Page last updated at 18:16 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Egypt Facebook campaign for ElBaradei presidency

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

Alaa al-Aswani
Mr al-Aswani said the campaign was a unique phenomenon

A best-selling Egyptian novelist has called on his compatriots to go to Cairo's airport to welcome home former UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mr ElBaradei is said to be considering running in presidential elections due next year.

Alaa al-Aswani gave his backing to a campaign calling for his candidacy, supported by 60,000 people on the social networking site Facebook.

In Egypt, large public gatherings are illegal and can be broken up by police.

The Facebook group has become a focal point for young Egyptians who want Mr ElBaradei, until last November the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, to stand in elections due in 2011.

The 67-year-old returns to his home country on Friday after many years living abroad, the past 25 years at the headquarters of the IAEA in Vienna.

"This is a unique phenomenon, the very enthusiastic support for Mr ElBaradei among the youth," Mr Aswani wrote in a column in the independent daily newspaper, Al Shorook.

'National character'

"Mr ElBaradei's outstanding success on the international scene is evidence that Egypt's crisis is not because of some fault in the Egyptian character but due to the failed and corrupt policies of a regime forced upon the Egyptians by repression and fraud," he wrote.

In December last year Mr ElBaradei said he might run for Egypt's presidency, if there were guarantees the elections would be democratic.

The ElBaradei for president facebook page
Young people have been using Facebook to organise a campaign

His comments were met with heavy criticism in the pro-government press, which backs President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's leader for the past 28 years.

There has been speculation that Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal, is being groomed to succeed him.

According to Egypt's emergency laws police have the power to break up large gatherings.

But supporters of Mr ElBaradei have been using Facebook to circumvent Egypt's laws preventing political gatherings.

The Facebook campaign advises supporters to travel to the airport in groups of three - the maximum number of people allowed to associate together in public.

Some supporters have said they will wait for Mr ElBaradei at his home in Cairo if they cannot get to the airport.

Mr ElBaradei has built up a reputation for fairness during his 12 years at the head of the IAEA.

He has become a familiar face on the international stage after he first poured cold water on US claims that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was trying to buy uranium for a nuclear bomb from Niger, then issued stern warnings about attempts to inflate Iran's nuclear capabilities in the public perception.

However, pro-government newspapers have described Mr ElBaradei as out of touch with the reality of Egypt and lacking in political experience.

Mr Aswani is best known as the author of The Yacoubian Building, an allegorical tale about an old building in Cairo and its residents, a metaphor for Egypt's history.

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