< Back to News

ElBaradei Rallies Egyptian Opposition as Protests Enter Sixth Day

Egyptian opposition leaders rallied around Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency, as protesters defied a curfew and demonstrated against President Hosni Mubarak for a sixth day.

The opposition formed a committee to convey their demands to the government, said Ayman Nour, who was a distant second to Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate election in 2005. In addition to ElBaradei, 68, the group also includes members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition group, Nour said in an interview.

“If the Egyptian people want me to serve as a bridge from an authoritarian system into a democracy, I will not let them down,” ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria’s GPS” program, when asked whether he would be willing to serve as interim president. He said Mubarak will have to leave the country in “the next few days.”

ElBaradei told tens of thousands of people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday that opposition parties had asked him to speak for them and form an interim government. Opposition groups have also demanded the removal of constitutional rules that make it difficult for independent candidates to run for president.

Middle East shares dropped, with Dubai’s DFM General Index falling 4.3 percent yesterday, the most since May 25. The Bloomberg GCC 200 Index lost 0.3 percent in Dubai. Egypt’s market was closed after sliding 16 percent last week.

‘Investors Are Fleeing’

“International investors are fleeing Middle East stock markets with justified risk aversion across the board,” said Mahdi Mattar, head of research at Abu Dhabi-based CAPM Investment PJSC, an investment banking company.

Asian stocks today fell, extending the biggest global share slump in two months on speculation Egypt’s crisis will slow the global recovery. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 1.5 percent and oil prices jumped above $90 a barrel.

“Tonight is your last night Hosni Mubarak,” the crowd in Cairo said repeatedly. They also chanted slogans against his Jan. 29 appointment of former air force commander Ahmed Shafik as prime minister and Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president. Fighter aircraft flew over the crowd and almost two dozen tanks could be seen in the city center. Some soldiers waved flags and chanted along with the protesters.

One person in Tahrir Square carried a banner saying “The Army Must Choose Between Egypt and Mubarak.”

Street Control

ElBaradei served as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for 12 years, sharing the Nobel Prize with the agency for work to prevent nuclear proliferation for military use. A former diplomat, he’s never held elected office.

Under current rules, presidential candidates must be members of established parties, including Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, or be endorsed by parliament and municipal councils, all dominated by the NDP.

The decision by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition faction, to now work with ElBaradei is a reversal from last year when the group, which is legally banned from politics, wasn’t willing to back him on the grounds that he was an outsider. “He doesn’t speak the language of the people,” Ali Abdul-Fattah, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, said last May.

The demonstration came as soldiers tried to regain control of streets lined with charred stores. The unrest was a sign that Mubarak’s appointment of the first vice president since his 1981 rise to power and his naming of a new premier may not placate protesters.

‘Too Late’

“It’s too late,” Amr Hamzawy, research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said by telephone from Cairo. “I don’t think that appointing Suleiman as vice president or Shafik as prime minister is going to do it.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak hasn’t met demands for democratic reforms and that the U.S. expects “free and fair elections.”

“Words alone are not enough,” Clinton said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “There have to be actions, a demonstrable commitment to the kind of reforms we know are needed and desired.”

The State Department issued a travel warning yesterday urging Americans to leave Egypt as soon as possible. The State Department also told families of its diplomats to leave Egypt.

Mubarak met with Suleiman, the head of the army and the armed forces chief of staff yesterday. He also visited the armed forces operations control center, state-run Al Masriya television reported. Suleiman met with the interior and defense ministers to discuss plans to restore security, Al Masriya said.

150 Deaths

As many as 150 people have been killed in the unrest, Ibrahim al-Zafarani, head of the rescue and emergency committee at the Arab medical union, told Al Jazeera television.

“I have nothing against Omar Suleiman but anyone chosen by Hosni Mubarak is chosen by corrupt hands,” said Mahmoud Abdel Hady, a 28-year-old doctor who joined the protesters.

Looting escalated the night of Jan. 29, spreading from central Cairo to more upscale areas such as Heliopolis and Maadi after the police withdrew during the day. Residents armed themselves with sticks, bats and guns, and blocked off roads into their neighborhoods to protect their property.

Army Reinforcements

Shots rang out throughout the night as the army sent in reinforcements to regain control of the city. Al Arabiya TV and Al Jazeera TV reported that hundreds of jailed criminals escaped from prisons. Residents called state television, reporting attacks by gangs of looters and asking for the army to come and save them. Police began redeploying across Egypt last night and a curfew was extended and will begin at 3 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. and go until 8 a.m., state TV reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt,” which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and is the Jewish state’s closest regional ally.

“The peace between Israel and Egypt has held for more than three decades and it is our goal to maintain these ties,” Netanyahu said. He told his Cabinet he had spoken with U.S. President Barack Obama and Clinton.

Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index fell 3.8 percent yesterday, the most in almost two years. Ampal-American Israel Corp., the owner of a stake in East Mediterranean Gas Co. which imports Egyptian gas into Israel, plunged 17 percent.

‘Persistent’ Protest

Al Jazeera Network, a television broadcaster popular throughout Arab countries, said authorities shut its offices in Egypt and withdrew the accreditation of its reporters.

The protests in Egypt erupted on Jan. 25 inspired by a revolt in Tunisia that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

Suleiman has been mentioned by analysts, including the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, as a possible successor to Mubarak, as has the leader’s son Gamal Mubarak. Suleiman leads Egypt’s efforts to mediate in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

Mubarak hasn’t publicly said whether he’ll run for another term in this year’s election. Both he and his predecessor Anwar Sadat were vice presidents before ascending to the top job in the most populous Arab country. The president, a former air force commander, came to power after Islamist militants assassinated Sadat, in part because of making peace with Israel.

Demonstrators in Egypt say they want an end to corruption and repression and an improvement in living standards in the nation that relies on tourism, revenue from the Suez Canal and overseas investors for foreign currency.

“The people are not tired,” said Ahmed Salem, who has been demonstrating for the past four days. “The people are more persistent and will endure more than a ruler of 82 years of age.”