REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has dropped out of the race for the Egyptian presidency in protest over the slow pace by the nation’s military rulers to allow democracy to take hold after a year of revolution and political upheaval.
ElBaradei’s announcement Saturday is a strategic and emotional blow to young liberal and secular activists who had hoped the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency would lead the country toward democratic reform to replace the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
"My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework," said ElBaradei in a statement. He added that the ruling military council has thwarted civil liberties and taken control of Egypt “as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen.”
ElBaradei has been a frequent critic of the military, often posting Twitter missives against the generals for deadly crackdowns on protesters and smothering of dissent. When he returned to his native Egypt in 2010, after years of living abroad, ElBaradei led the National Front for Change and was viewed as a fresh, uncorrupted voice.
But he lacked charisma and never appeared comfortable rallying the masses. He spent much of his time organizing behind the scenes, especially with the young social media activists who sparked the uprising that led to Mubarak’s overthrow.
His chances of winning presidential elections -– slated for June –- had dimmed in recent weeks. ElBaradei was considered an outsider and did not have the stature of entrenched Islamist parties, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s dominant political force.
The Brotherhood, which appears to have won about 45% of the seats in the new Parliament, regards ElBaradei as too liberal for the emerging political Islam it envisions for Egypt. ElBaradei’s brand of secular, Western-style democracy resonated with the youth and intellectuals in Tahrir Square but played less well in the rural regions and provinces dominated by the Islamists.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: Mohamed ElBaradei. Credit: AFP/Getty Images