The supporters of former interim vice president and founder of the Dustour Party Mohamed ElBaradei have not lost hope that he will reach power, even though he left Egypt after he resigned in August to protest how the Rabia al-Adawiya protest was broken up.
“Authorize Elbaradei [to run] for President]” is a campaign begun by a group of his supporters aimed at collecting signatures to support a presidential run and filing them with the Egyptian Recorder of Deeds, the government office responsible for authorizing candidates.
The campaign aims to return ElBaradei’s name to the political scene, despite his disappearance after he resigned as interim vice president. Yet, it also raises questions about the popularity of the man and his ability to compete in the upcoming presidential elections.
Politicians and journalists have often said that ElBaradei has lost the popularity he once had, but Mahitab al-Gilani, the founder and general coordinator for the campaign, disagrees. “[ElBaradei] is still [popular] among those who think freely, have principles and can make decisions without being exploited. … Despite all attempts to distort [his image] and despite the regime using all the media outlets to broadcast poison into the people’s minds to try to discredit ElBaradei as a traitor and an agent, there are still people who have a vision and appreciate the thoughts of this man,” she told Al-Monitor.
Regarding the campaign she is managing, Gilani made it clear that it was launched without ElBaradei’s knowledge. But she believes that if the campaign succeeds in collecting the necessary signatures and if ElBaradei sees that the people trust him to be Egypt’s president, then that would be enough to persuade him to return from Europe and run in the presidential elections. Gilani said that she felt a popular response. Some have already signed the petition, and she asserted that the campaign can gather more than 25,000 signatures, the number needed to become a candidate.
“We can collect more than 50,000 [signatures] for ElBaradei, God willing, because we believe in the importance of his presence and because he’s the only one who can make Egypt a modern civil state and one of the most important countries,” Gilani said.
Gilani said that her campaign is completely independent and doesn’t belong to any political entity. She is, however, seeking to coordinate with all political and revolutionary entities. Gilani said that she has faith in the ability of her candidate, ElBaradei, to win the presidential elections. If he runs, ElBaradei would have to face former defense minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; Murtada Mansour, the president of the Zalalek club; Hamdeen Sabahi, the head of Al-Karama Party and the founder of the Popular Trend; and all others who have declared their intention to run and qualify for the ballot.
Sabahi’s campaign alleged to have been harassed by some state employees at the Recorder of Deeds, which the campaign considered “non-neutral toward the state apparatus in relation to the electoral process,” as noted in the statement posted on the official campaign website.
Gilani has confirmed to Al-Monitor that members of her campaign team were harassed in similar ways. She said that her team knew that the road was difficult but believed they could pave the road to success for themselves. She concluded by saying that they insisted on ElBaradei because he has the thinking and the vision during an era she called the “era of holy ignorance.” She also said that ElBaradei can achieve social justice, transitional justice and freedom.
Commenting on the campaign and Gilani’s thoughts, Yousri al-Azbawi, an expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that those in charge of the write-in campaign are free to support the person they see fit. However, he then conditioned that by saying that the potential candidate must conform with the [constitutional] conditions to run for president.
Although Azbawi believes that Gilani is free to establish such a campaign, he didn’t expect the campaign to succeed. He shared the reasons why he thought the campaign would fail. First, he said, Sisi and Sabahi are more popular than ElBaradei. Second, ElBaradei has not been in Egypt since his resignation and that provided a suitable environment to attack him. The third reason is related to ElBaradei himself because ElBaradei believes that the current political process is useless.
Despite that, Azbawi said it’s possible that ElBaradei would return if enough signatures were collected to allow him to run for president. But Azbawi discounted ElBaradei’s ability to compete when he returned and considered Sabahi and Mansour's chances to be better than ElBaradei’s to face Sisi, whom Azbawi sees as the most popular candidate.
Brahim Ghali, a political researcher in the public opinion unit at the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, agreed with Azbawi. In an interview with Al-Monitor, he said, “The Egyptians are living in a [difficult] psychological and social state and they are looking for a leader, and many don’t see in ElBaradei that leader because he isn’t patient in politics, and he can only be a symbol.”
Ghali also said that ElBaradei has dropped in popularity, and agreed with Azbawi regarding the impact of ElBaradei’s presence outside the country. “The supporters of the June 30 Revolution see him as someone who abandoned the country in difficult conditions. There is general decline in the popularity of all political elites except Sisi, who is popular for belonging to the military establishment and for standing next to the people on June 30,” Ghali added.
Ghali said many Egyptians are currently reassessing the value of the January 25 Revolution, and that has lowered ElBaradei’s popularity because he was one of the revolution’s faces and an essential part of it. Ghali ruled out that ElBaradei would respond to this campaign and seek to run in the elections, saying, “ElBaradei will not respond to such demands because he knows that his popularity is weak and that the election is settled.”