Mohamed ElBaradei: The man of the movement

Since Egypt's upheaval began, activists and journalists looked to one man to unify the opposition. Is he doing it?

Topics: Egyptian Protests, War Room, Africa, Middle East,

Mohamed ElBaradei: The man of the movementFormer Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei talks to members of the media as he arrives at Cairo's airport in Egypt, from Austria, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. ElBaradei told reporters that 'the regime has not been listening.' He urged the Egyptian regime to exercise restraint with protesters, saying they have been met with a good deal of violence which could lead to an 'explosive situation.' (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)(Credit: AP)

Egypt’s opposition movement finally has a face. He wears horn-rimmed Gandhi glasses, holds a Nobel Peace Prize, and mistrusts the United States. Meet Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mohamed ElBaradei could be the next president of Egypt, and he certainly has the résumé for it. A son of the Cairo elite — his father once headed the Egyptian Bar Association — ElBaradei earned a bachelor’s from the University of Cairo and a Ph.D. in international law from New York University. After a 15-year career with Egyptian Diplomatic Service, ElBaradei moved to the United Nations in 1980 and eventually landed in the director general’s chair at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by 1997. Over the next 12 years there, ElBaradei would gain international recognition for his commitment to nuclear anti-proliferation policy, his advice about handling Iran, and his championing of peaceful solutions to political problems.

The emerging portrait of the bald-headed ElBaradei as the tacit leader of the resistance — he really does look like Gandhi — makes sense. The Nobel laureate’s emergence as a vocal opponent to the U.S. invasion of Iraq complements his persistent activism for democracy in Egypt. On Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood joined forces with the secular uprising behind ElBaradei to create a unified force of opposition against President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood, the largest and oldest Islamic political group, enjoys unique political clout within Egypt, where the organization was founded in 1928, given its illegal status. However, with the megaphone in ElBaradei’s hands, pundits sound hopeful about the alliance as an alternative to Mubarak’s regime.

This is where things get complicated. ElBaradei’s network of supporters stretches across the globe, but he might be lacking the two key allies: the Egyptian people and the United States.

ElBaradei landed in Egypt Thursday night to a ravenous crowd of journalists and a reverent group of Egyptians. One journalist described the homecoming party as a mere “smattering of  well-wishers,” a curious showing for a man who just last year drew well over 1,000 people to the tarmac to welcome his return. As he stood blinking in the camera flashes, ElBaradei called for an end to violence, an end to torture. The following day, authorities working under President Hosni Mubarak shot ElBaradei with a water cannon, and when riot police stormed into the crowd, clubs swinging, protesters created a ring around the 68-year-old leader to protect him from the blows. However, when push comes to shove — “shove” being shorthand for choosing a leader to replace Mubarak — Egyptians are frankly reticent to support wholeheartedly a man who’s lived abroad most of his life. ElBaradei only came back when things got really bad, like Cairo-burning bad. And that might explain his paltry welcome party.

The United States is another story. President Obama probably isn’t too upset about ElBaradei’s objections to the Iraq invasion way back when, but America does have a vested interest in Egyptian stability. Or rather, America has a vested interest in its investment in Egypt as a cornerstone of a stable Middle East. Obama has quite conspicuously stopped short of calling for Mubarak’s resignation, as the prospect of an unknown faction ruling one of America’s key allies in the Middle East must horrify the White House. It’s less a problem with ElBaradei as the face of the opposition, it seems, and more a problem with his friends that really make up the opposition.

According to one anonymous source in the administration, ElBaradei is not exactly friendly to American interests.  The source told the New York Times, “He’s shown an independence from us that will squelch any argument that he’s doing our bidding.” Which is a very roundabout way of calling ElBaradei uncooperative without saying a word resembling “uncooperative.”

This doesn’t rule ElBaradei out by any means, and administration officials have even mentioned his name as a possible transitional leader. ElBaradei’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, viewed by some Americans as another group of Islamic extremists, complicates matters. But “democracy” is a pretty powerful buzzword in the conversation. Obama’s lack of commitment toward a new leader for Egypt is craftily couched in democratic ideals.

“Let the Egyptian people decide” sounds easy. To be cynical about it, the Egyptian people decided in the last election. The government blocked polling sites. The election lasted a month. The reports of election fraud were overwhelming. And Mubarak won nearly 90 percent of the vote.

It’s probably a really good thing that Mohamed ElBaradei is a career diplomat. Because somehow, he has some negotiating to do.

Adam Clark Estes blogs the news for Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @adamclarkestes

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>