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The Egypt Report: Looking for Ahmed Shafiq

Date of publication: 28 November, 2017

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It's been a dramatic week in Egypt.

On the heels of the attack in the Northern Sinai village of Bir al-Abd, which left more than 300 dead and 100 injured, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised a strong response. Announcing on Wednesday that terrorism would be met with "complete brute force", Sisi gave the army's newly appointed chief of staff General Mohamed Farid Hegazy three months to restore stability in the region.  

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Survivors said that IS militants had repeatedly threated the mosque for hosting Sufi practices they deemed un-Islamic. This sparked a debate on the protection of Sufis in Egypt, a debate that has never taken place, given the fact that Sufism has been an integral part of Egyptian Islamic practice. Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and a Sufi himself, travelled to Bir al-Abd on Friday and led prayers in Rawdah Mosque where the attack took place a week earlier.

The imam's visit was overshadowed by news from outside the country, as Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq announced that he intended to run in the country's 2018 presidential election.

Shafiq, who received 49 percent of the vote in Egypt's only democratic presidential election, in 2012, had fled the country to the UAE in response to Mohamed Morsi's win. Shortly after his announcement, Shafiq became entagled in an international incident in Abu Dhabi similar to that allegedly endured by Saad al-Hariri in Riyadh a week earlier.

But Shafiq was not the only ghost to come back to haunt an already fraught political scene. Deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak released a statement on Thursday denying that he was involved in negotiating a deal with Israel to resettle Palestinians in the Sinai.

In the six-point statement, Mubarak made a thinly veiled reference to Tiran and Sanafir, the two strategic Red Sea islands Sisi signed over to Saudi Arabia in June. Unconfirmed reports claim that Sisi was involved what is referred to as "The Deal of the Century" to divest Palestinians of their lands in a bid to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

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The 2018 presidential elections are scheduled to take place next December, but the saga has already begun.

Human rights lawyer Khalid Ali, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and Colonel Ahmed Konsowa have all announced their intention to stand against President Sisi next year. All three men have in one way or another been detained by Sisi's security forces or their allies.

Khaled Ali was charged with and convicted of "violating public decency" in September after a publication of a photograph of him celebrating his - largely symbolic - judicial win against the government's decision to divest the country of Tiran and Sanafir.  

Ali was sentenced to three months in jail. Pending appeal, his conviction disqualifies him from standing as president.

Ahmed Konsowa, an active military colonel, released a video on Wednesday declaring his candidacy. The reaction was swift. He was arrested on Saturday and will be court-martialled, charged with "behaviour that harms the requirements of the military". Konsowa had anticipated his detainment and addressed it at the beginning of the video, proclaiming he was neither a deserter nor a rebel and saying his was not the only presidential bid announced in military fatigues - Sisi's 2014 announcement was also made in uniform.

Ahmed Shafiq was not afforded such a clean-cut arrest. Unlike Ali and Konsowa, the controversial Mubarak-era prime minister, has proven support among voters, having won 49 percent of the vote in 2012.

Shafiq is also considered a military regime insider, having fought in all Egypt's wars with Israel and headed the Air Force from 1996 to 2002.

On Wednesday, Shafiq announced his candidacy from his self-imposed exile in the UAE. A few hours later, Shafiq released a second video in which he proclaimed that Emirati officials were preventing him from leaving Abu Dhabi on a scheduled campaign stop in Paris.

The next day, Egyptians awoke to the news that Shafiq was being deported from the UAE. An image of the uprising-era prime minister on a private jet with an Emirati flag behind him flooded Egyptian social media circles.

Speculation mounted.

Shafiq's arrival in Cairo was shrouded in mystery. News of his whereabouts ceased. His family members announced they could nott get in touch with him. This fuelled theories that he had been kidnapped by the regime. In the early hours of Friday, unconfirmed news spread that Shafiq was being held in a Cairo hotel - an image likened to the incarceration of Saudi princes in Riyadh's Ritz Carlton.


On Sunday night, Shafiq finally made a statement. In a phone call with talk show host Wael Ibrashy, Shafiq said that he had not been kidnapped and that his family was being treated well in Abu Dhabi. He did not address the fact that he couldn't be reached for more than 24 hours, and seemingly walked back his assertion to run for president.

Shafiq's statement did little to quell speculation, in fact it only amplified it. Activist Hazem Abdelazim, a close acquaintance of the Shafiq family and a former member of Sisi's 2014 election campaign, said the former prime minister was pressured to say those things.

Egyptians struggled to reconcile their concern over Shafiq's wellbeing. Arguing among themselves on Facebook and Twitter, many argued that Shafiq was prime minister during the 2011 uprising and oversaw the killing of protesters - and therefore did not deserve sympathy. Others countered, saying defending Shafiq's legal rights as an Egyptian citizen was not the same as defending his person. 


Media meltdown


Earlier in the week, Egyptian media embarked on a smear campaign against Britain's The Guardian newspaper. Raging against what they perceived to be unfair coverage of the attack on Rawdah Mosque, late night talk show hosts went on an all-too-familiar collective meltdown.

Citing a specific op-ed, The 'iron fist' response to terror attacks in Egypt never works, regime ally Tamir Abdelmoniem described the newspaper as a "furnished flat" - an unfavourable image in the Egyptian context, one akin to prostitution. Amr Adeeb declared a conspiracy; the article was published because The Guardian must secretly be Qatari-owned (it's not).

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry joined the fray, announcing on Twitter its shock and horror at the article.

Adeeb's old co-host Ahmed Mousa joined in his usual full-throated defence of the regime. Attacking the BBC's coverage, Mousa called the channel "disgusting", threatening  the BBC with the closure of its MENA offices -saying it was so biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood that it may as well be owned by the group.

Sisi meme of the week


In reference to Egypt and Saudi Arabia
being in the same group for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Translation: "Give me five bags of rice [money]
and consider that Saudi has already won
20 - 0" [Facebook]

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