x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

ElBaradei won't seek Egypt presidency, cites lack of democratic framework

Mohamed ElBaradei says Egypt's ruling generals are running the country as if a revolution never happened.

CAIRO // Mohamed ElBaradei has pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency over what he calls the lack of a "democratic framework" nearly a year after Hosni Mubarak was driven from power.

Mr ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize winner and a former United Nations nuclear watchdog, yesterday said the ruling military generals who form the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) were running the country as if a revolution never happened.

He compared the revolution with a boat whose captains "are still treading old waters, as if the revolution did not take place".

"My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework," he said, referring to Scaf's repressive policies and stifling of civil liberties.

The comments were expected to raise tensions even higher as the anniversary of the uprising - that began on January 25 and led to Mubarak's resignation on February 11 - ticks closer.

Military officials and the Islamist forces who swept two thirds of the seats in the lower house of parliament have sought to cast the date as a "celebration" of the uprising, while many liberal parties and activists are trying to use it to rally Egyptians to push through the reforms that they say have been hijacked by Scaf.

Mr ElBaradei's resignation also highlighted the dearth of legitimate liberal candidates for the presidential elections, which are set to begin before the end of June.

After winning just 15 per cent of the seats in the elections for the People's Assembly, the liberal parties were hoping that a liberal president could provide a crucial counterweight to the Islamist domination of the parliament.

Samer Soliman, one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said the discussions among liberal parties about a viable contender for the presidency was becoming frantic as the date for elections nears.

"We are looking for somebody to support," he said. "The best person hasn't emerged yet."

Mr Soliman said that parties forming the liberal Egypt Bloc appeared to be coming to a decision to support Amr Moussa, the former general secretary of the Arab League.

"I personally don't approve of him but they think he is a good option," Mr Soliman said. "I think he is an ex-minister of Mubarak, which isn't good, and his performance at the Arab League reveals that he is far behind the spirit of the revolution."

The announcement yesterday marked the end of the remarkable comeback by Mr ElBaradei, 69, that began in 2010. At the time, he was greeted at the airport by hundreds of supporters who believed he was a viable candidate to challenge Mr Mubarak - or his son Gamal, who was being groomed as a successor - in elections originally scheduled for 2011.

But his campaign faltered after the 18 days of protests that ended the presidency of Mr Mubarak and set Egypt on a new political path. He was criticised for his sporadic speeches, lack of engagement with ordinary Egyptians and his appearance as a Westernised technocrat in a country suspicious of outside influences.

By January, his campaign had largely foundered and few believed he had a chance of winning. Analysts yesterday said his statements criticising the military were an attempt to make some good of his public position in ending what had become a Quixotic and divisive presidential bid.

The military has come under fire for its repression of free speech, use of military trials for civilians and attempts to prevent civilian oversight of its budget and activities.