Egypt’s new vice-president untainted
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Liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been named as Egypt’s new vice-president for foreign affairs, is a respected former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
ElBaradei’s appointment on Tuesday, which follows the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last week, comes days after he was tipped to lead the cabinet, but his nomination was rejected by the ultraconservative Salafist party Nour.
ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February 2010 after retiring as IAEA chief, and forged close ties with the liberal pro-democracy movement that spearheaded the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in February 2011.
The Tamarod campaign, behind the protests that led to Morsi being ousted and replaced by caretaker president Adli Mansour, had already nominated ElBaradei to represent the movement in transition negotiations with the military.
Last January, his decision to quit the race for the presidency was seen in Egypt as a slap in the face for post-Mubarak military rulers and one depriving liberals of a key champion.
Last month, he urged Morsi to resign after one year in office for the sake of national unity, ahead of record opposition-backed rallies calling on the Islamist leader to step down.
“For Egypt’s sake, I call on President Mohamed Morsi to resign and give us the opportunity to begin a new phase based on the principles of the revolution, which are freedom and social justice,” ElBaradei said.
Rather than join a political party, the 71-year-old Nobel Peace laureate created a movement of his own to act as an umbrella for a range of opposition groups – the National Association for Change.
ElBaradei, who is untainted by the allegations of corruption that surrounded Mubarak’s regime, was, however, criticised by opposition groups for spending too much time abroad and being out of touch with Egypt’s reality. His 12 years as the public face of the nuclear watchdog nonetheless earned him respect at home, where he was awarded the country’s highest honour, the Nile Shas, in 2006.
Ahead of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he won admiration around the world and infuriated Washington by challenging claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding a secret nuclear programme. US-led forces later found no nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei is not a noted orator, but has earned a reputation for speaking his mind. He has lambasted what he calls the double standards of countries that have nuclear weapons but prevent other countries from obtaining them.
He was born on June 17, 1942, in Cairo, where his lawyer father headed the bar association, a position that sometimes put him at odds with then Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Following in his father’s footsteps, ElBaradei earned his law degree at the University of Cairo in 1962. Two years later, he joined the diplomatic service and was assigned to the missions in Geneva and New York, where he earned a doctorate in international law and later taught. He has written that his New York years were among the most formative, helping to broaden his world view.
As special assistant to the foreign minister, ElBaradei served on the negotiating team at the historic Camp David peace talks that led to Egypt’s peace treaty and diplomatic relations with Israel.
ElBaradei began his UN career in 1980, and was sent to Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War to dismantle Saddam’s nuclear programme. In 1997, he was chosen as head of the IAEA, a role that gave him a global profile and led to confrontations with Washington, over Iraq and later Iran.
When Washington claimed that Iraq was buying uranium in Africa, ElBaradei dismissed the evidence before the UN Security Council as fake.
The Washington Post reported that ElBaradei’s Vienna telephone was bugged by the CIA.
In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts “to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way”.
ElBaradei, who is married to kindergarten teacher Aida Elkashef, has a son, Mostafa, and a daughter, Laila. - Sapa-AFP