CAIRO, Egypt – Respected worldwide, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and for 12 years the leader of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei is positioning himself as a force for change in his homeland.
He has already said he might run for president of Egypt, and now he’s forming a coalition to press for free and fair elections in a land ruled for nearly 30 years by President Hosni Mubarak.
ElBaradei, 67, returned to Cairo only days ago to a hero’s welcome by supporters who see him as the most credible opposition leader to emerge as this U.S.-allied country prepares for the 2011 presidential vote.
Existing restrictions make it practically impossible for independents to run, meaning that ElBaradei’s chances are dim without long-sought constitutional amendments.
The former Egyptian diplomat has been mum about potential plans to join the campaign, saying that he would only do so if guaranteed that elections would be free, fully supervised by the judiciary and monitored by the international community. But he has used the publicity surrounding his visit to push for democratic reform.
ElBaradei met with a group of about 30 opposition figures at his home on the outskirts of Cairo on Tuesday. Several participants said ElBaradei announced the formation of a national “society” for change to push for constitutional reforms that allow for contested elections.
On Saturday, ElBaradei appealed to the government to heed calls for change.
“You have seen how much support I got even before I set foot in Egypt,” ElBaradei said. “It shows that people are ready, I would say even hungry for change. But this is still something that has to take roots and has to spread to different parts of the country.”