Commentary: ElBaradei’s party – better late than never

Monday, May 7th, 2012

On February 24, Mohamed ElBaradei wrote an op/ed for the Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk titled "My vision for the next phase of the Egyptian revolution" where he compared the ousting of Mubarak to the planting of seeds; it is now time to help the seeds grow.

ElBaradei proposed that a temporary constitution guaranteeing the basic rights and principles symbolized by the January 25 popular uprising be instituted instead of the fallen 1971 version.

He also called for establishing a presidential council made up of two civilians and one military representative to take over from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), provided that the three have no relation to the Mubarak regime.

This effectively disqualifies Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi from power. The council would appoint a caretaker government responsible for restoring security and healing the economy since, ElBaradei argued, building the second Egyptian republic cannot be achieved under a cloud of instability.

This government would pave the way for the election of a constituent assembly tasked with writing the new permanent constitution of the country. Presumably, after the election of the assembly, it would appoint its own temporary president and government a la Tunisia and take over legislative power temporarily.

After the writing of the constitution and its presumed ratification via referendum, the temporary president would call for parliamentary elections as per the new constitution and the constituent assembly would dissolve itself. After parliamentary elections, the temporary president would resign, with parliament calling for presidential elections.

Either the elected president or parliament (or both) would appoint a government depending on the system of governance outlined in the new constitution effectively beginning a new age of democracy and stability.

ElBaradei was clear that this plan would take at least two years, if not three, but his premise was basically that if you are going to do something, you better do it right. He clearly - and rightly so - did not trust the military with power and predicted that the proposed six month interim period would not be enough. And he was right.

He also said that early elections would only benefit the already established parties and groups (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood). Again, he was on the money.

But in what quickly became a recurring pattern, ElBaradei was ignored and the SCAF-Brotherhood alliance achieved what it wanted anyway. If we are to be honest, then the March 19 referendum was the day the revolution was lost.

The proponents of a "yes" vote argued that a "no" vote would extend military rule to more than a year and that voting "yes" was the only way to transfer powers to civilians as soon as possible - within six months they said.

Fourteen months later, Egypt is still under military rule. Parliamentary elections were held under military rule and so will presidential elections. Possibly the constitution will also be written under military rule.

ElBaradei recognized the farce that was going on and refused to play any part of it. On January 14, 2012 he announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, citing his refusal to be part of a charade.

With the other main players struggling to convince as many of the masses as possible that they are the ones fit to bring about an end to the darkness consuming the country, and Mr. Amr Moussa likely to be the president come June (the stage is already set), ElBaradei has declared the founding of a new political party, the Dostour or Constitution Party.

His stated goal is to combine all the scattered and divided revolutionary youth under one political umbrella, a wise strategy seeing as what the revolution has suffered from the most was a fatal lack of political leadership and unity.

But many ask why this step has taken so long. Surely this should have been done immediately after Mubarak's ousting, or at least after the first sign of trouble from Tantawi and co.

Herein lies the problem, the reason, perhaps, why many are disappointed in ElBaradei. He is not a revolutionary leader; he is a revolutionary thinker.

We wanted him to be our Che. He instead wanted to be Gandhi or Martin Luther King. We wanted Lenin's revolutionary leader, while ElBaradei saw himself as Plato's philosopher king.

The man is not without vast political knowledge, but his idealism, to the point of naivete, always brings him down. But as much as it is a fault, it is also why his supporters and followers gravitate towards him in the first place. To them, he represents something clean, the ideal in politics. And ideal that is perhaps too unrealistic.

ElBaradei is the cleanest, most respectable man on the political scene. He truly cares about Egypt and does not seek power. His strength is in that he can function as a rallying point for like-minded individuals, specifically youth, so the next time there is a revolution (and it will not be more than five years before there is another one given the way things are going) they are organized and ready for it.