CAIRO: Amid scant security presence at Cairo International Airport’s Terminal 3, approximately 800 people thronged to welcome the former Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei upon his arrival in Cairo Friday afternoon.
Wild crowds drove ElBaradei back into the airport as soon as he attempted to leave, according to Daily News Egypt reporters present at the scene. He later slipped away in a car without speaking to the crowd.
Despite being the recipient of one of Egypt’s highest honors, the Nile Medal, which traditionally warrants a VIP reception, no official delegation was reported to have been there to mark ElBaradei’s arrival.
But in a message posted on Twitter, blogger Issandr El Amrani, author of thearabist.net, claimed that ElBaradei himself had refused to leave the airport through the VIP exit.
However, Daily News Egypt could not confirm this claim.
ElBaradei kicked up a political storm in late 2009 weeks before stepping down as head of the IAEA, when in a CNN interview, he did not rule out plans to run for president in the 2011 elections on condition that the elections will be free and fair, and that they will be overseen by judicial and international monitors.
The overwhelmingly young coordinators of the popular reception, were manning the gathering with organization and precision, so as not to block traffic, or hinder the flow of travelers entering or leaving the terminal.
Attendees, including members of the Kefaya Movement, the April 6 Youth Movement and the campaign to support ElBaradei for president in 2011, and university professors, as well as the campaign against the inheritance of power, held banners saying “Yes to ElBaradei for president , while chanting other slogans such as “We are many, we are with you for change , and “Praise be to Allah, ElBaradei is arriving .
Tensions rose days before ElBaradei’s return as campaigners supporting his possible nomination launched a public call to receive him at the airport.
Two members of the April 6 Youth Movement were arrested at dawn on Wednesday after writing graffiti in support of ElBaradei in Agouza. They were released the next day on LE 200 bail.
Despite security warnings against any unauthorized gatherings at the airport there was little police presence to impede the crowd.
At the airport, actor Khaled Abol Naga, also a UN goodwill ambassador, told Daily News Egypt, “ElBaradei voices what the average person feels in a very professional and smart way. He has mobilized people. He is someone everyone trusts. That is rare.
Renowned Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswani earlier told BBC Arabic Radio that the presidential elections are not the point, it is the drive to change the constitution for which ElBaradei has become an icon.
However, Head of the Freedoms Committee at the Journalists Syndicate Mohamed Abdel Quddous expects more.
He told Daily News Egypt, “I’m waiting here for ElBaradei, for change in Egypt and to stir the stagnant waters, adding that he wants ElBaradei to be a “symbol of change not just a thinker or commentator.
“Can ElBaradei move the Egyptian street, or will he just talk about constitutional change? We hope he is the Saad Zaghloul of the 21st century.
Salma ElBaradei, ElBaradei’s 30-year-old niece, told Daily News Egypt that she wanted her uncle to run for President “because it’s time for change, it’s time for someone who knows what they’re doing to take over. Just the fact that he’s giving a little bit of hope to the people is enough for me to be here.
“He will run if there’s support and a change in the constitution. -Reporting by Sarah Carr and Abdel-Rahman Hussein.