Problems on hold
Last week, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, who is also a former Air Force officer, announced through Reuters his intention to run for the 2018 presidential election in Egypt. He made the announcement from the United Arab Emirates where he had taken residence some five years ago when he lost the 2012 presidential election to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi.
Mr Shafik was not the first politician to spring upon his countrymen, from outside the country, a major decision that intimately concerns the people. Nobel Peace laureate and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei did that in 2011, right after President Mubarak stepped down, when he announced from Europe that he would run for Egypt’s presidency; he had been abroad for more than 20 years. And last month, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced from Saudi Arabia, where he was on a visit, his resignation from office.
Mr Shafik was exercising his constitutional right to run for President, but he managed to match Baradei and Hariri in underestimating his people and doing himself a disservice. Leading positions such as president or prime minister require those who fill them or intend to run for them to be among the masses and feel their pulse. A figure that fills such a post, or intends to, cannot afford to exude superiority or detachment from the people; and certainly not to inform the people of pivotal decisions while away from the country. I cannot assume that Mr Shafik’s intention to run for president came on the spur of the moment, or was announced without due consideration or discussion with his close circle and aides. So why was it announced that way, spurring countless questions and raising bewilderment, even denouncement?
Why did Mr Shafik address his people from abroad through a statement that was released by a news agency, acting as if he were in exile? How could the poised, balanced Shafik, a well-heeled leader and politician, have missed the point so drastically? Would it not have made more sense for him to come back to Egypt, engage with various political platforms, mingle with the public then announce his intention to run? Or was he banned from entering Egypt? Was he bogged down with any legal obstacles? Why did he act like a fugitive? And do fugitives run for presidents?
It appears that Mr Shafik and his consultants—if indeed he has any—were taken by surprise at the general speculation of why he did not return to Egypt to announce his intention to run for president. His response was weird in form and in content: adding insult to injury, he appeared on al-Jazeera channel to declare that he could not return to Egypt since he was banned form leaving the UAE. Egyptians were stunned. They found it difficult to believe that the UAE, which had granted Mr Shafik a safe haven when he needed one, was now holding him captive. And they wondered: al-Jazeera of all channels! A channel notorious for its hostility to Egypt and the endless fake news it airs about the country! Mr Shafik chose to make his declaration not through Reuters as he did earlier, but through al-Jazeera, a channel loathed by Egyptians and Emiratis.
I cannot imagine how Mr Shafik could have thought that such behaviour would earn him credit with Egyptians, let alone put him in a position to contest the presidential race? The shocking start is bound to work against him, no matter how qualified he is.
In its Articles 141 and 142, the Egyptian Constitution spells out conditions for candidacy for the presidential. Article 141 stipulates that a presidential candidate must be an Egyptian born to Egyptian parents, and neither he nor his parents or spouse may have held any other citizenship. He must enjoy civil and political rights, must have performed the military service or been exempted of it by law, and may not be less than forty years old on the Gregorian calendar on the day he registers his candidacy. The law should stipulate any other candidacy requirements.
I believe Mr Shafik already fulfils these requirements, as proved by his running for president against Mr Mursi in 2012.
Article 142 says that, to qualify for the presidential race, a candidate must secure endorsements from at least 20 elected members of the House of Representatives, or the support of a minimum 25,000 eligible voters from at least 15 governorates, with a minimum 1000 supporters from each governorate. In all cases, no one could support more than one candidate, as regulated by the law.
Now that Mr Shafik is back in Egypt after the UAE ‘set him free’, I imagine he would form his electoral campaign team which should work on completing all the candidacy requirements, including endorsements or support.
No question, Mr Shafik is entitled to run for president. I pity him, though, for his poor start; choosing to inform Egyptians of his intention while outside the country was self-defeating at the very outset.
10 December 2017