Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Mohamed El-Baradei has returned to the Egyptian political scene once more today, following the ouster of the unpopular Mohamed Mursi from the presidency. This political comeback looked increasingly unlikely earlier this week, after Baradei’s nomination for the post of prime minister was blocked by Egypt’s Salafists. Nonetheless, he now finds himself a heartbeat away from the Egyptian presidency after interim president Adly Mansour appointed him vice-president.
Mohamed El-Baradei found himself at the center of events following nationwide protests on June 30 that ultimately ousted Egypt’s first civilian, Islamist and democratically elected president from power. Although Mursi’s presidency broke a number of important barriers in post-revolutionary Egypt in this respect, the president’s performance was deemed sub-par by a majority of Egyptians, who took to the streets in their millions to topple him.
Baradei lined up behind Egyptian defense minister and army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to back Mursi’s ouster. They were joined by a broad range of Egyptian secular, political and religious forces. The well-respected Egyptian political figure backed the political roadmap put forward by the military, describing this as “rectifying the course of the January 25 revolution and a response to the will of the Egyptian people.”
How did this man transform from a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to an advocate of the Egyptian democratic movement, ultimately becoming a leader in the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) that spearheaded Mursi’s ouster?
When asked, Baradei responded: “I did not plan this, but really it was a smooth and natural transition. Both paths essentially seek to achieve security and human dignity.”
Mohamed El-Baradei was born in Giza near Cairo in June, 1942. He obtained a law degree from Cairo University in 1962, and his diplomatic career began in 1964 when he served in Egypt’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York and in Geneva. He later served as special assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister before leaving governmental service to join the IAEA. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming IAEA director-general in 1997. He served in this position until 2009, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to support worldwide nuclear nonproliferation.
He returned to Egypt on January 27, 2011, when the country was in the midst of seismic political change. The well-respected secular leader received a warm welcome in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and many Egyptian politicians called on him to form a transitional government following Mubarak’s ouster.
Baradei and others adopted the slogan “Building the Second Republic,” in a reference to a new era to follow the “First Republic” that was established following the 1952 revolution. However it was Egypt’s Islamist forces, not the secularists, that emerged to lead the transitional period, securing a parliamentary majority, and then the presidency.
Over the past three years, Baradei acknowledges that a broad section of the Egyptian people have become immersed in revolutionary activity in order to guarantee democracy in the hopes of “supporting human rights, sound governance, equal economic opportunities and social justice.”
However, Baradei is not loved by all Egyptians. Many people criticize him for his frequent travels abroad, as well as his long absence from the country. His secular position has also caused him grief, with the Salafist Al-Nour party strongly opposing attempts to name him as Egypt’s prime minister earlier this week. Others criticize the NSF leader’s use of Twitter to communicate directly with the Egyptian people.
However, his appointment as Egypt’s vice president for foreign affairs seems to be a very good fit, particularly given his connections abroad.
Baradei announced his opposition to Mursi’s policies and, along with hundreds of politicians, intellectuals, and revolutionaries, established the Constitution Party. His party began by presenting a coherent vision for the future of the country, seeking to ensure a “bright economic and political future.”
According to Baradei himself: “Since my return to Egypt, my partners have been the Egyptian youth, who could not see any future in the shadow of the old regime, especially regarding education, employment opportunities and standards of living.”
Baradei played a prominent role in first Mubarak’s ouster and now Mursi’s ouster. He has also contributed to the military roadmap, which he described as “a new beginning for the great January 25 revolution.” He also acknowledged that “it was easy to unite against Mubarak, but it was extremely hard to unite after he left. . . . There was a Plan A, how to get rid of the old regime, but there was no Plan B [about] how will we govern after the success of the revolution.”
He added: “Following Mubarak’s ouster, the revolutionaries were swept up in the euphoria of freedom and ultimately broke up along traditional lines: right, left and center. From that moment, political Islam, which had been suppressed for decades, began to work out in the open. Every group began looking towards the political scene through their narrow lens, which led to a lack of focus on the primary goals and losing sight of the big picture.”
However, Baradei once more finds himself at the center of events in Egypt. Will the post-Mursi era be just as difficult as the post-Mubarak one? What lies in store for Mohamed El-Baradei, who returned to Egypt on the cusp of the January 25 revolution, and who now finds himself a heartbeat away from the Egyptian presidency?