Mohammed Ali Ibrahim - Three years ago, the Egyptian people woke up to read the official newspapers, Al-Ahram and Al-Goumohoria, informing them that the Noble Prize Laureate, Mohammed Elbaradei, would run in the presidential race against the former President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for about 30 years. "What a brave man!" some people said. Others took him for a queer and an eccentric character. Some other people attacked him and slammed his ingratitude. For them, the man was just an ungrateful person who dared to confront Mubarak after he awarded him the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Nile, the highest Egyptian civilian decoration, which gives him immunity from prosecution.
Elbaradei had stipulated three conditions in order to run for presidency. He argued that constitution should be amended, that free and fair election should be held under the strict supervision of the judiciary system, and that foreign observers should be allowed to monitor the whole process. He also called for the amendment of the articles 76, 77 in the old constitution, which were tailored to guarantee Gamal Mubarak, son of the former president, the chance to be the only eligible candidate for presidency. In February 19, 2010, when Elbaradei arrived in Cairo, thousands rushed to the airport to welcome him as a long-awaited hero. For them, he was the man capable of shaking off the tyranny and oppression under which they reeled. He promptly started to form a coalition made of political parties, civil society organisations, activists, politicians and MPs.
Actually, he was the one who triggered the revolution of the 25th of January, particularly after he called upon opposition parties to boycott the elections over transparency fears. For him, it was clear that polls would be rigged and forged. Observers and analysts believe ElBaradei would trigger another revolution in 2013 after his call for the boycott of the upcoming parliamentary polls. He warned that polls could be a road to total chaos, and instability because torture, abductions, and lack of social justice were still rife in Egypt. He also warned that these elections would be another copy of the 2010 tragedy of the one sided political game.
"Called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy. Today I repeat my call, will not be part of an act of deception," ElBaradei, who leads the main opposition National Salvation Front posted on his Twitter account. The 2010 parliamentary elections under Hosni Mubarak were widely criticised for fraud and voter manipulation.
ElBaradei's stance was immediately ridiculed by the politically dominant Muslim Brotherhood. The ruling Islamists said that he was dodging the challenge and wanted to grab power without a democratic mandate. Three years ago, he was the target of similar criticism and he was even accused of being a CIA agent. Rifts also appeared in the opposition. Some said a boycott would alienate ordinary Egyptians and allow the Islamists to maintain their sway inside parliament.
Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Mursi announced on Thursday that the four-stage elections to the lower house of parliament would begin on April 22. A new parliament is important for Mursi because it would mean he would no longer be held solely responsible for Egypt's parlous state as the country struggles with economic and security problems. An election would also be an important barometer of public support after six months of political dominance by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party.
The Islamist party won nearly half of the seats in Egypt's first free and fair parliamentary elections to the People's Assembly in late 2011 and early 2012. The ultraconservative Al Nur Party won a quarter and liberals and secularists emerged with only a fraction. The lower house was dissolved in June after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that one of the laws under which the elections were fought was not legitimate.
Since then, the President's approval rate has plunged from 72 per cent in August to 53 per cent by the end of January and the economy has suffered its worst slump since the uprising that deposed Mubarak in 2011. The Egyptian pound has witnessed a controlled devaluation and the price of basic food products has soared.
The opposition says it wants a genuine national dialogue that leads to the formation of a national unity government, amendment of the new constitution and peace on the streets. Analysts predict that if elections go ahead as planned, the Freedom and Justice Party's parliamentary dominance will be reduced. Al Nur Party has witnessed fracture, with many of its influential members breaking away to form Al Watan Party.
Liberal and secularist groups who make up the National Salvation Front have shown strong unity at times of conflict in the past several months, but they have also started to disagree about the political strategy. Some members of the National Salvation Front, such as the populist Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi, have said they would boycott parliamentary elections, but the Front as a whole has not issued a decision. Mahmoud Salem, an activist and critic of Mubarak and now a critic of Mursi, said a boycott offered no real alternative to the political impasse. "Where's ElBaradei's party, its plan, its economic vision?" he said.
The Freedom and Justice party also accused the opposition of ducking responsibility. "Running away from a popular test only means that some want to assume executive authority without a democratic mandate," said the party's Deputy Leader Essam El Erian. "We've never yet known them to face any election or serious test."
Mazen Hassan, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said: "We have a general dissatisfaction with the direction in which the country is going and ordinary people are angry at politicians of all ideologies. The question is who are the major parties going to lose to? Losses for one party have to go somewhere else, but no one has emerged as a new front runner."
Mursi has also been criticised for scheduling the elections during the Christian holidays. However, a presidential spokesman said yesterday Mursi would reschedule elections that fall with Easter.
Turmoil in Egypt deepened with the second anniversary of the uprising on January 25, when anger spilled on to the streets. Rights groups have complained of widespread police abuse, and warned that brutality was on the rise in detention centres and at demonstrations. The groups said they held Mursi responsible for failing to stop such practices, which have claimed 60 lives since late January. In this tense political climate, Elbaradie would be certainly under fire from Islamists if strikes spread and civil disobedience reaches many governorates. –Middle East Online