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Presidential hopefuls in Egypt find running for office is not so easy

© Mohammed Abed, AFP | File photo of Ahmed Shafiq.

Text by Monique EL-FAIZY

Latest update : 2017-12-05

Egypt has declared its intention to hold open elections for the position of president next year, but the fates of those who have thus far thrown their hats in the ring suggests that the competition might not be entirely free and fair.

Take the case of former prime minister Ahmed Shaifq, who had been living in exile in the UAE after corruption charges were filed against him in the wake of the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, with whom he was closely aligned, and his subsequent loss to Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi in the 2012 presidential election. Last week he announced via Reuters that he was planning on running for president in the 2018 elections. He has been acquitted of the corruption charges.

A short time after that announcement, another video of Shafiq hit the air waves, this one on Qatari-owned network Al Jazeera of Shafiq charging that Emirati authorities would not allow him to leave – a charge that UAE authorities denied. As if to prove the point, three days later Shafiq was seized at his home and put on a private plane to Egypt.

Upon his arrival in Cairo Saturday evening, he was whisked away by authorities and his whereabouts were unknown until he turned up 24 hours later on privately owned Dream TV. Speaking to the host by telephone, he denied speculation that he was being detained by authorities.

"I was surprised truthfully when I was in the car that I was being driven to one of the most distinguished hotels in the area where I live," he said.

"Here I am talking to you and not kidnapped or anything," he told the host, insisting he was planning to stay at a hotel anyway as his home needed maintenance.

Free or not, Shafiq’s short time in Egypt seemed to have changed his mind about running for president. When asked about his plans, he replied that being back in Egypt made him realise that his candidacy needed “further study”.

"Today, I am here in the country, so I think I am free to deliberate further on the issue, to explore and go down and talk to people in the street," Shafiq told the host of the show. “There's a chance now to investigate more and see exactly what is needed ... to feel out if this is the logical choice."

Shafiq may still prove to be a contender, but the two others who announced their intention to run for president have been, at least for the time being, rendered ineligible.

A little-known army colonel named Ahmed Konsowa posted a statement on Facebook on November 29 explaining why he wanted to run for president and stating that he supported the “January 25 and June 30 revolutions”.

His post linked to a YouTube video in which he addresses the camera while wearing his military uniform. He said he had tried to resign from the military but that bureaucracy has impeded the acceptance of his resignation, and noted that other figures had announced their intention to run for office while wearing their uniforms.

“I am not a rebel, a dissident or disobedient of military commands,” said. “I am proud of my work and will continue to do it as well as I can until this unlawful legal status is changed.”

Apparently authorities saw things differently, because on December 2 military prosecutors ordered that he be detained for 15 days. His lawyer told a local newspaper that Konsowa has been charged with violating military rules by expressing political views and using his uniform for purposes unrelated to military service.

The third candidate is renowned civil rights lawyer Khaled Ali, but he won’t be eligible to run unless his appeal of a public indecency conviction is successful. The case against Ali was brought by another lawyer well known for filing charges against his fellow-citizens to court – a practice permitted under Egyptian law – and alleged that he made an obscene hand gesture while celebrating a court decision. Ali denies making the gesture.

“I am hopeful I will be rightfully acquitted,” he told reporters. “Only one authority may decide whether this conviction makes me ineligible to run, and that is the National Electoral Commission.”

The same lawyer has also filed charges against Shafiq, accusing him of forging an alliance with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. It is up to the chief prosecutor to decide whether to pursue the case.

The presidential elections are expected to be held next spring. Incumbent Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has not yet announced his candidacy but is widely expected to run.

Date created : 2017-12-04

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