Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Spicing up elections

The race for the presidency is heating up. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Ahmed Shafik returned to Cairo this week where he announced he was still mulling over whether or not to run for president.

Mubarak’s last prime minister and one time minister of aviation, who has spent the last five years in the United Arab Emirates, told the media he is still undecided about whether to stand in the 2018 presidential elections. “Being back in Egypt allows me to assess whether I should be a candidate,” he said in a telephone interview on Dream satellite channel, Sunday.

Shafik appeared to be back-pedalling on an earlier statement announcing his candidacy. On 29 November, while still in the UAE, he told Reuters in a phone call that he intended to stand in the elections.

“It is a great honour for me to announce that I will stand in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections,”he said.

Shafik cited his military service as an air force commander and stint as minister of civil aviation as experience that “will help a lot in solving Egypt’s problems”.

“Egypt will not be able to achieve any success, be it small or big, without a democratic and civilian government in place that is tolerant of critical views,”he argued. “Egypt needs a real democracy and respect for human rights.”

“I think he is serious and when an effective election campaign team has been formed he will officially submit a presidential bid,” said Khaled Al-Awami, spokesman of the National Movement Party founded by Shafik in 2012.

Shafik arrived in Cairo from the United Arab Emirates by private jet on Saturday evening. He was met at the airport by Egyptian officials and checked into a hotel in Cairo pending the completion of renovation work at his home.

In the phone interview with presenter Wael Al-Ibrashi on Dream satellite channel, Shafik denied he had been detained in the UAE after his presidential bid was made public by the Qatari-channel Al-Jazeera.

“The UAE dealt with me with great decency and I am very grateful they hosted me for more than five years,” he said.

Wam news, the UAE’s official news agency, reported on Saturday that Shafik’s immediate family had remained in the Emirates.

Shafik told Dream TV he had no idea how the video in which he appeared to announce his candidacy appeared on Al-Jazeera, claiming it had been given exclusively to Reuters.

Commentators say Shafik’s appearance on Al-Jazeera could damage his standing in Egypt.

Morsi Atallah, a veteran journalist and political analyst with Al-Ahram, believes Shafik should have declared his presidential bid from Cairo, not the UAE.

“The UAE agreed to host Shafik in 2012 on the condition he refrains from politics,” says Atallah. “Shafik now needs to clarify how the video reached Al-Jazeera.”

A candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, Shafik narrowly lost to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, winning 12,347,380 votes to Morsi’s 13,230,131. After claiming the poll was rigged Shafik then moved to the UAE, citing concerns for his safety.

Shafik, 76, served as aviation minister under Hosni Mubarak and briefly as prime minister during the 18-day uprising against Mubarak. While in the UAE Shafik was tried in absentia on several corruption charges. He was either acquitted or had the cases against him were dropped.

In late 2016 a travel ban against him was lifted and he was removed from arrival watch lists.

Makram Mohamed Ahmed, Al-Ahram political analyst and head of the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR), said Shafik’s statement on Al-Jazeera raised many questions.

“That it was Al-Jazeera which broadcasted Shafik’s statements is troubling, though less so than what he actually said. Shafik accused the UAE of preventing him from returning to Cairo and, by extension, from standing in next year’s presidential election.”

“Shafik’s actions in the past week have damaged his image. The fact that he also chose to live outside Egypt for five years could also count against him with the public,” said Ahmed.

Arguing that it is unwise for two former high ranking military figures - Shafik and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi - to compete against each other in the elections Ahmed said it would be better if “Shafik opts not to run”.

Ahmed also warned against any attempt to appeal to Muslim Brotherhood voters.

“This is what the Brotherhood is waiting for. Though they hate both Shafik and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi they are ready to do anything to defeat Al-Sisi,” said Ahmed.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie disagrees.

“We desperately need a competitive election and Shafik standing means we will have one,” he says.

“Shafik has experience as a presidential candidate, as a successful minister and as prime minister. His candidacy will guarantee a competitive election rather than a one man show. It is hugely important that voters get to listen to different election platforms.”

Last month leftist human rights lawyer and 2012 presidential candidate Khaled Ali announced also his intention to run for president. He could be joined by Anwar Al-Sadat, head of the liberal Reform and Development Party and nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat, who has long toyed with standing.

In a surprise move Ahmed Qonsoah, an army general and professor of architectural engineering at the Technical Military Academy, announced his intention to stand in a YouTube video. Qonsoah said his election campaign will adopt the slogan “There is Hope”.

On Monday sources said Qonsoah had been referred to military investigation for breaking the ban on army personnel becoming involved in politics. “He should have resigned from the army before making such an announcement,” said one.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC), which will oversee next year’s presidential elections, held a meeting on 27 November to review progress on preparations.

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