By James Phillips
Cairo was flooded with protesters for the seventh day on Monday, as opposition leaders promised that Tuesday would see a “march of a million” aimed at toppling the besieged Mubarak regime.
Significantly, a spokesman for Egypt’s military noted that the army recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands” and promised that it “will not use force against the public.” This suggests that the army has adopted a more neutral stance in the current crisis.
Vice President Omar Suleiman, promoted last weekend by President Hosni Mubarak in an effort to calm the deteriorating situation, appeared on state-controlled television on Monday and promised to hold a dialogue with opposition leaders on political reform. But this offer appears to amount to too little too late. The opposition continues to insist that President Mubarak must step down. One opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned the United States on Sunday that “life support to the dictator” must end.
ElBaradei, who has elbowed his way to the front of the opposition’s ranks, is an unlikely choice to lead the Arab world’s most populous state. He returned to Egypt in February 2010 after a checkered career as a U.N. bureaucrat. As the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ElBaradei bent over backwards to avoid offending Iran, which he was supposed to be investigating for its many failures to abide by its nuclear safeguards agreement. Although Tehran repeatedly blocked the IAEA’s efforts to verify its compliance with its nuclear commitments, ElBaradei undermined the efforts of his own agency by complaining, “In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped.”
This earned him the derisive description “the watchdog that didn’t bark.” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, yesterday charged him with helping Iran to cover up its illicit nuclear activities: “He is a stooge of Iran, and I don’t use the term lightly.”
Although ElBaradei consistently downplayed Iran’s nuclear violations, he has gone out of his way to criticize NATO for “encouraging nuclear proliferation” by referring to nuclear deterrence in its strategic statement and for being inconsistent in deploying troops to Afghanistan but no helicopters to assist refugees in Darfur.
ElBaradei’s willful efforts to go soft on Iran and his close working relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood raise giant red flags about what can be expected from him if he consolidates his position within Egypt’s burgeoning opposition movement. Let’s hope that the Obama Administration recognizes his problematic behavior and anti-American political inclinations and keeps him at arms length.