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ElBaradei leaves Cairo ... for now

The former nuclear watchdog chief is most-talked-about critic — and potential rival — of Hosni Mubarak.

But drawing on the support of average Egyptians is the only way to create the national momentum the association needs in order to successfully pressure the state to change the constitution.

That might prove to be a difficult feat. “This seems to be a very Cairo-based movement,” says Stacher. “The challenges are expanding it to be a real nationwide movement, penetrating the villages, provincial towns and provincial capitals and really drawing on a grassroots basis … they’re going to have to set up networks of communication, they’re going to have to have developed pretty sophisticated ways to get their message across and the state’s going to be there the whole time, harassing people and throwing people in jail.”

It appears the regime will fight to the death, most likely the death of the opposition. In the past, the government has successfully chipped away at other pro-democratic reform movements and potential challengers using a variety of tactics with high rates of success.

Throwing supporters in jail, charging people with tax evasion, routinely detaining opposition figures and subjecting them to torture are just a few of the tools the regime has used in the past and will likely use again.

Stacher believes it will be worse for those who dare to publicly support ElBaradei than for the candidate himself. “ElBaradei they can’t really touch, he is an international figure, but they can go after his network, relentlessly,” he said.

Experts agree the only way to survive the projected onslaught will be to really galvanize the opposition and keep them together. “The major challenge is to be able to hold steadfast, to find some degree of consensus and unanimity amongst themselves over issues that matter the most and how to actually execute. Without those three components it’s going to be very difficult for this coalition to move forward,” says Iskandar.

The state has already launched public attempts to discredit ElBaradei; state-controlled media has repeatedly suggested he is not Egyptian enough after having lived abroad for the last quarter-century. And although its hard to tell in country with no opinion polling whether or not the state-sponsored character assassination will work, it will certainly have an effect.

“If it’s redundant, and it’s repetitive and it’s frequent and it’s drilled there’s a tendency to believe it, and I think without an opposing course that would critique this negative press that ElBaradei is getting, he may very well lose a substantial portion of what could have been his popular base,” says Iskandar.

But despite the challenges, members of ElBaradei’s coalition remain hopeful for the prospect for change.

“ElBaradei for me is a candle in the dark,” says Ahmed Salah, leading member of Six of April Youth, an anti-Mubarak protest group that is supporting ElBaradei’s right to run. “We need someone with his weight, with his status, with his reputation, to come in this stillwater pool and move the water, giving back light to some of the people who have lost all hope.”

Hope is one thing, creating change is another. With the deck stacked against them, it appears ElBaradei and his supporters will have a long way to go before accomplishing the latter.