Egyptians have reservations about ElBaradei

CAIRO Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:23pm IST

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei speaks to protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 30, 2011. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei speaks to protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo January 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians on the streets of Cairo said on Monday they had reservations about opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who has offered to act as transitional leader to prepare Egypt for democratic elections.

ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), returned to Egypt on the eve of the protests which swept the country on Friday, when tens of thousands of people called for the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the IAEA, ElBaradei and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday he had a mandate from opposition groups to make contact with the army and negotiate a government of national unity.

At least one opposition party, the Arab nationalist Karama Party of Hamdin Sabahi, has rejected ElBaradei outright as a transitional figure, saying he was trying to jump on the bandwagon of the popular uprising.

ElBaradei joined protesters at the hub of anti-Mubarak protests in central Cairo on Sunday.

ElBaradei, 68, began overt opposition to Mubarak on his return to Egypt in February 2010 and won a widespread following among the young and the middle classes.

But the Egyptian authorities harassed his supporters and ElBaradei lost much credibility through his long absences abroad. The official media tried to ridicule him, saying he knew nothing about Egypt and had no political experience.

Some elements of the government's campaign appear to have stuck. "ElBaradei won't do. He doesn't have the experience here and he's a little weak," said Khaled Ezzat, 34, an information technology engineer who had joined the evening vigil in Tahrir Square.

"NOT NEUTRAL" ON IRAN

Omar Mahdi, a sales manager, said: "I'm not convinced by ElBaradei, even as a transitional figure, he hasn't really been present in the country."

Some of the protesters objected to ElBaradei on the grounds that he was too close to the United States, despite the frictions between him and the U.S. administration over the Iranian and Israeli nuclear programmes when he was head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog body.

"ElBaradei's positions towards other Arab countries, and towards Iran and North Korea, were not neutral... So I don't find him very acceptable," said Walid Abdel-Mit'aal, 36, who works for a public sector company.

"He would follow Mubarak in the same policies and would take U.S. aid," he added, reflecting an anti-American strand which was largely absent in the first four days of protests.

ElBaradei's cosmopolitanism -- he lived abroad for years and speaks fluent English -- may be an advantage among some Egyptians but it is also a source of suspicion among others.

The protesters in Tahrir Square suggested several alternatives to ElBaradei as transitional leader, including Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, a popular former foreign minister, the president of the constitutional court or the president of the supreme administrative court.

Others said they were open-minded and what mattered was changing the constitution to ensure that no one man clings to power as long as Mubarak, who took office in 1981.

"ElBaradei is a very acceptable option because he will not stay," said Islam Ashraf, 24, a quality operations coordinator. "But we're not really interested in faces. What matters to us is having another system," he said.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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