El Baradei: Is it the Economy, Stupid?

With the appointment of Mohammed El Baradei as interim Egyptian PM it seems we should start looking at the possibility of causes behind Egypt’s “Second Revolution” that run deeper than popular discontent, or even the military protecting its assets.

On its face El Baradei’s appointment seems puzzling. Will this man do anything to lose support among the Egyptian public? Of course El Baradei will now have a chance to show his worth through governing, so it cannot be excluded that he would handily win upcoming elections. But on the other hand it doesn’t seem likely. By being appointed at this point without first having won elections, El Baradei ties himself even closer to the military, and as such opens him up to fatal criticism of cronyism and lack of democratic legitimacy. What is more, in Egypt’s difficult economic conditions it can be presumed that the upcoming period will be a tough one for government: slashing the public sector, opening up the economy, etc. All this is likely to put a dent in El Baradei’s popularity. Still further, El Baradei is not precisely a conciliatory candidate with respect to healing Egypt’s divisions: he is the clearest face of the anti-Islamist opposition. From this corner, too, El Baradei could face stiff opposition in any upcoming election.

Surely, then, the smart electoral strategy would have been to wait and run as a candidate in the elections: that would have provided for a relatively easy vantage point from which to criticize whatever incumbent, as well as remain untarnished by any deficit of legitimacy.

But clearly this is not the road El Baradei, or the military itself, has opted for. This should lead us to reflect whether the whole of the Morsi-ouster and what we are seeing now may really be an accommodation, whether implicit or explicit, of demands of the international community for economic support. Egypt’s economy has been teetering on collapse for a while. It is not at all unlikely that critical international donors would have conditioned their support on credit and money not going to the Brotherhood. Moreover, Baradei has long been the favorite of such parties: a competent internationally renowned manager, akin to the PA’s Salam Fayyad and Italy’s Mario Monti, who may not be particularly popular at home—but who cares really?

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