Man of the moment? Of course Mohamed ElBaradei is. But man of the people, I have my doubts. Sitting in his garden easy chair he sometimes appears like a very friendly, shrewd and bespectacled mouse. He will not like that description, but this is a mouse, I suspect, with very sharp teeth.
It's almost a delight to dissect the bigger mice who work in the White House. "Do you remember how on the second day, all we heard was that they were 'monitoring the situation'.
"Then Secretary Clinton talks about 'the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people' and now they are talking about 'the smooth transition of power'... I think they know that Mubarak's days are numbered."
Sometimes, ElBaradei sounds too hopeful. He agrees that the best potential Egyptian leadership have all been exiled, deliberately of course. On a recent speaking engagement at Harvard, he found 15 Egyptians on the Harvard Board.
"I told them: If you come back, you can run Egypt." But it's not that simple. As ElBaradei admits: "It's an old story that ends: 'Mubarak is a friend of Israel and we think a change will bring a hostile government and an Iranian-type velayeh-fakhi (guidance by a supreme religious leader).
"I say this is like 'True Fiction'. You need to get rid of this 'True Fiction' about the Muslim Brotherhood and the hostility towards Israel. It is a fact that a durable peace can only be between democracies and not between dictators."
He says he is convinced Mubarak will go. He also says he believes the Egyptian army will not fight the Egyptian people, which is by no means certain. I suspect that, like me, ElBaradei isn't keen on armies.
"I think, ultimately, that the Egyptian army will be with the people. This is common sense when you see a couple of million people in the street who are representative of 85 million Egyptians who hate Mubarak. The army is part of the people. And at the end of the day, after anyone takes off his uniform, he is part of the people with the same problems and repression. And why should they shoot their people? To protect what?"
When Egypt lost the 1967 war, ElBaradei wrote: "A soldier fights because he defends something he wants to keep. But in the 1967 war, what was the Egyptian soldier fighting for? There was nothing. So they ran."
He talks about hypocrisy, dictatorship, criminal malfeasance, the darkest deeds of the Egyptian security services, the loyalty of the Egyptian army to the people in a high, astringent but deadly voice. No he doesn't want to be the president, but when I ask him if he might consider a transitional presidency for himself -- I receive a traditional reply. "If there's a consensus by all people to do whatever they think I can do for them. . . I will do that." Hmmm, I think.
"All this will continue to be the same until you address the plight of the Palestinians and policy in the region. We have this strange relationship where you are calling this peace but you cannot even publish an Israeli book here, or vice-versa. If you really want peace, yes, the peace can be made durable with democracy, but also you have your responsibility -- which is to review a balanced relationship. . . then you will have an Arab world which will be friendly to the West."
ElBaradei is mild when he speaks of Mubarak the man. He last saw him two years ago. "I would go to see him when I returned. It was a cordial relationship. I would tell him what I thought of this or that."
Much good did his advice do. He is outraged by the arson and looting. When I ask if state security policemen were behind the arson -- which is used by Mubarak and the US to "tag" those who demand Mubarak's departure with violence -- the mouse shows its teeth.
"They (the police) have taken off their uniforms and gone about looting. And everybody says that they have been ordered to do this by the regime or whatever.
"Now, as you can hear in the streets, people are not saying Mubarak should go, they are now saying he should be put on trial. If he wants to save his skin, he better leave."
My God, those teeth are sharp. (© Independent News Service)