Egypt’s former prime minister and Air Force pilot Ahmad Shafik came to prominence as the man who ran against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi in the June 2012 election but lost the race by a very small margin. Indeed, he insists to this day that he was initially informed that he had won, only to be shocked when the results were officially announced. He swiftly left Egypt and was treated as an honoured guest by the government of the UAE for five years.
Yet despite his prolonged absence he was able to count on a not insignificant loyal following, which may have encouraged him to take another shot at the top job. A presidential election is scheduled for March or April 2018.
Shafik has once again thrown his hat in the ring in likely competition with President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, although the incumbent has yet to confirm that he will seek a second four-year term.
Asked that question during a press conference held at the World Youth Forum in Sharm Al Shaikh, the president said he would leave it to the people to assess his government’s performance before taking a decision.
Any candidate will face an uphill struggle if Al Sissi seeks a second term. However, Shafik was tipped to be up there with the frontrunners. That was until he blotted his copybook with the very people he hoped to win against by announcing his candidature on a discredited Qatari-owned channel known to be a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece.
Feelings of betrayal
Television hosts, including several who know Shafik well, as well as one who considered him a close friend, expressed their feelings of betrayal. Mirroring their feelings are ordinary people interviewed on the street. The question asked by most was, why did he choose Al Jazeera over Egyptian channels? Others demand an explanation for his five-year-long absence.
Shafik now maintains that the video was destined for Reuters but was leaked to Al Jazeera where it was first aired. The Egyptian National Movement Party that he founded claims that a second video falsely accusing the UAE of barring him from travelling was also leaked to Al Jazeera.
Even if his story is accepted at face value rather than select a western news agency to rely such an important message, he surely should have announced it on an Egyptian channel. A substantial number of his longtime supporters appear willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but judging from posts on social media, he has lost the trust of many more.
Although, according to his daughter May he planned to kick-off his campaign in Europe and the US — a strange choice — he flew to Cairo on Saturday in a private jet and was driven to a five-star hotel in New Cairo until his home could be readied for his arrival. Shafik’s family and lawyer were quick to announce he had been “kidnapped” which he denied on Saturday during an appearance on Dream TV.
Fake claims by family members slandering both the government of the UAE and Egypt, are mounting giving the foreign media a field day to wrongly impugn both countries. They said he was banned from leaving the UAE. He was not. They said he was kidnapped by authorities on his arrival in Cairo. He was not. And certainly there is cause for scepticism concerning his assertions that two of his video announcements mysteriously ended up with Al Jazeera.
Ultimately, Shafik’s hopes have been dimmed not only by his own actions but also by defections from his own party due to internal divisions triggered by support from the Muslim Brotherhood according to Egypt Today quoting Mohammad Al Helw, the party’s secretary-general in Alexandria.
It does not help his case that one of his fellow competitors in the 2012 election former IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei, who has made vicious verbal attacks against Egypt and is discredited for pushing for reconciliation with the terrorist Brotherhood, has come out rooting for him as the man capable of toppling President Al Sissi.
Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has confirmed there is no legal impediment to Shafik entering the contest. That said he should prepare himself for legal battles. Samir Sabri, an Egyptian lawyer, has filed a case against him for aligning with the Brotherhood and attempting to create a rift between the UAE and Egypt with fake news.
I suspect the 76-year-old, who now maintains he is merely “exploring making a presidential bid” may one day look upon his peaceful four-year sojourn in the UAE as the good old days.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.