Hosni Mubarak Image Credit: AP

Cairo: In his first comment on a potential bid for presidency by Egypt's Nobel laureate Mohammad Al Baradei, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said that there are no curbs on the ex-chief of the UN nuclear watchdog's engagement in the nation's political life.

"But he has to do this in line with the constitution and join any political party he chooses," Egyptian newspapers yesterday quoted Mubarak as saying at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Asked by a German reporter on Thursday if Egyptians are treating Al Baradei as a national hero, Mubarak said: "Egypt does not need a national hero because the Egyptians people are the real national heroes."

Hero's welcome

Al Baradei, 67, returned to Egypt on February 19 where he received a hero's welcome from reformists. Days later, he launched a coalition for change composed of 30 activists across Egypt's political spectrum.

Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, has yet to say if he will seek a sixth term when his current tenure ends next year.

Under Egypt's current constitution, presidential hopefuls have to be leading members of political parties, which have been in existence for at least five years. Independent contenders like Al Baradei have to be endorsed by at least 250 members of the parliament and local councils dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Al Baradei has already said he will not join any political party, and is pushing for removing constitutional restrictions on independent candidates for presidency.

Meanwhile, Al Baradei is the target of an alliance of low-profile opposition political parties, which have this week started a public mock trial of him. "We have decided to hold this trial because American public opinion is now demanding to bring George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Al Baradei to justice for what they did in Iraq," said Ala'a Abdul Azeem, a senior member of the Republic Party, a small Egyptian political party. "So it would be better if Al Baradei is tried in Egypt," he added.


The trial, which was postponed until March 30 when Al Baradei returns home from an overseas tour, was held at a rally with anti-Al Baradei banners reading: "No to presidential nominees supported by the US and Israel".

"The media hype, which accompanied Al Baradei's homecoming, falsely portrayed him as having a magic wand," said Sami Hejazi, the chairman of the Umma (Nation) Party, another member of the alliance.

"He is the product of a Zionist, US hands."

Opponents to Al Baradei at the trial accuse him of inciting the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and turning a blind eye to Israel's suspicious nuclear programme. He is also accused of fomenting political instability in Egypt.
"Al Baradei was invited to show up at the trial to defend himself. But he did not attend and left for abroad because he knows that his stance is weak and that he has nothing but empty slogans," said Ahmad Jebeili, the chairman of the Democratic People's Party.