Saturday, January 14, 2012

To B or not to B.. That is the Question

To many, this came out of nowhere. Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, presidential hopeful, abruptly issued a statement on January 13, 2012, announcing his decision to withdraw from the presidential race. Dr. B, as he's fondly called by his supporters, has been a continuous pain in the neck to Egypt's ruler since his retirement as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2009. What started off with a polite demand for democracy in Egypt culminated in a call for civil disobedience after the December 2010 election fiasco. He lived up to his reputation in his exit speech published in the Dostoor and his televised address to the nation by condemning SCAF's continuation of Mubarak regime's oppressive practices.

But did Dr. B's withdrawal come as a surprise? Not really. One strong indicator was the landslide results of the Islamists in the recent parliamentary elections. The combined Islamist forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis clenched close to a whopping 70% of the vote. Egypt's preference was obvious; no presidential candidate stands a chance without the seal of approval of the Islamists and it wasn't forthcoming to Baradei. The MB dangled its carrot on several occasions but came short of fully supporting him. Although Abdel Moneim Aboul Fetouh's bid for presidency cost him his MB membership, he's still family and blood's thicker than water. The Salafis, the elections' black horse, were never considered a serious political power. Until now, that is. Their support was not only difficult in view of Baradei's liberalism, it was virtually impossible with their own strongman Hazem Abu Ismail in the race.

And to complicate matters, enter the current ruler of Egypt. There is no love lost between SCAF and Dr. B; he is one of their most vocal critics. In his withdrawal statement he didn't mince his words and accused them of dictatorial mismanagement, flagrant oppression and borderline corruption. Until recently SCAF kept appearances and grudgingly invited him to conciliatory meetings with predominantly pseudo-opposition characters, which he unceremoniously turned down. This minimum decency disappeared as their relationship hit rock bottom in the aftermath of Mohamed Mahmoud and Cabinet events when the army used excessive force in dealing with protesters and Baradei reprimanded them in no uncertain terms. They subsequently unleashed their media dogs to rekindle the fires of the smear campaign which started during Mubarak's reign, and fallaciously tainted him and his family. There was bad blood and irreconcilable differences and Baradei would have never been endorsed by SCAF in his bid for the presidency, especially with his unyielding demand for absolute authority, autonomy and good governance. Why risk it with Dr. B when they had a loyal comrade-in-arms and already-tested Shafik in the wings?

Another discerning factor was the lack of consensus on Baradei among the Revolutionaries and intelligentsia. They stand divided on the man who was the first heavyweight Egyptian politician to speak out against Mubarak when it wasn't in vogue. To his admirers Dr. B is "the man": Egypt's savior and emancipator, a seasoned politician with vision and integrity. To his detractors he is distant, uncharismatic and falls short of their fiery revolutionary aspirations. To the young Islamist revolutionaries he doesn't even exist.  No. Baradei's chances for the bid for presidency were slim, an uphill battle whose expected unpleasant outcome would've tarnished his distinguished career.

And while I'm deeply disappointed that he bowed out of the race, I'm almost relieved he spared himself, and us, an almost hopeless battle and welcome reverting his vast wisdom, energy and constructive analytical thinking to his original role as catalyst and mentor of the Egyptian Revolution. Is this being defeatist? Pragmatic is more like it. Suffice it to analyze the results of the referendum and the parliamentary elections. I mean, how shrewd do you have to be in order to foresee the outcome? And though I yearned for an executive role for Baradei because I strongly believe he is the best among all the presidential hopefuls, I'm mature enough to realize that it was a remote possibility given the country's inclinations. Baradei will go down in history as one of the most important and influential catalysts of Egypt's Revolution; unfortunately Egypt is not ready to give him more than that. For now.