Politics as usual for Baradei in Egypt?

Politics as usual for Baradei in Egypt?

With Mohamed ElBaradei’s return to Egypt last week, to little fanfare, one could argue that the man’s popularity is waning, but on the ground, listening to what people are saying and writing, gives a very different picture of Egypt. This is a place where Ayman Nour, the al-Ghad Party chief and second place finisher in the 2005 presidential election, has been a laughable opposition figure since his release from prison on trumped up charges of forgery. Who cares has become the routine statements when Nour’s name comes up. And they are probably right. The man has done little to promote Egyptian democracy.

But Baradei, that’s a different story. Whether we believe he can be the catalyst for ultimate change or not, he has done wonders as a man on a mission. He has shown savvy and ability in the political make-up of a country that the government attempted to reveal as foreign to him earlier this year before his initial return to Egypt in February. Now, over one month on from the beginning of his real journey toward what could be a run in the 2011 presidential election, Baradei has shown a staying power few opposition politicians have been able to garner.

The reason is really a simple one: Baraedi is trusted and respected beyond politics. He is generally seen as trustworthy, honest and, to put it bluntly, not sleazy. This is something that many Egyptians are in desperate need of. Baradei is not here to push his own agenda in order to advance his status across the globe or to gain American respect. That was lost when he went against American President George W. Bush in the Iraq war. For God’s sake, the man has a Nobel Peace Prize; what else does he need to increase his status worldwide? Nothing and that is the point. He doesn’t have to pander to Washington – as Nour has done repeatedly – and he can honestly work for the betterment of the country he grew up in.

In a way, it is politics as usual for Egyptian opposition forces, but unlike the myriad opportunities of the past few years, Baradei has given a new hope to the situation on the ground. As a local satirical online magazine put it, he has the force. Maybe he is the Yoda of Egyptian politics, and if so, this leads to the more important question that Egyptians should be asking: who is the Luke Skywalker. If it remains politics as usual here, Baradei will remain the focal point of a movement that fails to capture the general population’s gaze. It will fizzle and succumb to the pressures of maintaining what has been done over the past month.

But, if there is truly to be “a new hope” in the country, Baradei should seek out and find the younger leader who can take on the mantle of making all these proposals a reality. Egypt needs a million worker march on Cairo. Can you imagine what would happen if the workers in the Delta factories decided to get together and march on Cairo to demand better wages and better rights? It would be amazing and would impact more than the ongoing discourse of constitutional reform and “change” coming from the mouths of the aging opposition, male, leadership.

Baradei most certainly knows and understands this. He is a student of history, intelligent and giving. Three key aspects why politics as usual could quickly change to politics of the people. This could be a huge step for Egypt in finally ridding the yoke established by Gamal Abdel Nasser those many decades ago. Baradei, we can hope, should attempt to do one thing and one thing only: remove the fear of fighting the government. If he does this, the next decade could be a watershed moment in the political make-up of this country. For the better.

Republished with permission from Bikya Masr