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UN diplomat drops out of Egypt’s presidential race

ElBaradei says move protests military power

‘My conscience does not permit me to run . . . unless it is within a real democratic system,’ said Mohamed ElBaradei.

CAIRO - Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-prize winning UN diplomat who helped galvanize the demands for democracy here, said yesterday that he was dropping his presidential bid in protest over the military’s continued hold on power nearly a year after the ouster of the strongman Hosni Mubarak.

“The former regime did not fall,’’ ElBaradei said in a statement, arguing that the military council that took power in the name of the revolution had instead proved to be an extension of the Mubarak government. “My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a real democratic system.’’

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On the eve of the anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising that forced Mubarak from power, ElBaradei’s announcement may help rally support for the protests planned for that day to demand the exit of the ruling military council.

Awarded the Nobel peace prize for his work as chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei is a widely admired and influential figure here, especially among liberals, and he was perhaps the only one to predict the Egyptian revolution in the weeks before its outbreak. His exit from the presidential race could also open the way for an endorsement that would strengthen the hand of another contender.

Activists here have speculated for months that ElBaradei might throw his support behind a candidate like Abdel Moneim Aboul el-Fotouh, a charismatic former top official of the Muslim Brotherhood who calls himself a liberal Islamist.

In practical terms, ElBaradei’s decision to drop out of the race was also a bow to the long odds he faced. Polls showed that many Egyptians harbored doubts about him. The years he spent in Western capitals as an international diplomat raised questions about his authenticity as an Egyptian, and he continued to travel extensively even after his return to Egypt. And the parliamentary elections set to conclude in the coming days, in which moderate and ultraconservative Islamists won about 70 percent of the seats, have illuminated the small base of support for secular-seeming Western-style liberals like ElBaradei.

He has criticized the military-led transition since it began last February, in part because of the military’s jumbled timetable for drafting a constitution and electing a president. Under the current plan, candidates are expected to begin campaigning for president even before the drafting of a new constitution that will define the duties, powers, and requirements of the office.

The document is expected to be submitted to a referendum on the eve of the presidential election, by the end of June, while the military council is still in power. The council has repeatedly sought to use its control of the interim government to influence the drafting of the constitution in order to preserve special powers and privileges even after the election of civilian leaders.

In his statement yesterday, ElBaradei blasted what he called the inept stewardship of the interim government. “The randomness and the mismanagement of the transitional period are pushing the country away from the aims of the revolution,’’ he said.

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