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ElBaradei Returns to Egypt as Expectations Run High

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As hundreds gathered at Cairo International Airport yesterday to welcome Mohammed ElBaradei on his return to Egypt, the Egyptian media and blogosphere has been keenly debating whether the former IAEA chief and Nobel laureate is the man to bring change to their country, reports Tom Trewinnard.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Myglesias

Following bitter attacks against ElBaradei in the state-run media when he initially announced that he would consider standing as a presidential candidate, Egyptian English-language blogger Zeinobia points out the mysterious silence in the official press over ElBaradei's return. This is in sharp contrast to independent media outlets such as Al-Shorouk, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Dustour and Al-Youm Al-Sabie and the Egyptian blogosphere, which have all greeted ElBaradei's return with varying degrees of hope and anticipation.

On his long-awaited return to Egypt, after 27 years of living abroad, Al-Youm Al-Sabie reported crowds chanting ElBaradei's name and singing the national anthem at the airport:

"ElBaradei's feet had hardly touched the ground at Cairo Airport, and feelings of enthusiasm were all over the people at the airport waiting for him. This caused the guards to tighten around him. Those at the airport to welcome ElBaradei responded by singing the national anthem, and shouting chants such as "there's no going back Baradei" and "We chose you Baradei"."
اليوم السابع: بمجرد دخوله إلى أرض المطار سادت حالة من الحماس بين مستقبليه، وهو الأمر الذى استدعى تشديد الحراسة من حوله، وقد ردد مستقبلوه النشيد الوطنى، كما رددوا هتافات منها " مفيش رجوع يا برادعى" و"اخترناك يا برادعى"، وقد قام الأمن باحتجاز الدكتور البرادعى خوفا عليه من تدافع مستقبليه.

While many were hopeful of the impact ElBaradei could have in bringing about political change in Egypt, several of Egypt's leading bloggers were skeptical in their support of the 2005 Nobel peace prize winner.On Twitter, blogger Sand Monkey (@sandmonkey) wrote [English original]:

What we are seeing is another proof that we r a nation of followers who r always looking for someone 2 follow & never take a stand ourselves // We don't want Mubarak to the degree that we are looking for any prominent egyptian figure to rally around wel salam, ANYONE! // And the thing about Baradei is this: He is not looking for it. He doesn't want it. Yet people are insisting on him regardless.
فما نشهده هنا لهو دليلٌ قاطع على أننا دولة تُباع، الذين يشعرون أنهم في حاجة دائمة إلى شخص آخر يقودهم و لا يستطيعون أن يخطوا خطوة بأنفسهم كما أننا لا نريد لمبارك لتلك الدرجة التي نتطلع فيها لأي مرشح مصري آخر ليقود المسيرة و السلام فقط دون مخطط معروف، أي شخصٍ آخر و الحقيقة المتعلقة بمحمد البرادعي هي أنني أرى أنه لا يتطلع لذلك المنصب. فهو لا يريد منصب رئاسة البلاد. و بالرغم من ذلك فإن الشعب مُصر على ترشيحه

Blogger Dalia Ziada voiced concerns of her own at independent Egyptian news site Bikya Masr, quoting a famous Egyptian proverb [English original]:

In Egypt, we have wise-saying "the hungry man dreams of bread." This is what we are doing. We are dreaming of democracy in the shape of ElBaradei; and mistakenly looking at him as the savior.
ففي مصر عندنا قول مأثور يقول أن "الجوعان يحلم برغيف العيش". و هذا هو بالضبط ما نفعله. فنحن نحلم بالديمقراطية في صورة شخص البرادعي؛ و بشكل لا يجانب الصواب، فنحن ننظر إليه على أنه المنقذ و المخلص

Meedan user Kapthino shared some of their concerns:

Despite my utmost respect for Dr. ElBaradei, and my desire for fresh blood, but the Dr. ElBaradei has been away from the nation for 27 years. How can he be in touch with what is happening here?
مع احترامى الشديد للدكتور البرادعى وايضا رغبتى فى دماء جديده للوطن ولكن الدكتور غائب عن الوطن 27 عاما كيف يدرى بما يدور فيه؟

