CAIRO: Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei’s withdrawal from the presidential race fueled debates about the elections and the performance and intentions of the ruling military council in steering the transition period.
The decision, praised by many politicians and fellow contenders, was accompanied by sharp criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Some said it would draw more people to join protests marking the first anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising.
The decision also mirrored a similar call by ElBaradei in 2010 to boycott the parliamentary elections.
"I had said from the start that my conscience will not allow me to run for president or any official position unless there is a real democratic framework, that upholds the essence of democracy and not only its form," he said Saturday in a statement that echoed his previous stance.
The former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency announced Saturday the termination of his presidential elections campaign, saying he saw no hope it would bring end to the military’s rule.
The military council, headed by Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years, "has insisted on going down the same old path, as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen," he said.
In an apparent attempt to keep the move from helping fuel anti-military protests on the Jan. 25 anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, the military council asked ElBaradei not to announce his decision until later, a person close to ElBaradei said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private interaction.
Presidential hopeful Ayman Nour wrote in on his Twitter account that ElBaradei’s withdrawal from the presidential race is a "slap to the military council," adding that it would help revive the revolution.
"I nominate Dr ElBaradei as president of the republic of conscience, rather than the Field Marshal’s Republic," he said, referring to Hussein Tantawi.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, described ElBaradei’s participation in the presidential race as "an enrichment of fair competition."
"We have to fight to achieve the revolution’s goals," he wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday.
On his part, presidential hopeful and former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa expressed his sorrow for ElBaradei’s withdrawal, pointing out the valuable role he played in the developments Egypt witnessed recently.
"I hope ElBaradei continues his efforts to rebuild Egypt, along with the rest of the Egyptians," Moussa said on his twitter account.
ElBaradei criticized holding the elections without a clear constitution regulating the relation between authorities, dismissing the one that would be drafted in few weeks.
He severely rebuked the military council for their “poor and floundering vision,” and figuratively compared the council to a captain who has not been able to steer the passengers on a ship to a safe harbor.
Egypt’s current rulers, he continued, failed to end the emergency law, purge institutions from corruption, and to overhaul the oppressive police/military system and its subsequent crackdowns.
ElBaradei is a valued contender, Mohamed El-Beltagy, secretary general of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said. “It is, however, too early to tell how he might have impacted the presidential elections. This discourse has not been discussed yet.”
The Free Egyptians Party issued a statement Saturday supporting ElBaraei’s decision, saying that they joined him in his call for correcting the revolutionary path.
"ElBaradei has always been an example of a free, democratic individual, who refuses any compromise regarding his principles," read the statement.
The party, which spearheads the Egyptian Bloc, had announced that it would boycott the Shoura Council (Upper house) elections, slated for Jan. 29, because it wasted "precious time" from the transitional period and squandered Egypt’s already drained economic resources.
Mohamed Hamed, secretary general of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, expressed the loss “of an infallible option for a liberal civilian president.”
“There is a wide spectrum of liberal leaders to choose from, however, and the door to nominations [for presidency] has not even opened yet,” he added.
Hamed floated the idea of the emergence of another liberal candidate despite the conservative majority in parliament.
Others who might have given ElBaradei their vote fear that it will now be counted in favor of another contender, especially as some political speculations reigned the possibility of an alliance between ElBaradei and Aboul Fotouh in order to expand their base support.
“Now his votes will simply go to someone else, helping him/her win,” Ahmed Naguib, spokesperson and co-founder of the Council of Trustees of the Revolution, said.
Naguib reflects the views of many Egyptian youth who see ElBaradei as too old to run in later elections.
“He is not a young man after all. I think he had lost his chances because he was cautious and afraid of bowing to defeat,” Naguib said.
Calling for a copious number of demands since last February, most prominent amongst which is the placement of a roadmap for the transitional period, ElBaradei finally became mired in his own struggle. He cited his “conscience,” as a hurdle in proceeding with any plans to run for president.
Many of those who organized the protests feel that the military is keeping the structure of Mubarak’s regime and its own power in place. They fear that the Muslim Brotherhood, which is poised to dominate the new parliament, will cede the military’s continued influence over the executive in return for a freer hand in writing a new constitution.
"To have total change, we must work from outside the system," ElBaradei said in a video released later Saturday. He said he would work to unify youth groups, reclaim the goals of the revolution and address social justice, freedom and economic development.
“He could have served the public as much if he had become president. At least he would have snatched the country from its flailing state of economy,” Alaa Abdel Moneim, former member of Al-Wafd high committee, said. ElBaradei presented a broad plan to revive the economy in a public statement earlier this month.
On the other hand, political analyst from the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Nabil Abdel Fattah, believes that ElBaradei’s withdrawal reveals the “collusion between the military council, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other candidates who still have ties with the old regime.”
He said these actors are held accountable for striving to reshape the political scene in Egypt, whom the United States and Gulf states wish to keep as figureheads at the helm.
“Given ElBaradei’s stature, the international community will maintain a deeper look at Egypt … International and local observers will look at the electoral process with more interest; they will judge it on its merits and not on who is running – if it is positive. If it stumbles on pitfalls, they will be more critical,” Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the US and Dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo, said.
Fahmy added that ElBaradei might re-enter the political scene with the support of youth groups, who can take his calls for the immediate reform of the constitution to the streets.
“How the youth movement and young activists chose to play their role on January 25 will factor into the implications of his decision,” Fahmy added.
As the January 25 anniversary approaches, El-Baltagy said that ElBaradei’s decision will reignite protests to call for the ouster of the military council.
Mahmoud El-Hetta, the activist who had first floated the idea of ElBaradei as a presidential candidate in 2009, said he was distraught at first over the withdrawal decision. But after the meeting with ElBaradei Saturday, El-Hetta had a change of heart.
"He has once again turned things upside down, and has embarrassed other presidential candidates who have a weak chance because the military council has weakened the idea of a president," he said. "This would revive the idea that the revolution is not over and wins the heart of the youth groups." –Additional reporting by Heba Fahmy and AP.