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Three suggestions for Dr ElBaradei
Three suggestions for Dr ElBaradei
Over the last several weeks, Dr ElBaradei's call for political and constitutional reform and honest presidential elections has gathered real momentum in the media. Amr Hamzawy thinks aloud offering a few suggestions to could be candidate Dr ElBaradei
Friday, February 26,2010 21:02
by Amr Hamzawy Carnegie Endowment

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, over the last several weeks, your call for political and constitutional reform and for honest presidential elections has gathered real momentum in the media. It even brought you closer to the Egyptian citizens who are interested in public affairs and who are eager to turn Egypt into a developed country governed by democracy and the rule of law. This puts you in a position of great responsibility. You must now remind Egyptian citizens of a historical fact they usually tend to ignore, namely that democratic change under authoritarian regimes cannot be automatically achieved as soon as a large section of the populace rallies behind an independent national leader fighting for democracy. Rather, democratic change requires sustained popular demand and the active participation of the people. The latter can be achieved through peaceful protests and demonstrations against the authoritarian practices of the regime and through a commitment to participate in the upcoming legislative and presidential elections.

Ask of them, Dr. ElBaradei, for example, to issue electoral cards. Exhort them to overcome their doubt about the honesty of elections and their results, a doubt which has accumulated over the past few decades. This year, when it’s time for the Shura Council midterm elections and then the parliamentary elections, Egyptians can overcome this doubt by going to the polls. The ability of authoritarian regimes to falsify elections, by rigging results and resorting to repression against opposition candidates and observers, is surely losing ground, due largely to the increase in public enthusiasm for and participation in voting.

Remind them of their duties and responsibilities. Remind them that Egypt will not achieve democracy, either socially or politically, without their active demands and their patience with the risks and challenges of public work, including facing repression from the security services. Do not let them look at you as a hero-savior who came from "abroad" to achieve democracy simply by waving a magic wand, costing them little individually or collectively. You know very well that reality is not thus. You know very well that democracy – if we ever get close to it – will take a long time to achieve, and that the costs will inevitably be expensive in a state where the people have long since been awaiting democracy. Moreover, we, in Egypt, have experienced - before other Arab countries - the disastrous consequences of hero-saviors, who, despite their good intentions and desires, have kept the citizens from participating and searching collectively for the public interest.


With optimism and openness, many opposition parties and movements have interacted with you. Many voices have been raised in support of your candidacy in the 2011 presidential elections and your leading of a unified opposition front against the ruling regime. The opposition’s optimism and openness towards your call for democracy, however, must not make you forget about the opposition’s weaknesses, its severe marginalization and the dilemmas and constraints that arise as a result. The opposition parties from across the ideological spectrum lack true popular support and specific ideas of how to fight for democratic change. Some have even surrendered to a relationship with the ruling regime under which they enjoy some political presence provided that they stop their full-fledged opposition to the regime. As far as the non-party-based opposition is concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood-half is in dire straits, suffering from the lack of a strategic compass for its political activity. And the other half dedicated to buildling alliances and overcoming ideological barriers in the push for change and reform, including Kifaya (or what is left of it) and other entities, has been reduced to non-effective entities limited to internal disputes and media interviews.

In other words, the party- and non-party-based opposition cannot provide you with significant political or popular support. The truth is the opposition’s optimism when dealing with you is partly due to its dire need for an independent national personality with both domestic and international credibility. It needs help attracting significant popular support around an agenda for democratic change and reform, an objective it has failed to accomplish over the past years.

I believe that, aside from cautiously avoiding internal party- and non-party-based opposition conflicts, you must call on the opposition to be more active in terms of developing its popular support and formulating well-defined political programs. These programs should be designed to promote democracy and development within Egypt. In a previous article, I asked the opposition and the citizens interested in public affairs to remind you of the need to focus on the development of a specific program for your political role. I asked them to remind you to stay away from the general democratic rhetoric that has prevailed in Egypt for years and has failed to generate significant results. I will also make sure I remind you of this.  Today, I ask you to call on the parties and opposition movements supporting you to work hard to get rid of their current inefficiencies. I ask you to call on them to restore the popular activity and organizational work in the hope that the momentum you built up in the media be transformed into real social and political action. The latter would aim at putting pressure on the ruling regime to ensure honest legislative and presidential elections this year and the next and to change the political rules in Egypt by pushing it towards a competitive democracy. Such democracy does not exist without strong and effective parties.

Ask the opposition parties, Doctor ElBaradei, about the average age of their members and leaders. Ask them about the rates of new member admission over the past several years (which are close to zero). Ask them about their internal democracy and their promotion of younger members. Ask them about their organizational efforts outside urban areas and about their mass conferences (which are possible despite the Emergency Law). Confront civil society movements about their severe weakness and the immature political awareness of some of their members, who are harming the others by calling on you to specify your position on Israel, Camp David and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty as a pre-condition to offering you their support. They are still almost entirely ignoring having a dialogue with you about your social, political and economic program for Egypt, as if the worries of the nation could be reduced to the relationship with Israel and the position on the Palestinian issue regardless of its importance.


Dr. ElBaradei, regardless of my reservation about your demand for political and constitutional reform as a prerequisite for your candidacy, I believe that when you talked about the Egyptian capacity for democracy and progress and the right of its people to enjoy a decent life, you struck a chord with a large number of Egyptian citizens who are interested in public affairs. I believe you managed to attract many activists and intellectuals around your call for greater democracy.

Now, however, I think you are called upon to develop your political speech and public action in two additional – and inevitable – ways, if you want to build on the momentum you have achieved and carry it to new levels. The first is to invest sufficient time and effort to formulate a clear vision and program, moving beyond the general rhetoric of the last few weeks. You must explain the objectives of political and constitutional reform and elaborate on your idea of a transitional government to unleash the post-Mubarak era. As a part of this program, you must deal realistically with a set of internal conditions, first and foremost the search for reformist allies within the ruling regime and state institutions, as well as the organizational and popular strength of the opposition. You must also deal with external conditions, perhaps most significantly the emphasis on the stability of Egypt's regional and international alliances regardless of its domestic political developments. Both of these conditions are necessary to push Egypt towards democratization. 

The second way to build on your momentum, around which I think your public action should be oriented, is, quite frankly, working on getting rid of both the  "Strange Visitor" and "Passing Stranger" stigmas. These are stigmas that the regime’s media is trying to charge you with, through repetitive hints about your absence from Egypt over the past several years and your lack of professional experience in Egypt throughout the last years. I am convinced that this will not be resolved unless you come back to live in Egypt and engage directly with its cities and villages in order to familiarize yourself with the country’s present social and political realities.

tags: ElBaradei / Constitutional Reform / Political Reform / Presidential Elections / Egyptian Citizens / Democratic / legislative Elections / Parliamentary Elections
Posted in Democracy , Reform Issues  
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