elections to be held in November 2011, the Egyptian political arena has come to life, and the presidential race has gained momentum. ElBaradei has challenged the Egyptian regime by declaring that he will only submit his candidacy if a new constitution is adopted that will allow him to run as an independent candidate.

Under the present constitution, an independent presidential candidate must receive the endorsement of at least 250 MPs and/or members of provincial councils. This is considered almost impossible to achieve, since most MPs and provincial council members belong to the ruling National Democratic Party. Otherwise, a candidate is required to run on behalf of a legal party after being an active member of the party for at least one year.[1]

ElBaradei's regime-defying statements were welcomed by most of Egypt's opposition elements, as evident from the warm reception they gave him when he returned to re-settle in the country in February, including supportive reactions in the provinces and on Facebook, and from the large numbers who flocked to join the National Front for Change, which he founded. At the same time, some of the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have yet to express a clear position regarding his possible candidacy.

Statements by officials, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, indicate that there are no plans to amend the constitution prior to the upcoming presidential elections. Moreover, according to the independent Egyptian press, the regime has been obstructing ElBaradei's efforts to gain supporters by instructing mosque imams to speak against his candidacy in their sermons, by suppressing demonstrations in his support, and by striking deals with various political forces in order to counterbalance him.

Moreover, the government press has launched a massive campaign against him. The main claims, repeated in numerous articles, are that since he has lived in Austria for many years, he is not familiar with Egypt, its people, and their problems; that he lacks the political savvy to navigate the Egyptian political scene; that he is lacking in statesmanship; that the policy he led vis-à-vis the Iraqi, Iranian, and Israeli nuclear programs in his capacity as IAEA secretary-general was opposed to Egypt's policy on these issues; that a citizen wishing to run for president should not make demands, but should propose a platform of ideas for solving Egypt's problems; and that his demand to loosen the conditions for independent candidacies would harm party pluralism in Egypt.

ElBaradei: I Will Run Only Under a New Constitution

In November 2009, upon completion of his term as IAEA secretary-general, ElBaradei told CNN in an interview that he would run in Egypt's 2011 presidential election, but only if it were both free and fair.[2] In early December, he clarified that he would run under the following conditions: that a new constitution would be adopted, allowing any citizen to run for president as an independent candidate; that a balanced and independent committee would be formed to organize the elections; that all candidates would be given equal media coverage; and that the election would be held under full judicial supervision, including international supervision.[3]

ElBaradei has since repeated this position on numerous occasions.[4] He explained that he does not intend to run on behalf of any existing party, nor does he intend to found a new one – since he is unwilling subject himself to the indignity of appealing to the Political Parties Committee for a permit s long as thatommittee is controlled by the NDP. He added that he would like to see many strong parties in the Egyptian political arena, as is the case in Austria.[5]

In interviews with the foreign media, he has warned that if the Egyptian regime does not heed the calls for change, a popular intifada might break out in Egypt due to the desperation of the people, with scenes like those recently witnessed in Iran.[6]

A Warm Welcome – ElBaradei as a Catalyst for Change

Upon his return from Austria to resettle in Egypt on February 19, 2009, ElBaradei was greeted at the airport by thousands of Egyptians from diverse sectors, institutions, organizations, and movements. The reception was supervised by heightened anti-protest security forces.[7] Most Egyptian opposition parties and movements welcome ElBaradei's defiance of the regime, since they are willing to support anyone who can bring change to the country. Some have formed Facebook groups in support of him, prompting the emergence of rival groups supporting Gamal and Hosni Mubarak.[8] ElBaradei even accepted an honorary membership in the Free Constitution party, in recognition of his contribution to the homeland.[9]

A few days after his return to Egypt, ElBaradei announced the establishment of the National Front for Change, which he is leading together with 30 other oppositionists, including: Ayman Nour, presidential candidate on behalf of the Al-Ghad party; Dr. Sa'd Al-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in parliament; Dr. Hassan Nafi'a, coordinator of the Egyptian Campaign against Succession; Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, head of the Liberal Democratic Front party; and others.[10] In his first publication on behalf of the Front, ElBaradei set out seven demands for reforms to ensure free and fair elections: He called for lifting the emergency law, reinstating judicial supervision of the elections (by local and international NGOs); granting equal media coverage and air time to all presidential candidates; allowing Egyptians abroad to vote at their consulates; permitting all citizens to submit their candidacy without arbitrary constraints and conditions; imposing a two-term limit on the presidency; and using ID numbers for voting, to discourage fraud. The implementation of these reforms requires the amendment of three constitutional articles: Nos. 76, 77 and 78.[11]

