Reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, chairman of the National Association for Change reform movement, confirmed upon his arrival on Thursday at Cairo International Airport that he would be participating in the demonstrations due to take place on Friday.
“This is a critical time in the life of Egypt and I’ve come to participate with the Egyptian people,” he said.
Having been at the forefront of calls for change, ElBaradei is seen as a potential leader of the wave of nationwide protests that began on Tuesday. Up until this point, the demonstrations have been without a recognized leader.
“The right to peaceful demonstration is an absolute right for every human being. I wish we did not have to go into the streets to impress on the regime that they need to change,” ElBaradei said. It was only after the failure of petitions and boycotts that the Egyptian people resorted to popular protests, he added.
“The regime has yet to respond to any of our demands…the youth have lost patience,” he said.
A small group of supporters–and a throng of journalists–were at the airport waiting for ElBaradei’s arrival. Despite his vehement opposition to the current regime, there was a relatively muted security presence at the airport, and he was able to speak to reporters for several minutes.
ElBaradei is one of the leading voices for change in Egypt, and many consider him a possible candidate in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections.
When asked why he didn’t come to Cairo three days earlier when the protests began, he said, “Change is not going to happen overnight…I had to remain outside the country to have access to the media.”
ElBaradei has been criticized by opposition members, as well as the government, for remaining outside the country while calling for change in Egypt from his residence in Vienna.
As for his current role in Egypt, he stated the need to stay in the country to offer support to demonstrators, while helping ensure that the process of change progressed in an orderly fashion.
During the last three days of demonstrations, and especially after widespread reports of arrests and police heavy-handedness, many demonstrators are apprehensive about the response of the security forces to Friday’s planned protests.
ElBaradei called on the Egyptian government and protesters alike to avoid any violence. He said that whatever the response of security forces, it would not cow the Egyptian people. “The people have broken the barrier of fear,” he said. “There is no going back.”
Notably, he did not exclude the possibility of working with the regime to work for political change, while stressing that change was an inevitability. “Our hand is extended [to the regime],” he said.