Egypt’s ElBaradei goes street, Facebook, but will it work?

Egypt’s ElBaradei goes street, Facebook, but will it work?

Mohamed ElBaradei was surrounded by supporters at Hussein mosque in Old Cairo just over one week ago, then on Friday, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief took to the streets of Mansoura – a city in the northern Delta – to make his call for change on the streets, in an effort to appeal to the everyday Egyptian. Ironically, it was this exact same path that former Presidential candidate Ayman Nour took in the lead-up to the 2005 election, which he came in a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak.

The idea of galvanizing the Egyptian voter is nothing new to Egyptian opposition politics. It has been done over and over again in the past 7 years, with candidates and leaders taking to the streets to mingle with their potential voters. Even the President’s son, Gamal, has engaged the public in street walks and “talks” with locals in villages across the country.

But today, five years on since Nour sparked a widespread opposition campaign that ended in failure, his jailing and a depressed opposition community who has done little since then, ElBaradei offers a new chance to revisit the idea of grassroots work toward creating an Egyptian opposition community that does not crumble in the face of government pressures.

The Egyptian Twittersphere was following ElBaradei’s visit to Mansoura closely, with messages coming minute-by-minute on the leader. One writer said “Elbadz has gone into a random building [be]cos of the za7ma (crowd).” The message was then redirected to hundreds, if not thousands of followers who are excited about the possibilities of ElBaradei’s emergence onto the political scene.

On Facebook, ElBaradei has mobilized tens of thousands of fans to his page. There, posts are published that discuss the day-to-day affairs of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, his statements and interviews and people’s thoughts on what the future for Egypt holds. Likewise, Facebook has been the catalyst for his petition that he is asking Egyptians to sign, with their national ID numbers and telephone numbers, in an effort to push for the change he believes is necessary for the country.

Is it working? Are Egyptians gathering around the new face against the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)? On Friday, shortly after the noon prayer, Sheikh Yussif Abdallah – he runs a small mosque in the impoverished Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo – said that ElBaradei holds the “greatest promise” for the future of the country. At the same time, he isn’t convinced the man can do much to change average Egyptian’s situation.

“What we have seen already is this man come in and get talking on political change, the Constitution and all those things, but what about the real issues that we, as Egyptians, face everyday?” the sheikh began. “We struggle to make sure our families get food and clean water. We can’t get involved with a political movement unless it speaks to us.”

This is what ElBaradei is attempting to do in Mansoura. He wants to take his message to the people. Speak to them directly. Ahmed Goma’a, a student at the University of Mansoura, told Bikya Masr on Friday afternoon via telephone, that he doubts ElBaradei will be able to convince Egyptians he has their best interest.

“People like him, that is not the question,” Goma’a started. “A lot of people believe that he is a good person, not corrupt and he is honest about what he thinks. This is great, but only a small number of Egyptians really see this because he doesn’t speak their language. He can go to the street all he wants, but the people he will meet are not the people who can move and make things happen. He needs to learn about the people in this country and go issue by issue for them.”

This is the crux of the matter, both Goma’a and Abdallah believe. ElBaradei in their minds is the perfect organizer, someone who can take the mantle of change and develop something that will affect real and lasting change on the country. But they don’t feel he is the person to lead the charge. They would like to see a younger, more active person who understands and has lived the life of Egypt.

“We want a person who we can see in their eyes that they care about us as people,” Goma’a said. The sheikh agreed. He said that Egyptians are a “proud people who know what they want and they want someone who is like them and can speak to their issues.”

Heba Mansour, a Cairo University political science student, said that ElBaradei’s return to Egypt is a start, but he should avoid the public displays with the music and movie stars as much as he can. She said that while people like the stars, “for them it is just a publicity stunt to get people aware. They [stars] have done nothing for their people in their lives and we all know it, so if he wants to be the man to bring chnage to this country, he has to learn our ways and not just the ways of the rich and elite.”

For now, as ElBaradei meets locals, his profile continues to rise, but for many Egyptians it may not be enough to create a nationwide movement for change that is being promoted by his infant coalition.

“He has to take on our problems. If he doesn’t then what is the point for us to follow him?” asked Abdallah.