Be it for lack of mass support or as a statement against Egypt's military rulers, the withdrawal of leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei from the upcoming presidential race will shake the political scene in the country. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was to hold a press conference at 1pm Saturday. It was cancelled and a statement was released on the ElBaradei Campaign Facebook page and Twitter account, with ElBaradei declaring he would be withdrawing from the presidential race.
In his statement, ElBaradei explained that the reason behind his withdrawal was the lack of a real democratic system in which he can run for the presidency or any other post. After honoring the martyrs and condemning the path chosen for Egypt’s transition period and the oppressive methods that have been recently in use, including military trials of civilians, ElBaradei stated that “this all makes us feel that the regime has not fallen yet”.
ElBaradei added in his statement that he has studied all the means through which he can serve the revolution’s aims but has not found a place within the official framework from which this can be accomplished. He added that even the presidency cannot accomplish that without a constitution that dictates authorities and protects freedoms, or with a constitution that will be hurriedly drafted in but a few weeks.
Considering the circumstances, ElBaradei stated he would not be running for the presidential elections, adding that this decision does not mean a complete withdrawal from the political scene but that he will continue serving society “outside any positions of power, freed from all the chains”. He further added “my conscience will not allow me to nominate myself to the presidency or any formal position without the presence of a real democratic framework that uses the essence of democracy not just its image”.
Some believe ElBaradei's choosing to withdraw is due to decreasing popular support. ElBaradei used to enjoy wide support amongst Egyptians, and was dubbed the "godfather" of the revolution for defying Mubarak's regime and predicting its fall in 2011. Recently he has come under strong attack. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group, retreated from its support of him without a declared reason and have recently suggested other potential candidates. State led campaigns have also contributed to tainting his image and affecting his popularity.
When contacted by Ahram Online, ElBaradei Campaign member Nadine Abd El-Wahab refused comment on the issue.
News of ElBaradei’s withdrawal met with a flood of comments on social media venues, as some expressed shock and others disappointment or sarcasm. While one comment exclaimed, “Was he ever in the race?”, implying that ElBaradei made no effort towards his campaign, another stated “You should not leave the field to those who are willing to make deals with the military to get to power. We need a candidate like you who believes in democracy.”
ElBaradei’s recent stances on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has left many believing that his prospects of winning were low as it was unlikely the military would allow it. Tahrir protesters previously launched an initiative demanding the formation of a national salvation government led by ElBaradei and presidential hopeful Abd El-Monem Abu El-Fotouh, to manage Egypt’s transition period instead of SCAF. Ahmed Imam, one of the main initiators of the campaign, confirmed the belief that the military would not approve ElBaradei. Imam also confirmed that there is a chance the Muslim Brotherhood retreated from backing ElBaradei due to his position on SCAF, although he explained that until recently the group appeared to be in close contact with him.
ElBaradei has recently been outspoken about rights violations that characterised recent clashes between the military and protesters. He made several statements condemning SCAF’s role in guiding Egypt’s transition period. He also frequently condemned the use of violence by the police and the military as well as putting civilians before military trials.
Mohamed Osman, a member of the Abd El-Monem Abu El-Fotouh for President Campaign, shares the view that the military and the Brotherhood would likely refuse ElBaradei as president. However, according to Osman, the Brotherhood split with ElBaradei even before he became critical of SCAF. Osman, also a former Brotherhood member, believes the Brotherhood clashed with ElBaradei ever since the constitutional amendments referendum, seeing him as “too liberal”. The Muslim Brotherhood has recently declared that it is likely that it will back former Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi.
It is clear to many that ElBaradei’s withdrawal will change the elections scene completely. Imam believes that many of those who would have voted for ElBaradei will now vote for Aboul-Fotouh. Osman, on the other hand, a member of Abu El-Fotouh’s campaign, believes that while some of ElBaradei’s constituency might overlap with Abu El-Fotouh’s, they are not identical. Osman says ElBaradei’s withdrawal will create a gap, as he symbolised the liberal camp, opening the field for a new candidate to step in.
Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Amr Moussa, who many also believe could be a close alternative to ElBaradei, expressed his regret over ElBaradei’s withdrawal adding that the Nobel Peace Prize winner had played an important role in shaping recent events in Egypt.