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Sun 3 Dec 2017 10:45 AM

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Egyptian presidential hopeful leaves exile to uncertain fate

Egyptian presidential hopeful leaves exile to uncertain fate
Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force fighter pilot who fled after losing Egypt’s 2012 presidential run-off to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, left the UAE for Egypt in a private jet

A former Egyptian prime minister who declared his intention to run in next year’s presidential elections has returned from exile in the UAE to an uncertain fate, his whereabouts unknown hours after his plane arrived in Cairo.

Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force fighter pilot who fled after losing Egypt’s 2012 presidential run-off to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, left the UAE for Egypt in a private jet, the UAE state news agency WAM reported earlier on Saturday, adding that his family remained behind.

Three hours after his plane landed, however, the 76-year-old still hadn’t arrived at his villa in an eastern suburb of Cairo, where family members and supporters said they were unsure where he’d been taken or whether he would be allowed to run. The Egyptian government and military authorities had no comment.

In a surprise announcement on Nov. 29, Shafiq said he planned to run in an election in which incumbent Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is widely expected to seek a second term. Shafiq served in government under President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in the 2011 revolt, and faced corruption charges in the aftermath of the uprising. But the deputy head of Shafiq’s political party, Raouf El-Sayyed, said he’d been cleared and that there was no impediment to his candidacy.

Serious Challenge?

If allowed to run, Shafiq would offer the most serious electoral challenge so far to El-Sisi, who has yet to confirm a re-election bid.

As military chief, El-Sisi removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power in mid-2013 following mass protests against Mursi’s one-year rule. He won a presidential election in a landslide the following year, vowing to restore stability to a country rocked by upheaval since 2011.

The UAE has been strongly supportive of El-Sisi, who they see as a buffer against Islamic extremists. El-Sisi launched a crackdown on opponents in which hundreds of Brotherhood supporters were killed and thousands jailed. But an insurgency in northern Sinai has become more violent, culminating in November’s mosque attack in which more than 300 people were killed.

Only a handful of candidates have come forward so far. They include rights lawyer Khaled Ali, whose bid may be curtailed by a possible legal case. Another is a little-known army Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, who announced his candidacy in a video the same night as Shafiq.