ElBaradei pulls out of Egypt vote, faults military

Israelis see ex-IAEA chief as comparatively moderate but soft on Iran; Islamists expected to take 70% of parliamentary seats.

Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mohamed ElBaradei pulled out of the race to become Egypt’s next president Saturday, saying that the previous regime was still running the country, which has been governed by generals since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February.
“My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a real democratic system,” said the Nobel Prize-winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, once seen as a front-runner for the position Mubarak, a former air force commander, held for three decades.
RELATED:ElBaradei: Egypt is 'disintegrating' as tourism drops ElBaradei calls for big-tent coalition including Islamists
As head of the UN nuclear watchdog, ElBaradei came under fire from Israelis and others concerned about Iran’s nuclear program for what they viewed as his insufficiently hard line against Tehran.
ElBaradei consistently called for a nuclear-free zone across the region, denouncing “double standards” in apparent reference to Israel. In 2010 he told Germany’s Der Spiegel, “The danger of a nuclear-armed Iran is overestimated... I do not believe that the Iranians are actually producing nuclear weapons.”
Still, in a presidential field led by 75-year-old Amr Moussa – an ultra-nationalist former foreign minister – and assorted Islamist candidates, ElBaradei, 69, was widely viewed by Israel and the West as a relatively moderate choice among a less-than-ideal field.
ElBaradei’s withdrawal was received, in part, as an admission that he could not win, experts said.
“ElBaradei acknowledges he may not have the grassroots support to win in this presidential election,” political analyst and activist Hassan Nafaa said. “He also realizes that the next president will not have full powers and will be bound by the current system.
“By pulling out of the presidential race, he is aligning himself with the youth movement and the liberals, who have been sidelined in the interim process by Islamists,” Nafaa added.
The bespectacled lawyer’s campaign had been weakened by divisions. In November, some of his campaign staff quit, saying he had become cut off from his grassroots base. ElBaradei took aim at the way the transition was being managed.
“The randomness and the mismanagement of the transitional period are pushing the country away from the aims of the revolution,” he said.
His remarks added to a recent wave of criticism targeting the Egyptian generals.
Former US president Jimmy Carter said last week they looked unlikely to surrender all of their powers by the middle of the year, as promised.
His Carter Center, which has been monitoring the legislative elections, said the council’s lack of transparency had created “uncertainty about their commitment to full civilian leadership.”
Headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades, the military council says it has no interest in government and is working to move Egypt toward democracy.
Egypt’s strongest political force, Islamist groups, have dominated elections for the lower house of parliament, which began in November and are now drawing to a close.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, says its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has won 46 percent of the seats, with the more hard-line Salafi al-Nour Party winning some 23% of the seats. The FJP supports the military council’s transition plan.
FJP leaders on Saturday discussed their legislative agenda with Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, appointed by the council in November.
The party says it will work with the Ganzouri government, due to stay in office until the middle of the year.
“We aim to find common ground between the government and parliament,” Saad el-Katatni, FJP secretary-general, said. “We have not decided who we will join forces with once parliament convenes.”
One of Egypt’s main liberal political parties said on Monday it would boycott upper house elections later this month in protest of violations committed by Islamist parties in earlier voting rounds.
ElBaradei said he would now work to help Egypt’s youth become part of the political process.
Reflecting on the achievements of the uprising, he said: “The most important gain is that the barrier of fear has been broken and that the people have regained their faith that they are capable of change.”
In a move typically undertaken by a head of state, Tantawi, 76, will go to Libya on Monday, his first diplomatic mission since the end of parliamentary elections.
An official source said Tantawi plans more diplomatic missions in the region.
There has been speculation that the army chief might run for president, effectively extending the army’s grip on power. A campaign backing him for president was launched in October but Tantawi has denied any such plan.