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Something fishy is going on in Egypt

Today, Egyptians marked the start of spring by celebrating an ancient tradition, Sham el-Nessim, a non-denominational public holiday of Pharaonic origin. Sham el-Nessim is a time for rebirth and "smelling the breezes."

Spring may be in the air, but so is the stench of rotten fish.

One popular Sham el-Nassim custom is eating feseekh, a salted and aged mullet fish. Feseekh is a local delicacy, and is to Sham el-Nessim as turkey is to Thanksgiving, except that the old fish reeks like putrid roadkill.

 But locals swear by it, despite the fact that Sunni Islam’s highest religious authority – the Al-Azhar mosque and university in downtown Cairo – issued a fatwa against eating feseekh last year. The majority of Muslims continue to eat it, saying that - regardless of the smell –feseekh isn’t rotten at all.

But rotten fish is not the only thing blowing in Egypt’s "breezes".

The political winds in Egypt appear to be shifting, as momentum continues to build around the National Coalition for Change led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the non-candidate who is looking more and more like a candidate everyday.

Egyptians seeking change are desperately hoping ElBaradei will face off against President Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 presidential elections, and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency seems to be answering their call.

This weekend, ElBaradei spent a day visiting the northern delta city of Mansoura, drawing a crowd of over 1,000 supporters on the streets. ElBaradei’s local star power is growing, as this video recorded in Mansoura shows.

What’s really fishy, however, is that the Mubarak regime has not directly confronted ElBaradei’s growing movement yet.

Mubarak, like other authoritarian leaders around the world, is not known for letting the opposition move around unheeded. Even the smallest political gatherings require permission from Egypt’s government, though approval rarely ever comes through. Earlier this year, dozens of members (including senior leadership) of the Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal but somewhat tolerated opposition group, were rounded up and jailed in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this summer.

ElBaradei’s international reputation is the most likely reason that a non-candidate with over 200,000 followers on Facebook is able to march freely around Egypt’s countryside, holding what appear to be political rallies, without being outwardly challenged by Mubarak’s security forces.

But will the calm last? Not likely.

In fact, the regime has already started to fight back. This weekend, security forces arrested an ElBaradei backer and publisher of a book entitled “ElBaradei And The Dream of The Green Revolution.” The man’s offices were raided and his computer confiscated.

The publisher has already been released, just in time to celebrate Sham el-Nassim.

Still, the regime appears to be sending a strong signal to ElBaradei and his growing momentum: we see what is happening and we are not happy.