Tags: ElBaradei | politics | saviour | egypt

Egyptians Mull ElBaradei as Political Saviour

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 06:23 PM

CAIRO, - The return to Cairo of former UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei has injected energy into the political landscape, but many people wonder whether he is the "saviour" Egypt has been waiting for.

ElBaradei, who arrived home on Friday to a rapturous welcome from hundreds of supporters, has repeatedly called for democratic change in Egypt since he stepped down as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year.

But as he dipped his toes into domestic Egyptian politics, state-owned dailies lashed out, accusing ElBaradei of being out of touch as others touted him as a man who could awaken the country from a political slumber.

"I'm against the idea of a saviour, there's no such thing," he told Dream TV in a weekend interview.

"I am worried that people have reached such a level of despair that they are waiting for one person to save them, but I would like for Egypt to save itself.

"If people want to change this country, everyone must join together in making that desire known," ElBaradei said.

He has repeatedly said this is not a challenge he is willing to take on alone, insisting on broad popular backing to pave the way.

But some political voices, including in the opposition, have warned ElBaradei not to be over-optimistic. He has called for constitutional amendments to ease restrictions on presidential candidates.

"The regime will never respond to this demand," said Mohammed Habib, a senior member of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

The constitution as it stands bars an ElBaradei candidacy. It requires candidates to have been a leading member of a party for at least one year and for the party to have existed for at least five years.

As an independent, he would need the backing of at least 250 elected officials from parliament's upper and lower houses and from municipal councils -- all bodies dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

"The Egyptian people are looking for a saviour to pull them out of this state of despair and frustration. Maybe they find this in ElBaradei, but he must realise that the road ahead is difficult and long and requires continued movement and hard work," Habib told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Yom.

ElBaradei had criticised the Muslim Brotherhood's position that rejects Christians running for the presidency, saying he was against religious parties.

But he found support in Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who hinted last year that he may run for the top job himself.

Mussa told an audience at the American University in Cairo that "everyone wants change. We are worried about the future of Egypt and this is our right."

Backing also came from the literary world, including from novelist Alaa al-Aswany, author of internationally acclaimed best-seller "The Yacoubian Building."

"Thousands of Egyptians overcame their fear and gathered at the airport to welcome him," despite security forces' warnings against any mass gathering to mark ElBaradei's arrival, Aswany said.

Those at the airport were not "professional politicians, they were ordinary Egyptians from different provinces and different social classes and included Muslims and Christians and women, some in veils and some in niqab," he said.

"For millions of Egyptians ElBaradei has become a symbol of hope and change... Egypt has woken up," Aswany added.

Others look upon the support for ElBaradei as more of a token protest than anything else.

"The exaggerated reaction is turning him into the nation's saviour," said political writer Fahmy Howeidy.

But "people are supporting him not because he is ElBaradei but because he is not Mubarak senior or Gamal," the president's son widely believed to be being groomed to take over from his father, Howeidy said.

The leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party has always implied that the only choice in the political arena was either it or the Muslim Brotherhood, a card it has long played to stay in power, Howeidy said.

"But some see (in ElBaradei) a figure who is neither the National Democratic Party nor the Muslim Brotherhood, and were quick to stand behind him," he said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 06:23 PM
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