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El Baradei

- February 1, 2011

Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blog has “an excellent piece”:http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/31/el_baradeis_personal_revolution_from_multilateral_bureaucrat_to_populist_patriot on Mohammed ElBaradei’s transformation from multilateral diplomat to populist opposition leader. The short story on ElBaradei is that he has managed to create a image in which he is perceived as Western, secular, liberal, and standing up against U.S. interests. As John Bolton puts it:

bq. I think he has already demonstrated that through his time at the IAEA his anti-Americanism. And I think we should see that reflected in any ElBaradei involvement in Egypt.

This perceived tension with U.S. foreign policy interests should serve him well in Egypt and really shouldn’t trouble the U.S. too much. As Danielle Pletka puts it:

bq. ElBaradei has many weaknesses, including an ego the size of all outdoors, but he has done nothing to prove he is against democracy, and his job is to work for the Egyptian people, not for us.

The knock against him is that he has not been a major political player inside Egypt although allegedly the Muslim Brotherhood has also embraced him as a legitimate opposition leader (as pointed out by my colleague Samer Shehata on “the Colbert Report “:http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/372810/january-31-2011/mubarak-mu-problems—samer-shehata last night).

Of course, a U.S. endorsement of ElBaradei as a legitimate successor is not what anyone is waiting for. As Daniel Corstange and Nikolay Marinov argue “in this paper”:http://www.nikolaymarinov.com/wp-content/files/CorstangeMarinovtakesidesv8APSA2010.pdf , it is much more effective for the U.S. to support a fair process than to pick sides (the paper is on Lebanon but I think the argument applies well here too). In this case, that means using their leverage with the Egyptian military to refrain from using force. Indeed, I am a little surprised that the administration has not more explicitly linked the continuation of aid to restraint, although I get the sense that the Egyptian military has gotten the message.