As the protests continue in Egypt, and the departure of President Hosni Mubarak looks imminent, one man is emerging as a transitional leader: Mohamed ElBaradei. The soft-spoken 69-year-old is a Nobel laureate and long-time diplomat.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A leader of Egypt’s demonstrations has emerged over the past week.
NPR’s Jackie Northam reports on Mohamed ElBaradei.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Mohamed ElBaradei doesn’t fit the classic model of a man at the helm of an enormous – even historic – social sea-change. The 69-year-old ElBaradei is soft-spoken, shy, and a member of the intellectual elite – hardly a man of the people.
He was trained as a lawyer, served as a diplomat, and received a Nobel Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei lived abroad for about three decades. He’s better known on the international circuit than he is in his own country. But that may work to ElBaradei’s benefit, says Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar at the University of Notre Dame.
Professor EMAD SHAHIN (University of Notre Dame): This is a fresh figure. This is a fresh face, completely outside of the political arena with all its, you know, compromises and concessions and co-optations and so on.
NORTHAM: ElBaradei has been returning regularly to Egypt to push for political change. He’s liberal and secular with no apparent political affiliations. But Michelle Dunne, an Arab specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says ElBaradei is good at articulating popular grievances amongst Egyptians.
Ms. MICHELLE DUNNE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): He has managed to, I think, effectively in his messaging to Egyptians through many speeches and interviews and Twitter and so forth – he keeps putting forward this message that your economic and social grievances are connected to the current political order in Egypt and we need to change the current political order in Egypt. That’s a very relevant message right now.
NORTHAM: Dunne says even though ElBaradei got out a message, he had no huge following.
Ms. DUNNE: What he has not been effective at and not even really wanted to do or tried to do, is be an organizer, be a leader of an opposition movement. There have many in Egypt who have been frustrated with him because they wanted him to actually lead the opposition, and he has sort of resisted that.
NORTHAM: But now ElBaradei has been thrust into that role. ElBaradei told CNN that President Mubarak had to go and that if the Egyptian president wanted to save his skin, he should leave immediately. ElBaradei says he has been asked to be the spokesman for a loose coalition of government opponents seeking regime change.
Mr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Nobel Laureate): There has been a number of declarations by different parts of the Egyptian society – from right, left and center -mandating me to work with the army, with everybody in Egypt, with outside world, to ensure smooth transition.
NORTHAM: Among those backing ElBaradei is the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group banned by the Mubarak government.
Notre Dame’s Professor Shahin says ElBaradei knows he has to work with all the political parties, no matter their stripes.
Mr. SHAHIN: Better that he understand, of course, the political and social map of Egypt. When he decided to jump into the fire, he actually made clear statements and moves that he accepts some kind of cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
NORTHAM: The White House said it would only deal with the Muslim Brotherhood if it had assurances the group was non-violent and willing to be part of a democratic process. But ElBaradei says the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with extremism and he says they are part of Egyptian society.
In the CNN interview, ElBaradei indicated he would not be pushed around by the U.S.
Mr. ELBARADEI: I can tell you, in honesty, as a friend of the U.S., that your policies right now is a failed policy, is a policy that is having the effect here in Egypt that you are losing whatever left of credibility.
NORTHAM: Still, ElBaradei says he wants to see a democratic Egypt that is friendly with the U.S.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: The protests in Egypt followed quickly a revolution in Tunisia, and now another Arab ruler is feeling the pressure. Today, Jordan’s King Abdullah fired his government. He named a new prime minister and directed him to implement, quote, “genuine political reform.” This after protesters in Jordan last week called for a change.
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