Egypt’s Great Liberal Nope
In the end, though, it wasn’t the hyperbole that undermined ElBaradei’s candidacy. It was his inability to lead. One Twitter exchange from this summer encapsulates the exasperation among his supporters at this glaring deficit. On August 14, ElBaradei expressed his irritation with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), tweeting “Military trials for young activists, while Mubarak & co. stand before civilian courts, is a legal farce. Don’t abort the revolution.” Dalia Ziada, a well-known activist responded via Twitter almost instantaneously, “Please, stop stating the obvious. Tell us something new. Do something to inspire us as a leader!”
Alas, “inspire” is not a verb generally associated with ElBaradei. Even if he hadn’t been a shrinking violet, though, the odds of him winning a presidential election were never particularly good. For starters, Egypt’s newly proposed presidential elections law requires independent candidates to collect at least 30,000 endorsements from fifteen governorates, or to secure the backing of thirty members of parliament. ElBaradei wasn’t likely to meet either of these criteria. Moreover—and more importantly—based on the Islamist tsunami in the legislative elections, ElBaradei’s compromised version of liberal politics has an incredibly limited constituency in Egypt. Hardcore Islamists, after all, took nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Still, Washington should shed no tears over ElBaradei’s departure. While the mustachioed ElBaradei might have been preferable to bearded Islamists who advocate covering the faces of ancient Egyptian statues in wax to fulfill the Islamic precept against idolatry, he was no panacea. While indisputably committed to democracy, ElBaradei would neither have been a strong president or a reliable friend to Washington. In any event, given that the incoming Islamist legislature will seek to change the state from a presidential to a parliamentary system, the presidency may soon be irrelevant. Should this transpire, ElBaradei the elder statesman might find himself well positioned—and well qualified—for the top slot.
David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Eric Trager is the Institute’s Ira Weiner Fellow.