Alaa al-Aswani catches a lot of flack for being the official go-to person for lazy Western reporters seeking comment on whatever has seized their inane fancy that week. As we’re in no position to judge whether this is due to grievous acts of self-promotion or the aforementioned lassitude in dogged pursuit of stories, we tend to give the good dentist the benefit of the doubt.
Also, we like his writing in this piece, urging his fellow citizens to welcome Muhammad ElBaradei upon his arrival at Cairo Airport, which gains its power not from stylistic flourishes but rather from its very direct appeal and the heartstrings tugging towards the end that is his specialty.
We promise, our “Al-Baradei, All the Time” phase will end soon, if only because we’re running out of suitable puns…
From al-Shorouk’s Tuesday, February 16 edition:
This Friday, February 19, at 3 PM, Austrian Airways flight number 863 will arrive from Vienna, opening a new chapter in Egyptians’ struggle to seize their rights to freedom and justice. The plane will carry one of Egypt’s most important sons, Dr. Muhammad ElBaradei, professor of international law and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who burst onto the political scene in Egypt demanding democratic reforms, earning him the respect and admiration of Egyptians. The zealous support of ElBaradei amongst young people is truly a unique phenomenon. They have formed a number of groups to support him, and both official and popular representative committees have appeared in a number of governorates for the sake of changing the constitution, an event that has not occurred in Egypt since the revolution in 1919.
The youths have exerted a huge effort in calling on Egyptians to welcome ElBaradei home on Friday. I believe thousands of Egyptians will turn out to greet him, just as I believe the security forces will make efforts to shut down this popular welcome. In every way, and without any doubt, Dr. ElBaradei has become the most important political phenomenon in Egypt right now. Perhaps it will be useful to understand the reasons why:
First, millions of Egyptians live in a morass of poverty, sickness and unemployment, just to stay alive in inhuman conditions, while at the same time ruling elites enjoy everything: wealth and influence and privilege and legal protection. In the shadow of this obscene injustice, the Egyptian regime blames the Egyptians for all of its policy failures.
The evidence for that is unlimited: In the opinion of Egypt’s rulers, we the Egyptians are a lazy and ignorant people, reproducing without reason, not prone to work, and breaking everything we touch, starting with our votes and going on to social benefits and electricity and water. In light of this continuous humiliation, the appearance of successful Egyptians who have achieved international fame for their achievements, like Muhammad ElBaradei, Ahmed Zuweil and Magdi Yaacoub, give Egyptians’ self-confidence and assures them of their abilities.
And it demonstrates clearly that Egypt’s crisis is not due to defects in Egyptians’ nature or behavior, but rather to the failed and corrupt policies of an order that maintains its grip on Egypt through repression and fraud.
Secondly, ElBaradei has many characteristics that will affect his popularity: He is highly educated, having received a doctorate in international law from New York University in 1974. Through hard work and talent, he has obtained international positions and numerous prizes. Finally, he has expertise in the fields of law and policy.
He likewise proved his love for country when he donated the prize money from his Nobel Prize to residents of slums, then criticized the corruption and injustice in Egypt, thus opening the gates of hell on himself. Some in the government attempted to maintain his friendship by offering him a high government position, but his love of what is right triumphed over self-interest.
In addition to that, the Egyptian regime has no power whatsoever over ElBaradei. Rather, the opposite is true. The government rejected his candidacy for director general of the IAEA, and despite that he won the position in a clean election.
In the eyes of Egyptians, ElBaradei is thought to be effective and honorable, who has not dirtied his hands with corruption, participated in electoral irregularities, did not keep his mouth shut when innocents are arrested and tortured, wasn’t a yes man for President Mubarak, and doesn’t sing about his historical achievements like today’s hypocritical ministers. For all of these reasons, ElBaradei is appreciated across Egypt’s political spectrum, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the leftists to the liberals and even the expat Copts.
Thirdly, the sudden appearance of ElBaradei and his daily increase in popularity strikes a blow against the ruling authorities, and has caused them to launch a fierce war against him, which began with a flood of lies and fabrications that belittled his values and accomplishments and accused him of every imperfection known to man.
Then the regime’s sleeper agents went to work in the newspapers and broadcasts. They are those who demonstrate their impartiality to earn the public’s trust, but then, in the moment of truth, were taking orders directly from the state, which they carried out to the letter.
Finally, in the third round, the regime simply ignored ElBaradei completely. For weeks on end the official press didn’t publish a single word about him, as if he didn’t exist. But then officials discovered, by chance, that the governor of Damietta governorate, Muhammad Fathi ElBaradei, shares a name with the doctor. An unprecedented number of stories rained down from Damietta, some appropriate and others not, which no doubt shocked even the governor himself. The goal being to demonstrate that Dr. ElBaradei is just one Baradei amongst many, and so not important. This was the last accusation against him.
This curious incident demonstrated the depths of the regime’s hatred for ElBaradei, and the intellectual shallowness that some leading journalists in Egypt enjoy.
Fourth, over the years the regime has taken great pains both domestically and internationally to prepare for inheritance of power from President Mubarak to his son Gamal.
Internationally, the regime relied on two policies: First, services rendered to Israel to its full satisfaction, to the point that the Zionist lobby pressured the US administration to accept inheritance. Second, employing the Muslim Brotherhood as a scare tactic and claiming they would surely win in any free elections held in Egypt. The purpose being to ensure Western governments’ support for the dictatorial regime and their acceptance of inheritance.
As for domestically, they created a whole apparatus with members drawn from the law, the media and other public personalities, who betrayed the public trust and their professional duties by claiming that Gamal Mubarak is the only available alternative to his father and presenting him in public as an attractive figure. Then they made shameful amendments to the constitution, which limited competition to that between the president and his son. The appearance of Muhammad ElBaradei has upset all of these arrangements. He is not a member of the Brotherhood nor the regime, and his impressive political and professional abilities make it impossible to compare him to the humble performance of Gamal Mubarak.
ElBaradei is well-known and respected at the international level, which will make it very difficult to arrest him or fabricate stories or scandals about him for the sake of eliminating him as a threat. In order to pull off the succession, the regime needs extras, to run against Gamal Mubarak in elections and lose to him, in order to bestow some credibility on this farce.
Usually the regime looks for these extras amongst public figures that collaborate with it or have ambitions for a higher office or amongst the cartoonish political parties that are created by state security. Dr. ElBaradei warned of this trap early on, and refused categorically to participate, in light of constitutional and legal flaws, and demanded that steps be taken to amend the constitution to allow for real competition and honor for the presidency. He increased Egyptians’ respect for him when he announced that he was returning to Egypt not to seek the presidency itself but rather to join forces with those seeking to make Egypt a democracy.
Finally, Egypt is passing through a defining moment in its history, perhaps similar to the era before the 1952 revolution. There is a consensus that the status quo is unacceptable and change is inevitable. Perhaps it is ironic that ElBaradei is returning the same week that some Egyptians were martyred, not defending their country but rather in a desperate struggle to obtain butagaz canisters so that they could cook food for their children. The level of Egypt’s humiliation has reached that level.
To my dear readers,
If you want your children to live in a country that respects their rights, where all people are treated as equals before the law and enjoy equal opportunities in education and employment.
If you want change and reform in Egypt.
Come with us on Friday to Cairo Airport to welcome Dr. Muhammad ElBaradei.
Democracy is the solution.