Mohamed Al-Baradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now Egypt’s vice president, rarely responds to media attacks. They are something to which he has become accustomed since returning to Egypt in January 2010. Then, Hosni Mubarak was president and the state-owned media was adept at campaigns of vilification against anyone who dared question his competence.
Now, it seems, Al-Baradei has run out of patience.
Communicating through his favourite channel, Twitter, Al-Baradei wrote in Arabic on Sunday: “Lies and attempts at distortion since January 2010 by lackeys hired in a desperate attempt to maintain tyranny; against my work, my record as an international official and my personal life. To all these, I say: I will continue speaking publicly on behalf of freedom, dignity and human values as long as I remain alive, and the revolution will win.”
A day earlier he was less direct, tweeting: “The revolution was for freedom, human dignity and social justice. The challenge is to smother tyranny and authoritarianism in all its forms. Time is critical.”
When Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced on 3 July the roadmap that led to the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi he was surrounded by Al-Baradei, then leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the coalition of liberal and leftist parties that led the opposition against the Muslim Brotherhood, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the Coptic pope, leaders of the Tamarod youth group and the vice president of the Salafist Nour Party.
Al-Baradei was subsequently appointed vice president for international relations, an influential role that put him in close touch with new Interim President Adli Mansour and General Al-Sisi. Alongside the prime minister and his deputy, Hazem Al-Beblawi and Ziad Bahaaeddin, and the appointment of six ministers who belonged to political parties that were part of the NSF, Al-Baradei’s emergence as vice president signalled to the world that the opposition to the Brotherhood was now in charge of Egypt.
Yet following bloody clashes with Brotherhood supporters on 26 July that left at least 72 people dead, Al-Baradei could be forgiven if he thought little had changed: state-owned newspapers, as well as television shows on private channels whose owners were part and parcel of the Mubarak regime, began a fierce campaign against him.
Abdel-Rehim Ali, an expert on militant Islamic groups who had close ties with the Interior Ministry under Mubarak, claims Al-Baradei threatened to resign on 26 July if the police attack on Brotherhood supporters went further or the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in was broken up violently. “The police,” says Ali, “were ready to finish the job but they were held back by Dr Al-Baradei.”
Ali, like many Brotherhood critics, insists “no state in the world would allow such violent sit-ins where participants store arms, torture and kill opponents, yet remain untouched in the middle of residential neighbourhoods in a crowded capital like Cairo.”
Novelist and newspaper columnist Gamal Al-Ghitani used an entire page of Al-Akhbar to claim Al-Baradei was “a danger to the Egyptian people and state”. Al-Ghitani’s main charge was that Al-Baradei cared more about his reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and his relationship with the Obama administration in Washington than he did for the interests of the Egyptian people which, Al-Ghitani claimed, lay in breaking up the Brotherhood’s sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda, whatever the cost. Al-Ghitani joined many supporters of the former Mubarak regime in arguing the Brotherhood should be treated like a terrorist organisation and banned.
Scores of articles appeared charging that Al-Baradei had promoted “foreign intervention” in domestic affairs by allowing European, African, American, Qatari and Emirati top officials to visit Egypt and meet with senior Brotherhood officials, including former president Morsi.
Sources close to Al-Baradei say he was upset by the new round of attacks against him and by the failure to recognise his efforts to reach a compromise that would save Egyptian blood. One informed source told Al-Ahram Weekly that senior foreign officials, particularly from the United States, Qatar and the EU, “were allowed to meet Brotherhood leaders mainly because they enjoyed good ties with them… we were hoping they could influence their decisions.”
“We wanted to show the world that we were sparing no effort to reach a peaceful settlement and to convince the Brotherhood to join the new political process… [but] when the Brotherhood maintained the same stubborn stance and refused to move on it was the presidency that announced in a statement the end of all foreign diplomatic efforts”.
Responding to Al-Ghitani’s article, Al-Baradei tweeted: “It seems my work to prevent the country from slipping into a circle of violence does not reach governmental newspapers other than articles about ‘danger to people and the state’. The road ahead is long and bumpy.”
Al-Baradei has refused to dignify other allegations, recurrent since Mubarak days, concerning his personal life and his faith as well as his work with the IAEA, with a reply.
Despite increasingly hysterical calls for the government to violently break up the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins there are signs that Al-Baradei’s approach is winning out.
“Brotherhood leaders are clearly looking for another massacre to play the victim’s role, which they are very skillful in performing,” said one well-informed government source. “We cannot allow them to push us to play according to their own rules. They are bringing in more children to Rabaa every day, using them as human shields, writing ‘martyr’ on their shirts. If more people get killed we will get caught up in a bout of people screaming look at the military-supported regime that kills children just as in Syria.”
Recently Al-Baradei has been forced to refute speculation that he intended to stand in presidential elections. His line in recent interviews has consistently been that he is far more interested in playing “the role of the coach”, helping write a proper constitution that guarantees basic freedoms and opens the door for development “and then hand over responsibility to the new generation of young Egyptians who deserve this role”.