Egypt presidential hopeful says UAE bars him from leaving

CAIRO – Egyptian ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq has said the United Arab Emirates had barred him from leaving the country, only hours after an announcement he would run for president in his homeland next year.

“I was surprised that I was banned from leaving the brotherly nation of the United Arab Emirates, for reasons I do not understand,” Shafiq said in a video message sent to AFP.

“I was intending to carry out a tour among the Egyptian diaspora before returning to my country in the next few days,” said the former prime minister.

Shafiq’s candidacy could see him stand against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has yet to officially declare his candidacy but looks all but certain to run in and dominate the election next year.

While thanking the UAE for hosting him, Shafiq said “I reject this interference in the internal affairs of my country”. But he promised Egyptians he would not back down from his pledge to take part in the presidential election.

In a video sent earlier in the day by an aide, Shafiq announced his intention to run in the election, saying that his decision comes as “the country is currently facing many problems in all aspects of life”.

These problems “have led to a deterioration in quality of all services provided to citizens,” he said, mentioning rising public debt which would affect “the coming generations”. Shafiq said that “new blood” might be needed to lead the country so it can move forward.

Shafiq, who was placed on trial in absentia on corruption charges after narrowly losing the 2012 election to former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, has emerged as a critic and possible contender to Sisi in the past two years.

The former prime minister was acquitted, and his lawyer had said he would be free to return, but it is thought that he fears another case might be brought against him. Sisi, a former army chief elected as president in 2014 less than a year after overthrowing Morsi, lauded his experience in the military and as an aviation minister under former president Hosni Mubarak.

Shafiq could represent one of the few candidates who can come close to challenging Sisi.

His announcement comes after Leftist rights lawyer and former presidential candidate and Sisi critic Khaled Ali announced this month his campaign to stand in the 2018 elections. Former leader Mubarak hastily appointed Shafiq as prime minister in the last days of his rule in 2011 before he was ousted from the presidency by a democratic uprising. A former aviation minister and airforce general, Shafiq did not last long in his role after Mubarak lost power.

Yet a year later, and despite widespread opposition to Mubarak-era figures at the time, he still only lost out narrowly to Morsi at the national election.

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