By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press
Sat Dec 11, 2010
MAGHAGHA, Egypt – Leading Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday he is pushing to unify the country's opposition groups to build enough numbers for pro-reform protests following parliamentary elections marred by widespread allegations of fraud.
In a somber assessment of his movement for change, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. nuclear chief also said disparate opposition groups didn't pose a serious enough challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party in the country's Nov. 25 vote because they failed to present a united front.
He said the failure to work together deprived it of the ability to stage large protests. He also noted that his call for a boycott of the vote went unheeded, while a petition for reform he endorsed didn't garner as much support as he expected.
"I think we are now at a time of re-evaluation ... soul searching," ElBaradei told The Associated Press after meeting with supporters in Maghagha, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Cairo. "I think the next step you will see probably is much more unity of the opposition."
Local election observers and international rights groups have accused the Egyptian authorities of widespread vote rigging and voting-day violence. Results showed a crushing victory for the ruling party.
ElBaradei had called for a boycott of the parliamentary election and was initially ignored by most opposition parties.
But after first-round voting handed sweeping victories to government candidates, the two largest opposition groups — the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party — pulled out of the runoff elections.
ElBaradei, who has already called for a boycott of next year's presidential election, said the blatant vote rigging by the ruling party has made the people "so angry" and cost the regime the support of the few opposition groups who were willing to play by its rules.
"These are people that don't want to change and that is not a good sign because a regime that is completely blocking all channels of peaceful change is a regime that is really risking bloodshed and that is not very good at all" he said.
He claimed that the fraud in Egypt's elections was "ten times worse" than in Iran's presidential polls last year.
Iran is still coping with the consequences of the mass protests by opposition activists who say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won Iran's June 2009 presidential elections through massive vote fraud.
ElBaradei said calls for civil disobedience in Egypt are far from materializing because of the divided opposition and a population fearful after years of repression.
"I also want people to understand that change is not going to happen just because they will hide behind me, my credibility and protection," he said. "I want them to understand that if you are working for freedom there will be a price to pay. I hope nobody will lose their life, but there will be a price to pay."
To his supporters, he said: "I will succeed in as much as I can unify these disparate groups. If I can't, there will be no fast change."