The challenges of the opposition in Egypt

A year and a half before presidential elections in Egypt, speculations are already underway. The return of former Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei in late February strengthened the conviction that the system Mubarak was nearing its end. Nevertheless, the repression this week against a demonstration of the Youth Movement of April 6 shows that the change will not happen easily.

Last week, Mohammed ElBaradei has launched a grassroots campaign by going in Mansoura, an industrial city in the Nile Delta. Refusing to be a candidate for president until he can do it as independent, he is seeking popular support to his petition pleading the removal of Article 76 from the Constitution. Despite the state of emergency in force since the assassination of Sadat in 1981 and banning gatherings of more than five people, numerous supporters of ElBaradei came to hear him. The regime cannot so easily suppress the movement of El Baradei as it did with other opponents. The latter has the support of the international community and attract international media attention.

The permissiveness towards the rally past week, however, is an illusion given the fate this week of a few dozen demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo. The rally was organized by members of the Youth Movement of April 6, supporters of the nomination of Mohammed El Baradei. The opposition leader Ayman Nour has tried to join the demonstrators, but it has been prevented by the police which arrested violently some of the protesters (Egypt police violently disperse pro-reform protestHaaretz, 6/4/2010).

The operation suffered a month ago by the President of the Republic of Egypt has shown that his health and his advanced age – 81 years – would prevent him to run for another term. The option desired by Hosni Mubarak was to see his son Gamal to succeed him. But despite Gamal’s rapid ascent in the National Democratic Party (NDP), the hereditary succession would not be supported by the necessary majority.

In addition to Mohammed ElBaradei, there is among the candidates proposed to succeed the head of state, other internationally known figures such as the current Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Musa, or the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. To an AFP journalist, the political analyst Amr Shubaki explained that the confidence of the army and the weight on the international scene are two important factors to be a potential presidential candidate in Egypt (Egypte: incertitudes sur l’après-Moubarak dix jours après son opération,AFP, 16/3/2010).

To reach September 2011, the opposition still has several challenges to take up. Firstly, it must go beyond the intellectual class to which it is still too often confined to gain broad popular support. As one Egyptian said at the micro of France 24 at the return of Mohammed El Baradei in Egypt, « The problem is that people have no hope. If they had hope, they would act to make his candidacy possible” (Mohamed El-Baradei accueilli à bras ouverts par l’opposition égyptienneFrance 24, 20/2/2010).

Mohammed El Baradei shows that a third way exists; the Muslim Brothers are not the only alternative to the Mubarak. However, and here lies the second challenge, the former head of the IAEA is seeking the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition will then again look like an de facto « anti-Mubarak » association, but marked, except this shared opposition to the regime, by the total lack of a common vision. Osama Diab, Anglo-Egyptian journalist stressed the importance of such a vision in a society torn between its more and more religious character and a growing openness to the world (Egypt’s uneasy political truce,Guardian, 29/3/2010).

These challenges are not insignificant. And the task that falls on the opposition is even greater than the hope for change is growing within the Egyptian population tired of the precariousness of its situation.


Nathalie Janne d’Othée