Egypt

In Egypt, One Presidential Candidate Counts On Quiet 'Nostalgia' For Old Regime

Ahmed Shafik's giant posters are all over Cairo as Egypt goes to the polls to pick a new president. Well-financed, this candidate was once a minister for deposed President Hosni Mubarak. He famously offered to pay Tahrir Square demonstrators in c

Posters for Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik (Gigi Ibrahim)
Posters for Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik (Gigi Ibrahim)
Claire Talon

CAIRO - On the ninth floor of her apartment building in Cairo, Alia Mortada is furious. For weeks, she hasn't opened her shades in order to avoid seeing Ahmed Shafik's "Machiavellian" smile.

There he is: self-confident and smug in his legendary blue sweater, the former fighter pilot, Air Force commander and minister of civil aviation for Hosni Mubarak is taunting both Egyptian secular revolutionaries and Islamists. He looks down upon them from the countless giant billboards his wealthy businessman friend Tareq Nour bought up in Cairo in the last few months.

"It's so ironic," Mortada laments. "Ahmed Shafik did all he could to make the revolution fail, and now he is using the elections to run for the presidential office. He's all we see!"

There's no denying the man has a sense of humor. Nominated Prime Minister by Hosni Mubarak while the people of Tahrir Square were clamoring for his resignation, Shafik infuriated demonstrators by offering to pay them candy if they went home. Forced to step down in March 2011, he hasn't missed an opportunity to mock the "so-called revolution" that "pushes Egypt closer to chaos every day" since, insisting that the "martyrs' of the uprising are just a bunch of "dead people."

"I, Ahmed Shafik, fighter, Sufi and descendant of the Prophet…" proclaims this flamboyant embodiment of the counter-revolution. "Our target? The Couch Party," bluntly declares campaign director Mahmoud Ibrahim. "Most Egyptian families are afraid of the Tahrir Square demonstrations and only want one thing: stability and security."

Ahmed Shafik promises "acts, not words," with a hyper-presidential regime centered around a head of State who can nominate "commissaries' throughout Egypt to "collect the citizens' complaints and grievances."

Accusations of corruption

His credentials: shooting down two Israeli fighter jets during the 1973 war and transforming the old Cairo airport into a blazing new building with an additional terminal, thanks to a World Bank loan. Even his critics admit that he hoisted venerable national airline Egyptair to the ranks of the best international carriers.

But since his candidacy, hundreds of Egyptair employees have accused Shafik of corruption in the airport's unfinished construction site. "The only reason he wanted to build a luxurious airport was to line his pockets," accuses Mohammed Abderrahman, from the airline's financial department. "We didn't have enough money left to buy new parts for the planes, up to the point where Egyptair suppliers wanted to be paid upfront."

Since the revolution, over 24 complaints have been registered against him. He is accused of selling land parcels adjoining the airport to businessmen close to the regime for the ridiculously low price of one Egyptian pound, or 0.13 euros, per square meter.

But Ahmed Shafik is still popular with the defunct National Democratic Party (NPD), and with several businessmen, who enjoy his reputed efficiency and virility, spiced up with a notorious taste for dancing girls and alcohol. His advisors don't conceal the fact that these wealthy entrepreneurs are financing his impressive ad campaign.

The Parliament has voted a law barring former ministers and NPD members from running for office. But Ahmed Shafik appealed against his disqualification, accusing the law of being unconstitutional. He won the appeal thanks to the support of the High Electoral Commission, whose independence from the military authorities is questionable.

It's enough to wonder whether this improbable candidate wasn't pushed to run by the high-ranking members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, especially its chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Rumor has it the pair are indeed close friends.

Read the article in French in Le Monde.

Photo - Gigi Ibrahim

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