WATCH: Journalist Arrested and Beaten Alongside Protesters in Egypt, Secretly Records Ordeal
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AMY GOODMAN: Jack Shenker, has there been much discussion of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for a while talked about as a presidential candidate, returning today from Vienna to Egypt to join in these massive protests?
JACK SHENKER: Yes. Well, perceptions of ElBaradei are quite mixed. As you probably know, when he arrived back in Egypt after a long absence early last year in 2010, he brought with him a huge wave of optimism. Here was an establishment figurehead who had the kind of credibility of being part of the Egyptian elite, and yet who was standing up and having the courage to stand up and point out all of the political and social and economic grievances which have been ailing Egyptians for so many decades. And there was a real feeling that momentum was going to build behind him and that he could put a lot of sustained pressure on the Mubarak regime.
In recent months, that has faded somewhat. There have been criticisms, rightly or wrongly, that ElBaradei has spent too much time out of the country, he hasn’t spent enough time on the streets with Egyptian protesters, where he could offer them protection through his fame. And there was a criticism, as well, because his initial response to these protests was quite lukewarm. He said that he didn’t want to see a Tunisia-style explosion on the streets of Cairo, and he would rather use existing avenues, including a petition, which he’s been—he’s collected almost one million signatures, for political reform. And obviously that doesn’t feel radical enough for a lot of the people who have been brought down to the streets in recent days.
Since the uprising began on Tuesday, he’s become a lot more vocal. And as you say, he’s flying back from Vienna. And from the activists I’ve spoken to, opinion is split between those who are angry at him and think that he’s trying to jump on the bandwagon much too late and sort of crash the party, as it were, and—but there’s also those who believe that actually his presence on the streets, if indeed he does come down to the streets, would be incredibly helpful, because he is a man with international recognition, he’s feted by Western capitals, including London and Washington, and quite simply, if he’s standing in the middle of Tahrir Square—that’s the central square in Cairo, which was occupied by demonstrators on Tuesday—then the police are going to have to think very, very hard about firing tear gas, firing water cannons, and pelting protesters with rocks, which is what happened on Tuesday. So, there’s a feeling that he could offer protesters a measure of protection, but also anger that he hasn’t been more involved and more vocal about what’s going on in the last few days.
AMY GOODMAN: Jack Shenker, has the president, has Hosni Mubarak, issued any statement? And also, what about the police crackdown on the streets?
JACK SHENKER: Well, President Mubarak has stayed uncharacteristically silent, and that’s become a real talking point in the last few days. There’s a feeling that he doesn’t want to bestow any kind of—any kind of legitimacy or credibility on the uprisings going on by stooping to discuss it. He’s trying to sort of stay above the fray, even though it’s very clear that, not just this government regime, but him personally, he is a personal target of many of the protesters. And, you know, what started as a demand for—specific demands—the resignation of the interior minister, an increase in the minimum wage, political reform—that has now changed. And I have spoken to dozens and dozens of protesters, all of whom say nothing less than President Mubarak standing down and leaving the country will be acceptable for them.