Samuel Johnson once remarked after seeing a dog walking on its hind legs that the wonder wasn’t in the fact that the dog did it so well as much as it was in the dog doing it at all. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviews the man who has become — at least to Westerners — the face of the opposition in Egypt as Hosni Mubarak struggles to retain power after almost 30 years of dictatorship. Mohammed ElBaradei, known mostly until now as the ineffective head of the UN effort to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, tells Zakaria that Mubarak must go:
If he wants to save his skin — if he has an iota of patriotism — I advise him to leave the country.
ElBaradei calls Mubarak’s expulsion “non-negotiable for every Egyptian,” but he comes across as a rather bloodless, bland bureaucrat. If this is his negotiating persona, it’s pretty easy to see why the Iranians feared him so little. The only real passion ElBaradei exhibits is when he furrows his brow and talks disdainfully of the support Mubarak has received for decades from nations around the world in the name of “stability,” which again seems like a bit of hypocrisy when one recalls ElBaradei’s insistence on moderation in dealing with the despots running Iran.
Still, the wonder here is that ElBaradei is appearing publicly at all these days. Supposedly, Mubarak had ElBaradei under house arrest just a couple of days ago. Now he’s giving live interviews on CNN and calling for Mubarak’s ouster — and the army and police are nowhere to be seen. Given ElBaradei’s influence with the opposition, keeping him under wraps would normally be one of the top priorities of Mubarak, especially given ElBaradei’s connections to the West through the UN. ElBaradei undermines Mubarak’s almost-certain strategy of attempting to drum up support from his soon-to-be former allies using an apres moi, le deluge argument. If ElBaradei remains at the head of the revolt, Western governments may feel that they can deal with ElBaradei a lot more reasonably than Mubarak at this point. Mubarak knows this, and so his inability to keep ElBaradei in seclusion signals that Mubarak may have already hit the end stage of his dictatorship.
The Western nations that think ElBaradei will be a leader they can trust had better hope that ElBaradei can deal with the Islamists in his own backyard better than the ones in Tehran. He seems more like a convenient beard for the Muslim Brotherhood at this point than a charismatic revolutionary leader for democracy and personal liberty. Obama and the EU don’t have many choices here — in fact, they have none at all, really — but ElBaradei is a long shot at best to survive as leader of a free Egypt.
Update (AP): Sounds like the Muslim Brotherhood has decided on its cat’s paw.
The Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday threw its support behind Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei to hold proposed negotiations with the government in order to form a unity government.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Muslim Brotherhood official Essam el-Eryan said that “political groups support ElBaradei to negotiation with the regime.”
As I write this, to add a little gloss to his new image as Egyptian savior, Al Jazeera’s airing footage of ElBaradei at the main protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo. To give you a sense of the level of dishonesty this stooge is willing to stoop to for his new patron, here’s what he told ABC earlier today:
“This is total bogus that the Muslim Brotherhood are religiously conservative,” he said. “They are no way extremists. They are no way using violence. They are not a majority of the Egyptian people. They will not be more than maybe 20 percent of the Egyptian people.
“You have to include them like, you know, new evangelical, you know, groups in the U.S., like the orthodox Jews in Jerusalem,” ElBaradei said.
He said the Islamists were “not at all” behind the uprising.
Update (AP): Iran, naturally, is root root rootin’ for the Brotherhood to turn this into an Islamist triumph, notwithstanding their sectarian differences with the group. This quote sums up the stakes:
While Egypt’s chances of transitioning to representative democracy remain an open question, especially with events on the ground so fluid, even the prospect remains deeply unsettling to Iran. “The focus would no longer be on Arabs being inspired by Iranian fundamentalism, but Iranians being inspired by Arab democracy,” says Sajadpour.
No doubt Iran is already working on ways to get money and arms to the Brotherhood for the power struggle ahead, which will end up being Exhibit 8,943 that Shiite and Sunni fundies are perfectly capable of cooperating against a common enemy. (See also Hamas.)
Update (AP): Just to put a cherry on top of this sundae, check out the screencap comparison at Big Peace between the Brotherhood’s English and Arabic websites. They’re practicing the same sort of deception by backing ElBaradei.
Update (AP): Needless to say, Egypt isn’t the only place where Islamists are looking to capitalize on recent unrest. Tunisia’s most famous fundie arrived home today after years spent abroad — and a crowd of thousands turned out at the airport to cheer him on.
Update (AP): One more point on ElBaradei. Even if he ends up as a compromise choice for leader, without any sort of formal Islamist takeover, having him at the top is guaranteed to weaken the west’s alliance with Sunni Arab regimes against Iran. Back when he was head of the IAEA and ostensibly charged with inspecting Iran’s nuclear sites, he was perfectly candid in saying that he didn’t consider that to be his main task. His main task, he felt, was preventing a western attack on Iran, a bias which made his reporting on their nuke program fatally suspect. If he was willing to do that in the name of “peace,” what else would he be willing to do if/when things finally come to a head between Iran, the U.S., and Israel? And if he, as ruler of Egypt, sides with Iran in that standoff, where does that leave other western-allied but weak Sunni regimes like Jordan and Saudi Arabia?
Update (Ed): Here’s a reminder of where ElBaradei’s sympathies lie in the Iranian nuclear crisis. Covering up Iran’s weaponization efforts, and doing it so ineptly that France and Germany publicly protested ElBaradei’s omissions, hardly stokes confidence in either ElBaradei’s inclination or ability to stand up to the Muslim Brotherhood, if it comes down to that — and if he’s not totally in bed with the Ikhwan as many suspect, it certainly will come down to that. For that matter, it doesn’t provide much confidence in ElBaradei’s executive abilities at all, even without the complications of radical Islamists.