Cairo: Egypt's reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday he is pulling out of the country's presidential race to protest the military's failure to put the country on the path to democracy.
The 69-year-old Nobel laureate, who has been seen as a driving force behind the movement that forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down, said in a statement that the conditions for a fair presidential election are not in place.
ElBaradei said the military rulers who took over from Mubarak have governed "as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen."
His decision to pull out of the race just days before the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising reflects the dilemma in which Egypt's revolutionary movement finds itself — caught between a military that they say is trying to hold on to power, and a newly-elected parliament dominated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood which revolutionaries fear will give the generals what they want and radicalize society.
The military rulers have said they will transfer power after presidential elections, to be held before the end of June. But many expect a fierce struggle over the military's future privileges.
ElBaradei, who said he intends to work with youth groups from outside the system to push for democracy and social justice, echoed fears that the military would not give up power to future elected rulers.
"I reviewed the best ways to serve the goals of the revolution in light of this reality, and I found none within the official framework, including (running for) the presidency," he said.
"I had said from the start that my conscience will not allow me to run for president or any official position unless there is a real democratic framework, that upholds the essence of democracy and not only its form."
ElBaradei has grown critical of the military rulers management of the transition, at times saying it was "royally" mishandled. He had said he tried to advise them but grew impatient with what many said were the generals' desire to monopolize decision making and focus on maintaining their interests.
Popular presidential candidate Amr Moussa said he hoped ElBaradei would continue his efforts to rebuild Egypt.
"I regret ElBaradei's withdrawal from the race, and I value his role and participation in the developments that Egypt has witnessed recently," Moussa said on his Twitter account.
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose associated political party looks poised to take more than 40 percent of the seats in the next parliament, has also indicated that it might not field a candidate.
But with the largest share of parliamentary seats, the Brotherhood is set to dominate the process by which a committee that will be entrusted with the writing of the country's new constitution is picked — a situation that some liberals and youth groups fear will produce a bargain in which the army continues to control the executive power, but allows conservative Islamists to control the writing of the constitution.
ElBaradei had strongly advocated that the constitution be written prior to elections. Many revolutionaries say that the first free vote after decades of dictatorship is unlikely to yield a truly representative parliament, and advocated a constitutional committee made up of delegates of political parties, universities, labor unions, and other institutions.
ElBaradei admitted the protest movement was in dire straits, but blamed its current malaise on the military's failure to respond to its demands. He urged the youth to continue their peaceful protests.
"The youth are the ones who will rebuild this country," he said. "They are the dream, the hope."
In a video released later, ElBaradei said the transition period has been "deformed" by the military generals.
"To have total change, we must work from outside the system, to work freely, with flexibility that is needed to build a sound political system."
After years spent abroad, ElBaradei returned to Egypt in 2010 and his call for change quickly became a rallying point for Mubarak's opponents. Youth groups supported his candidacy for presidency back then, at the time when either Mubarak or his son was expected to contest the vote.
Months before the popular uprising that forced Mubarak out of power, ElBaradei said the regime would only step down in the face of massive protests.
Many have criticized ElBaradei's low profile in the street demonstrations since the Jan. 25 revolution, saying that he failed to seize the momentum to act as the forceful leader of an uprising that began without one, but soon found that it needed a figure to unify and guide it. Many of his supporters and opponents alike thought he would not stand a chance in a presidential race, especially one against a military-backed candidate.
His decision to stand down from elections, and thus — in the revolutionaries' eyes — to not play the army's game, may restore some of his standing.
Presidential hopeful Ayman Nour supported ElBaradei's decision, saying it was a "positive shock" to the nation, and a new push for the revolutionary groups to demand more radical changes.
Activist and blogger Omar elhady wrote on his Twitter account: "ElBaradei's withdrawal proves he is a respectable and devoted man. I had stopped supporting him as president a while back. Now I see him as a national leader above official positions, and feared by presidents."
First Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012, 23:04