Monday,19 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Monday,19 February, 2018
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Whatever happened to Al-Baradei?

Dina Ezzat traces the path of elusive opposition politician Mohamed Al-Baradei

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A meeting this week of the leadership of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a loose umbrella group for the anti-Muslim Brotherhood political opposition, was missed by many of its top leaders. 

Attention was accorded to the fact that the meeting was missed by former presidential frontrunners Hamdeen Sabahi, whose hopes of NSF support may have been crushed, and Amr Moussa, who has chosen to offer explicit support for the candidacy of the Army Chief Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, in the next presidential elections.

However, hardly any attention was accorded to the fact that the meeting was also missed by Mohamed Al-Baradei, the man who represented the NSF on 3 July when the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi was announced by Al-Sisi and whose name has been closely associated with the call for political change over the last four years.

Wahid Abdel-Meguid, the newly assigned spokesman of the NSF, said that Al-Baradei had frozen his membership of the NSF after having accepted the post of vice-president to interim president Adli Mansour last July. The job had had an international relations focus and had been short-lived since Al-Baradei resigned in the wake of the dispersal of the two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in mid-August.

“Since that time he has not been in touch with the NSF and has not called for the resumption of his membership. He hasn’t offered his views or his analysis either,” Abdel-Meguid said.

In fact, Al-Baradei has absented himself not just from the NSF but also from the entire political scene in Egypt. He has accepted a teaching position in a leading law school in the US and has not come back to Egypt since or even offered his analysis through his previously much-celebrated tweets on the social-networking site Twitter.

Al-Baradei’s last tweet was a little over two weeks ago, when he offered sentimental reflection on the state of the country and suggested that all Egyptians “have hurt one another” and that a healing process was due.

There has been criticism in many quarters as a result of Al-Baradei’s apparent choice to turn a blind eye to the developments in the country, including the continued confrontations between the authorities and the Islamists, the increasing “security harassment” of liberal activists and commentators, and the adjustments to the road map, of which Al-Baradei was the original author, to allow for presidential elections to take place before the parliamentary ones.

The social media have been a particular venue for expressions of dismay over Al-Baradei’s disappearance at a time of political turmoil, qualified in some revolutionary quarters as the victory of the “counter-revolution”.

“I am not sure why he has chosen to refrain from reacting to political developments. This is something I cannot answer for with any degree of certainty, but what I can firmly say is that at this point of strict polarisation, actually verging on an outright state of fascism, there is hardly any room for any middle-of-the-road ideas. The mood is simply set on all-out confrontation,” said Ziyad Al-Elimi, a political activist closely associated with Al-Baradei during the last four years.

This mood of confrontation, said Hanan Al-Badawi, a writer and researcher, was not something that Al-Baradei should be spared the blame for. “When Morsi was removed, it was not like when [ousted former president Hosni] Mubarak was removed because at the end of the day and despite his colossal mistakes Morsi was an elected president with a real constituency. His removal, which was a result of widespread anger, should have been followed by early presidential elections, as the people demanded at the time.”

Al-Badawi added that early presidential elections would have brought the will of the people to the forefront and would have denied Morsi’s supporters the right to claim legitimacy. “Unfortunately, Al-Baradei, who we all know authored the road map, did not see this. He chose to pursue the course of reform he had prescribed after the fall of Mubarak, which was not appropriate at the time.”

The road map announced by Al-Sisi on the evening of 3 July ordered the revision of the constitution adopted under the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. However, this scheme, Al-Badawi argued, overlooked the fact that there had been elections and a referendum that had produced Morsi’s presidency and constitution.

Al-Baradei’s insistence on starting all over again had helped ferment the resentment of Morsi supporters and had contributed to the state of polarisation that took a bloody curve with the dispersal of the sit-ins. “After this happened, Al-Baradei chose to quit the scene,” she said. Had he “been more in touch with political reality,” he would have realised the complications that would come about as a consequence of following the road map. 

“But unfortunately he acted upon the ideas that he held rather than the political reality that he was out of touch with,” she said.

However, Abdel-Meguid said that it had been impossible for Al-Baradei to do otherwise. Direct political engagement, Abdel-Meguid argued, was not something that Al-Baradei had seemed willing to show at any point in time.

 “This was also the case when he chose to quit the 2012 presidential race even before it started on the grounds that he dreaded what he qualified as ‘dirty political games’,” Abdel-Meguid said. “He is not a man who is cut out for politics, and it was wrong from the beginning to expect him to be the one to fight for his ideas.”

 It was about this time four years ago that the name of Al-Baradei first came forward in association with calls for the democratisation of Egypt, calls that had already been made by the domestic group Kifaya (Enough), started by George Ishak and Abdel-Wahab Al-Messiri.

Al-Baradei, whose name as a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been most associated with developments in Iraq and Iran, chose to confront a then seemingly very confident Mubarak. He put forward proposals for political reforms that attracted the support of thousands of activists and citizens.

 It has been four years since Al-Badawi signed this appeal for change, and she still gives Al-Baradei the credit for it. “At the time Al-Baradei offered what was missing: a clear vision for change, something that many people seemed to really want,” she said. However, after that point Al-Baradei’s actions were perhaps not particularly compatible with the expectations of those who looked up and reached out to him upon his return to Egypt.

“Maybe it is true that we expected too much of him. Maybe it is true that we did not listen carefully to what he was really trying to say when he kept reminding us that he was not the saviour we were looking for. But it is also true that he sometimes gave enough signals to suggest that he was willing to evolve from a principled visionary to a real politician,” said human rights activist Ahmed Hishmat.

 “I think he thought about it and he tried to do it, but at the end he couldn’t,” Hishmat added.

 Al-Elimi said that any assessment of the contributions made by Al-Baradei to the political development of Egypt over the past four years should not ignore the contrast between what Al-Baradei personally believed in, “which is that the people could save themselves,” and what the people were looking for, “a savior, let us say”.

Bassel Adel, who contributed to the launch of the opposition Dostour Party under the “hesitant” leadership of Al-Baradei over a year ago, said that “Al-Baradei was neither a saviour nor a firm actor. Every time push came to shove he chose to pull back, no matter what the consequences were.”

Al-Baradei was “perfectly entitled” to have reservations about the way the sit-ins were dispersed last year, Adel said. “But the real question is why Al-Baradei walked out of the entire political process to which he had been a party afterwards.”

 Abdel-Meguid and Adel said that the withdrawal of Al-Baradei had spared him from involvement in something he found incompatible with his values, but that it had also dealt a serious blow to the democratic camp and in favour of a security-alone approach.

 At the end of the day, Abdel-Meguid said, the security-alone approach had gained more influence across the political scene, and not just within the regime, prompting many people to question the political path that has been unfolding since the 25 January Revolution.

 “Today, many people are still looking for a saviour. Instead of hoping for a civil saviour, however, the search is now on for a strong military saviour,” Hishmat said. “At this point, maybe we should admit that Al-Baradei does not have much to offer. Maybe this is what he thinks as well.”

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