CAIRO - The former chief of the U.N.'s nuclear agency critiqued Egypt's lack of democracy after reform-minded Egyptian youths urged him to come home and run for president.

In an open letter published in newspapers over the weekend, Mohamed ElBaradei said that he would consider the prospect only if the country made sweeping democratic strides.

The remarks by the Nobel Peace Prize winner triggered a wave of backlash in government media that sought to discredit him by calling him an American stooge.

The prospect that either President Hosni Mubarak - who has ruled for 28 years - or his son will run and win the 2011 election led Egypt's opposition parties and other activists to seek out and support anyone who might put up a fighting chance against the ruling party.

Besides ElBaradei, names that have been floated include Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Egyptian-American chemist Ahmed Zweil, who is also a Nobel laureate.

ElBaradei, who has lived in the West for nearly three decades, said that he would consider running only if the constitution were amended to allow any Egyptian to run for president and remove restrictions that make it nearly impossible for independents or newcomers to enter the race.