The Curious Case of ElBaradei

In January 2012, upon being asked why he had decided to withdraw from Egypt's first democratic presidential elections, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei responded, "My conscience does not allow me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless there is real democracy." In his quip about "real democracy", the Nobel Laureate was referring to the tumultuous and violent transient power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who were responsible for overseeing Egypt's democratic transition after Mubarak's resignation.

Clearly, however, ElBaradei's withdrawal from the democratic process and accompanying statement, showed how little he valued the fictitious nature of democracy under the auspices of the SCAF, and his reluctance to be part of such a material showing.

ElBaradei was both admired and criticized for his decision -- many citing him as a principled man who forgave the opportunity of power if this power was corrupt, while others saw this as the failure of ElBaradei to graduate from technocrat to politician and muddy himself in the game of Egyptian politics.

Six months passed and Mohamed Morsi took the mantle from the SCAF and became Egypt's first democratically elected president. Yet this would not spell the end of ElBaradei, who, with the SCAF seemingly returning to their barracks and leaving politics behind, the scene appeared far more ideal, and democratically sound, for ElBaradei to return to politics in the guise of political opposition to President Morsi and his government.

Fast forward one year, Egypt, and ElBaradei, have come full circle. A president has been removed and the SCAF are back with a vengeance in politics. This time, however, ElBaradei took a different decision. Instead of remaining on his moral high horse and galloping around lecturing Egyptians about democracy and Kafka, ElBaradei appeared to set aside any apprehensions he had about getting involved in a democracy that is clearly being dictated by the army.

On 14 July, a mere eleven days after Morsi was ousted from office by General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, which shook the foundations of Egypt's socio-political paradigm, ElBaradei was sworn in as Egypt's vice president. In short, ElBaradei chose to be a real player in a game where the rules are being dictated by the men in uniform he once vehemently criticized.

It raises the question, what changed for ElBaradei? One obvious answer is that ElBaradei finally understood that the game will go ahead, with or without him. While he withdrew from the presidential elections of June 2012, other liberal candidates emerged in his stead and filled the void left by his withdrawal. Perhaps ElBaradei naively thought his withdrawal would have some sort of ripple effect against the SCAF, but it didn't, and not wanting to make the same mistake twice, ElBaradei, at least superficially after Morsi's ouster, cosied-up to the institution that he once saw disparage "real democracy."

Are we to condemn ElBaradei for this apparent hypocrisy, or commend him for his altruism in becoming involved in a process for the greater good of the country that he would otherwise reject? This past Wednesday saw over six hundred deaths and countless injured in the removal of pro-Morsi protestors by the army and police, which has since seen widespread condemnation across the globe and Egypt has been making the headlines ever since for all the wrong reasons. Hours after most of the bloodshed was spilled, ElBaradei resigned from office, citing that "I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood."

What appears to be problematic with the case of ElBaradei is that while his resignation falls in line with his persona as a politician who places principle over politics, his decision to get involved with General el-Sissi and an obviously military led Egypt is out of place. ElBaradei appears almost surprised by the army's actions to remove the pro-Morsi protestors, yet this is exactly the type of action that the army took all throughout the post-Mubarak, SCAF led era. Just like many Egyptians, I am sure ElBaradei has not forgotten the massacres at Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud, and others, that all took place by the hands of the army.

What made ElBaradei's involvement in the post-July 3 era so compelling and surprising was the position he took up only eighteen months ago. One thing that is for certain is that for once, ElBaradei took a gamble and it appears that gamble did not pay off. ElBaradei perhaps saw his decision to withdraw from the presidential elections as a mistake and wished not to make it twice. However, only weeks into his new position, he saw the decision he took in 2012 vindicated, as any political process and influence with Egypt's military will always be limited and superficial.

When the dust settles, what does this all actually mean for ElBaradei's political future? He was already a polarising figure and his resignation will only increase this polarisation, who will see his resignation as further proof that he is a man of principle who will forgo any of his political aspirations in the name of Egypt's well-being. Yet, there will be others who will question why he got into bed with the military in the first place, and that his naivety in thinking that Egypt would democratically thrive after a military coup further adds to the stigma that ElBaradei is not designed for Egypt's muddy political paradigm.