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EGYPT: ElBaradei coy on presidential run

February 21, 2010 | 12:26 pm

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The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, stressed that reforming Egypt's constitution is the country's main challenge in instituting real democracy.

Speaking one day after his first trip to Cairo since stepping down from the agency in November, the man whom opposition leaders and many Egyptians would like to see run in the 2011 presidential elections said rewriting the constitution was paramount to free elections. ElBaradei has not said whether he will run, but his return home has electrified members of the public dissatisfied with what they see as the corruption and inefficiency of President Hosni Mubarak's government. 

"Changing the constitution is the way for any reforms needed. It will guarantee having a fairly elected parliament and will provide a system for questioning officials regarding their responsibilities," ElBaradei told the Egyptian media. 

Reforming the constitution "will similarly provide us with efficient planning and censorship, an independent judiciary system and greater supervision by the people of the government's performance."

ElBaradei previously said he would take part in the elections if the constitution were amended, allowing independent candidates such as himself to run for the presidency without too many obstacles. That is not likely to happen, given that the ruling National Democratic Party has amended the constitution to keep the balance of power tipped in its favor.  

Nonetheless, the 2005 Noble Peace Prize laureate says Egyptians need to push the regime into making those amendments: "People need to put forth effort if they want to achieve real changes. They can do so by collecting signatures of intellectuals and university professors representing the whole population's desire. They can organize peaceful marches stating their opinions. There are so many ways, but it has to be the people themselves who force and prompt positive changes." 

The Egyptian constitution states that independent candidates need to secure the official approval of 65 members of the People's Assembly, 25 members of the consultative Shura Council and 10 members of municipal councils. Others, who are nominated by their political parties, should (for at least one year) be leading members of parties that have been around for a minimum of five years before the time of the elections.

ElBaradei does not meet either criteria, but he is widely popular. Despite security officials' warnings that any gatherings awaiting ElBaradei's return would be dealt with firmly, thousands of Egyptians made the trip to Cairo Airport on Friday afternoon to greet the 67-year-old.

"I didn’t expect to be welcomed by large numbers like those at the Airport on Friday. The scene showed me how Egyptians are really desperate for change and a better future," he continued.

"Such scenes should send a clear message to the ruling regime that people want changes."

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Mohamed ElBaradei. Credit: Gero Breloer / Associated Press

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