This article was originally published in The Polytechnic.
Mohamed ElBaradei likes cheeseburgers—according to The Wall Street Journal, that is, which recently interviewed RPI’s own Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning Laban Coblentz about his work and personal relationship with ElBaradei. Coblentz worked with ElBaradei at the International Atomic Energy Agency prior to coming to RPI. His communications with ElBaradei had continued over the years and led him to influence ElBaradei’s push for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt.
Beginning in August 2000, Coblentz worked as a speechwriter and advisor to ElBaradei at IAEA; he had previously held the position of senior advisor to President Shirley Ann Jackson at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While working for ElBaradei, he traveled to countries such as Iraq and Iran and attended weapons inspections. Coblentz stated that the inspections were “helpful for communications work” because they allowed him a first-hand look at the process.
In 2005, ElBaradei and IAEA won a Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way” according to Nobelprize.org. After winning the peace prize, ElBaradei was frequently asked to speak on various topics, such as religion and “common values,” that led to Coblentz, his speechwriter, helping research such topics in depth.
Coblentz mentioned that ElBaradei “never sought the spotlight,” but his influence and experience with foreign leaders and political pressure prepared him to take on a leadership role in Cairo. In the past 14 months, ElBaradei learned how to use Twitter and Facebook to post updates about the conflict in Egypt.
Around the time that ElBaradei received the Peace Prize, Coblentz felt that ElBaradei should dictate his memoirs. Notes and news clippings were then collected for The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times, which will be released in April.
Coblentz stated that the goal was to write a book about policy “that people will read.” Coblentz helped ElBaradei dig for details, asking questions like, “What was the room like? Was he sitting? Was there food?” to bring a more “human effect” to the story.
Coblentz spent many nights helping write ElBaradei’s memoirs with the aid of an editor from Metropolitan Books, whose work Coblentz admires.
However, once the protests in Egypt started, they were forced to put the book on hold as ElBaradei left for Cairo. Despite an abundance of technical difficulties—the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt, a cell phone lost during the protests—ElBaradei managed to keep in touch with Coblentz, even communicating by fax.
Coblentz eventually suggested to ElBaradei that he write an Op-Ed article; however, ElBaradei declined because he felt overwhelmed by the chaos from the protests. ElBaradei eventually decided to write the article and it was published in The New York Times shortly after Mubarak stated in his speech on February 10 that he would not step down as president. The article, which Coblentz said he helped craft, tells about ElBaradei’s experience growing up in Cairo’s repressive regime and the “dramatic change” he experienced coming to the United States. ElBaradei also describes in his article his hopes for Egypt: that they will replace their current repressive constitution with a new “provisional Constitution” and instate a “three-person presidential council and transitional government of national unity” with one member representing the military.
“It’s been tough. I’ve had one eye on Rensselaer and one eye on Cairo,” Coblentz told The Business Review. While he and ElBaradei wait to discover the fate of Egypt’s government, they have been editing the final revisions of ElBaradei’s memoirs.