One of the world’s longest running authoritarian regimes was bracing itself for a challenge this evening, as the former UN nuclear weapons chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, returned to a hero’s welcome in Egypt having vowed to fight for change.
More than 1,000 supporters converged at Cairo International airport to greet the 67-year-old who stepped down as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year. He is seen as a potential challenger to the three-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak in next year’s elections.
Waving flags and banners and singing patriotic songs under the watchful eye of the security services — who had warned protesters to stay away — the crowd called on ElBaradei to declare his candidacy for head of state.
ElBaradei, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2005, has indicated that he would consider running for the presidency if conditions were sufficiently free and fair.
Many analysts believe the 81-year-old incumbent Mubarak has been preparing to transfer power to his son, Gamal. ElBaradei’s unexpected intervention, according to prominent columnist Fahmy Howeidy, has “upset those carefully-orchestrated plans”.