Will Mohamed ElBaradei be Egypt’s next president? The dissident has emerged as the new political face of Egypt amid anti-government protests continuing throughout major cities in Egypt.

The 68-year-old is Egypt’s opposition figurehead, possible presidential candidate for 2011 elections and a pro-democracy activist. He recently returned home from a trip to Europe to join the unprecedented outrage against the 30-year ruling of President Hosni Mubarak.

What is his background?

Born and raised in Cairo, ElBaradei earnt a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Cairo in 1962. He proceeded to gain a post-graduate degree in international law from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and subsequently a PhD in International Law at the New York University of Law in 1974.

He began work in the Ministry of External Affairs, where he served in the Permanent Missions of Egypt to the UN in New York and Geneva. A long-winding career led him to become a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, serving as its legal adviser and then as assistant director-general for external relations.

ElBaradei moved up the ranks and became the director-general of IAEA, holding the position from 1997 to 2009. He and IAEA were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2005 — for “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”.

How did he get involved in politics?

ElBaradei returned to Egypt in early 2010 after decades abroad to assist the country towards democracy. At the time many Egyptians welcomed his return home, as he was seen as the only credible alternative to replace the current ruler.

A professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, Amin Saikal, says despite spending a significant time abroad he does have the ability to act as a transitional leader.

“He doesn’t have a strong constituent support in Egypt,” he told Crikey. “[But] while spending a lot of time abroad … he has gained a considerable amount of credentials among the Egyptian and international community.”

After facing pressure from the Egyptian people, ElBaradei stated he will run for the 2011 elections — but only under specific conditions. He’s demanding a fair and free election, calling for changes to the constitution that will allow more freedom for independent candidates.

How has he responded to the protests?

ElBaradei addressed tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday to tell the people change is on its way. As demonstrators defied a night-time curfew, ElBaradei called for the president to step down immediately: “We are on the right path, our strength is in our numbers. I ask you to be patient, change is coming.”

He told American network CBS: “This first thing which will calm the situation is for Mubarak to leave, and leave with some dignity. Otherwise I fear that things will get bloody. And you [the US] have to stop the lift support to dictator and root for the people.”

Is he prepared to replace President Mubarak?

ElBaradei has announced he would lead an interim government to replace the current administration. Backed by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups, he now wants to negotiate over a new government with the army, which he described as “part of the Egyptian people”.

In a recent interview with CNN, ElBaradei stated: “If my people here, the Egyptian people want me to serve as a bridge from authoritarian system into a democracy, I will not let them down.”

Professor Saikal believes ElBaradei is an important political figure who has the potential to lead Egypt to democratic reform. “ElBardei has the necessary credentials to lead the government providing the Egyptian military backs him and President Mubarak hands over power,” he said.

How likely is it that ElBaradei will replace Mubarak at president?

Professor Saikal says it’s difficult to predict whether ElBaradei will become Egypt’s next president — it depends on how the situation in Egypt will unfold and whether Mubarak will admit defeat and hand over power.

“I have a feeling he could be acceptable figure,” he said. “His survival hinges on the support from the army.”

What is his relationship like with the US?

In light of the protests, ElBaradei has put increasing pressure on the US to support calls for President Mubarak to step down. It’s been reported he had an uneasy relationship with the administration of former US President George W. Bush after he disputed the justification of the US’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. The US response to ElBaradei’s return to Egypt, to date, has been muffled.

When is a presidential election expected to be held in Egypt?

An Egyptian election is expected to be held in September  — just the second held in Egypt’s history. Current President Hosni Mubarak has been in powerful since 1981.