Nevertheless, some opposition forces, such as the Al-Wafd party, have expressed objection to ElBaradei's candidacy, or have not yet formulated a uniform position in this regard, as in the case of the Al-Tagammu' party.[12] The Muslim Brotherhood has thus far refrained from expressing an official position. Their spokesmen said that the movement considers ElBaradei to be like any other national figure calling for reform, and that it is too early to form a position on his presidential candidacy, since the Muslim Brotherhood has not yet chosen a candidate for the election campaign.[13]

A group of seven other small parties – the Al-Ummah party, the Democratic Peace Party, the People's Democratic Party, the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party, the Free Republican Party, The Democratic Unionist Party and the Liberal Party (Hizb Al-Ahrar) – formed a rival coalition called the Popular Front for the Defense of Egypt. This front held a "popular trial" for ElBaradei, accusing him of promoting a foreign political agenda, and of assisting Iran's nuclear program, helping the U.S. to occupy Iraq, ignoring Israel's nuclear weapons, creating confusion among the Egyptian public, and violating the sanctity of the Egyptian constitution.[14]

Though he has not yet officially confirmed his candidacy or presented a platform, ElBaradei enjoys considerable popularity, and has been presented as a third option after the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. In his public appearances, he has stressed the need to address issues of poverty, education, health, infrastructure, Coptic-Muslim relations, and democratization. Thus the election campaign in Egypt has taken off; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak himself has stepped up electioneering, in the form of increased visits to the provinces, speeches on the needs of Egyptian citizens, and articles in the state press praising his regime's achievements.[15]

Mubarak: ElBaradei Is Entitled To Run for Office – If He Respects the Constitution

At a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Mubarak referred for the first time to the possibility that ElBaradei would run for president, saying that there were no restrictions on his participating in Egyptian political life, provided he acts in accordance with the constitution. Asked whether he saw ElBaradei as a national hero, Mubarak replied: "We don't need a national hero from here or there. If ElBaradei wants to join any party, he is free to do so, as an Egyptian citizen... If he wants to run as part of any party, he can, and if he wants to run as an independent, he can do that too. We have no restrictions in this realm, according to the constitution."[16]

Mubarak's son, Gamal, who many are wagering will be the NDP presidential candidate and will succeed his father, even though there has been no official announcement to this effect, has been asked to comment on the hubbub surrounding the possibility of ElBaradei's running and the conditions that he set. Asked in a conversation with students whether the constitution would be changed prior to the 2011 presidential elections to make it easier for independent candidates to run, he answered that the campaigning of institutional parties was very important. He said: "The independent candidate is the exception, not the rule. The question is whether we want to deepen party life or not... We have parties representing the right, the center, and the left. What we need is not new parties, but to strengthen the existing parties."

Gamal stressed that previous constitutional reform was carried out via dialogue with the parties, because, he said, "the constitution can't be changed by means of a newspaper article."[17]

Government Campaign to Delegitimize ElBaradei

The independent Egyptian press reported that the regime is making it difficult for ElBaradei to gain supporters. The Al-Shurouq daily revealed an Egyptian Foreign Ministry document instructing all Egyptian diplomatic delegations and consulates abroad not to approve the granting of official documents to ElBaradei needed for his campaign efforts.[18] The Al-Misriyyoun daily reported that the Egyptian Religious Endowments Ministry had instructed mosque imams to devote their Friday sermons throughout March 2010 to expressing support for Hosni Mubarak for president, and to presenting his rivals as sinning before Allah. The preachers were also asked to attack ElBaradei and to present him as deviating from the shari'a, by coming out against the country's legitimate ruler in a state in which there is a consensus vis-à-vis that ruler.[19]

NDP policy council member Dr. Jihad 'Awda even hinted, on a TV program, that ElBaradei could be arrested under the emergency law, as Ayman Nour was after the 2005 elections.[20] It was also reported that the security forces had dispersed a demonstration by hundreds of oppositionists who gathered in front of NDP headquarters in Al-Fayoum to express support for ElBaradei,[21] and arrested two members of the Egyptian April 6 Opposition movement for putting up posters supporting ElBaradei for president just prior to his return to Egypt.[22]

