All posts by Barbara Crossette

UPDATED: Appointment of ElBaradei, Egyptian Nobelist, Looking Unlikely

Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian Nobelist and ex-UN diplomat, supported the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt's army.

With a dramatic announcement that the 2011 Egyptian revolution had been relaunched, Mohamed ElBaradei, a civilian opposition leader and a former United Nations official who won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, publicly aligned himself with the Egyptian Army on July 3, backing its overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

Then, in swiftly changing events, ElBaradei was designated interim prime minister of Egypt on July 6 by the recently appointed president, Adly Mahmud Mansour. Later on July 6, there appeared to have been hurdles confirming ElBaradei’s new position, and his possible advancement is now thrown into serious doubt. On July 7, the ultraconservative Egyptian party, Salafist Nour, countered ElBaradei’s appointment, saying he was too divisive for Egypt. Latest accounts said that ElBaradei could become vice president.

ElBaradei is decidedly on the other end of the political spectrum not only from Salafist Nour but also from the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s affiliation — leading an alliance of liberal and left-wing parties, the National Salvation Front.

ElBaradei’s support of Morsi’s ouster was bold though perhaps not an unexpected step for him. He is a scholar of international law as well as a weapons expert who has been a strong voice in support of a more liberal, secular government in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago.

ElBaradei was initially considered a potential presidential candidate to challenge Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but he withdrew from contention in the face of the power of Morsi’s following and the disunity of the opposition.

Leader of the Constitution Party, ElBaradei spent much of his life outside Egypt in diplomatic or UN service, and had at first been accused by many Egyptians of being out of touch with his own country when he returned to Cairo as protests against Mubarak’s military-backed regime began to grow, leading to its overthrow. Now, two and a half years later, ElBaradei was asking the army to step in and “protect the souls” of the Egyptian people.

ElBaradei, whose father was a prominent Egyptian lawyer and president of the Egyptian Bar Association, was born in Cairo in 1942. He received his first law degree from Cairo University and a doctorate in international law from New York University School of Law in 1974. His adviser at the university, the late Thomas M. Franck, a leading international law specialist, said in an interview with me in 2004 that there was only one word to describe ElBaradei: “Brilliant.”

Franck added that besides his scholarly achievements, his former student also developed into a skilled diplomat early in his career. After earning his doctorate, ElBaradei returned to the Egyptian foreign service, where he had worked before enrolling at New York University. Franck recommended that he be assigned to UN headquarters as a senior research fellow. By 1984, ElBaradei, by then a recognized specialist in arms control and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, was named legal counsel to Hans Blix, the formidable director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna.

In 1993, ElBaradei became assistant director of international relations for the agency; in 1997, he succeeded Blix as the agency’s director-general for a four-year term. He was reappointed to a second term by the board in 2001, amid controversy and rumors that the American government was attempting to block his continued service.

ElBaradei’s relations with Washington were not always smooth. In particular, there were differences over how to handle Muammar el-Qaddafi, the former Libyan leader, who agreed to dismantle a developing nuclear weapons system late in 2003. UN officials said that the United States wanted to control the process and tried to undermine ElBaradei, as they had undermined and tried to discredit Blix in the months before the  2003 American invasion of Iraq. Blix had been head of the Iraqi disarmament program for the UN and wanted more time to carry out inspections in Iraq before the US acted.

ElBaradei has also been credited with taking an independent line on Iran, whereby working with Europeans, he could gain entrance to more nuclear facilities through diplomatic perseverance. ElBaradei had proved to be adept at dealing with “difficult people,” Franck said.

If ElBaradei emerges as a political leader or force behind the scenes in this yet-again tumultuous period in Egypt, his relations with the US will be watched closely by many in the Middle East and Europe. An internationalist fluent in English, ElBaradei is the cosmopolitan face of Egypt, but he could also bring to the table the same strong personality and sense of purpose that gave him the independence for which he was known a decade ago — and for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2005 with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The award was bestowed for ElBaradei’s efforts, the Nobel citation said, “to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.” On that issue, President Barack Obama and ElBaradei are on the same page.

[This article was updated on July 6 and July 7.]

This story was first published in PassBlue. We have their permission to republish.

From Wole Soyinka: A Manifesto for Africa, By Barbara Crossette

Prof Wole Soyinka

The Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, winner of Africa’s first Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, has published a new book calling for urgent action by Africans to save themselves from the threat of Islamic extremism, against which corrupt regimes seem unable protect the tolerance and spiritual strength of traditional cultures.

