Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A New Wind Blows in Egypt

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A New Wind Blows in Egypt

Article excerpt

"Western policy towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view. It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it's been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping.

"If you bet on individuals, instead of the people, you are going to fail. And Western policy so far has been to bet on individuals, individuals who are not supported by their people and who are being discredited every day."

-Former IAEA Director-General and potential Egyptian presidential candidate Mohammed ElBaradei, in his first English-language interview since returning to Cairo in February (The Guardian, March 31, 2010)

DR. MOHAMMED ElBaradei is quickly becoming the Middle East's most prominent progressive voice. Candidly and calmly articulating beliefs long held by average citizens, he does so not from a faraway think tank in the United States or Europe, but from the heart of the Arab world.

Defying the Egyptian government's ban on non-state-sanctioned public gatherings, ElBaradei is attracting increasingly large crowds as he takes his message of reform to Cairo's streets and, most recently, to the Nile Delta. Decrying the West's support for the region's authoritarian regimes in the midst of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's security services is also no small undertaking, but ElBaradei has done it with poise and courage.

As Egypt gears up for its 2011 presidential election, ElBaradei has called on fellow countrymen to join his newly established National Front for Change. He also asked them to add their names to a petition calling for reforms that would, for example, overturn constitutional roadblocks erected by Mubarak curtailing the ability of independents like himself from running. ElBaradei has yet to announce whether he will stand as a candidate in the upcoming ballot, however.

In his first public appearance outside Cairo near the provincial capital of Mansoura, he said to a crowd of 1,500 supporters, "You are the owners of this country. Whatever our belief or religion is, every one of us has a piece of this country and has the right to lead a decent life...it does not make sense that until now 40 percent of the people are below [the] poverty line and 30 percent are illiterate. Social justice is almost non-existent in Egypt, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening..."

Emphasizing that basic constitutional reforms are the key to political change in Egypt (such as lifting Emergency Law, which prohibits exactly the type of gathering at which he spoke), ElBaradei succinctly stated his mission: "We seek peaceful reform. …

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