Tag Archives: Mohamed ElBaradei

So far, Mubarak still has the upper hand

Friday prayers in Tahrir Square. Or a close-up of a quilt. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

For more on my encounter with a purple-shirted sabre-wielder, and how Nelson Mandela prevented my arrest, see here: http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-02-04-millions-defy-mubaraks-sabre-rattling-to-march-on-the-day-of-departure.

My quick verdict on the day. Mubarak has played it very well. He’s let the protests happen, he’s minimised violence, and he’s let the people blow off steam. Today’s demonstrations, the largest since the problems began, feel like a climax; the opposition must be wondering what more they can really do, without resorting to violence, that will persuade Mubarak to leave; they will also be wondering for how long they, and the country, can sustain this level of unrest. I have a feeling that the popular mood will start swinging against the opposition, especially after the apparent concession that Mubarak has made, culminating in Omar Suleiman telling the so-called Wisemen Committee of opposition leaders that he will assume all presidential powers and Mubarak will be president in name only; an ‘honorary president’. Albeit one without honour – and that is why I don’t think that’s a real concession. Neither do the opposition leaders, which is why they will keep going for as long as possible.

But who are the opposition leaders? I’m not sure that revolutions can be sustained by committee. Is Egypt missing a proper figurehead, a person to really take charge and offer a viable alternative? The best bet for that person, in my opinion, is still Mohamed ElBaradei; perhaps its time for him to stop playing the diplomat, and start playing the revolutionary. Then maybe he’ll get to play president for a while too.

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The Day of Reckoning

The calm before the storm. Even in a revolution, Cairo does not wake up early, especially not on a Friday morning. The streets are calm but the atmosphere is tense; this is the Day of Departure, as the opposition have billed it; the day when they expect Mubarak to leave. Otherwise…well, that I’m not sure there is an otherwise. No one I’ve spoken to has given me a convincing plan B. It’s all or nothing today, and they’ll be hoping for a turnout so overwhelming that Mubarak has simply no choice but to leave. But Mubarak, supposedly safe in Sharm el Sheikh, will be far from the action; is he likely to be bowed by a show of mass support for the opposition?

And the opposition themselves need not just support from the masses, but a more active role for their leaders. There have been some famous faces at the protests, including Egyptian movie stars and other celebrities – I saw Nawal el Sadaawi, the author, on Wednesday in the square, coming out of a mosque. A Muslim Brotherhood activist whom I was speaking to observed: “She hates Islam. She’s only in the mosque or the WC.”

But where has Mohamed ElBaradei been for the last few days? Not in Tahrir. Where have the other leaders of the main opposition groups been? Apparently, they’ve been meeting and planning behind the scenes. Well, today is the day they need to show themselves in the square and stand arm in arm with the people they want to represent.

By the end of the day, we should know which way the wind is blowing, and where Egypt future lies.

VERDICT: The revolution goes forth. Viva la revolution.

Also: http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-02-04-egypt-prepares-for-day-of-reckoning-aka-day-of-departure

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A tale of two men: Omar Suleiman delegates, ElBaradei dances

I’ve only once felt dirty, or sullied, in my working career. I had to prepare a letter of invitation for Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman, for decades Hosni Mubarak’s right hand man: head of intelligence service, runner of secret prisons, compiler of blacklists, torturer-in-chief (although I’m not sure he ever got his own hands dirty; the first rule of succesful tyranny, at all levels, is that the really bad shit must always be delegated). Whatever happened in Egypt, Suleiman knew it first. The invitation was merely a matter of protocol, and I knew that the letter would undoubtedly get lost in the vast corridors of the Mogamma, the monolithic yet somewhat magnificent Interior Ministry building on Tahrir Square. Yet I still felt uneasy at even the hint of a personal connection between myself and this monster of a man.

That feeling returned on Saturday when Mubarak, in his wisdom (or desperation?) appointed Suleiman as his vice-president. Suleiman would not have been Mubarak’s first choice. He’s not stupid, and he knows what they people want, and he knows what the people know, and the people know that Suleiman is not what they want. There are some relative moderates in Mubarak’s political circle, and they would have been much better choices; if still ineffective. Rumour has it that they said no. Either way, the new Vice-President has only inflamed the opposition.

