With a few differences, Mohamed ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from the Egyptian presidential race is just as surprising and mysterious as Mubarak’s decision to step down from power. I would say that we don’t know a lot about what’s going on in Egypt because there is an uncomfortable ambiguity prevailing on the scene there. ElBaradei has released a video explaining the reasons for his exit which appear somewhat vague, and which include unclear talk about a captain who has taken his ship far away and on a random course, without explicitly naming who this captain [who is leading Egypt] is. But how is ElBaradei’s withdrawal similar to Mubarak’s departure? How are these two opposites brought together, one calling for change and one a dictator? How can we bring together these two different names? A certain sense of calm and caution is needed to understand this, rather than just scoring [political] points.
It is important to realize that a year on from the Egyptian revolution, we still don’t know a lot about the way that Mubarak stepped down. Some of us, unrivalled in our naivety, believed that former President Hosni Mubarak abandoned his rule without guarantees from international parties that were and remain significant players on the Egyptian political scene, and without guarantees from the army who replaced him and who have no legitimacy except that he transferred power to them, and from religious forces who opposed him and who were gaining social momentum. The Egyptian people and the world were talking about Mubarak as if he was a poor orphaned child who was told to leave so he did, or as if he left the political scene and sat at home with his wife and children, hands tied, waiting to be sent to Cairo’s Tora prison –like his sons Gamal and Alaa – or, in his case, to be transferred to Sharm al-Sheikh; all of them awaiting trial.
To my mind, the world doesn’t work in this manner. Complicated matters like the departure of the president of a country, who owned everything in Egypt – a first-class dictator who abandoned his power – does not take place so simply. The circumstances are still shrouded in obscurity concealing the essence of what happened; the essence of the deal made between Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], and the nature of the deal between Mubarak – represented by Omar Suleiman – and the Muslim Brotherhood; the anti-Mubarak faction that the regime knew would gain power if the chips were left to fall where they may. All of this was established in Omar Suleiman’s negotiations with the Brotherhood before Mubarak stepped down, but the details of these negotiations still remain a secret, concealed from the Egyptian people, and they are what inspired every subsequent political decision, including the decision for [parliamentary] elections to be held first, as well as the decision for the presidential elections to be held before the drafting of a new constitution; not to mention all the other absurd [decisions] that have taken place in Egypt. But how is this related to Muhammad ElBaradei’s withdrawal from the presidential scene?
As I said, even though a year has passed since the revolution, and despite the scene being peaceful, without any violence taking place like the car bombs in Iraq, a lack of transparency prevails in the Egyptian political arena, including with regards to ElBaradei’s withdrawal from the presidential scene. There is complete obscurity regarding the movements of the major [political] players. All we can see is the superficial details like the elections, as well as some superficial manifestations of the [political] forces’ relations. When comes to issues such as military funds or even Mubarak regime funds and their relationship with the military; this is something that is not discussed.
It was clear in the language ElBaradei used in his video that he was subjected to pressures beyond his control and he didn’t have the tools to deal with these pressures other than abandoning his goal [to become president] and resorting to the protection of the people by publicly announcing his withdrawal as a form of self-protection. This is a tactical move that anybody in his position would make. ElBaradei’s withdrawal is not the first in this story; there was an important exit before his that has not received any kind of [public] interest, that of Lieutenant General Magdi Hatata, former Egyptian Army Chief of Staff. If I recall correctly, Magdi Hatata was Washington’s choice for Egyptian president in the nineties. I was in Washington at the same time that the Lieutenant General was visiting the city and it was clear the Americans were betting on him to be Mubarak’s successor. When Mubarak got wind of this he dismissed Hatata from his post and appointed him as head of the Arab Organization for Industrialization. This reminds us of the manner that Mubarak
removed [former Field Marshall] Abu Ghazala from his post [as Minister of Defense] and made him –for a time – a presidential aide, sufficiently distorting his image following the Lucy Artin scandal, as well as distorting his image amongst his military admirers. There end the myths of Hatata and Abu Ghazala.
The same thing happened with ElBaradei when he first announced that he would be returning to Egypt to lead the period of change. The image of the Nobel laureate, his family and everyone close to him were distorted, but he continued thinking that the regime that had targeted him in this manner had been ousted after the revolution. He later discovered that this regime had returned, fiercer than ever, from prison, and the distortion of his reputation caused his withdrawal. Maybe the next step will not be joining the ranks of the opposition, – as ElBaradei previously said –but leaving Egypt once more, because his safety and security is on the line, as the regime has created an air of ambiguity in this regard. Therefore if something were to happen to ElBaradei today, nobody would know who to accuse, as has occurred in previous cases.
The former regime’s black box remains unrecovered, and ElBaradei’s withdrawal is nothing but a sign of the increasing foggy ambiguity prevailing on the Egyptian political scene. In this air of inscrutability the answer remains with ElBaradei for now, to tell us what happened. I think he is brave enough to reveal this, one day. As for the story of Mubarak’s departure, it will remain an enigma, despite claims that democracy and transparency are knocking on Egypt’s following the sitting of the first post-revolution parliament.