The curious case of Ahmed Shafiq

Former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq is not running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, but his face is all over the campaign posters for the Egyptian National Movement Party. 

“It’s Ahmed Shafiq’s party, so it’s only normal to use his picture,” says Khaled al-Awamy, the media secretary for the party.

The party had intended to run in four different districts, but was only cleared to contest seats in the West Delta.

Awamy claims that in one district, the party’s candidate application papers were stolen before they could submit them, while the High Elections Commission (HEC) rejected the applications for their candidates in Cairo and Upper Egypt. The party did successfully appeal this rejection in court, but the HEC rejected the papers again, saying they were incomplete.

With voting in the first round to start in less than two weeks, the Egyptian National Movement is the main challenger to the mammoth For the Love of Egypt electoral list, which was formed in response to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s plea for a unified political front. The ENM is running in the West Delta against the Salafi Nour Party and 15 candidates from the For the Love of Egypt list.

Awamy says they are not going head-to-head with any party in particular, but are in a pool of open competition. In addition to the party list, 140 members are vying for individual seats.

Shafiq has unexpectedly resurged on the political scene in the last few months as an alternative figurehead to Sisi, although he now resides in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Tension between the two became more pronounced when a media campaign against Shafiq surfaced in June. Headlines read, “Government to Shafiq: No return, no politics … And to his supporters: Control yourselves.”

In his final remarks after a heated interview on the privately owned satellite channel Al-Asema, pro-Sisi television host Abdel Rahim Ali asked Shafiq to address whoever was behind the campaign against him. Shafiq sat back and looked at the camera, then said, “I’m warning them, and I mean it. I’m warning them.”

The interview was delayed from broadcast, reportedly due to the intervention of “sovereign parties,” who were uneasy about Shafiq’s appearance.

Shafiq was cleared of all corruption charges in December 2013, but remains on airport watch lists and, if he returns to Egypt, is banned from leaving again. The Cairo Criminal Court referred the last of five cases against him — in which he and other Air Force officers are accused of squandering public funds — to the prosecutor general, who will decide to either refile the case or abandon it. So far, the prosecution has chosen neither option.

Shafiq was optimistic about returning to Egypt and finally being able to run his party in person, after having to lead most meetings through Skype. Shafiq co-founded the party in January 2013, a year after he came close second in the presidential elections and retired to the UAE.

Awamy contends that Shafiq will be president of the party “forever,” because all members have agreed that he is their only leader.

But Shafiq resigned as president of the party in mid-June amid speculation that he was under pressure to leave the political scene in Egypt. Members of the party held a general meeting and decided to refuse his resignation, reelecting him as president.

“The reason for his resignation was that he was having difficulty running the party from overseas,” says Awamy. “But this will not be the case once he returns.”

Although Awamy presents the party as a united front, in the leadup to the elections tensions appear to have surfaced. Secretary General and Deputy Head Safwat al-Nahas announced his resignation and withdrawal from the race on Monday. Nahas cited slow decision-making within the party and interference in his role as the reasons for his resignation, in comments to Al-Shorouk newspaper.

Awamy also claims Shafiq has a solid relationship with Sisi, and says attempts to suggest otherwise are “diabolical nonsense.” But there was notable tension between the two last year after the You’re the President campaign appeared in April 2014, with billboards calling on Shafiq to run in the 2014 presidential elections.

This campaign maintains Shafiq was the true winner of the 2012 elections, not ousted President Mohamed Morsi — a notion that Shafiq himself agrees with — and called on the former minister to run again in 2014.  

In recent statements, Shafiq has blamed a host of powerful people for forging the 2012 presidential election result in favor of Morsi, including former Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawy, former Chief of Staff Sami Anan, former Director of Egyptian Intelligence Mourad Mowafy, Secretary General of the Higher Election Committee Hatem Bagato and former President of the Constitutional Court Farouk Sultan.

Mowafy and Anan both responded to Shafiq’s statements, denying the accusations. Shafiq filed an appeal with the general prosecutor against the results of the 2012 presidential elections, but the appeal was rejected in June 2014.

Hamdy Habib, co-founder of the “You’re the President” movement, says the campaign was initiated to test the waters concerning Shafiq’s return to the political scene.

“His return is pending the removal of his name from the watch list, which is a form of restriction of freedom,” maintains Habib.

But whatever the motives for the campaign, it caused controversy, as it was perceived as an attempt by the former presidential candidate to undermine Sisi’s legitimacy.

In an interview with Al-Asema, Shafiq clarified that the movement was initiated by a group of young supporters, who had begun gathering endorsements urging him to run in the 2014 presidential elections. However, he made it clear that he would not run for president if Sisi joined the race.

Shafiq’s party responded to the campaign by launching a counter campaign in mid-June to support Sisi, posting billboards in the streets and main squares of Cairo reading, “We are supportive and will remain supportive.”

Shafiq versus Sisi

This wasn’t the only incident in which Shafiq was accused of setting himself up in opposition to Sisi.

In March 2014, Shafiq allegedly questioned the decision by the Armed Forces to nominate Sisi for president in a leaked phone call, during which he referred to the nomination as “bizarre and ignorant.” Shafiq also allegedly said he had decided to withdraw from the race, as it was likely to be fixed.

Shafiq did not deny the phone call in the television interview, but said it was his opinion at the time.

“You cannot punish someone for their own personal thoughts,” he added, agreeing with the host that this may have created a rift between him and Sisi.

Habib says he isn’t sure who is behind the campaign against the former political strongman.

“Anything positive that Shafiq does, there are subsequent slander campaigns. When you add up all these things: the elections, the case, the media campaign, there is clearly someone behind them and they are strong enough to control the media,” he speculates.

Habib adds that Shafiq was threatened under the Muslim Brotherhood, but says that this is no longer the case.

Shafiq has his fair share of dedicated supporters, with movements such as, “You’re the President,” the co-founders of which have a Shafiq jingle as their ringtone, as well as “The Sons of Shafiq.” Thousands of supporters contested the results of the 2012 elections.  

Head of the Egyptian Political System Program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Youssry al-Azbawy believes that Shafiq has a larger reach while in the UAE.

“While he is abroad, his influence is bigger with statements and interviews, but once he comes back he will be part of the process,” says Azbawy, who adds, “Right now, he is a headache for the regime.”

Passant Rabie 

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