ElBaradei escalates fight against Mubarak

The opposition leader calls for end to emergency laws and says Egyptians are treated like slaves.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. nuclear chief, flashes hundreds of signed petitions supporting him following a breakfast meeting marking the first year of his campaign to press for changes within Egyptian politics, in Cairo, Egypt, on Monday, Sept. 6, 2010. ElBaradei brought together a coalition of young activists and opposition groups to mark his first year in Egyptian politics and to push for change during the presidential election campaign scheduled for next year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) *** Local Caption ***  AMR113_Mideast_Egypt_opposition_ElBaradei.jpg

CAIRO // Calling the government of President Hosni Mubarak an "oppressive and despotic" regime, Mohamed ElBaradei has renewed his call for a boycott of parliamentary elections and threatened street protests. The former head of the UN atomic energy agency and Nobel laureate told about 200 activists this week that the vote in November was bound to be rigged and that he now has nearly one million signatures backing his reform demands.

"Any person who would participate in these [parliamentary] elections would be going against the national will," Mr ElBaradei said in the most defiant speech he has made since returning to Egypt in February. He warned at iftar on Monday in the Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhood in Cairo that if the opposition's demands for reform continue to be ignored he will have 2 or 3 million signatures by the end of the year and that the last resort would be protests and civil disobedience.

"We would like when we decide to take to the street that it would be first and last time, and would be the beginning of the end of this regime," he said, adding that "next year will be crucial". Mr ElBaradei used the speech to launch a strongly worded attack on the regime of Mr Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, all of it under emergency laws. "Any regime that was not freely elected has no legitimacy and should be treated as such," Mr ElBaradei said.

He blamed the ruling National Democratic Party for the high rate of poverty and illiteracy and treating Egyptians as "slaves and sheep." "When I look at the temple they built, I see a decaying temple, almost collapsing. It will fall sooner rather than later," he told the cheering crowd. "I will never enter this temple … What we demand is to bring down this temple in a peaceful, civilised manner." Dressed in a blue polo shirt and beige pants, Mr ElBaradei, who is 68 years old, sat next to his younger brother Ali and young leaders from the Popular Campaign to Support ElBaradei, which was celebrating its first anniversary.

Since he returned to his country from his tenure at the UN he has become a leader of the opposition. He has said he will run in next year's presidential election only if the constitution is amended to allow independents such as him to run, judicial supervision of the vote is re-instated, international monitors are allowed and emergency laws are lifted. "I'm proud that our meeting today is violating the emergency laws," Mr ElBaradei said about the regulations, which prevent more than five people from gathering and have been in place since Mr Mubarak came to power in 1981. "This law is shameful to Egyptians and in front of the world," he added.

Egypt's opposition parties are split on whether to run in next month's parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest opposition group, as well as the Al Wafd and Al Tagamu political parties, seem inclined to run. At his speech on Monday, Mr ElBaradei expressed happiness at the progress the reform movement had made since his return. "We are managing in six months to regain our freedom in a peaceful, civilised manner after six decades of oppression and suppression," he said.

"We are going to succeed, there is no doubt about that, and change is coming and inevitable," he said. Mostafa el Nagar, an assistant coordinator of Mr ElBaradei's campaign, said the speech "was more revolutionary than usual and emphasized stripping the regime of its legitimacy. In July, supporters of Gamal Mubarak, the president's youngest son, started collecting signatures in a campaign to nominate him for president.

Last week, posters of the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, appeared in the capital, urging him to succeed the 82-year-old Mr Mubarak, who has not announced whether he will run in the upcoming elections. The posters disappeared in less than 24 hours and two independent newspapers were ordered to destroy thousands of copies that carried coverage of the campaign backing Mr Suleiman's campaign. Also last weekend witnessed the publishing by several dailies and websites of private photos of Mr ElBaradei's daughter Laila, taken off her Facebook account, in a swimsuit and at her wedding to a "non-Muslim". She is seen sitting in front of what appears to be bottles of alcohol.

"The lies and fabrication - all it does it makes people aware how desperate the regime is and it makes people much more eager to go for change," Mr ElBaradei told reporters after Monday's iftar. He had accused the regime of a smear campaign against his family. nmagd@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Reuters