Egypt is looking for credible opposition leaders to oversee a period of change and guarantee stability in the most populous Arab nation on earth.
Since his return to Cairo last Thursday, attention has turned to Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has offered to act as a transitional leader ahead of democratic elections. Yet many activists are disappointed that he has spent much time abroad in recent months.
As IAEA boss, ElBaradei was outspoken on the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion. He told the UN Security Council in February 2003: “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.”
Another key figure is Mohammed Badie, who leads the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s biggest opposition group, it is officially banned but allowed to operate within limits. The movement seeks to introduce Islamic rule by democratic means. Badie, seen as a conservative, has been reluctant to challenge the authorities for fear of provoking further repression. In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood won around a fifth of the seats in parliament by fielding candidates as independents. But none of its candidates won in the first round of last November’s poll, denounced by the group as rigged.
Egypt’s opposition also includes trained lawyer and liberal politician Ayman Nour. Having challenged Hosni Mubarak at the polls in 2005, he was jailed after conviction for submitting forged documents when setting up his party. Freed after serving more than three years of a five-year sentence, he remains ineligible to stand for elections in September.
And then there is respected trade union leader George Ishak, founder of the Kefaya movement. It galvanised protests against Mubarak’s rule in 2005, rejecting the president’s son Gamal as his successor. Appealing to middle class professionals, Kefaya appears to have played a role in mobilising the latest demonstrations. The name of the movement means: “That’s enough!”