ElBaradei returns to Egypt politics with new party

In this January 30, 2011 file photo opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei talks to supporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
AP Photo

(AP) CAIRO - Reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei launched a new political party Saturday that he said aims to unite Egyptians and save the country's revolution from a messy democratic transition.

The Constitution Party marks a return to public life for ElBaradei, who declared in January that he would not run for president and that a fair vote would be impossible during a muddled transition period.

His pullout four months before the start of the presidential vote dealt a blow to the liberal and leftist groups who were behind the Jan. 25 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office last year. The groups, many of whom had found in ElBaradei a rallying figure for their calls for democracy in Egypt, had been badly defeated at the ballot box in the first parliamentary elections after Mubarak.

Islamist groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the popular ultraconservative Salafi groups, emerged as the biggest winner in those elections, capturing nearly 70 percent of the seats.

The young activists were also subjected to an escalating crackdown by the country's rulers, including referral to military trials, arrests and media smear campaigns.

"The aim of this party is to save the great Jan. 25 revolution, which has been derailed, and is almost aborted and to restore our unity," ElBaradei told a crowd of supporters and journalists. "When this revolution started we never imagined the conditions we are and the tragic transition we are living today."

ElBaradei, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, said a new organized political group is necessary to unite Egyptians, and prepare the youth behind the uprising for a political future.

"We hope through this party...to start anew to build the country on the basis of democracy and justice," he said.

Fourteen months after Mubarak stepped down, the generals who took over are embroiled in a power struggle with the emerging Islamists. They dominate the parliament but complain the generals are obstructing them. Many of their rivals complain the Islamists are overreaching.

The presidential elections due to start on May 23 have been marred by the disqualification of 10 candidates, including three front-runners, and legal disputes.

In a major setback to the Brotherhood's bid for presidency, one of Egypt's most popular ultraconservative Salafi group, the Dawa Salafiya and its political arm Al-Nour party said they will back moderate Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. He is also popular among some liberals and youth groups who launched the uprising.

The leader of the Al-Nour party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, said the decision was taken to allay fears among many Egyptians about the growing strength of the Brotherhood and Islamist groups in general.

"We think Abolfotoh has a popular consensus, is more representative and will bring together the different groups," said Abdel-Ghafour.

The decision boosts the chances of Abolfotoh but highlights the split among the Islamist vote in the coming election. The Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, is being supported by a group of leading clerics while other Salafi groups have yet to back a candidate.