Middle East News
Egypt's ElBaradei says "the people are my party" (Roundup)
By Elijah Zarwan and Nehal el-Sherif Apr 2, 2010, 17:32 GMT
Mansoura, Egypt - Former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei told hundreds of Egyptians gathered at a rally Friday that 'the people are my party,' as he works to reform laws that only allow senior party leaders to run for Egypt's presidency.
'You are the owners of this country,' he told the crowd gathered in the village of Minyat al-Samanoud, located some 120 kilometres northeast of Cairo within the confines of the city of Mansoura. 'Whatever our belief or religion is, every one of us has a piece of this country and has the right to lead a decent life.'
'Opposition in my opinion is every person who wants change,' he added. 'If we were serious about change, we have to join hands and be one voice.'
Earlier in the day, hundreds had cheered ElBaradei after he finished Friday prayers in the al-Nour mosque, singing the national anthem, waving flags and chanting slogans.
No riot police were seen in Mansoura, but Mohamed Sahsah, a 55- year-old engineer, told the German Press Agency dpa that thugs had prevented ElBaradei from going to a bigger mosque. Sahsah said he believes 'the regime is trying to silence' the call for change.
'It is natural that people come out and seek democratic changes in Egypt,' ElBaradei later told dpa, after he visited a small kidney hospital in another Mansoura village, Aga. 'People are hungry for change.'
Mohamed al-Sayed, a 29-year-old guard at the hospital, said that ElBaradei's visit is 'something good and new,' adding that he 'liked what (he) heard from ElBaradei in his TV interviews.'
Omar Saleh, 23, travelled from Cairo to Mansoura on Friday to tell the government that 'there is an alternative to Hosny Mubarak.'
Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has been in power for nearly 30 years and has vowed to continue serving until his 'last breath.'
'I came to show the government that we are not moving a step backward,' Omar Saleh, 23, told dpa.
But Hassan al-Fotouh, 30, said he would rather like to see the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group, take power and does not support ElBaradei.
'If the Brotherhood got into power, that would be the best thing because ElBaradei is with the United States,' he told dpa. 'We need someone to speak strongly about Palestine and not be afraid like Mubarak and ElBaradei.'
Last year, ElBaradei said he would consider running for Egypt's presidency if a fair vote is guaranteed. He is the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
His announcement was welcomed by opposition and youth activists, who started campaigning for him online, though the current constitution prohibits ElBaradei from running for presidency.
On Friday, ElBaradei called on the crowd to join his National Front for Change in order to 'pass a strong clear message to the regime that the Egyptian people want change'.
Organisers from the ElBaradei coalition said a petition for his candidacy has already been endorsed by some 25,000 people throughout Egypt, adding that more were still signing it.
ElBaradei also told the crowd that 'Egypt, with all its resources, deserves better,' and that people should be partners in change.
'It does not make sense that until now 40 per cent of the people are below poverty line and 30 per cent are illiterate. Social justice is almost non-existent in Egypt, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening in Egypt,' he added.
While many were hoping for a chance to ask him a question, one woman grabbed the microphone and said: 'We want an honest president. Egypt was waiting for you, reach out your hand to it.'
Since his return to Egypt in March, ElBaradei has been meeting with politicians, activists, celebrities and religious leaders in hopes of pressuring the government to pass political reforms.
The opposition groups that have rallied around ElBaradei last month called for seven reforms to provide for more free elections, such as imposing a two-term limit on the presidency, instituting judicial oversight over elections and loosening restrictions on who may run for president.