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's leading opposition movement that is banned as an official political party, were also hesitant in their stance towards ElBaradei, announced in Al-Masry Al-Youm:

Dr. Mohamed Al-Biltagi, a member of the parliamentary bloc of the group [the Muslim Brotherhood], said that the group would not declare their participation in welcoming Dr. ElBaradei at Cairo International Airport, adding that the group's refusal to officially receive him did not mean a hostile attitude towards ElBaradei. He pointed out that there are figures from the movement who will participate on an individual basis and not as representatives of the group. He added that the group agreed with Mr. ElBaradei regarding reform, but it had not declared its support for his nomination for the presidency.
وأضاف الدكتور محمد البلتاجى، عضو الكتلة البرلمانية للجماعة، أن الجماعة لم تعلن مشاركتها لاستقبال الدكتور البرادعى بمطار القاهرة، موضحاً أن عدم استقبال الجماعة بشكل رسمى مع القوى السياسية لاستقبال البرادعى لا يدل على موقف معاد للبرادعى. لافتاً إلى أن هناك شخصيات من الجماعة تشارك القوى السياسية بصورة فردية وليست ممثلة عن الجماعة، مضيفاً أن الجماعة تتفق مع البرادعى من ناحية الإصلاح لكنها لم تعلن تأييده فى ترشيحه للرئاسة

Elsewhere, however, bloggers were more hopeful about ElBaradei's chances of bringing about the change he has publicly stated he wants for Egypt. Blogger Wahda Masrya criticizes the sceptics:

It is stupidity to say "no" or stand in the way of Dr. ElBaradei's candidacy for the presidency. We all have to support him, as he is, in my opinion, capable of helping in bringing about change. His complete vision for reform includes all directions . So, we say "yes" to ElBaradei, even if only for a transitional phase. ElBaradei's knowledge and experiences make him the best person, along with others of our country's citizens, to reform the constitution and laws. This reform will put Egypt on the path of justice, democracy and equality.
من الغباء الأن ان نقول لا للبرادعي أو نقف في طريقة بل علينا بكل أطيافنا أن ندعمة فهو في رأيي قادر على أن يساعد في عملية التغيير و بالفعل وضع تصور للإصلاح يشارك فيها كل الإتجاهات و الأطياف فنعم للبرادعي و لو لمرحلة إنتقالية فهو الأفضل و الأقدر بعلمة و خبرتة هو و أخرون من أبناء هذا البلد على إصلاح الدستور و القانون بعدها تنطلق مصر نحو العدالة و الديموقراطية و المساواة

In another hopeful post, on blog Raqsna ya Gada, the author makes a list of demands of ElBaradei:

1-That there is direct communication between ElBaradei and the people, hopefully via telephone and ideally for one hour every day

2- A guarantee of freedom of expression in the printed press, television or blogs

3. The release of all prisoners of conscience

4. A hot line devoted to suggestions from the people as to how to improve their country... And people devoted to studying these suggestions
1- ان يكون في اتصال مباشر من البرادعى للشعب .. ان شالله عن طريق التليفون و ان شالله ساعة واحدة كل يوم 2- ضمان حرية التعبير سواء للصحافة أو التليفزيون أو المدونات 3- الافراج عن المعتقلين فى قضايا الرأي 4- يعمل خط ساخن يبقى مسئول فقط عن تلقى اقتراحات الشعب لتحسين بلدهم .. و يبقى فى ناس من اختصاصها دراسة الاقتراحات دى

To the dismay of some supporters at the airport, ElBaradei declined to make a speech or comment further on his position regarding a possible presidential bid, and now all eyes will be on popular talk show Al-Qahira Al-Youm (Cairo Today - tonight 02/20/2010 10:30pm local time) for his first TV show appearance since his return. Many will be hoping ElBaradei takes this opportunity to answer some pressing questions about his ambitions in Egypt.

--Thanks to Nour, Yaser, Nouran and Aya for help with these translations --
You can add your voice on ElBaradei's possible presidential bid on