Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

ElBaradei and the Yeltsin moment | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The state of division that Egypt is currently witnessing is not born of the moment, it began with the referendum conducted in 2011, on whether to draft the constitution or hold elections first, the result of which favored the holding of elections with clear support from the Islamist political forces (the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi organizations). After that, the division continued to grow deeper with every event that the country experienced, up until the presidential elections that further compounded the state of polarity in Egypt. However, at no stage did the division reach the extent it has reached now, after President Mursi’s recent constitutional announcement enabling him to hold all power in his own hands. This announcement has ignited a battle that threatens an internal conflict and open confrontation with the judiciary and all other political forces, while it seems that the Brotherhood and the majority of the Salafis are defending the President’s decisions.

The current scene is essentially a microcosm of Egypt in the post January 25th phase. There are political Islam organizations and forces – the most powerful being the Brotherhood – on one side, and the remaining forces from various spectra that share the desire to preserve the civil state on the other. The difference is that the Brotherhood in particular – and to a lesser extent the Salafis – have organizations, cadres and a history of public work on the streets, and most importantly they have leaders able to mobilize the crowd and negotiate on their behalf. Meanwhile, the other forces may share a common goal but they are dispersed and lack leadership, and moreover they do not have significant experience of political work on the streets. Most importantly, they don’t have a unified leadership to represent them and speak on their behalf, as we saw clearly in the presidential elections when the civil forces were not able to rally behind a single candidate. This continued after the elections, and there is still no one who you could accurately label the “leader of the opposition”.

Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has always been present on the scene. Before the 25th January revolution, after ElBaradei returned from [the IAEA headquarters in] Vienna and re-entered Egyptian politics, he explicitly and publicly rejected the possibility of Mubarak bequeathing power, which caused him to fall into an open crisis with the former regime. After the 25th January revolution, ElBaradei’s name was put forth as the best civil option to run the transitional phase. This was due to his reputation for adopting clear stances, as we saw recently with the speed of his reaction and unequivocal position after Mursi’s constitutional announcement.

Some have criticized ElBaradei because he did not step forward quickly and lead the scene after 25 January 2011. In the words of one observer, ElBaradei did not embrace what has been described as his “Yeltsin moment”, referring back to the former Russian President who seized a historical moment and confronted a coup against Gorbachev in 1991. Yeltsin climbed on top of a tank to deliver a speech in favor of popular mobilization against the coup, and as a result he later managed to impose himself in the Kremlin. The criticism of ElBaradei is that he could have climbed on top of a tank in Tahrir Square after the 25th January revolution and asked to go to the presidential palace, in order to fill the vacuum that other political forces have since seized upon.

No one knows whether this was a Yeltsin momemt in Egypt or not, and whether it has passed or will come again in the future, but it is certain that the circumstances have now changed. At the time, no one was rallying around an individual or united leadership, and all political forces were in a state of confusion regarding the speed of the scene. There was no clarity of vision, just outbidding, the use of religion in politics, and the defamation of certain characters.

The only thing positive at the current moment, despite the heated scene and the anticipation of a million-man march, is that coordination has begun among the primary opposition forces. A coalition has emerged amongst them in the shape of something resembling a leadership committee, with a united stance towards Mursi’s constitutional announcement. It is not possible to predict the path that this crisis will take, but in any case the scene needs an opposition leader with a mandate and a popular support base. ElBaradei could be the best candidate to play this role, i.e. to develop the opposition’s political practices and take them to the next level.