CAIRO — From his residence in the UAE, one of Egypt’s staunch allies, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq announced Nov. 29 that he will run in Egypt’s presidential elections in 2018. Reuters reported Dec. 2 that Shafiq had been “arrested at his home in the United Arab Emirates and is being deported to Egypt.”
On Dec. 3, his daughter May Ahmed Shafiq told Masrawy in an interview, “[His] mobile phones have been shut down ever since his arrival in Egypt. No one knows anything about him. He did not go home. The family members are looking for him everywhere but to no avail.”
On the same day, Shafiq called into a TV show on Dream TV with Wael al-Abrashi to confirm he had not been kidnapped and is staying at a hotel while waiting on some home renovations to be completed. On Dec. 4, Reuters reported that Shafiq told one of its reporters at a Marriott hotel that he was “fine,” but was then prevented from saying anything more by men in civilian clothes.
On Nov. 29, in a video sent to Al-Jazeera, Shafiq had accused the UAE of blocking him from traveling after announcing his candidacy for next year's presidential elections. He said, “I was surprised to find out I am prevented from leaving the UAE for reasons I don’t understand and I am not willing to understand. I have often stated my appreciation for the UAE for hosting me. However, I reject any intervention in Egypt’s affairs by preventing me from participating in a constitutional right.” He also promised Egyptians he will not back down from his pledge to run.
The video sparked a wave of anger within Egyptian political circles as Al-Jazeera is owned by Qatar and boycotted by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab countries for allegedly embracing extremist groups and supporting terrorism.
On Twitter, parliament member Mustafa Bakri said on Nov. 29, “Shafiq gave a speech to Al-Jazeera, the collaborator channel. This is an insult against Egypt that will not be forgiven.” On the same day, in a phone interview with TV presenter Amr Adib, Diaa Rashwan, the head of the State Information Service, held that Shafiq’s statements to Al-Jazeera were meant to portray Egypt and the UAE as opposing democratic processes.
On Nov. 30, the Egyptian Patriotic Movement, the political party founded by Shafiq, rushed to issue a statement saying the video had been leaked rather than intentionally sent to the outlet. “Shafiq never dealt with Al-Jazeera, nor did he send any videos. The video was leaked to incite anger against him after announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the republic,” the statement read.
Shafiq feared persecution by Muslim Brotherhood officials on charges of corruption and embezzling public funds. On June 10, 2012, lawyer Essam Sultan, a leader in the Islamist Wasat Party, submitted a complaint before the attorney general accusing Shafiq of facilitating the unlawful acquisition by Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa of an enormous tract of land allocated to the Cooperative Housing Association for Military Pilots headed by Shafiq at the time of the sale.
Shafiq graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1961 and was promoted to become the commander of the Egyptian air force in 1996. In 2002, he was appointed minister of civil aviation, and in 2011 he presided over the Cabinet of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
Shafiq was one of the main pillars of the Mubarak regime, strongly defending it against its opponents. Egyptian political analysts and observers now see him as the fiercest opponent of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the upcoming presidential elections. They believe he is the only candidate to pose a significant threat to Sisi, whose popularity dropped following his economic reforms including the decision to liberalize the exchange rate that sent prices soaring.
Raouf al-Sayyed, deputy head of the Egyptian Patriotic Movement, told Tahrir newspaper on Nov. 30, “Shafiq will fight the presidential election battle relying on his long military career and extensive civilian experience as a minister of civil aviation. He is convinced of his ability to build a stable, democratic state supportive of freedoms and accepting criticism.”
Notably, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri indicated Dec. 1 that the Egyptian authorities do recognize Shafiq’s right to run in the presidential race. Answering a question on Shafiq’s presidential bid at the Mediterranean Dialogues in Rome, Shukri said, “In principle, anyone who has the capacity and meets all legal conditions is eligible for candidacy in the presidential election, in a society that guarantees freedom for everyone,” he said.
However, ever since announcing his intention to run, Shafiq has faced fierce criticism from media outlets close to the regime. Al-Dostour reported Dec. 2 about Shafiq’s involvement in extramarital relations and corruption issues as well as about recordings of phone conversations between him and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some parliamentarians also criticized the decision to run. In a Dec. 2 press statement, Ismail Nasreddin, who has close ties to the regime, even called for stripping Shafiq of his Egyptian citizenship, claiming Shafiq is trying to stir up confusion and cast doubt on the political leadership while Egypt is battling terrorism on behalf of the entire region.
Nasreddin described Shafiq’s bid as a betrayal of the homeland that requires the revocation of his Egyptian citizenship. He who puts his personal interests above those of the homeland does not deserve its citizenship, he said.
Meanwhile, Islamist parties have announced their support for Shafiq. Mohamed al-Deeb is a member of the Islamic Al-Wasat Party, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2012 elections. He told Al-Mesryoon Nov. 29, “Shafiq’s candidacy in the upcoming presidential election is the best solution to the problems that have been plaguing Egypt for more than four years.”
Lawyer Tariq Najida told Al-Monitor that Shafiq’s decision to run in the upcoming presidential election is a legitimate right guaranteed by the constitution and the law. “There are no impediments preventing him from running, as some claim, especially since Shafiq was acquitted in the land corruption case and his name was lifted from the list of suspects wanted upon arrival and the travel ban list at the Egyptian airport,” he said.
Najida expects a fierce competition between Shafiq and Sisi, with a strong voting bloc — the same one that had supported former Mubarak — supporting Shafiq.