It's hard not to be just a little excited about the potential of Mohamed ElBaradei, who has spurred the creation of a Facebook group with over 100,000 members and round-the-clock coverage of his every word in the Egyptian blogosphere, to shake up Egyptian politics. ElBaradei has done a number of things right since his return to Egypt: He has delivered a cogent criticism of the Egyptian government in television interviews, he has met with youth activists, and he has formed the National Front for Change, an umbrella organization to push for constitutional reform.
The problem is that it remains unclear what role ElBaradei envisions for himself in this new movement. Is he going to travel across Egypt, holding rallies and raising public support for constitutional reform? Is he going to play a personal role in the day-to-day affairs of the reform movement, even when it inspires the inevitable government crackdown if it gains momentum? That seems unlikely. ElBaradei is only in Egypt for a ten-day period; enough time for a vacation, but not enough to plant the seeds for a revolution. In the worst case scenario, he will be a sort of absentee father for the Egyptian opposition -- materializing sporadically for landmark events, but failing to provide the sort of frequent attention needed to unify and revitalize the anti-Mubarak coalition.
Issandr Amrani refers to ElBaradei as the "unpolitician," more interested in reforming Egypt's political structures than assuming office himself. Of course, it's important for politicians to be invested in ideas beyond their personal career advancement. But, if the ElBaradei phenomenon fails to live up to its initial enthusiasm, part of the blame must go to the utter lack of ego exhibited by the man at the center of the movement. There's a reason most politicians are the way they are -- glad-handing, manipulative, and ambitious -- and it's because these qualities are useful for getting what they want. In the case of Egypt, ElBaradei is not just calling for the amendment of a few laws, he's calling for a constitutional revolution. Revolutionaries are rarely so coy about their intentions -- and they are never so polite.