Why ElBaradei's hopes of run at presidency will stay a pipe dream
FORMER nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei's bombshell that he is considering running for Egypt's presidency in 2011 will not translate into a competitive election, even if he succeeds in entering the race.
But the move could signal that the 67-year-old former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency wants to use his international stature to press for democratic reforms in his home country, which has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for more than a quarter century.
Egypt experimented with its first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005 that it touted as a process of democratisation but which critics panned as a sham. Few have any hopes that 2011 will be any different.
"If anything, 2005 was the high point in our political experience and we have been going downhill since then," said Ghada Shahbender, who co-founded election watchdog Shayfeencom (we see you).
"He (ElBaradei] requires constitutional reform. I don't see it happening in the next year. He requires carefully monitored non-fraudulent elections. It is not something that has happened in my lifetime."
ElBaradei, who has laid out tough conditions for running, enters Egypt's political fray as speculation mounts over who will succeed 81-year-old Mubarak, who is widely expected to seek another term in 2011, health permitting.
Some voices in Egypt's opposition have urged ElBaradei to challenge him, hoping to block the president from passing on power to his politician son Gamal, widely tipped as the most likely candidate to lead Egypt after his father.
But logistical and political hurdles make a serious opposition run by ElBaradei, or any other challenger, unlikely.
Other possible successors to Mubarak include his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, or another military candidate.
A less likely candidate is Arab League chief Amr Moussa, an outspoken former foreign minister who is popular in Egypt for his criticism of Israel. In surprise remarks, Moussa did not rule out a presidential run when asked.
ElBaradei, tipped as a possible consensus candidate, has said he would consider mounting a presidential campaign but first demanded improbable reforms, such as a new constitution with checks on power, and guarantees of a fair vote.
Egypt's state media have pounced, with one editor accusing ElBaradei of holding a foreign nationality and harbouring ill will for his homeland. Another pro-government journalist said ElBaradei "knows nothing of Egypt's problems".
Among ElBaradei's conditions for running are judicial supervision of the election carried out under the watchful eye of UN monitors. He also wants state media to give equal space to the platforms of all candidates.
Such demands will probably fall on deaf ears in a country that has backtracked on democratisation in recent years. Mubarak's main 2005 challenger, Ayman Nour, was later jailed on fraud charges he says were fabricated to force him from politics. That conviction bars him from mounting another run.
Cairo has also obstructed the opposition Muslim Brotherhood – which in 2005 won a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament – from further electoral gains by blocking them from filing nomination papers and by detaining members.
Mustapha al-Sayyed, political science professor at Cairo University, says: "I am sure he (ElBaradei] knows these conditions are not going to be met, and therefore he would not be a candidate.
"But by taking this position … he is exerting some sort of pressure on the Egyptian political system."
Even if ElBaradei drops his demands for pre-election reforms, getting on the ballot paper is no easy task. An independent candidate would need the backing of 250 elected representatives spread across both houses of parliament and local councils – all of which are dominated by the ruling party.
The easiest path would be to sign on as a candidate for an existing political party, and Egyptian media have speculated that opposition parties might court ElBaradei.
By law, he would have to have held a leadership post for at least a year in a political party represented in parliament to be eligible to run for president.
But many opposition parties are likely to put up their own leaders, who have little political clout, and they would not want to put their own standing with the government at risk by mounting a serious challenge to Egypt's power structure, according to analysts.
Nour's liberal al-Ghad party could try to lure ElBaradei, an earlier power struggle could be revived to block the party from mounting another election challenge.
• Cynthia Johnston is a correspondent with Reuters.
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