EGYPT: ElBaradei receives hero's welcome amid tight security
This was ElBaradei's first visit to Egypt since stepping down from the IAEA post last November. He has been urged by many opposition figures to run in next year's presidential elections against the ruling National Democratic Party.
Security officials had said that no gatherings would be allowed at the airport to greet ElBaradei, and two activists with the opposition movement April 6 were detained Wednesday for spray-painting walls in Cairo with slogans in support of ElBaradei. And despite the heavy security presence, many turned out at the airport to welcome the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
"At least 3,000 waited for ElBaradei despite all the authorities' intimidations yesterday and today," said Abdul Rahman Youssef, coordinator of an independent campaign for nominating El Baradei in the 2011 elections.
"What we noticed is that the reception was not politicized, there were artists, authors, politicians and many people representing all classes of the Egyptian community coming here to show support," he said.
People carried banners and signs saying "ElBaradei is the whole nation's hope" and "Yes to ElBaradei."
ElBaradei has said he would be willing to take part in the elections on the condition that efforts were made to guarantee a fair and internationally monitored vote.
He also said that an amendment to Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution, stating that a candidate should, for at least one year, be a leading member of a political party that has been around for at least five years at the time of the elections, should be overturned in order to allow him and others to run for the presidency.
But even though President Hosni Mubarak's government is unlikely to change the requirement, imposed in 2005, Egyptians are hopeful that someone with ElBaradei's political and international standing can energize the country's political climate.
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.
President Mubarak has been in office since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and the 81-year-old is yet to confirm whether he will be the NDP'S candidate. Many speculate, and fear, that Mubarak is grooming Gamal Mubarak, his younger son and head of the NDP’s policies committee, to succeed him as head of state.
— Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: One of El Baradei's supporters at Cairo Airport. Credit: Khaled Desouky/AFP/Getty Images