CAIRO -- Egypt's reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei withdrew from the presidential race Saturday, saying a fair election is impossible under the military's grip nearly a year after Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Many fear that the ruling generals will push through a candidate of their own to preserve their power.
The Nobel Peace laureate's pullout is a slap to the military and the credibility of its plans for Egypt's transition. He was seen as the most pro-revolution of the candidates and the strongest advocate of deep change in a country long under autocratic rule. His participation, therefore, gave a degree of legitimacy to the military-run election process.
But in a statement Saturday, ElBaradei made clear that he saw no hope that the presidential election due by the end of June would bring a real end to the military's rule, and he added a sharp criticism that the military has behaved as if Mubarak's regime never fell.
"I had said from the start that my conscience will not allow me to run for president or any official position unless there is a real democratic framework, that upholds the essence of democracy and not only its form," said ElBaradei, 69.
The military council, headed by Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years, "has insisted on going down the same old path, as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen," he said.
ElBaradei's decision could energize the anti-military protest movement, which has been in disarray and has failed to present a unified alternative path to a transition to democracy.
In a meeting with ElBaradei after his announcement, some activists expressed hope that he was now stepping forward to become a forceful, crystallizing leader for the movement.
In an apparent attempt to keep the move from helping fuel anti-military protests ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, the military council asked ElBaradei not to announce his decision until later, a person close to ElBaradei said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private interaction.
Many of those who organized the protests feel that the military is keeping the structure of Mubarak's regime and its own power in place.