By Sarah El Deeb /AP
MAGHAGHA: Leading Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei said he is pushing to unify the country’s opposition groups to build enough numbers for pro-reform protests after parliamentary elections marred by widespread allegations of fraud.
In a somber assessment of his movement for change, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former UN nuclear chief also said Saturday that disparate opposition groups did not pose a serious enough challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party in the elections because they failed to present a united front.
Mubarak’s National Democratic Party won a sweeping victory in two rounds of voting, on Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. The two main opposition groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd party, boycotted the runoff to protest what they said was massive vote-rigging in the first round.
The security forces carried out a heavy crackdown on the Brotherhood before the vote, rounding up 1,200 supporters, and the group failed even to win a single seat in the first round. In the last election, in 2005, it won a fifth of parliament’s seats.
Small, scattered protests were held after the elections, but ElBaradei said the failure to work together deprived the opposition of the ability to stage large protests. He also noted that his call for a boycott of the entire vote went unheeded, and a petition for reform he endorsed didn’t garner as much support as he expected.
“I think we are now at a time of re-evaluation … soul searching,” ElBaradei told The Associated Press after meeting with supporters, including Muslim Brotherhood leaders, in Maghagha, Minya about 200 kilometers south of Cairo. “I think the next step you will see probably is much more unity of the opposition.”
Respected worldwide and untouched by the corruption tainting much of Egypt’s current regime, ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February after years abroad and was met by enthusiastic supporters who hoped he might run for president next year. He has ruled out such a possibility unless there are sweeping constitutional reforms to make elections more fair and transparent.
Instead, he has been advocating change from the sidelines, while urging election boycotts.
ElBaradei said blatant vote rigging by the ruling party has made the people “so angry” and deprived the regime of any legitimacy.
“These are people that don’t want to change and that is not a good sign because a regime that is completely blocking all channels of peaceful change is a regime that is really risking bloodshed and that is not very good at all” he said.
ElBaradei said calls for civil disobedience in Egypt are far from materializing because of the divided opposition and a population fearful after years of repression under Mubarak’s nearly three decades of autocratic rule.
“I also want people to understand that change is not going to happen just because they will hide behind me, my credibility and protection,” he said. “I want them to understand that if you are working for freedom there will be a price to pay. I hope nobody will lose their life, but there will be a price to pay.”
To his supporters, he said: “I will succeed in as much as I can unify these disparate groups. If I can’t, there will be no fast change.”