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It’s safe to say that the countdown has officially begun. This year’s parliamentary elections will pave the way for the presidential elections in 2011, drawing clearer image of what to expect the following year.

But until then, it doesn’t need a genius to pinpoint the ills plaguing our opposition, supposedly those at the frontline of the battle for change. No single coalition seems to hold its original members for more than six months, regardless of the idea that first brings them together. Popular movements lose momentum almost instantly. Political parties are either too inconsequential to make a difference or are waist deep in internal conflicts between power hungry ‘politicians’, concerned with nothing more but their share of an imaginary power pie. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, whose solid structure and strong social presence had once refuted any allegations of internal rifts, is now seeing these rifts materialize and spiral out of control.

That’s on the institutional level.

On the more individual one, there isn’t a single charismatic leader that enjoys the approval of the majority, at least among the circles of politicians and journalists closely following the rickety non-ruling-party political scene. In fact, it seems that it’s only those in these small circles of activists, politicians and pseudo politicians, journalists and few interested intellects that actually know any names of Egypt’s opposition landscape.

Even with the remote possibility of those opposition figures putting aside their not-so-grave differences (or should I dare say personal interests) to stand behind one candidate from amongst their ranks, this specific candidate would find it extremely difficult to reach out to those outside the aforementioned circles, to find the mass appeal so desperately needed to propel drastic political changes.

That’s why Mohamed ElBaradie is perfect for the job; he has the star power that most of our opposition lack. Yes star power; like the entertainment industry, politics is all about star power. He has the mass appeal required for any candidate to challenge the current rulers and advocates pretty much the same political platform promoted by the opposition.

That’s why it was surprising that many opposition politicians and political parties opposed his emergence on the scene with the same enmity in which the government launched its attack on the Nobel Peace Prize winner, often with false unfounded accusations.

(Un)fortunately, the man is not running for president; the terms he had put for himself as requirements to such endeavor were clear from the very first media interview. The terms, most notably constitutional changes and guarantees of the integrity of the elections, are unlikely to materialize in Egypt in these two years. ElBaradie, like one writer put it, is on his way to be Egypt’s leading dissident, not future presidential candidate.

Supporting ElBaradie doesn’t mean supporting Mubarak’s next presidential opponent; it’s uniting behind one man that has the potential of greasing the wheels of change, setting them in motion.

He arrives today (Friday, Feb. 19) at 3 pm, and plans have been set for a grand reception the Cairo International Airport; not by the government of course, but by popular movements advocating change. This doesn’t mean that the government is not involved; in addition talks of extra security measures to control or thwart the grand reception, there are reports of financial gains. One news agency said they were asked to pay LE 1,000 to gain access to airport to take photos; something automatically granted by their press pass.

For more about ElBaradie read Alaa El-Aswany’s column in Shorouk or its translation by my friends at The Boursa Exchange.

Also, here’s a superb cartoon by my dear friend Tarek Shahin about ElBaradie’s arrival.