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Candidate ElBaradei

Candidate ElBaradei

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

President Mubarak, for the most part, has remained above the ElBaradei fray. The 81-year-old former fighter pilot has yet to say whether he will even seek a sixth presidential term. Mubarak’s tenure and advanced age (he recently had emergency gall bladder surgery) have provoked rampant local speculation that he intends to transfer power to his son Gamal – a rising force in the ruling party.

During a recent state visit to Germany, Mubarak dismissed the ElBaradei phenomenon, denying that the former IAEA chief had risen to hero status among the Egyptian people. “Egypt does not need a national hero, because the whole people are heroes,” he said. He also seemed to shrug off the constitutional reform idea, saying that ElBaradei, or any other Egyptian citizen, was free to challenge for the presidency – provided they abide by the existing rules.

Constitutional issues aside, ElBaradei has laid out other (equally unlikely) conditions for his candidacy. These include written guarantees that the presidential vote will be free, fair and supervised by international monitors. ElBaradei has acknowledged that securing these conditions will be nearly impossible. Instead he seems to be embracing his role as a political agitator, using his international stature and high profile to pressure the government toward reform.

“I would like to be, at this time, an agent to push Egypt toward a more democratic and transparent regime,” he told Foreign Policy magazine earlier this year. “If I am able to do that, I will be very happy because we need to achieve democracy in the Arab world as fast as we can.”

During one of his Egyptian talk show appearances, he rejected suggestions that he viewed himself as the country’s savior. “My goal is for Egypt to save itself,” he said.

ElBaradei spent his 10 days in Cairo meeting an array of political actors and activists. His ongoing impromptu political salon briefly turned ElBaradei’s villa on the edge of Cairo into the center of the political landscape, with the media closely tracking who came and went.

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