Speaking of choices: a much better one has been made by the Egyptian opposition, whoever that may encompass: Mohamed ElBaradei is a safe pair of hands as the opposition figurehead. I have had the privilege of meeting the man himself; he is measured, dignified, and supremely intelligent. He dances very poorly, but that is neither here nor there. He also has a moral backbone. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the Presidency is his end goal; he is much more concerned with toppling Mubarak and ensuring a new, transparent, progressive politics emerges. My hope is that he can be some kind of interim leader, one that oversees the country and organises proper elections, even if this takes a couple of years. Egypt must not repeat the mistake made in Iraq, where interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi focussed more on getting himself re-elected, and the political squabbles which are an inevitable part of that, than actually getting the country off the ground. ElBaradei, as the only unifying figure in a fairly disparate opposition (and the only person with serious international credibility), is the perfect candidate to manage this transition process. If he is not completely selfless, and few are, he is also well aware that this role is likely to do far more for his reputation and legacy than would a couple of messy terms as president of a country which will take some time to get itself right. What are the odds on a Nobel Peace Prize being awarded twice to the same person? Perhaps its worth a punt.

VERDICT: Omar Suleiman goes 4th, despite the promotion; Mohamed ElBaradei goes forth, with the weight of Egypt and the world’s expectations on his shoulders.

PS. Thanks to Always Judged Guilty for the welcome back.

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Mohamed ElBaradei goes forth

Mohamed ElBaradei: proof that a passing resemblance to Mr Potatohead is not a disqualification from a successful career in international diplomacy

When Mohamed ElBaradei finished his term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, most observers expected him to enjoy his retirement, to rest on his well-deserved laurels. He was already an international icon, a Nobel Laureate, and one of the few figures of authority that argued against the invasion of Iraq. At the time, the Egyptian diplomat was ridiculed for his insistence that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction; seven years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, we all know he was right. After such a distinguished career, no one would have held it against him if he’d gone on a few speaking tours and maybe set up some ambiguous, self-referential NGO (such as the Kofi Annan Foundation). This is the path of most international diplomats.

Not Mohamed ElBaradei. He ditched the coliseum of international politics for a much dirtier arena: challenging the overwhelming authority of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. There are elections in 2011, and Gamal Mubarak, Hosni’s son, was being groomed for power. Then ElBaradei stepped in, saying in an interview that he would not consider participating in the elections until Egypt massively reformed its electoral system. Suddenly, Egypt’s vibrant social media scene came alive; blogs like the Arabist were beside themselves with excitement at the implications of an ElBaradei candidacy. Of course, ElBaradei is nothing if not a canny politician; he refrained from directly criticising the government, although the criticism was of course implied. And he was not declaring his candidacy, either; just floating its possibility, if certain conditions about the electoral system were met. Suddenly, Egypt’s beleaguered opposition had an internationally recognised, credible figure to echo their complaints, and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt’s main opposition party) soon endorsed ElBaradei’s demands for change.

Last Friday, he took his campaign to the next level, appearing at a public protest with 4000 others on Alexandria’s sweeping corniche. The protest was against police brutality, and specifically the alleged death at police hands of young man after an altercation at a cafe. It was a sit-in, and meant to be silent. ElBaradei reportedly asked organisers not to chant anti-government slogans, and apparently left the protest soon after this happened anyway. He’s challenging the government, but doing it carefully, not giving Mubarak any ammunition to use against him. We love what ElBaradei is doing, and how he is doing it; using his international standing as his protection, he is really publicising the repressive nature of Mubarak’s regime. He is not trying to be president; he’s just trying to create the conditions where another president may be possible. It’s a brave move, one that other prominent figures have declined to take (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Annan, etc.); he serves as a role model for others.

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Ibrahim Prize goes forth

For the second year in a row, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was not awarded to anybody. It wasn’t hard to see why – since last year, no new candidates of suitable stature had become eligible, and the Prize Committee had already deemed last year’s batch “credible” but not exceptional. And this is a prize for exceptional leadership. As Mo Ibrahim clearly says, the Prize is not meant to be awarded every year; and, crucially, he adds that this is not an African problem. Were the prize to be awarded only to European heads of state or government, would it have been awarded every one of the last four years? I’m not so sure. Listen to Mo Ibrahim’s comments here. A brave decision by the Prize Committee, which includes notables such as Kofi Annan, Graça Machel and Mohamed ElBaradei.

The point to take from the decision is that the Ibrahim Prize is not a reflection of African governance in general. If you want that, have a look at the Ibrahim Index, also produced by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which assesses governance on the continent. It is a mechanism to reward and praise those leaders who have excelled on the continent, and ultimately, the higher the standards of the prize, the more leaders will have to strive to attain it. And that can only be a good thing.

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