Having completed his two terms as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei has thrown his hat in the Egyptian presidential elections scheduled for 2011. Adopting the tone of a reformer, he has launched a scathing attack against the state establishment, especially the media which in his view function ‘as government mouthpieces rather than real newspapers.’ Adopting an inclusive approach, he extended an olive branch to the Islamists; especially the powerful but legally-proscribed Muslim Brotherhood.
As director general of the international nuclear watchdog, El-Baradei at times angered Washington, especially when he refused to go along with the Bush Administration over its demands vis-à-vis the suspected Iranian nuclear programme. He, however, was luckier than another Egyptian, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who could not get a second term as UN Secretary-General.
A career diplomat by profession, in 1997 El-Baradei was the nominee of President Hosni Mubarak for the IAEA post. Twelve long years later, he has returned to Cairo as a ‘civilian,’ only to challenge Mubarak and his plans for a republican succession.
In this, El-Baradei has an unlikely ally: Amr Moussa, the colourful secretary general of the Arab League and long-time aspirant for the presidency. It was widely reported that Moussa, whose popularity was second only to that of the president, was kicked upwards in 2001 only to smoothen the chances of Gamal Mubarak succeeding his father. As part of that strategy, in 2006 Mubarak even secured a second term for Moussa until 2011. Following his meeting with the new challenger, the Arab League secretary general candidly told the Egyptian media:“My talks with El-Baradei focused on internal conditions in Egypt.” He did not stop there but issued a subtle warning: “Everyone has the right to discuss such issues freely and no one should get annoyed that we did so.”
Going by the coverage given to El-Baradei and his statements even in the state-controlled media, it is obvious that the former UN official has managed to inject life into the decaying Egyptian political system and is seen by many as a ray of hope for the nearly three-decade old rule of Mubarak. The regime might still survive, but one thing is certain: Mubarak would be envying another republican regime in the neighbourhood. In 2000, following the death of Hafiz Assad, the regime swiftly anointed his non-political son Bashar. Thanks to the El-Baradei phenomenon, Gamal Mubarak, however, would not be that lucky even when his father is still around and in power.
Hit-squad, missing points
The political fallout of the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a founder of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, on January 20 in a luxury hotel in Dubai is only expanding by the day. The release of photos of over two dozen suspects in the assassination and the involvement of Palestinians as well as Iran and Jordan (escape route for some of the suspects) raise more questions than answers.
That many of them used or stole the identities of individuals who are currently residing in Israel increased the probability of Israeli involvement. That these suspects are also citizens of a host of western countries has complicated Israel’s relations with them. That faked passports were used by the assassins in Dubai is bound to raise questions about identity theft and security oversight. Given the current status of relations between Israel and the western world, it would not be possible to smoothen the fallout. Many European powers have not hidden their discomfort at the Israeli political leadership, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
That the Dubai officials managed to reconstruct the assassination and identify and disclose personal details of the suspects should be worrying to the Israeli intelligence establishment. The shadow world is no longer shadowy and identity theft is no longer anonymous. Such a large contingent – so far 28 suspected of being involved in the plot have been identified – also raises questions about the operational logic of the staff-starved Israeli intelligence establishment. Was al-Mabhouh the real target or a cover for a higher target?
At last a Saudi visit
Will believe when one sees it? This common refrain used for the Middle East peace process is equally valid for high-level contacts between India and Saudi Arabia, especially from New Delhi. Far too often, crucial visits have been jinxed at the last moment. By all accounts, since January 2006 when King Abdullah was the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was trying to visit the Arabian kingdom but could not. The then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was luckier only on the third occasion when he visited Riyadh in April 2008. Even the visit of Jaswant Singh in January 2001 was a rescheduled date.
Honorary Director of MEI
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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND:P R Kumaraswamy