Fate of 'deported' Egyptian presidential hopeful remains uncertain
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Former Egyptian prime minister and current presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq was deported on Saturday from the UAE, where he was living in exile, his family said, adding that his current whereabouts are unknown.
Shafiq's daughter and several aides said UAE authorities took him from his home and put him on a private plane headed for Egypt, while his family stayed behind in the Emirates.
"We were about to leave to travel to France. They came and took him. They deported him in a private plane. They said they will deport him to Egypt," his daughter, May Shafiq, told Reuters.
Sources at Cairo airport said Shafiq landed amid tight security on Saturday evening, and was escorted in a motorcade that was waiting for him outside the airport.
Shafiq's family said his whereabouts remained unknown hours after his departure. Officials did not issue any statement about his location.
It is unclear what will happen to the former premier, who is seen as the strongest potential opponent of the incumbent president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“We don’t know if there are some pending judiciary cases or not,” said Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University. If there are, Shafiq could be kept in custody until the judicial process is finished. And a pending legal case would likely disqualify him from running.
Ultimately, what happens to Shafiq is in the hands of Sisi’s regime. “In a country like Egypt…anybody could be subject to investigation and could be treated in a very illegal way,” Nafaa said. “It is not a country of law.”
Shafiq announced his intention to run in Egypt’s 2018 presidential election the afternoon of November 28 in a video statement provided exclusively to Reuters, and said he would return to Egypt in “the coming days.”
Two hours later, Shafiq released another interview, this one on network-non-grata Al Jazeera, declaring that the UAE, where he had been living in exile since he narrowly lost the 2012 presidential election to Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, would not allow him to leave.
“I was surprised that I was prevented from leaving the UAE for reasons I do not understand,” Shafiq said in the video, adding that he thanked the UAE for its hospitality but wanted to depart.
Egyptians were also surprised, by the means by which Shafiq chose to make his announcement. Al Jazeera is seen as linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and its operations in Egypt have been shut down. Shafiq’s appearing on the Qatari network garnered Shafiq harsh criticism from Egyptian media, Nafaa said.
The Emiratis vociferously rejected Shafiq’s claim that he was being held against his will. Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, denied on his official Twitter account that any obstacles had been placed to his travel, saying the UAE hosted him despite “strong reservations about some of his positions”.
The Emiratis likely deported Shafiq because they didn’t want to be held responsible for him. In sending him back to Egypt, “they are throwing the ball to the Egyptian government,” Nafaa said.
Shafiq, a former commander in the Egyptian Air Force, served as Minister of Civil Aviation under longtime president Hosni Mubarak and, during the uprising of 2011, briefly as prime minister. He had been tried and acquitted of corruption charges after his failed presidential bid, and last year his lawyer said that his name had been taken off a list of people not allowed to return to Egypt, so there were no longer any barriers to his entering the country.
But none of that may matter.
“Anything could happen,” Nafaa said. “I think his life might be at risk…. The Egyptian government has to give an answer about where he is, whether he arrived, whether he is in custody.”