Issandr El Amrani writes: When Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt after the end of his tenure at the International Atomic Energy Agency, he had a simple mission: tell truth to power. Despite a campaign to draft him to run against President Hosni Mubarak, he refused to participate in any election under the undemocratic conditions that prevailed. On Saturday, he chose to take the same path, citing the lack of a democratic framework in military-run Egypt.
In a statement to the press and a YouTube video put up by his campaign, he explained that as much as he has held high hopes for the revolution that overthrew Mr Mubarak, he cannot participate in elections held under the military-run transition process. “To achieve complete freedom, we must work outside the formal channels,” Mr ElBaradei said, looking sad but nonetheless determined.
Mr ElBaradei’s statement will be interpreted by his detractors as an ungraceful acknowledgement that his presidential campaign is going nowhere, and that an Egypt that overwhelmingly voted for Islamists is unlikely to elect a mild-mannered social democrat. Some might even accuse him of bad faith, using the excuse of the military’s excesses and a haphazard transition to cover up for the poor political prospects of Egyptian liberals like himself.
Even so, the moment is reminiscent of how, in 2010, he had shattered a taboo. Back then, he was almost alone among Egypt’s establishment grandees to dare criticise Mr Mubarak. By preferring to launch a national campaign for change rather than compete against the deposed president in a rigged system, he refused to legitimise the regime and was one of several factors that contributed to the country being ripe for an uprising. And back then, of course, that worked – even if Mr ElBaradei had never advocated such an uprising.
Mr ElBaradei’s decision comes at a crucial juncture in Egypt’s transition. Even if Egyptians are for the most part tired of protests, impatience with the military is also rising. The generals who forced Mr Mubarak out and have run the country since last February have been incompetent managers, authoritarian rulers and, perhaps most of all, shameless liars. There is a campaign now underway ahead of the anniversary of the January 25 uprising called “kazeboon” – Arabic for “liars” – that is bringing projectors to neighbourhoods to show that the military is carrying out acts of violence against protesters very much like those that took place under Mr Mubarak during the 18 days of the uprising.