“If Africa falls to the will of the fanatic, then the insecurity of the world should be accepted as its future and permanent condition,” he wrote. “There are no other options.”

The book, titled “Of Africa,” brings together other provocative issues Soyinka has addressed over the years, including what he sees as a corrosive failure of Africans’ failure to admit to their historical role as enablers of the slave trade. But the immediacy of thejihadist threat is his more current focus.

Alarmed at the extremists of Boko Haram spreading terror in the northern reaches of his own country, Soyinka is also deeply moved by the crisis in Mali, where extremists who have overrun wide regions of an already foundering nation are destroying unique architectural treasures, including the tombs of Muslim saints and ancient libraries inTimbuktu, which Unesco recently declared a World Heritage site in danger.

Soyinka is a member Unesco’s “international high panel” of advisers. In September, he delivered a dire warning to a United Nations conference on the culture of peace and nonviolence: “Today it is the heritage and humanity of Timbuktu,” he said. “And tomorrow? The African continent must take back Mali – not later, but right now. The cost of further delay will be incalculable and devastating.”

West African regional leaders have recently agreed to deploy 3,300 soldiers to Mali to retake the north from the Islamist extremists in a plan to be presented later this month to the Security Council. France, a permanent member of the council, led the impetus to request regional action.

“Of Africa” is provocative on several fronts. Soyinka is contemptuous of what he believes venal, power-hungry and ideologically muddled post-colonial leaders have done to Africa, noting how Asian countries with a similar colonial past – he mentions Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – soared ahead of their African cousins after independence under good political leadership.

Instead, Africa has Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, under indictment by the International Criminal Court, and his janjaweed militia in Darfur, which Soyinka calls the Ku Klux Klan of Africa. Perhaps most controversial is his chiding if not excoriation of Africans for not being anguished and apologetic about  their enabling role over centuries in the capture and sale of slaves, a thriving business for local middlemen that predated the trans-Atlantic trade, as Africans were exported to North Africa and the Middle East, leaving behind black ghettos as far afield as Iraq.

Moreover, slavery has not ended, he wrote, shielded by denial and “the mangy catechism of impunity.” Soyinka, 78, educated in Nigeria and Britain, has also spent long periods of time in the United States, where his large body of satirical, comic or philosophical works for the stage is well known – plays that include “The Swamp Dwellers,” “Death and the King’s Horseman” and “Madmen and Specialists.” Also a poet and memoirist, he has always been an outspoken critic of people and events, which at one point in 1967, during the Nigerian civil war over the Biafra region, got him arrested for his antigovernment writing and speaking. He was a political prisoner for 22 months.

“Of Africa” reflects this outspokenness. On the subject of Africa’s complicity in the horrific slave trade, he wrote that “while the rest of the world– the Japanese, the Europeans, the Americans, and possibly now, haltingly, the Turks – is redressing history, commemorating the termination of a shameful past, expressing remorse for such a past . . . the very opposite, an atavistic assertiveness, is in the ascendant on the African continent in the twenty-first century.”

“In the hundreds of thousands,” Soyinka added, today’s slave catchers are still overrunning ancient settlements, burning crops, slaughtering cattle, poisoning wells, raping mothers in front of their children, girl pupils in front of their teachers, fathers and mothers, pulverizing villages and eradicating cultures.”

They are, he noted, “defiant of world censure [and] in total confidence of immunity.” Throughout Soyinka’s book, which reads like a manifesto for Africans to right themselves and build on their inherent strengths, the author, despite his birth into a Christian family, returns again and again to the Yoruba culture and Orisa religion on the west coast of Nigeria as a satisfying model. He calls it “a paradigm of spirituality for virtually every corner of the continent.”

Many Africans might take exceptions to that blanket claim, though understanding or accepting Soyinka’s argument that traditional beliefs are often tolerant, not prescriptive about personal life, and were conceived to relate people to their environment and the spirits (some of them practical and useful gods) who inhabit it.

“Africa is filled with religions that point the way to the harmonization of faiths,” Soyinka wrote. “The essence of Orisa is the antithesis of tyranny, bigotry and dictatorship.” Therein lies wisdom, he insisted.

But is it an answer, an antidote in the contemporary world, to the scourge of fanaticism? A way out of the violence and fractiousness of Africa? Soyinka never really makes that case. In the end, his book, after wandering through a good deal of history and commentary, has drifted from the here-and-now of intolerant, armed jihadism to something close to an imagined utopia, far from the dust and death of Mali.  

“Of Africa,” by Wole Soyinka; 0300140460

This article was first published in PASSBLUE. We have their permission to republish.