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ElBaradei visits a museum, a church and a synagogue

In his first visit to Cairo, the former director of the UN's nuclear watchdog chose to visit a neighbourhood that has Islamic, Christian and Jewish heritage.

CAIRO // In his first tour in Cairo yesterday after more than a month and a half abroad, Mohammed ElBaradei chose to visit a neighbourhood that has Islamic, Christian and Jewish heritage. Mr ElBaradei, 67, visited the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, Ben Ezra Synagogue and finished his two-hour tour by visiting Amr ibn El-As Mosque in Old Cairo for noon prayers.

The former director of the UN's nuclear watchdog was surrounded by about 100 of his young supporters and campaigners, many of whom were wearing white T-shirts with his trademark moustache and eyeglasses. Some carried banners urging Egyptians to participate in the "change" that Mr ElBaradei and his National Association for Change are promoting. "If you don't participate now, don't complain tomorrow," read one of the banners.

Other supporters carried Egyptian flags and chanted "O Baradei, say it strongly: Egypt wants democracy". The banners, chanting and flags attracted the attention of Egyptians in el-Fustat neighbourhood, where some whispered: "Oh, here is ElBaradei, the presidential candidate." People broke through the group surrounding Mr ElBaradei to shake hands and kiss him. Mr ElBaradei, who returned home after 12 years at International Atomic Energy Agency three months ago, said he would consider running for presidential elections next year if the constitution is amended to allow independents like him to run. He also wants Egyptians abroad to be able to vote and would like to see elections held under international supervision.

At the mosque, the speaker, Abdel Fattah el Banna, a professor in the monuments faculty of Cairo University, welcomed Mr ElBaradei and said: "History proves to us that change is not unattainable or far; it depends on the faith and efforts of the young." After the tour, Mr ElBaradei issued a statement, demanding the regime immediately release political prisoners. He warned against "the policy of repression and insistence on killing the hope inside Egyptians of the possibility of peaceful change that could have grave consequences in the future".

He also tried to clarify what he called a "misunderstanding" regarding his party, the National Association for Change, which does not have an organisational leadership or elected institutions. Rather, he said, it has "a wide, popular framework that is open for all Egyptians from different stripes who signed on the change statement for democratic system and fair and free elections". He also emphasised the "inevitability of change" and the role of the youth in it. "I will be in direct contact with the Egyptian people through all available media outlets, electronic means and direct contact, and I would like to say that my travels abroad are part of many international commitments ? But this doesn't mean I am absent from what's going on in Egypt because change, as a concept and action, is not confined to a person or a place."

Mr ElBaradei's statement was a response to growing criticism of his long absences, even among leaders within his group. "The presence of ElBaradei in Egypt is very crucial," Hassan Nafaa, the co-ordinator of the National Association for Change, said in an interview yesterday. "However, ElBaradei has to make up his mind: is he a symbol for change or a leader in the battle for change? Because the latter requires his daily presence and work in Egypt, with all due respect to his prior international commitment."

Mr Nafaa was expected to meet with Mr ElBaradei later yesterday. He said he was considering stepping down from his post in protest against what he called a "lack of strategy and disagreement on priorities".

Published: May 31, 2010 04:00 AM

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