US Embassy Cables: 2009 El Baradei Presidential Candidacy Remain Unclear
EL BARADEI’S “CONDITIONED” PRESIDENTIAL RUN
Ref ID: 09CAIRO2279
Date: 2009-12-10 13:35
Origin: Embassy Cairo
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002279
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TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: EL BARADEI’S “CONDITIONED” PRESIDENTIAL RUN
REF: CAIRO 2209
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1.Key Points: — (C) Mohammed El Baradei’s December 4 statement stops short of a commitment to run in Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections. Now no longer at the IAEA, El Baradei expanded on earlier criticism of the state of democracy in Egypt and set a high bar for his candidacy. — (C) Reaction from members of the government and state-run media has been harsh and personal but not uniform; with some suggesting competition has its benefits. — (C) Opposition political and human rights activists have praised the “conditions” outlined by El Baradei but have not uniformly endorsed his candidacy.
2.(C) Comment: Thus far El Baradei’s true political aspirations remain unclear. He is surely aware of his ability to influence the debate at home and may only seek, as he told CNN December 6, to do what he can “to make sure that Egypt…moves in the right direction.” As a favored son of Egypt, El Baradei’s remarks are harder to reject as purely “international interference.” As a result, even if he is not a “serious candidate” El Baradei’s endorsement of “home grown” demands keeps political reform in the public spotlight, particularly in the wake of attempts by the ruling party and President Mubarak to downplay it in favor of social and economic issues. (Reftel). End Comment.
Baradei’s Candidacy Still Not Confirmed
3.(C) On December 4, former chairman of the IAEA Mohammed El Baradei issued a statement on Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections endorsing many of the political reforms called for by Egypt’s opposition. The statement, critical of the state of reform in Egypt, outlined the “built-in conditions for a free and fair election” he first mentioned to the media in early November, but stopped short of a clear commitment to run. His remarks come in response to calls from political activists that he and other prominent Egyptians enter the elections as an alternative to the succession of presidential son Gamal Mubarak. In the December statement, sent to the Egyptian media from El Baradei’s private office in Vienna (where he is expected to remain until a possible visit to Egypt in January), El Baradei frames himself as a reluctant candidate. In a subsequent comment aired on CNN December 6, El Baradei affirmed he would run only if “in the interest of the homeland” and with broad consent from the public. (Note: The hurdles to El Baradei’s candidacy are not limited to his own pre-conditions for the regime. In order to run, Al Baradei must either join the leadership of one of Egypt’s legal opposition parties with at least one seat in the parliament or run as an independent requiring that his candidacy be endorsed by 250 sitting officials; a difficult task for anyone outside of the ruling party. End Note.) Dean of Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, and high-ranking NDP official Dr. Alia El Mahdi told PolOff that El Baradei’s family (a possible reference to Dr. Mona El Baradei whom she replaced as Dean) told her El Baradei does not intend to run. Without any real opinion polling in Egypt, El Baradei’s true popularity is unclear.
Call for Political Reform
4.(C) El Baradei’s reform message in the statement is broad. It adds weight to calls for constitutional reforms from others, like well-known journalist Mohammed Hussenein Haykel who suggested Egypt needed an interim government with a council of experts to draft a new constitution. In his statement, El Baradei is critical of the election process, urging the government to “open the candidacy door to all Egyptians,” and calling for the removal of “constitutional and legal” obstacles potential candidates face (a reference to changes made to Article 76 of the constitution which many say was tailor made for Gamal Mubarak). The statement also sets out a series of “necessary guarantees” that would ensure the election’s validity and “send a clear message” to the world that Egypt is serious about reform. These “guarantees” include a new and “neutral” election commission, full judicial supervision of the elections (requiring a constitutional amendment), international monitoring and equal CAIRO 00002279 002 OF 002 access to state media for all candidates.
5.(C) Strong criticism of the statement from state media and ruling-party officials, including several NDP members of parliament, was immediate but not universal. Some commentators questioned the seriousness of Baradei’s intentions and suggested he should first build his domestic political credentials. Many criticized his intention to “impose conditions” on Egypt from afar and his desire to see the presidency given to him on a “silver platter.” In an article published the next day, Director of the government-funded Al Ahram Foundation Abdel Moneim Said suggested El Baradei stop acting as an “inspector” as he had at the IAEA and called conditions for participation “arrogant.” Said called the return to full judicial supervision (i.e. one judge per ballot box) out of step with international norms. Minister of Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab asked “What does El Baradei know about the Egyptian people?” and suggested he needed to earn his popularity.
6.(C) Media comments from some reform-oriented voices within the National Democratic Party (NDP) suggest competition is either welcome or not seen as a real challenge. NDP insider Mohammed Kamal (member of the influential NDP Policies Committee lead by Gamal Mubarak) seemed unconcerned, saying El Baradei should run “if he qualifies” as a candidate. Fellow member of the NDP Policies Committee Hossam Badrawi emphasized El Baradei’s “right to run” and said criticism demonstrated a lack of “political maturity” about the nature of competition. Badrawi added that there had been no “political guidance” from within the NDP to attack El Baradei. Separately, NDP Spokesman Ali Eldin Hillal told PolOff, the “door is open” to those who feel they are qualified to run. Dr. Alia El Mahdi went further, suggesting to PolOff that El Baradei’s comments should be seen as a set of principles “anyone would think of” and that they need to be implemented for a “suitable person to run.” However, she said it is not likely that “all will happen.”
7.(C) Journalist and blogger Issandr Amrani told PolOff he thought the effort to undermine El Baradei has instead undermined the Presidency, and the commitments by NDP leaders including President Mubarak to “competitive” elections; making the regime appear afraid of an El Baradei candidacy. Others noted that if El Baradei is serious about running for president these conditions also put his own credibility at risk given that they are unlikely to be implemented.
8.(C) Opposition party leaders have responded largely with tempered praise to El Baradei’s comment. Reveling in the embarrassment they believe the remarks have caused the regime, opposition leaders, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have endorsed the conditions El Baradei sets for his participation but not necessarily his candidacy. Most do not expect that El Baradei’s comments will lead to real reform before the elections nor are they convinced of the seriousness of his intentions. Democratic Front Party President Osama Al Ghazali Harb called the statement a “useful form of pressure” on the regime. Human rights activist Ahmed Saif Al Islam of the Hisham Mubarak Center called El Baradei’s statements a form of “political haggling” to achieve broad political gains. He added that the statement might be a “‘chic’ way to refuse to enter the elections.” Some have said publically they are willing to offer El Baradei their party’s nomination, including Ayman Nour’s Al Ghad and the marginal Free Constitutional Party. Despite media rumors regarding support from younger members, the Wafd party Secretary General Mounir Fakry AbdelNour definitively rejected naming El Baradei. George Is’haq, a founding member of the Kifaya movement, told PolOff the mainstream opposition is also embarrassed. He said endorsing an outside candidate is an admission of their own irrelevance. Ahmed Maher of the April 6 movement announced the group will coordinate online support for El Baradei’s nomination.