BEIRUT

Middle East

Shafiq’s ‘experience’ proves to be his downfall

Supporters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik react after hearing the results of the presidential elections in Cairo June 24, 2012. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

CAIRO: Ex-Premier Ahmad Shafiq, who lost to Islamist candidate Mohammad Mursi in Egypt’s presidential runoff, is a retired general and Mubarak-era figure reviled by activists who spearheaded the 2011 revolt.

Shafiq gained support as a candidate in the country’s first post-revolt presidential election thanks to a strong law-and-order campaign in a country where many crave stability.

In the tense run-up to the final results, both candidates had claimed victory.

Before the June 16-17 presidential runoff, the former air force chief accused the powerful Muslim Brotherhood of violence during last year’s uprising and of arson attacks against his campaign headquarters.

He said a victory for the Islamists would take Egypt “back to the dark ages,” but said he was ready to appoint an Islamist vice president.

In the delayed results of the runoff that were finally announced Sunday, Mursi won 51.73 percent of the vote. Shafiq was runner-up in the first round last month with 23.6 percent, against Mursi’s 24.7 percent.

Shafiq was almost disqualified from the presidential race after the adoption of a law prohibiting senior members of the Hosni Mubarak era from running, but the decision was reversed at the last minute.

Pollsters say Shafiq, who was forced to resign a month after Mubarak’s ouster by massive street rallies, won sympathy, particularly among female voters, after his wife died in April.

With a reputation as a good technocrat, Shafiq, 70, was appointed prime minister during Mubarak’s last days in power in a bid to appease the popular revolt that eventually overthrew the strongman on Feb 11, 2011.

But Shafiq was criticized for his association with the old regime and for having retained many Mubarak ministers in his Cabinet, a decision that would force him to resign under pressure from youth movements that led the uprising.

Like Mubarak, Shafiq was a pilot who graduated from the Military Aviation Academy and touts his many military successes. His campaign boasted that he shot down two Israeli aircraft in wars with the Jewish state.

He was also eager to highlight his civilian achievements, saying he modernized the national carrier Egypt Air and Cairo’s international airport.

In a country where all presidents since the fall of the monarchy in 1952 have had military backgrounds, Shafiq said he was “proud and honored” to be a “son of the armed forces.”

Shafiq boasted of his “experience” and insisted he was open to criticism, but in several television interviews he showed a strict and impatient side.

To those who accused him of being a “felool” – a pejorative term used by Egyptians to describe members of the old regime – Shafiq said that he was only “one of the [people] chosen for vital positions.”

“Who said I was not opposing the Mubarak regime?” he asked, claiming to have objected to many decisions taken by the former regime and insisting he was more useful to his country by working for reform from the inside.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2012, on page 9.

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