Shafiq quit Egypt election bid after threats of 'sex tape' and corruption slurs: Sources
Ahmed Shafiq abandoned his Egyptian presidential bid after being told that he would be smeared with allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption, sources close to the former prime minister have told Middle East Eye.
MEE understands the threat was delivered to Shafiq by people close to the incumbent, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, following his return to Egypt from exile in the UAE at the beginning of December when he was under observation by Egyptian intelligence.
It came amid concern in the Sisi camp that Shafiq, who spent five years in the UAE, was building broad support for his campaign - ranging from the former president Hosni Mubarak to the old guard of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even elements within Egyptian intelligence.
MEE's sources did not divulge the identity of the messenger but said that they had claimed to have video tapes of alleged sexual misconduct and threatened to make Shafiq the focus of a corruption investigation.
One of Shafiq's two daughters would also face corruption charges, the messenger is alleged to have said.
Sources in the Shafiq camp told MEE that the threats were made to force him to abandon his bid for the presidency.
Shafiq on Sunday ended his short-lived presidential bid, announced in Abu Dhabi at the end of November, by confirming in a televised statement that he would not stand against Sisi in the March election, stating that his five years in exile in the UAE had “distanced me from... what is going on in our nation".
Shafiq left Egypt after losing to the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi in the country's first democratic presidential election after the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolution against Mubarak. Morsi was subsequently deposed by Sisi in a military coup in 2013.
The latest revelations come after Mekameleen, a Turkish-based Egyptian opposition television station, broadcast audio of conversations between an Egyptian security official and a prominent TV host, in which the official ordered him to prepare a showreel discrediting Shafiq should negotiations with him go wrong.
The secret agent, Captain Ashraf al-Kholi, reportedly told Azmi Megahed there was a plan to "crack" Shafiq's head and smear him if he stepped out of line.
MEE spoke to sources close to Shafiq, opposition figures outside the country with whom they were in contact, and sources inside Egypt, who all confirmed the existence of a campaign to close down Shafiq's candidacy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they also revealed how Shafiq had reached out to members of the Egyptian armed forces, the Coptic Church and the Muslim Brotherhood to garner support for his challenge to Sisi.
Backed by Mubarak
Shafiq's campaign to become a candidate in this year's election shifted gear in September last year when he received pledges of support from former president Mubarak, his family and business partners, as well as parts of the deep state.
The fact that Shafiq had some support in intelligence circles was also alluded to in the leaked conversation broadcast by Mekameleen, in which Al-Kholi said there were “a few whores” inside Egyptian General Intelligence who were sympathetic to him. The alleged conversations took place in the last two weeks.
Shafiq then reached out to a wide group of Egyptian opposition leaders, including both the reformist camp and the old guard of the divided Muslim Brotherhood.
As MEE reported in November 2015, the UAE harboured doubts about Sisi. For Saudi Arabia also, Sisi was not providing the stability Egypt needed, nor was he considered to be helping Riyadh enough in its regional campaigns, particularly in Yemen.
Shafiq received three high-level visits in Abu Dhabi late last year, MEE sources said.
These were from a group of Egyptian generals from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); from Salman al-Ansari, the founder of the Washington-based Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee with whom Shafiq talked for three hours; and from a representative of the Coptic Church in Egypt.
None of the three groups of visitors publicly endorsed Shafiq. One of them from the Coptic Church told Shafiq that if the UAE backed him as a presidential candidate, the church would.
In his contacts with members of the Egyptian opposition, Shafiq delivered three main messages. He told them that he recognised the need for reconciliation, that he believed that “a lot” of the people in prison should not be there.
Thirdly, Shafiq, a former pilot and commander of the Egyptian air force, said that although he recognised that the Egyptian army played a fundamental role in the political life of the country and should continue to do so, he thought that the army should “step back a bit and gradually”.
Shafiq said he thought there should be a gradual loosening of the grip that the army had over the economy. More of their businesses should be returned to the private sector.
Shafiq did not go into detail. He did not say he thought that Morsi, to whom he narrowly lost in 2012, should be released. Nor did say how many of an estimated 50,000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails should be freed.
His points were presented as statements designed to start a political dialogue and form the start of negotiations.
Shafiq's contacts with one of the two MB groups caught the attention of the Egyptian security services. In response, Sisi launched a campaign of arrests to target this group in Egypt.
Alarmed at the heavy price they were paying for continuing to talk to Shafiq, this group pulled out of the talks.
Sisi calls MbZ
A few days before Shafiq was due to travel from UAE to Paris on 26 November, Sisi phoned Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to inform him that Shafiq was due to meet opposition figures in Paris, including a leading member of the second Brotherhood group. Sisi asked MbZ to stop that from happening.
Sources told MEE that it had been this call that led MbZ to stop Shafiq from leaving the country. After allegedly failing to convince the UAE to allow him to leave, Shafiq put out a statement to the Reuters news agency, declaring his intention to run for Egypt's presidency.
At the same time, Shafiq sent a video to Al Jazeera Arabic - which has been demanded by the UAE to be shut down - alleging that the UAE had banned him from travelling. In the video, Shafiq also said that the UAE was interfering in "Egyptian internal affairs".
"I would like to express my gratitude to the United Arab Emirates for hosting me throughout the past period. Yet I reiterate my rejection of the UAE's intervention in Egyptian internal affairs and I object to banning me from moving freely or from exercising my constitutional right," he added.
"I will not reverse my position, which I declared earlier. I am willing to confront all the troubles I am likely to face. I also appeal to the officials in Egypt to intervene quickly so as to remove any obstacles curtailing my freedom of movement.”
The statement on Reuters and the Al Jazeera video reportedly surprised MbZ, who had expected Shafiq to stay silent, sources said.
The UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, subsequently denied in a series of tweets that there had been an "obstacle" to Shafiq's departure from the UAE.
"[Shafik] took refuge in the UAE and ran away from Egypt after the results of the 2012 presidential election. We presented him with every facility and generous hospitality despite our severe reservations about some of his positions," Gargash said.
'Dig out the old stuff'
Shafiq was then arrested and, according to his lawyer, Dina Adly, deported to Egypt on 2 December.
In Egypt he was taken by intelligence to a hotel. Although he had access to people and was able to make calls, he was kept under observation.
Mekameleen's leaks show media figures were briefed to hold their fire on Shafiq, but told to be ready to attack him, when given the signal.
Al-Kholi reportedly told Azmi Megahed: “I want you to prepare Shafiq's videos when he was talking to the Brotherhood, because now there is bargaining and we want to see where we get with him. If he persists we shall dig out the old stuff."
Meanwhile Sisi dispensed with another potential threat to his presidency. MEE sources said that General Mahmoud Hegazy was dismissed as chief of staff of the armed forces the moment he arrived back in Cairo from a trip to the US in October.
Sisi had received reports that Hegazy had behaved in the US as if he is the next Egyptian president, and this was the reason he was dismissed.
At the time his dismissal was linked in press reports to an attack on a police convoy in the western desert in which over 50 police officers were killed.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.