Freedom, justice, and prosperity for Egypt are devoutly to be wished. As is abundantly clear by now, the big question for the genuine democrats among the demonstrators, and a big question for the U.S., Israel, and other democracies, is how Egyptians might thread this needle without ending up with something even worse than Hosni Mubarak — the ossified dictator they’ve had for almost 30 years. On that score, as Iran’s regime and the Muslim Brotherhood applaud the protests, it is not at all reassuring to see former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei emerging as a potential leader of the opposition. Reuters carries one of the latest reports, dateline Cairo, on the Muslim Brotherhood backing ElBaradei as the man to negotiate with Egypt’s government on behalf of the demonstrators.
At a fast glance, ElBaradei might seem like an ideal candidate for the job. He’s Egyptian, cosmopolitan, with credentials that include years as the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, and the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Since he retired from the IAEA in 2009, there have been reports that he might be interested in an Egyptian presidential run. The Mubarak government has just further burnished ElBaradei’s credentials by putting him under house arrest.
Beware. ElBaradei is no Aung San Suu Kyi. As head of the IAEA, ElBaradei often looked like a shill for Iran — repeatedly glossing over obvious signs of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, obfuscating the realities, and delaying action. In the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick gives a good rundown of how, in the U.S. effort to corral Iran’s nuclear program, ElBaradei was not part of the answer, but part of the problem. Glick also describes ElBaradei’s cozy relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood — progenitor of al-Qaeda and Hamas — quoting him as giving a recent interview to Der Spiegel in which he claimed the Muslim Brotherhood has “not committed any acts of violence in five decades.”
In 2009, as I reported at the time here on Pajamas Media, ElBaradei most inappropriately used his platform as erstwhile “neutral” head of the IAEA to bully the BBC for dropping plans to broadcast a fund-raiser for terrorist-controlled Gaza. As for his 2005 Nobel prize, bestowed despite a tenure that spanned Pakistan’s breakout nuclear test, North Korea’s nuclear buildup to its 2006 first nuclear test, and Iran’s lively pursuit of the bomb, this was one of those Norwegian choices that had nothing to do with peace, and plenty to do with political machinations. Coming in 2005, at the height of the Oil-for-Food scandal, ElBaradei’s Nobel looked more like a sop to shore up a UN sinking in its own sleaze than an award that should inspire respect.
Egypt desperately needs honest, genuinely democratic leaders to emerge from the current inferno. ElBaradei may look smooth and convenient, with his UN past, his Nobel, and his longtime skills at self-promotion. But please, not El Baradei.