Former Egyptian minister of aviation, the last prime minister in the Mubarak wra, and runner-up in the first post-revolution presidential elections Ahmed Shafiq had been away from the limelight for almost five years, during which he stayed in the UAE. In quite a sudden move, he recorded a video that was first exclusively aired on Reuters and in which he announced his intention to run for the 2018 presidential elections and to return soon to Egypt to start his campaign.
A few hours later, the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera aired another video in which Shafiq said he was not allowed to leave the UAE and criticized the UAE for interfering in Egypt’s affairs. While Shafiq’s lawyer and his party The Patriotic Movement insisted the video was leaked to al-Jazeera, Shafiq was reportedly given 48 hours to leave the UAE, his arrival in/ deportation to Egypt was shrouded in mystery until he gave a phone interview to one of the popular TV shows, and the drama intensified as accusations of collaborating with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood were leveled at him. In the meantime, why Shafiq started it all and how aware he was of the repercussions remain open to speculation.
Journalist and MP Mustafa Bakri explains the “plan,” as he calls it, behind Shafiq’s announcement. According to Bakri, Shafiq intended to head to several European cities, starting with Paris, to garner support for his candidacy. “There the plan was to start. This plan involved Qatar, which was to fund his campaign, and several leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote. “This was to be done under the protection of the Turkish intelligence.”
The plan, Bakri added, included mobilizing prominent media agencies and outlets to support Shafiq and he cited Reuters, The New York Times, and The Guardian as examples. “The next step involved bribing several democracy and human rights organizations to support the campaign and to report alleged violations committed by Egyptian authorities to pave the way for calling upon the International Community to intervene like what happened in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections.” For Bakri, the entire plan was aborted when the UAE decided to deport Shafiq to Egypt. “What the Emirati authorities did was quite normal, though, since making the announcement from there gave the impression that the UAE supports him. This was part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to embarrass the UAE against which they hold a deep grudge for supporting Egypt after their ouster in 2013.” Shafiq, Bakri said, did not also realize that he had not sought political asylum in the UAE, therefore the moment he crossed the line in the second video, his visa was cancelled and he was sent back to his country. “This is totally legal.”
Journalist Moayed Kanaan looked into the possible scenarios that led to Shafiq’s announcement, with three being the most likely. “First, Shafiq could’ve asked the Emirati authorities to announce his candidacy from the UAE and they refused, so he did it anyway to embarrass them and claimed they are barring him from leaving to make sure they let him go,” he wrote. “This is the most logical scenario.” The second scenario, Kanaan added, was that Shafiq decided to make the announcement without consulting with the Emirati authorities at all and when he did their first reaction was to stop him from leaving so he decided to escalate through al-Jazeera video. “This is more unlikely bearing in mind how much time he spent in the UAE.” Third, several European countries, particularly France and Germany, gave Shafiq the impression that they would support him if he decides to run for president. “Being a European-backed candidate would definitely give him a lot of leverage.” Shafiq did say in his second video that he planned to meet with Egyptian communities abroad. Kanaan noted that apart from Europe, and possibly the United States, the question about whether Shafiq is supported by Qatar, hence Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, remains valid.
For Journalist Adel Hamouda, al-Jazeera video was the biggest mistake Shafiq made. “His decision to appear on al-Jazeera means he is allying with Qatar, hence also involved in attempts at undermining the Egyptian state in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote. “That explains all accusations of betrayal that he faced right after.” Hamouda added that it is hard to believe that al-Jazeera hacked his daughters phone to get the video as Shafiq claimed. “He kept swearing that he never contacted al-Jazeera and maybe he didn’t personally. He could’ve had someone send the video to the channel. Doing that he lost a lot of sympathy.” Hamouda argued that the situation would have been different had Shafiq announced his candidacy from Egypt and while in the headquarters of his party.
According to journalist Walid Abbas, Shafiq misread the political scene in Egypt, believing that the criticism the Egyptian regime is facing for a number of issues such as the war on terrorism, the economy, and the Renaissance Dam standoff would give him a chance in the elections. “He also judged by the support he had in the 2012 elections, a large part of which was the result of not wanting to see the Muslim Brotherhood in power,” he wrote. “At the time, he was also supported by the military and state institutions.” Abbas added that most of powers that supported him then now support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with few exceptions, such as businessmen whose interests are affected by the military’s economic power. “He also did not take into consideration that if the UAE does not support him, then most likely the rest of the Gulf region wouldn’t.”
Hossam Badrawi, the last secretary general of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party, said that while making the announcement from outside Egypt was not the best idea, it is not fair to call Shafiq a traitor. “So many details are still not clear including why he decided to make the announcement from the UAE,” he said. “We are also not sure he decided to record a video to al-Jazeera so we cannot judge based on this.” Badrawi criticized accusations leveled against Shafiq and lawsuits calling for stripping him of the Egyptian citizenship or charging him with destabilizing state security. “No matter how mistaken he was, nothing he did makes him a criminal or a traitor. This is character assassination and it gives a bad image of freedoms in Egypt.”