14 March 2010
Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, last month declared he would be running for the presidency of Egypt in next year’s election as an independent, away from any political party. This is why, he said, he intended to fight for the amendment of the constitutional articles that hinder independents from running.
Mr ElBaradei claimed his first priority was to bring change to Egypt, for a better future. “If my running for president can bring about the change so many Egyptians aspire for, I will not let them down”. The people can bring about change through applying pressure on the government by collecting signatures for the change they envision, he explained. This is not new to Egypt, he said; it happened during the 1920s in the peak of Egypt’s national movement, under the leader Saad Zaghloul.
Mr ElBaradei has left Egypt to Europe and the United States where he will be gone for around one month. Prior to his departure, he met some 30 leaders of opposition political movements in Egypt, who joined him in forming the National Assembly for Change, the direct aim of which is to amend the Constitution.
The assembly, Mr ElBaradei pointed out, is “open to all Egyptians”. The primary objective, he said, is to set up a mechanism to implement amendments within the current Constitution, and to ensure the integrity of the upcoming elections.
According to Mr ElBaradei. Egypt will be undergoing critical parliamentary elections this year and presidential elections the next, and there is an urgency for change. The opposition leaders, he said, agreed upon moving in a peaceful manner to bring about the desired change. He added he was against being hailed as a “saviour” but he is willing to run against Mubarak if the Constitution would permit it. Egyptians ought to understand, he said, that the way to a loaf of bread passes through democracy.
Rifaat al-Saïd, head of the leftist Tagammu Party, appeared wary of Mr ElBaradei’s dream. “It will open the door to a religious State, since he believes he can unite the Egyptian opposition movements under one umbrella, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) who call for an Islamic State,” Mr Saïd told Watani. Once the MB are legally allowed to form a party, all other religious groups will be able to do so. A religious State, Mr Said says, would drag the country backwards.
The secretary-general of the liberal Wafd party, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, believes that Mr ElBaradei has made it difficult for himself to run for president, since he insists on running as an independent. “Even though he appears truthful and possesses a vision, he does not seem to be aware of the intricacies of the Egyptian political map.” Abdel-Nour believes that ElBaradei’s dependence on the young people is inspiring because they are full of energy and ambition, but he should not forget that he would need experience and wisdom as well.
“Change,” Abdel-Nour says, “can only be achieved through long, hard work and this can only be maintained by well established political parties, not through movements which may disappear as suddenly as they emerged.”
The current constitutional articles which make it almost impossible for an independent to stand as a presidential candidate—at least 250 signatures should be garnered from officials in elected bodies, but these are dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party—came under the ire of Baheiddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights. Mr Hassan says there is no way to change Egypt’s Constitution any time soon, “Everyone knows the candidate of the ruling party will win—whoever that candidate may be.”
For his part, Salah Eissa, editor-in-chief of the Cairo weekly State-owned al-Qahira points out that this is not the first call for constitutional amendments; several requests were submitted by the opposition but were never granted. Mr Eissa believes it is the mission of ElBaradei to convince the public to move for change no matter whether or not he runs for president.
In order to succeed, Mr Eissa says, Mr ElBaradei must secure the signatures of two million supporters calling for an amendment of the Constitution. This is a next to impossible task, according to Mr Eissa.
It would have been more feasible, Mr Eissa says, for Mr ElBaradei to have joined a political party to run for Parliament first then run for president.