Baradei is back again
Mohamed El-Baradei is back to Egypt, with his supporters determined to cause as much discomfort to the NDP as possible, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
After more than two weeks during which he visited Germany, South Korea and the US, Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), returned to Cairo on Sunday.
Being overseas did not prevent El-Baradei from pressing his call for change in Egypt. He told an Austrian newspaper that he was sure "the regime will never accept to amend the constitution though the number of Egyptians calling for constitutional and political reform is increasing and this is an encouraging sign".
"The current constitution," El-Baradei argued, "should be changed so that I and other independent candidates enjoy the right of running in the presidential elections of 2011." He explained that, "it was by no means on my agenda when I retired as IAEA head that I face President Mubarak in presidential elections but reformist academics and young activists urged me to lead a broad-based movement for change."
"Change," predicts El-Baradei, who accepted to be head of the National Assembly for Change (NAC), "is inevitable, and the regime should be ready to accept it in order to avoid confrontation with the people."
George Ishaq, a leading member of the political protest movement Kifaya, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the NAC has prepared a working paper on its strategy.
"We will discuss the strategy, which is focussed on garnering as much popular support as possible for the NAC with El-Baradei," said Ishaq. "We are seeking to urge the official opposition parties to join forces with the El-Baradei-led NAC in the belief that we share a single vision of reform and that by joining forces we can pressure the regime to democratise."
That may prove wishful thinking given the way in which El-Baradei was attacked during the conference on constitutional reform organised by opposition parties between 13 and 15 March.
Mahmoud Abaza, leader of the liberal-oriented Wafd Party, took the opportunity to criticise El-Baradei, lamenting that "once he was back in Egypt he was keen to declare that he has no interest in coordinating with opposition parties and that he prefers to communicate with the public directly".
"This is his right and we respect him but he and his supporters should not give themselves the right to impose their agenda on us or expect that we rally behind them," said Abaza. "The credit for revitalising political life and constitutional reform should not go to El-Baradei, who has lived outside Egypt for more than 30 years. It is opposition parties, and the Wafd foremost among them, that have been the driving force behind the movement for reform."
Abaza's party's mouthpiece, Al-Wafd newspaper, also launched a scathing attack against the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Yom, accusing it of spreading "lies about the Wafd in favour of polishing the image of El-Baradei and marketing him to the masses" after it carried a report suggesting Wafd had entered into a deal with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
Significantly, leaders of other opposition parties distanced themselves from Abaza's statements. Rifaat El-Said, chairman of the leftist Tagammu Party, said "we are not in conflict with El-Baradei", remarking that "Tagammu had invited El-Baradei to enter into dialogue".
"The problem is that he is against any kind of contact with the opposition parties."
A statement issued by Tagammu to coincide with El-Baradei's return described his calls for reform as "imaginary and misleading".
Osama El-Ghazali Harb, on the other hand, is in favour of joining forces with El-Baradei. "We share the same vision with him and we hope that all the opposition will be united behind him," said the chairman of the Democratic Front.
Ishaq told the Weekly that NAC's strategy also focuses on collecting as many signatures as possible in support of El-Baradei's agenda for reform.
On 21 March a group of political activists formed the National Action Group (NAG), which also aims to press for reform. They include Hamdi Qandil, the TV broadcaster and well known Nasserist, Mahmoud El-Khodeiri, a retired reformist judge, and Ishaq.
"The NAG was born to join forces with El-Baradei's NAC," says Qandil. "We share El-Baradei's vision, which is based on the necessity of amending articles 76, 77 and 88 ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections."
On the same day the NAC held its first meeting to debate its strategy in support of El-Baradei.
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a Cairo University professor and NAC member, said El-Baradei will meet very soon with members of the assembly to debate their strategy for the coming period, focussing on ways to collect as many signatures as possible either from people on the street or through the Internet.
The announcements of El-Baradei and his supporters seem hardly to have ruffled the regime. NDP's Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, in an interview with Al-Mussawar magazine, affirmed that party has no plans to amend the constitution.
"The restrictions imposed on candidates by Article 76," he argued, "are necessary to deter adventurers from winning the post of the presidency which is the jewel in the Egyptian crown."