So much for Mohammed ElBaradei's presidential run.
That the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency wouldn't seek Egypt's presidency in next year's elections had become such a foregone conclusion that his announcement to that effect -- in an interview with a German news agency on Monday -- scarcely made a blip on Mideast news sites.
When ElBaradei, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, returned to his native country earlier this year to join the opposition movement, it raised the spirits of many Egyptians and injected life into a political scene that for three decades has been dominated by aging strongman Hosni Mubarak. With Mubarak in ill health and reportedly grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, ElBaradei's emergence figured to make next year's elections the most competitive in years.
In April, The New Yorker's Joshua Hammer wrote about meeting moth men and pronounced:
The 2011 Presidential race now looks to be a confrontation between a popular outsider with few resources and a youthful insider who can rely on the ruling party’s infrastructure, wealth, and coercive power.
What a difference seven months makes. Gamal Mubarak has yet to claim the ruling party's mantle; last month a senior official said that the elder Mubarak would seek a sixth term in 2011.
ElBaradei, meanwhile, found very little political space in which to maneuver. He urged fellow opposition members to boycott this month's parliamentary polls, calling them a sham, but the leading opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, decided to contest them anyway. The Brotherhood decided that fielding candidates was the surest way to keep its political base energized because, under Egypt's three-decade emergency law, most overt political activities are banned.
To many opposition figures, ElBaradei's boycott figured to achieve little because the rest of the world already knows Egypt's elections aren't democratic. ElBaradei is a political rookie and there was widespread speculation that if he tried to wage a public campaign he might be arrested. So while a Facebook group called "ElBaradei for Presidency of Egypt 2011" counts more than 246,000 members, and he has used his Twitter page to encourage young activists, his support inside Egypt is extremely questionable. Mubarak's return for a sixth presidential term seems all but assured.
To hear him tell it, ElBaradei didn't see himself as a standard-bearer, only as a vehicle for change. "I never wanted to run anyway," he said. "I only want Egypt to achieve true democracy."
My colleague Miret today called ElBaradei "a shooting star" - he flew in with excitement and promise but, at least for now, appears to have been snuffed out by the strictures of Mubarak's Egypt. It was never going to be easy to change this system. But one wonders what ElBaradei will do for his next act.