Al-Ahram Editor Hints ElBaradei Is Working for Foreign Interests

Most editors of Egypt's government newspapers, and most of their writers, launched a campaign to delegitimize ElBaradei. In an article titled "Dr. ElBaradei – Illusions After Retiring," Osama Saraya, editor of the government daily Al-Ahram, wrote: "It appears that Dr. ElBaradei still nurses resentment for his country... It must be made clear to him, and to the other candidates, or to those who are planning to run for the highest office, as he called it in his speech, that everyone must respect the existing constitution and its conditions, and must not seek a constitution 'by request,' as he wishes, that will serve the desires and aspirations of a few [individuals] or of foreign elements to rule the fate of Egypt...

"It must not be forgotten that ElBaradei was supported by the Americans, the Europeans, and other foreign elements against the Egyptian candidate [for IAEA director-general] at the time, Dr. Muhammad Shaker. Respecting the existing constitution ensures that whoever reaches the highest office will be fit for it and suited to it, [and will be someone] thoroughly versed in [Egypt's] internal problems and all its external problems. It is not enough for him to be an expert only in nuclear disarmament...

"If [ElBaradei] aspires, as he says, to working together to ensure a society that stands for the individual, and to assure the right of every individual to a dignified and secure life, our decisions must rely on a deep vision of this reality, and not on interpretation drafted by a force hostile to our land, that seeks to create chaos and problems or to open the door to intervention in Egypt's internal affairs. Experience has shown us that a society is built only by its sons. We have had enough intervention in our domestic affairs. The great catastrophes [that fell] upon the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan are enough [for us]...

"[ElBaradei,] spare yourself and your country and don't take part in harming the Egyptians, like the many who exploited the atmosphere of freedom and change in Egypt. [Don't be] an easy pawn for an external force or interest groups that are just waiting for a chance to lever the Egyptian experience of reform in the political, economic, and social areas towards external interests..."[23]

The Iraq Crisis Is ElBaradei's Fault

In another article, Saraya wrote: "If [ElBaradei decides] to run, it is best that he introduce the changes [he is proposing for the constitution] into his election platform, instead of imposing them as preconditions... I respect him greatly for his activity during his years of service in his various positions, even though I disagree with much of what he has done.

"Perhaps I am among those who think that ElBaradei and the IAEA [that he headed] are responsible for the current crisis in Iraq and for the nuclear weapons deception, as the international overseer [i.e. ElBaradei, was ambivalent in his stance], appearing to justify the invasion [of Iraq]. I also understand that the area in which he worked and specialized is one thing, while what [he is moving towards now] is something quite different, that demands qualifications that he does not, in my opinion, possess to a sufficient extent for a country of 80 million people, in a region characterized by much tension.

"Perhaps he knows that the long struggle of the Egyptians has always been against foreign intervention in their affairs, and they do not intend to place their will and their way of life into the hands of an international official, no matter what his stature. Egypt is a country of great institutions and fellaheen [simple farmers], and it wants whoever rules it to be one of them."[24]

Al-Ahram Board Director: What Is Good for the IAEA Is Not Necessarily Good Enough for Egypt

Al-Ahram board director and member of the upper house of parliament Dr. 'Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id wrote: "Dr. ElBaradei was the head of the IAEA, but most of the time he served as a supervisor whose job was to identify [nuclear development in various countries]. But... the IAEA never did succeed in identifying [nuclear development], and nearly all the secret nuclear programs that were exposed were revealed in ways that did not involve the IAEA supervisors... The IAEA reports generally refrained from indicating whether or not there was a problem, as was revealed in the case of Iran. [The reports were silent] because indicating that Iran had a military nuclear program would have brought ruin upon Iran, while indicating that it did not have one would have brought ruin upon the IAEA. The cost of this dilemma was to drag Arab countries like Syria and Egypt into [the list] of countries whose nuclear activities must be scrutinized...

