ElBaradei coaxes Egypt's propaganda machine into action

ElBaradei coaxes Egypt's propaganda machine into action
Comment: After years out of the limelight, ElBaradei's return has triggered a new defamation campaign to discredit him, and anyone associated with the 25 January Revolution, writes Mohamed ElMeshad.
5 min read
16 Jan, 2017
ElBaradei refused to corroborate reports that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction [AFP]

The time that saw Mohamed ElBaradei honoured in Egypt as an elder statesman, arriving to bolster the 2011 uprising with his gravitas and global network, now seems an age ago.

Six years down the line, much has changed for him as he gave his first televised interview in almost three years. The interview caused pro-regime figures in the media to erupt in an illogical storm of anger, apparently over the mere fact that he had chosen to speak, before he had even said anything.

After the revolution, ElBaradei had been running the gamut of Egyptian politics, experiencing the vicissitudes that come with taking absolute moral or political positions (often prematurely and sometimes unsuccessfully).

Though back on the scene, it would be a lie to say that he emerged from his adventure back home unscathed - as is the case with almost every major figure from the 18 days.

In addition, he stands in the precarious position of not only having lost a significant portion of his support from opponents of the current regime, but also the regime's current propaganda machine is attempting to reap the fruits of seeds planted long ago in an elaborate, long-winded defamation campaign against him.

As a Nobel Prize winner, and veteran public servant in the foreign service, he had for years been widely lauded as a source of pride for all Egyptians.

As a Nobel prize winner, and veteran public servant in the foreign service, he had for years been widely lauded as a source of pride for all Egyptians

He gained political cachet for speaking truth to the powerful, with his seeming defiance of the US during his investigation of Iran's nuclear programme in 2004 as well as his refusal to corroborate reports that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the previous year.

Upon his arrival in Egypt in the Arab Spring, journalists waited for him at the airport, and continued to follow him everywhere; in the streets, at Friday prayers, at protests, in Tahrir and elsewhere.

Read More:Explosive ElBaradei interview sparks furious backlash in Egypt

Protestors celebrated him, while detractors were at a loss as to how they could discredit a man they had been consistently praising for nearly a decade.

The counter-narrative however began with the proliferation of a defamation campaign, making unsubstantiated claims that he was in fact responsible for the Iraq War. It also latched on to the fact that he lived abroad, as proof positive that he was part of the international conspiracy against Egypt, despite the fact that he was often there as a representative of the Egyptian government or as a revered international statesman. This whisper campaign set the scene for further attacks.

A distasteful and dizzying sequence of events unfolded over the next few years: From the Brotherhood's unfortunate year in power, leading to the demonstrations on 30 June 2013, Sisi's ascension to power and the Rabaa Massacre - ElBaradei went from hero, to community organizer, to contentious politician, to a member of a militaristic regime, and then a conscientious objector (as a result of what happened in Rabaa).

ElBaradei's re-emergence from the abyss to shed some light on events he witnessed first hand, will be an interesting one

Joining the Sisi regime as vice president, was a lose-lose situation. When he did decide to step down, for some the damage had already been done by his role in legitimising the incoming regime.

Those who supported the Sisi regime saw it as an opportunity to employ the whisper campaign and discredit ElBaradei as ultimately a western operative. Sensing this, ElBaradei chose to stay away from the limelight for a while, for realistically, he had no choice.

He would contend that he had always acted in accordance with his conscience, something that is not too difficult to assert. But at a time when the Egyptian public by and large needed steadfast leadership, solidarity and courage, like many other figures from the revolution, he fell just short.

While it's true that the political climate at the time was difficult to read, it fell to him to manage people's expectations and to let them know that he would step up to the mark. He did not do it. Given this context, ElBaradei's re-emergence from the abyss to shed some light on events he witnessed first hand, will be an interesting one.  

The campaign by this regime's media propaganda machine to bring him down is a clear indication that no form dissent will be tolerated

His interviews about his time as an Egyptian diplomat, as head of the IAEA and also as a first hand witness to the Egyptian revolution, is an important testimony for many Egyptians wanting to make sense of the current political climate, and the functioning of the current regime.

The fact that he is willing to speak openly about the current situation and the prospect of authoritarianism has put in place what seems like a years-old plan to discredit him for what he might say.

As the first interview in the series aired, before he had even delved into his experiences in post-revolutionary Egypt, some MPs were already calling for him to be tried for treason and for his citizenship to be revoked.

Worse still, leaked wiretapped conversations between him and the then Chief of the General Staff of the Army, Sami Anan were played all over Egyptian media. It is not the first time an ElBaradei wiretapped private call has been used to discredit him, but it is solid evidence that security forces are colluding in this campaign to discredit the man.

ElBaradei does not single-handedly represent the Egyptian revolution, he is just part of the tapestry that put together the greatest 18 days for an entire generation of Egyptians.

The campaign by this regime's media propaganda machine to bring him down and attack the mere notion that he might be honest about his experiences, is a clear indication that not only is any form of dissent not tolerated, but that there is a concerted, violent campaign to control any form of discussion of present day politics in the country.

But perhaps most worrying of all, is the obvious intent to discredit any person or entity tied to the 25 January Revolution.

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He extensively worked in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US. Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ book, Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.