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Rules prevent an independent candidate from running for President of Egypt, but one man’s huge popular support could be threatening the established order.
April 13, 2010 4:59 by Ashraf Khalil
Throughout the second half of February, Egypt’s feisty media scene witnessed a unique and telling dynamic emerge on the nation’s front pages.
Each day’s independent newspapers brought new banner headlines about Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who has rocked the local political landscape. Meanwhile, over in the state-owned media houses, a completely alternate reality held sway. The three state dailies, Al Ahram, Al Akhbar, and Al Gomhouriya, were all studiously acting like ElBaradei and his publicly mushrooming movement didn’t exist.
When ElBaradei arrived in Cairo on February 19, after months of pointedly criticizing the state of Egyptian democracy, he was greeted by a mob scene. An estimated 1,000 supporters (remarkable in a country where unauthorized political gatherings are heavily repressed) held up posters, sang the national anthem, and shouted for ElBaradei to run for president against Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The crush was so dense outside the airport terminal that the 67-year-old ElBaradei was forced to leave by an alternative exit. The scene, and its political implications, garnered international media attention and rightfully dominated all independent media. Surreally, Al Ahram the next day ran a nine-line brief buried at the bottom of the front page, tersely noting that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had arrived in Cairo.
This remarkable head-in-the-sand approach from government media is a testament to the power of what ElBaradei has created with only a few interviews and public statements. His international profile and his wild public popularity have made it difficult to attack him. So, for the moment, they seem to be ignoring ElBaradei-mania and hoping it will go away.
But the 67-year-old lawyer and former Egyptian diplomat has shown no signs of softening his message. He made no public appearances during his time back in Egypt, but gave a series of interviews. And while he carefully avoided any personal criticism of Mubarak – who has ruled Egypt for 29 years – ElBaradai made clear his distaste and disapproval of the current state of Egyptian affairs.