Reversal on ElBaradei exposes cracks in opposition

Appointment suspended at the Salafi Nour party’s insistence

Mohamed ElBaradei: his appointment as prime minister was suspended at the insistence of the ultraconservative Salafi Nour party. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Egypt's opposition exposed weakening divisions within its ranks when the appointment of Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the revolutionaries' candidate for interim prime minister, was suspended at the insistence of the ultraconservative Salafi Nour party.

This political reversal involving secularists and fundamentalists with a conservative agenda came 24 hours after violent clashes erupted in the streets between supporters and opponents of president Mohamed Morsi, deposed last week following protests over his poor performance in office.

Disagreement over ElBaradei might have been expected because Nour is the sole fundamentalist group in an otherwise secular opposition front consisting of a collection of centrist, liberal and leftist parties and the recently established Tamarod (Rebel) movement operating as the June 30th Front.

Nour has leverage because the secularists want to demonstrate the "inclusiveness" of the campaign to oust Morsi and remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

The broad, unstable alliance revives the political forces that, through mass protests, compelled the army to topple 30-year president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.


After he had been deposed, revolutionaries and generals fell out while the Brotherhood formed a temporary partnership with the military, which had assumed both executive and legislative powers and was determined to dictate the transition. The Brotherhood benefited by backing the military at this crucial time.

The movement secured majorities in the upper and lower houses of parliament, won the presidency and imposed a fundamentalist- drafted constitution.

The Brotherhood-army partnership was unstable because the Brotherhood had suffered decades of repression under the military, which ruled Egypt from 1952 until 2012, when Morsi retired the service chiefs and assumed the powers the generals had appropriated.

He also put in as overall commander Gen Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who hails from a family of Brotherhood loyalists. Ultimately, Sisi was compelled to side with the millions of Egyptians who poured into the streets and squares on June 30th, calling on Morsi to “leave”. Consequently, the uneasy partnership between the army and the revolutionary opposition has been revived.

Revolutionaries and generals agree that Morsi and the Brotherhood cannot return to power and have revived the 2011 slogan, “the army and the people are one hand”. They argue that the removal of Morsi was not a coup but a stage in an unfinished revolution.

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leading opposition figure, said this had "led to reconciliation between the people and the army after a long period of estrangement". It remains to be seen how long reconciliation will last.

Transitional road map
The opposition and army have also agreed on a transitional road map involving the adoption of a new or revised constitution and fresh elections for parliament and president although the opposition wants a time frame of six to eight months and the military favours two years.

Negotiators from two main blocs, the June 30th Front and the Co-ordination Body for June 30th, seek to reach consensus on how to proceed. These blocs include representatives of the multi-party National Salvation Front; Tamarod, the movement that orchestrated the second mass uprising; and Nour, the Saudi- sponsored former Brotherhood ally that called for fresh elections but did not send its supporters into the streets to press Morsi to resign.

A week before the nationwide protests, ElBaradei invited the National Democratic Party, the vehicle of the ousted Mubarak regime, to talks. He insisted that the party represents a portion of Egyptians. He also invited the Brotherhood to enter into dialogue but it refused.

Oldest party
The mainstream National Salvation Front includes ElBaradei's Constitution (Destour) Party, the Free Egyptians, the Popular Current, the Socialist Alliance, the Communists, pan-Arab nationalists (Nasserites) and Social Democrats, as well the New Wafd, a successor to Egypt's oldest party founded in 1919. The three key figures in the Front are ElBaradei, former foreign minister Amr Moussa and Sabahi who came third in the 2012 presidential election.

Ahmed Hawary, a founder of Destour and the June 30th Front, told The Irish Times that the blocs were "united on a paper strategy, on laws, on the need to lobby. We need to learn how not to be divided."

He admitted, however, that the revolutionaries would make mistakes. “Consensus is needed on the road map.”

Analyst Youssef Zaki said the success of the transition would be judged by “who is chosen as prime minister, the shape of the cabinet, and how promptly the reconciliation process is launched”, adding that the interim government must also “seriously” restructure the media and the interior ministry. In his view, politics take precedence over economics.

Others say the interim government must show Egyptians they can expect an early economic turnaround, a promise that may be impossible to keep.