- Life Style
Decades from now, 19 February, 2010 may just be looked back upon as B-Day. Mothers will tell their children of the blessed day when Mohamed ElBaradei returned, like a conquering hero, to personally reshape Egypt into a functioning democracy.
Or maybe not.
All possibilities seem to be in play as ElBaradei returns to Egypt this Friday amid an atmosphere bordering in some circles on the hysterical. Rumors have percolated for days about a mass welcoming committee being planned for the former International Atomic Energy Association chief when he arrives at Cairo International Airport Friday afternoon.
“We’re all going. Everybody is going,” said George Ishak, one of the founders of the Kefaya pro-democracy movement, who has been one of ElBaradei’s most high-profile advocates ever since the longtime expatriate first floated the idea last year of running for president in the 2011 elections. “I don’t want to make any predictions on numbers, but it’s going to be big,” Ishak added.
As the anticipation grows, the most pressing questions have become: How many people will attempt to greet ElBaradei at the airport? And what will Egyptian security forces do about it? After all, a gathering of people happy to see ElBaradei back in Egypt could easily be construed as an anti-government protest rally.
“If the government uses force, it will backfire,” said Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa, who issued an open call earlier this week in Al-Masry Al-Youm for a massive airport turnout. “I don’t know how the government will react. But they certainly won’t be very happy to see a warm welcome from the Egyptian public.”
In the days leading up to ElBaradei’s arrival, media speculation has reached fever pitch. The state-owned press has been understandably low-key--especially after a smear campaign last year by the official media was widely seen as having backfired.
Among the independent dailies, Al-Shorouq and Al-Dostour seem to be competing for the title of unofficial ElBaradei campaign headquarters. Al-Shorouq ominously reported Thursday on “exceptional procedures” being put in place at the airport in advance of his arrival. Al-Dostour, meanwhile, devoted its first five pages almost entirely to ElBaradei, including a column by Ishak that proclaimed, “Welcome to the ranks of the activists!”
On Tuesday night, pro-government commentator Amr Adeeb fretted on air that Friday’s reception could easily devolve into a confrontation between police and ElBaradei well-wishers. International media, he said on his popular talk show, Cairo Today, “will be following this man. So we don’t want any problems.”
Adeeb went on to appeal to security forces to employ a light touch, “even if three million people show up."
Wrapping up his show, he couldn’t resist making a joke--one, perhaps, that hit a little too close to the likely truth. Adopting the persona of a state security officer interacting with an ElBaradei supporter, Adeeb said: “Have you come to welcome ElBaradei? Help yourself. Just please record your name so I can grab you later.”