ElBaradei denounces family photo smear campaign

Egypt's most serious presidential challenger has accused President Hosni Mubarak's government of posting Facebook photos of his daughter in a swimsuit in an attempt to discredit him, a local newspaper reported on Saturday.

Mohammed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former UN nuclear chief, was quoted in the independent  Al-Dostour newspaper as saying the government is "waging a campaign of sheer lies" in using the photos to portray him and his family as nonbelievers–a politically damaging accusation in an increasingly conservative Muslim country.

The album containing 33 photos was posted under the title: "Secrets of the ElBaradei family." Some show his daughter, Laila, accompanied by her husband, both in swimsuits at the beach and watching various events, seated in front of what appeared to be bottles of alcohol. Drinking is forbidden in Islam and conservative Muslims would generally consider a woman appearing publicly in a bathing suit to be immodest.

"This is typical and the only way this regime responds to those calling for democracy, political reforms, social justice and preserving people's human rights," ElBaradei was quoted as saying.

ElBaradei supporters dismissed the campaign as pathetic.

“When political competition goes in that direction, inevitably it’s because the other party is losing,” Naser Abdel Hamed, a member of ElBaradei’s National Association for Change (NAC) told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group and one of ElBaradei’s staunchest backers, have a rather different view.

Reporting on its English website, the group said, “Conservative Egyptian society will not tolerate having ElBaradei in power with such malicious behavior since this may dismiss and tarnish ElBaradei’s image in front of the Muslim population.”

The post also referred to speculations that the latest allegations might have been initiated by Egypt’s security forces to tarnish ElBaradei’s image.  “It may have also be a shot to weaken the stance of the popular political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports ElBaradei in his appeal for political change,” the organization said, stressing that “choosing a ruler whose criminal security apparatus focuses on beating and killing civilians, and who shows no regard for human rights, freedom or dignity is far more than dangerous than electing the father of a bikini-clad daughter.”

The full repercussions of the campaign are still to be felt, especially as Egypt’s parliamentary elections, in which the Brotherhood are expected to field around 150 candidates, are due to take place in two months.

So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to collect 648,431 signatures in support of ElBaradei’s demands for political change, which include ending the 29-year-old emergency law, empowering the judiciary along with civil society organizations to supervise the electoral process, and the provision of equal time on state media for all electoral candidates, especially those running in the presidential race.

On Wednesday, ElBaradei called on Egyptians to boycott the parliamentary elections in November. In a post on Twitter, he said a "total boycott of the elections and signing petitions are the first steps to unmasking this shameful democracy."

Government-controlled media have already tried to undermine him by describing him as out of touch with Egyptian society because he has lived abroad for many years, and by accusing him of being an American stooge.

The Facebook site, which was created by an anonymous user who claims to be a personal friend of Laila ElBaradei, also says that she is married to a Christian and shows a facsimile of what it purports is her real profile from the social networking site listing her religious status as “agnostic”.

By Saturday evening the internet site had drawn 941 fans. It also accuses ElBaradei himself of being atheist and of seeking to deceive Egyptians by touring mosques and being photographed praying.

Some of Egypt’s Salafi groups have also taken to questioning ElBaradei’s religious beliefs. They are followers of a strict Sunni Islamic movement that takes the pious ancestors, or "Salaf", of early Islam as exemplary models, and preaches strict adherence to the Quran and the sayings and deeds of Prophet Mohamed and his companions.

In April, Sheikh Saeed Abdel Azim, a prominent Alexandria-based Salafi cleric, condemned the 67-year-old reformist on the grounds that he had, allegedly, called for the abolition of the second article of Egypt’s Constitution which stipulates that “Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.”

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