CAIRO, May 18, 2012 (AFP)
CAIRO, May 18, 2012 (AFP)
Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, is a frontrunner in next week’s presidential election who has pledged to use an iron fist to restore Egypt’s security.
Shafiq, a general and former civil aviation minister, was named premier in the final days of Mubarak’s three-decade rule as the strongman battled an 18-day popular uprising last year that led to his resignation.
Denounced as a “felool” — a pejorative term used by Egyptians to describe old regime diehards — Shafiq is abhorred by those who forced Mubarak to quit in February 2011.
And yet he has thrown his hat into the ring, determined to woo Egyptians fed up with political squabbles and economic hardships with the promise to restore security in the country, after several rounds of deadly violence.
“Security must be restored and it should be done decisively,” Shafiq has insisted repeatedly during his campaign for Egypt’s top job.
“The state alone can restore stability by using an iron fist.”
Mubarak had appointed him prime minister in a bid to placate protesters but like his boss before him, Shafiq was forced to quit later under pressure from the street.
Today he is among one of the most visible candidates, with huge portraits that dot the Egyptian skyline and countryside showing him alternately in a suit and tie, or dressed in his casual trademark blue pullover.
Two recent opinion polls — one commissioned by an independent newspaper and the other by a government think tank — show Shafiq leading in the election next Wednesday and Thursday, just ahead of Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.
Twelve candidates are competing in the presidential election, which should mark the end of a tumultuous military-led transitional period since Mubarak’s overthrow.
Opinion polls are new to Egypt and many remain sceptical of them, with some even believing they are published to sway the choice of voters and push them to select a candidate favoured by the ruling military.
But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster, insists it is not backing any of the candidates.
Shafiq almost failed to make the race after the Islamist-dominated parliament in April adopted a bill banning senior Mubarak-era officials from running for public office, but the decision was was reversed on appeal.
His detractors see him as a symbol of the former regime, and his military background reinforces that image, but supporters insist he alone can steer Egypt towards stability once more.
“Of course I will vote for Shafiq because he is the one who can bring order back to the country and rid us of thugs and (religious) extremists,” a bank employee said of her candidate.
At a recent news conference, a female fan rushed towards him to declare her support … and admiration.
“I’m crazy about you. I adore you,” she told Shafiq.
The general has had to fend off accusations from of being a Mubarak regime insider, as well as fraud accusation.
“I worked with the Mubarak regime. I worked with the Sadat regime and I worked with the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser,” he recently said on television.
“Which regime are you going to associate me with,” he asked sarcastically.
Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated in an attack by Islamists during a military parade. He had replaced Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser after his death in 1970.
Like Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, Shafiq has risen from the ranks of the military to carve himself a position in Egypt’s political and economic scene.
He touts the revamp of the national carrier Egyptair and Cairo’s international airport as among his proudest achievements.
“All my life, I have been used to success,” Shafiq said in the run-up to the presidential election.
Recently an MP accused him of having sold state-owned land to Mubarak’s two sons — who are currently on trial with their father for fraud — at below market price in 1993. Shafiq has vehemently denied the accusations.
The general’s confidence has ruffled the pro-democracy youths who were instrumental in the uprising that ended Mubarak’s autocratic rule.
If Shafiq wins “there will be a new wave in the revolutionary movement,” said activist Mohammed Waked.