With events unfolding fast in Egypt, pundits and the media are already looking to pin a leader on the presumptive revolution. The rationale is understandable. If Hosni Mubarak steps down immediately, there will be a political vacuum that would likely be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood—the world’s most influential front for radical Islamic ideas. The longer Egypt remains politically paralyzed, the greater the chance the population will choose revolutionary leaders out of necessity. One need look no further than the case of Iran’s revolution in 1979. It took many long, chaotic months of protests among the middle class before Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamist dream were embraced. The free world is still paying for this unfortunate choice.
The name that constantly comes up as a possible choice to lead a caretaker government if Mubarak departs is the former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei. To that end, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt met with ElBaradei Tuesday. But a look at the former IAEA chief’s record reveals that he would not only be a poor candidate, but would probably enhance the prospects of Cairo going the way of the Muslim Brotherhood, while increasing the likelihood that Iran becomes a nuclear power.
ElBaradei’s tenure at the IAEA was far from productive or constructive. For a decade he stalled for time, allowing Iran to continue its march towards nuclear weapons. In September 2005, he was instrumental in removing the issue from the Security Council’s agenda. At the time he said: “I am encouraged that the issue has not been referred to the Security Council, precisely to give time for diplomacy and negotiation.” In both January and September 2007 when calls for sanctions were growing, ElBaradei suggested a “time-out.”
Egypt has been a stalwart ally of the U.S. and Israel when it comes to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. But ElBaradei has worked in the past to stymie these efforts. Indeed, he did not even know there was a problem. As recently as July 2010 he told Der Spiegel, “the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran is overestimated… I do not believe that the Iranians are actually producing nuclear weapons.”
At a 2009 joint press conference in Tehran with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, ElBaradei explained who he saw as the real villain when he declared, “Israel is the number one threat to the Middle East given the nuclear arms it possesses.” And his sentiments on Israel are not merely his passing thoughts. In April 2010 ElBaradei expressed support for the “Palestinian resistance,” called Gaza the “world’s biggest jail,” and explained that Palestinian violence was the only path open to the Palestinian people because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.”
It is not hard to imagine how unhelpful he would be when it comes to regional security cooperation or preventing the smuggling of arms to Hamas in Gaza. Yet this should be of little surprise since he has refused to take a position on whether Israel should exist as a Jewish state. He even defended fiery rhetoric from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he said, “from what I understand, Iran wants a one-state solution—not, as reported in the media, that Israel should be wiped off the map.”
Then there is ElBaradei’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood. This stems from his February 2010 meeting in Cairo with the heads of several political opposition factions including the Brotherhood. Following the meeting, Mohamed el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc said, “ElBaradei’s and the Brotherhood’s call for political and social change converge.” Yet the Brotherhood’s political platform revealed in October 2007 advocates an exclusionary and radical vision that diminishes the roles for women and non-Muslims, and calls for the establishment of a religious authority to oversee the government.
Nevertheless, ElBaradei still finds a common cause with the Brotherhood. He told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday that: “The Muslim Brotherhood …has nothing to do with extremism…[T]hey have a lot of credibility…And I have been reaching out to them.” A day later, Muhammad Ghannem, a leading member of the Brotherhood told the Iranian news network, Al-Alam, “the people should be prepared for war against Israel.”
In Egypt, any transition from an authoritarian regime to a functioning democracy will take time, as moderate and secular political parties will need to organize after 30 years of Mubarak’s repression. The U.S. should help in this effort. But elevating Mohamed ElBaradei would likely hasten the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while decreasing Israel’s security. And that would represent a clear step in the wrong direction.