Tough election challenge to Mubarak unlikely in 2011

Tough election challenge to Mubarak unlikely in 2011

Mohamed ElBaradei’s bombshell that he is considering running for Egypt’s presidency in 2011 will not translate into a competitive election, even if he succeeds in entering the race.

But his intention could signal that the 67-year-old former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency wants to use his international stature to press for democratic reforms in his home country, which has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for over a quarter century.

Egypt experimented with its first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005, which it touted as a process of democratisation, but which critics panned as a sham. Few have hopes that 2011 will be any different

“If anything, 2005 was the high point in our political experience and we have been going downhill since then,” said Ghada Shahbender, who co-founded election watchdog Shayfeencom (we see you).

“He (ElBaradei) requires constitutional reform. I don’t see it happening in the next year. He requires carefully monitored non-fraudulent elections. It is not something that has happened in my lifetime,” she said.

ElBaradei, who has laid out tough conditions for running, enters Egypt’s political fray as speculation grows about who will succeed Mubarak, 81, who is widely expected to seek another term in 2011, health permitting.

Some voices in Egypt’s opposition have urged ElBaradei to challenge him, hoping to block Mubarak from passing on power to his politician son Gamal, widely tipped as the most likely candidate to lead U.S. ally Egypt after his father.

But logistical and political hurdles make a serious opposition run by ElBaradei or any other challenger unlikely.

“What makes me also less optimistic about it is the fact that he is already been put into the grinding machine of the National Democratic Party. The character assassination is starting to roll,” said Walid Kazziha, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

Other possible successors to Mubarak include his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.

A less likely candidate is Arab League chief Amr Moussa, an outspoken former foreign minister popular in Egypt for criticism of Israel. In surprise remarks, Moussa did not rule out a presidential run when asked.

ElBaradei, tipped as a possible consensus candidate, has said he would consider a presidential campaign, but first demanded improbable reforms such as a new constitution with checks on power, and guarantees of a fair vote.

Egypt’s state media have pounced, with one editor accusing ElBaradei of holding a foreign nationality and harbouring ill will against his homeland. Another pro-government journalist said ElBaradei “knows nothing of Egypt’s problems”.

Among ElBaradei’s conditions for running are judicial supervision of the election carried out under the watchful eye of UN monitors. He also wants state media to give equal space to the platforms of all candidates.

Such demands will probably fall on deaf ears in a country that has backtracked on democratisation in recent years. Mubarak’s main 2005 challenger, Ayman Nour, was later jailed on fraud charges, which he says were fabricated to force him from politics.

Nour’s conviction bars him from making another run.

Cairo has also obstructed the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which in 2005 won a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament, from further electoral gains by blocking them from filing nomination papers and by detaining members.

“I am sure he knows these conditions are not going to be met, and therefore he would not be a candidate. But by taking this position … he is exerting some sort of pressure on the Egyptian political system,” said Mustapha al-Sayyed, a political science professor at Cairo University.

Even if ElBaradei drops demands for pre-election reforms, getting on the ballot is no easy task. An independent candidate would need the backing of 250 elected representatives spread across both houses of parliament and local councils – all of which are dominated by the ruling party.

The easiest path would be to sign on as a candidate for an existing political party. Egyptian media have speculated that opposition parties might court ElBaradei.

By law, ElBaradei would have to hold a leadership post for at least a year in a political party represented in parliament to be eligible to run for president.

But many opposition parties are likely to put up their own leaders, who have little political clout, and would not want to put their own standing with the government at risk by mounting a serious challenge to Egypt’s power structure, analysts say.

Nour’s liberal al-Ghad party could try to lure ElBaradei, but Ghad has been involved in a struggle for control of the party with a pro-government splinter that could be revived to block the party from mounting another election challenge.

The source