Today, countless thousands of Egyptian pro-democracy protesters remain in the streets, uncertain of their government’s future after Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak declared that he would not be running for re-election in September. One of the major figures who has emerged as a leader of the movement is former international weapons inspector and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. While ElBaradei is widely admired across the globe, he has often raised the ire of American neoconservatives, who essentially blame him for being right about Iraq and undermining their case for a war against Iran.
Yesterday, two major Republican figures lashed out at ElBaradei and essentially accused him of either secretly working for radical Islamists or allowing himself to be used by them. During a debate with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) last night, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) said that it would be a “disaster” if ElBaradei was named the interim president of Egypt, and said that he would be “absorbed” by the Muslim Brotherhood. Gingrich seemed to be much more open to a military government that would engage in a “slow transition towards exploring democracy”:
GINGRICH: I think that ElBaradei, if he ends up being the head of government, would be a disaster. Would be weak. Would be rapidly absorbed by the Muslim Brotherhood. I think you’re likely to get a military leader, or somebody who is acceptable to the military. And you’re likely to get a relatively slow transition towards exploring democracy, greater openness, civil society. But I think you would have to be very worried if we’re willing to allow the kind of confusion that would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take over.
On Sean Hannity’s show last night, Sen. John McCain (AZ) ludicrously told the Fox host that “ElBaradei is not a friend of the United States.” The senator then went on to suggest that ElBaradei may be a “figurehead” for the Muslim Brotherhood because he has “no real following in Egypt”:
HANNITY: I listened very closely to the president’s remarks tonight. And as he was praising the demonstrators, and showing his support for the demonstrators, he didn’t — and talking about full participation even though opposition parties, the thing that struck me most about this, is does he not realize that if the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now creating a coalition with ElBaradei get in power, that could mean another Iranian style theocracy?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, ElBaradei is not a friend of the United States. Second of all, he could be a figurehead for the Muslim Brotherhood since he has no real following in Egypt. He has lived most of his life outside of Egypt. Second thing is, the Muslim Brotherhood we ought to recognize is an organization that wants Sharia law, is tied up with Hamas has been by any definition a radical Islamic organization. Although, they may be portraying themselves as somewhat different. And finally, now we have to make sure that a new election is free, fair, open, honest and that radical Islamic candidates or platforms are exposed for what they are. This is a very tough time ahead.
First of all, there is simply no evidence that ElBaradei isn’t a “friend of the United States.” He spent much of his life in the United States, studying and teaching at New York University; he is also the recipient of numerous major awards and honors from universities and organizations around the country. He has no history of anti-American rhetoric, and it is likely that McCain seems to think that opposing the war in Iraq and a future war in Iran makes someone as unfriendly to the United States — a definition of anti-Americanism that most Americans would fall under.
Secondly, there’s no evidence that ElBaradei is secretly in cahoots with radical Islamists, nor that he has “no real following in Egypt.” The former IAEA head served in multiple Egyptian administrations and is considered by many to be a leading political figure in the country; last week, he was greeted with applause by hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square — which was mostly filled with younger, progressive Egyptian demonstrators, not radical Islamists. He has become the “most visible spokesman” for the anti-Mubarak movement.
Lastly, ElBaradei has wisely brought the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood — a nonviolent Islamist political movement that hasn’t committed any acts of violence in more than three decades — into his coalition, getting their backing to be interim president and then for free and fair elections. Doing so does not mean that he is on the payroll of radical Islamists nor does it validate any other McCain-Gingrich conspiracy theory. Rather, it shows that he has the wisdom to understand that the best way to defuse the more radical elements of Islamism is to incorporate moderate Islamist parties into a democratic political process so that they are not radicalized and turned violent.