"What will Dr. ElBaradei do with Iran [if he is elected president]? Clearly, in his former [capacity] he was kindly disposed towards [this country, and] this may have been right in terms of the IAEA's relations with Iran, but it is not [necessarily] right in terms of [Iran's] relations with Egypt... [And] what will he do with Israel, considering that his vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons is different from the vision Egypt is pursuing...? ElBaradei's method is to leave almost all the dossiers open, without regression [but] also without progress... The main concern is that what was considered a success at the IAEA, based on the principle of nuclear non-proliferation, will not be adequate for Egypt."[25]

Al-Gumhouriyya Editor: The Opposition Is Having Difficulty Finding an Alternative to Mubarak

Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, director of the government daily Al-Gumhouriyya and member of the upper house of parliament, attacked ElBaradei in many of his articles. He wrote: "It is clear that the years [ElBaradei] spent away from Egypt distracted him from the main issues that concern the Egyptian citizen... He liked the idea of returning to the spotlight and issuing an announcement... addressing various issues that have already been harped upon [endlessly] by foreign organizations and Egyptian movements, such as the protection of minorities and freedom of expression. This is what proves that the man does not know Egypt very well..."[26]

In another article, Ibrahim wrote: "ElBaradei's announcement that he means to run for president is proof that all the political forces and parties in Egypt are trying to find someone of [Hosni] Mubarak's stature... Do we want to change our lives for the better, or [just] to change the regime? The opposition claims that if we [only] change the regime, life in Egypt will quickly be transformed – as though Mubarak's replacement will have the magic solution to all our crises... [But] many examples in Arab countries and around the world have shown that changing the regime does not [necessarily] lead to an improvement in the state of democracy or in the people's quality of life...

"ElBaradei was received so warmly not because people [actually] pin their hopes upon him, upon [Arab League Secretary-General] 'Amr Moussa,[27] or upon anyone else – but because the [Egyptian] opposition is still looking for a spiritual father. Every country has an opposition leader who is an emblem. He can be a prisoner, an experienced politician, or an army general, but in any case he must be a political and social activist in his own country, familiar to his constituency. This is a major condition. Dr. ElBaradei is doubtless a man of international renown, as well as a celebrated scientist, as evident from his winning the Nobel Prize. But despite his qualifications, his political ability, and his statements setting out his vision for Egypt, he does not have what it takes [to be president]... The Islamists, Nasserists, communists and liberals have joined forces and formed a coalition, yet they have failed to find a leader. So they decided to import one..." [28]

*L. Azuri is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] These conditions were entered into the constitution as part of amendments to Article 76 made in 2005. See MEMRI I&A No. 217, "Egyptian Press Reactions to Change in Egypt's Presidential Electoral System," Egyptian Press Reactions to Change in Egypt's Presidential Electoral System, April 5, 2005.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 7, 2009.

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 4, 2009.

[4] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 10, 2009, February 19, 2010, Al-Shurouq (Egypt), December 19-23, 2009.

[5] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), February 23, 2010.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 28, 2010; Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), March 4, 2010.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 18, 2010.

[8] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 25, March 2, 2010.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), Al-Jarida (Kuwait), February 7, 2010.

[10] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 25, 2010.

[11] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 2, 2010.

[12] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 1, 2010.

[13] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 19, 2010.

[14] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), February 28, 2010, March 1, 2010; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 3, March 5, 2010.

[15] The Egyptian press published numerous reports of deals presented to ElBaradei or his rivals aimed at dissuading him from running for the elections. According to the independent Egyptian daily Al-Misriyyoun, the NDP policy committee, headed by Gamal Mubarak, is considering offering ElBaradei the post of Prime Minister should Gamal be elected president, on condition that ElBaradei does not run in the presidential elections. Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), February 22, 2010. A later article claimed that the NDP submitted an official proposal to ElBaradei, offering him a position as head of Egypt's nuclear program and the NDP committee on atomic energy. Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 27, 2010. The daily also reported that senior NDP official Ahmad 'Izz held secret meetings with several opposition party heads, and promised to increase their parties' annual funding from 500,000 Egyptian pounds to 3 million pounds if they opposed ElBaradei's candidacy. Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 9, 2010.

Al-Masri Al-Yawm reported, citing a "knowledgeable source," that the NDP has struck a deal with the Al-Wafd party to the effect that 23 seats in the People's Council will be reserved for this party if it refrains from endorsing ElBaradei for president. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 14, 2010.

[16] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 5, 2010.

[17] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), March 5, 2010.

[18] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), March 1, 2010.

[19] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 1, 2010.

[20]Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 1, 2010.

[21]Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 7, 2010.

[22] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 18, 2010.

[23] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 5, 2009.

[24] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 11, 2009.

[25] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 5, 2009.

[26] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), December 4, 2009.

[27] According to assessments, 'Amr Moussa also means to run for the Egyptian presidency, though he has made no announcement to this effect.

[28] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), February 25, 2010.

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