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Mohamed El Baradei, the Inspector

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
May 6, 2011
New York Times


The Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has stated his intention to “nominate myself” to be president of Egypt, but this memoir will not improve his election prospects. In personal terms, it's hard to imagine anything less thrilling to Egypt's street revolutionaries than ElBaradei's accounts of his meals (“The food was very basic, with few choices: noodles, meat and kimchi; no fruit or salad”) and accommodations (“a worn, drab-colored suite consisting of a bedroom and a salon”) in places like North Korea. Nor will his fellow Egyptians be much intrigued by the details of his battles against nuclear proliferators. At the moment, the protestors have other priorities.

On the other hand, foreign policy leaders and wonks everywhere will find plenty in this memoir to stir debates about the most vital task for global survival — the need to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, especially to rogue states and terrorists.

That quest is ElBaradei's story. For decades he was an intimate participant in dramatic nuclear proliferation confrontations that dominated headlines. He served as a senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog and inspection arm, for 13 years (1984-97) before rising to its director-generalship in 1997. He resigned in 2009 after completing his third term and announced his interest in running against President Hosni Mubarak in the election scheduled for this year. In 2005, he and the agency were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their nonproliferation endeavors. Doubtless the Norwegian selectors, always ready to needle American hawks, also sought to reward his bold critique of the ­American-led war against Iraq, especially since they drew ill-tempered ripostes from top officials in the Bush administration, particularly “Dick Cheney and his faction.”

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