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Is Egypt on the brink?

In a time of political tumult, opposition's fledgling campaign draws fire.

To el-Hamalawy, ElBaradei is too much a part of the establishment — both domestically and internationally — to represent a clean enough break from the era of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981 but is believed to be in failing health.

“That’s the problem. That’s not a positive thing,” he said, discussing ElBaradei’s international credibility.

There is cause, though, for ElBaradei to advance his campaign cautiously. Egypt’s ruling party has a history of cracking down on opposition groups.

The last man to be heralded as an agent of change in Egypt saw just how relentless the government can be. Ayman Nour became something of a folk hero in Egypt, running an unabashedly anti-Mubarak presidential campaign in 2005 and coming in second with 7 percent of the vote. Three-and-a-half months later he was sentenced to five years in prison on fraud charges, evoking an outcry from the international community.

Nour and ElBaradei are very different men and very different candidates, but Nour’s story serves as a cautionary tale for any politician standing in opposition to the current government.

Despite disagreements within the ranks of the opposition, ElBaradei’s camp insists that the campaign is going as planned and says that disagreements within Egypt’s opposition are to be expected.

“In fact, we were not surprised by the reaction of many Egyptian opponents,” said Abdulrahman Yusuf, head of an online Facebook group aimed at boosting ElBaradei’s candidacy. “There are different agendas and there are conflicting ideologies. We are betting on the street and on the simple, ordinary Egyptian citizen who I think never let us down until now.”

With the presidential election planned for late 2011, ElBaradei has just over a year to win over his skeptics in the opposition, capture the imagination of the ordinary Egyptian citizen and deliver on the change so many are expecting from him.