Newsmax Interview: Egyptian Election Runner-Up to Morsi Signals Return

Friday, 01 Nov 2013 10:48 AM

By John Gizzi

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Image: Newsmax Interview: Egyptian Election Runner-Up to Morsi Signals Return
Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq tells Newsmax he is prepared to return home after being driven into exile by the Muslim Brotherhood following his close presidential election defeat to Mohammed Morsi — and plans on taking an active role in the electoral politics of a post-Morsi Egypt.

"I have the honor of being head of the Egyptian National Movement Party," the 71-year-old Shafiq told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. "We will certainly contest the parliamentary elections so that we can express our ideas and dreams for Egypt."

As to whether this means he is setting the stage for another presidential bid, the retired air force general simply said: Elections for parliament "are what we should be interested in now, in addition to positively contributing to efforts to write a modern Constitution representative of Egyptians and their ambitions."

Shafiq — who served as civil aviation minister and was the last Egyptian prime minister under deposed President Hosni Mubarak — formed a new political party last September after being forced into exile.
 
Communicating to Newsmax recently by telephone and email, he left no doubt of his desire to again be a political leader in a democratic Egypt.

In Egypt’s first-ever free elections in May 2012, Shafiq placed a close second to Morsi in the initial 13-candidate presidential race and narrowly lost the run-off June 24 by a margin of 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent.

After Morsi's ouster in July, the new regime in Cairo has cracked down on protests, while promising to hold new elections for president and parliament and write a Constitution minus the Islamic fundamentalism in the previous governing document.

Like Charles DeGaulle leading the Free French from London during World War II and Greece's former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis in Paris while speaking out against the military junta in Athens, Egypt's Shafiq was forced to flee to the United Arab Emirates shortly after conceding defeat to Morsi in 2012.

Although his campaign team charged that fraud occurred in the final election results, Shafiq was publicly magnanimous toward Morsi.

"I congratulated my rival on his win and went public with my interest in becoming an opposition leader.  I hoped Egypt would learn how to behave democratically and reach a system of power rotation," Shafiq said.

But the general’s overture was spurned.

"The Brotherhood rejected my outstretched hand," he said. In September 2012, three months after Morsi assumed the presidency legal action began against his former opponent. 

Shafiq was charged with helping Mubarak's sons unlawfully appropriate more than 40,000 square meters of land in the Bohayrat al-Murra region in Ismailiya.

The land was originally allocated to aviation officers. The charges against him included profiteering, facilitating the seizure of public property, forging official documents, and deliberately damaging public property.

"Law experts see in the acceleration of the case an indication that a political factor is at play,” concluded the Egypt Independent.

Shafiq was placed on the airport surveillance list based on a call from Public Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim, whom Morsi had appointed in November 2012 after he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power.

On February 19, Interpol denied a request from the prosecutor to place Shafiq on an international arrest list, regarding the charges against him as politically motivated.

Shafiq said authorities "filed a flurry of malicious complaints and legal suits against me. Certainly, I would not have benefited my country had I been thrown into prison. I don't think I have benefited Egypt by being an opponent in exile."

Courts have cleared Shafiq of several charges, but the judicial procedures are still going on for other counts. Shafiq said he is "confident the court will find this case groundless as well."

During a meeting in Cairo last month between several Republican House members and Egypt's acting President Adly Mansour and Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, questions about Shafiq and his possible return to Egypt were raised. 

One of the lawmakers, who requested anonymity, told Newsmax that both Mansour and el-Sisi agreed Shafiq should be permitted to come home and resume his political career.

However, the same lawmaker noted Mansour, a former chief justice of Egypt, said that the judiciary is an independent branch of government and the remaining charges against Shafiq would have to be disposed of through the judicial process.

Not "Mubarak’s Man"

In many Western press reports on the Egyptian elections, Shafiq is referred to as "an extension of the old regime" or even "Mubarak's man." On this point he expresses sharp disagreement.

"Mubarak was air force chief of staff and my relations with him were like those of other officers who fought under his command, ”says Shafiq, a combat pilot in Egypt's Yemen War, the Six-Day War with Israel in 1967, and the 1973 war with Israel. "When Egyptians took to the street [to protest against the Mubarak regime] in January of 2011, he asked me to be prime minister. For Egyptians, my name meant efficiency and integrity."

Shafiq served for two months as prime minster and left when Mubarak relinquished power. The general told Newsmax he has neither seen nor spoken to Mubarak since he left the presidency.

Two issues advanced by Shafiq in Egypt's first and only free presidential election that were widely overlooked by the Western press were economics and civil rights of the Coptic Christians, who are about 10 percent of Egypt's population.

"I know well what should be done to rejuvenate the Egyptian economy," he told Newsmax. "And I advanced this in the campaign. My program included diversifying economic resources, developing three different areas in Aswan, central Upper Egypt, and the Suez Canal.The top priority now should be introducing economic and financial reforms, and regaining investors' confidence in Egypt, by re-establishing stability."

He dubbed as "fake" the claims of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood that they were capable of managing the economy.

Noting that tourism is the most important part of Egypt's economy, Shafiq said that "the Brotherhood took decisions against tourism by allying themselves with fundamentalist groups that view tourism as idolatrous."

Turning to the fate of Coptic Christians — who have experienced the burning of churches and other persecution during and after Morsi's rule, Shafiq said: "This is painful. He was a president for his group and their militant allies alone. This made Christians feel marginalized and they were further persecuted by Morsi and the Brotherhood.”

In sharp contrast, Shafiq last year promised during the presidential campaign to appoint a Christian vice president because “I believe in the importance of the state playing a bigger role in engaging Christians in political activity. All acts fueling racism and extremism should be criminalized. The ideas promoted by the Brotherhood should be dealt with firmly."

"Democracy Suitable for Egypt"

Western media pundits and many members of Congress from both parties argue that, whatever his sins, Morsi was a legitimately elected president and toppled by his country's military — even though the word "coup" is carefully avoided by President Barack Obama and his administration.

Shafiq hit back hard against that notion.

"The basic problem with many of your compatriots," he said, "is that they don't understand the nature of what has happened in Egypt. We have had a full pro-democracy revolution. When Egyptians took to the street a second time to protest Morsi's rule, they were chanting 'Down with the Supreme Guide.'"

Shafiq said the people "refused to accept that he elected president [took orders] from someone else who had not contested elections — namely, the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood."

On August 19, the present Cairo regime arrested Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and five other Brotherhood leaders on charges that included inciting murder.

"Egypt is not Iran, Egyptians do not want religious rule," Shafiq said. "This is a problem with certain religious groups. They use the ballot box to reach power and then disregard democratic rules."

Shafiq said that Morsi "broke his pledges from the first day of taking office. The army fulfilled the people's wishes [when they overthrew Mubarak] in February of 2011 and did it again in July of 2013," when Morsi was deposed by the military following protests.

As for any participation by Morsi or the Brotherhood in future elections, Shafiq said Morsi "is a defendant against whom a court ruling was issued before his toppling. He has to face charges within a transparent legal process. After his destiny is determined, let us see what the law will say about his wishes."

The former presidential candidate believes strongly that Gen. el-Sisi, now the strongest figure in the current regime, "is a patriotic, professional Egyptian officer" who knows the "people turned to the army to restore democracy."

Shafiq is confident that Sisi and the armed forces "will l soundly implement the road map to democracy because all Egyptians stand behind it."

As to whether he will soon be a player in a democratic Egypt, he simply says: "I simply want to serve my country and contribute to a sound democratic system."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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