The ElBaradei Effect

Khaled Diab of the Guardian makes some interesting points about the much publicised return of IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to Cairo:

The decision to rally around ElBaradei is born of the realisation by activists and the opposition – with the notable exception of the Muslim Brotherhood – that they lacked a charismatic figure to represent people of all classes and political stripes. They are also gambling that ElBaradei’s international standing will protect him from the wrath of the regime and spare him the fate of the previous challenger to Mubarak’s hegemony, Ayman Nour.

So far, the regime has been doing its best to ignore the new pretender’s return and downplay the extent of Baradei Fever. As one blogger put it: “I’m going to enjoy sitting back and watching how the Mubaraks deal with this wildcard.”

But what are ElBaradei’s chances? Many experts are doubtful that ElBaradei will be able run as an independent candidate and time is running out for him to attach himself to a political party. Moreover, joining a party would rob him of his unifying appeal. Amr Hashim Rabie of the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies believes that the best ElBaradei can hope for is to embarrass the regime at home and abroad and to galvanise popular opposition in 2011.

But perhaps it’s too early to write off ElBaradei’s chances. Several months ago, few would’ve suspected the Nobel laureate would be in the situation he’s in today. Besides, we should never underestimate the power of the people, even in a semi-authoritarian regime.

And therein lies ElBaradei’s most powerful weapon. He is a popular figure in Egypt – with over 122,000 members of a Facebook group supporting him in a country where internet penetration is still fairly low. And he understands the power of the people and the need to win their support and backing. A reflection of this savvy is that he wasted no time in meeting the young advocates who first floated the idea of his candidacy and even recorded a Facebook message to them. In recognition of Egypt’s youth bulge and the power of the young to change and innovate, he has also invited young people to become active members of his coalition.

Of course, even if ElBaradei becomes the next president, Egypt will not be magically transformed into a prosperous democracy. That, as I pointed out in my vision for a democratic Egypt, will take generations of concerted effort. Encouragingly, many of his aspirations correspond with other reform-minded Egyptians’ views – and he has indicated that he would not seek re-election if he failed to deliver results. I would go one step further and urge him only to seek a single term in office during which he can democratise the country’s institutions and then hand over the baton to new generations of elected leaders.

I’m not quite sure why Egypt is only considered a ‘semi-authoritarian’ regime, but other than that a good analysis by Diab.

An interesting question will be what impact the run up to the 2011 election in Egypt will have on the other autocratic regimes in the region. Should ElBaradei somehow come to power in Cairo – though, it should be said, there are so many obstacles in the way right now that it seems highly unlikely – the prospects for reverberations around the region are quite high. With this in mind, don’t be surprised to see subtle endorsements of Mubarak from Amman, Riyadh and the Gulf in the coming year. Maybe even from Washington and Tel Aviv. After all, who stands to lose most from a genuine democratic government in the Arab world?

Following the above post, Newsy.com emailed me the following video which is a useful visual summary of some the key issues surrounding the ElBaradei issue in Egypt. Much thanks!

Video: ElBaradei Signals Run For Egypt Presidency

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