In Search of Egypt’s Fifth President: Ahmed Shafik

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Egyptian potential presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik attends the Coptic Christmas eve mass at the main cathedral in Cairo 6 January 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Mohammad Khawly

Published Sunday, May 20, 2012

In Al-Akhbar’s fourth interview with Egypt’s presidential candidates, Mubarak’s former prime minister talks about Saudi Arabia, the US and his hope for economic revival.

Mohammad Khawly: What made you run for the presidential elections?

Ahmed Shafik: The deteriorating situation, the disarray facing the country, and the wrong decisions taken at the wrong time were a clear reason for announcing my candidacy in an attempt to rescue the country.

MK: Do you think the revolution was in your favor?

AS: Of course, it was a big blessing for me. Otherwise, I would not be running in the presidential elections.

MK: But you were one of the foundations of Mubarak’s regime, actually his last prime minister. Many accuse you of being a fuloul [remnant].

AS: This accusation does not bother me at all. It does not even move a hair on my head. There is a big difference between being part of Mubarak’s regime and serving the Egyptian state. I was never a fuloul nor a part of Mubarak’s regime.

MK: But there are those who contend that you said you look up to Mubarak?

AS: I did not say this and my statements were misunderstood. I said that my father was my idol.

But I used to admire Mubarak two years ago. I said that the man has characteristics that cannot be denied. He is very capable of separating between personal and professional relationships, in addition to being serious and committed.

MK: Some accuse you of being the candidate preferred by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). You even said earlier that you asked the permission of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi before deciding to run.

AS: My personal relationship with Tantawi entitles me to speak to him before taking such a position. It was out of friendship and not because he presides over the council which currently rules the country. I am a candidate for all the Egyptians and not a particular side.

The military establishment is not a party and does not pick candidates for elections. But my military experience makes me different from other candidates. It allows me to be knowledgeable about files related to national security.

MK: How would you react if there was a new revolution against you if you won the elections?

AS: The first revolution won because it was supported by all Egyptians. If I win the elections, it will no longer have such legitimacy. The people would have used the ballot box and decided on the president. Therefore, the next president will be legitimate. Those who would stand against this legitimacy are the ones who will not be legitimate.

MK: Do you support a peaceful departure for SCAF?

AS: I support an honorable, not [merely] a peaceful departure. The disarray faced by the country is the responsibility of the government.

MK: How do you evaluate SCAF’s performance in the transitional period?

AS: Up until now, SCAF has achieved its mission peacefully. The people’s assembly and the Shura council were elected without the seas of blood some were suggesting. It is enough that we did not become a new Syria.

MK: How do you evaluate the current parliament’s performance?

AS: The parliament in its current form abandoned its proper role and has adopted a logic of vengeance against political opponents. This became more true after a particular political side gained majority.

They are proposing laws that serve this majority. The parliament is busy attacking other institutions like Al-Azhar and the Supreme Constitutional Court.

MK: Many stories came out about your intentions to pull out of the race and endorse Amr Moussa.

AS: I never considered that. It is completely untrue. I will stay in the race until the end. These stories are propagated by some Moussa supporters as part of campaigns for their candidate.

MK: If you become president, what will you offer the Copts?

AS: During my term, Copts will not face discrimination, whether in building churches or gaining government jobs. If I win, I will put an end to the Copts’ problems through two legislations in the People’s Assembly to end the sectarian pressure that everyone suffers from. In the past, everyone upstaged the Copts on their issues, but nothing was solved.

MK: On external matters, how will the relationship between Egypt and Israel be during your term?

AS: I will abide by the Camp David agreement with Israel, as with all the agreements and international conventions Egypt signed with countries around the world. But I will attempt to amend some of its articles, especially those related to the Sinai.

There is a primary clause in the agreement that allows the amendment of any article. I will work towards regaining Egypt’s power economically, militarily and politically.

The total power of any country begins with a strong economy, special relations, a deterrent army and the respect of agreements and conventions.

MK: What about Egypt’s relationship with Saudi Arabia?

AS: It is a relationship of brotherhood. I will not allow any act against it under any circumstances. Commitment to strengthen this relationship will benefit the Arab region and the whole of the Middle East. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two pillars of this region’s stability. I will not let any disagreements upset relations.

MK: You once said that you are ready to sacrifice all relations with Iran for the sake of Saudi Arabia.

AS: Not exactly. I am committed to having balanced strategic relations with all the countries in the world. I respect Iran as a neighboring country and a prominent actor in the region. But it should not interfere in [other countries’] internal affairs.

Egypt’s relations with Iran are determined by what it will provide, not just for Egypt but all Arab countries, especially the Gulf. But if Egypt’s relations with Iran will impact, even minutely, our relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, then Egypt does not need this relationship.

MK: How will you deal with the crisis concerning the Nile’s water and the relationship with Nile basin countries?

AS: The former regime deliberately stayed away from Nile basin countries and Africa in general. This cleared the way for outside hands to mess with these countries due to Egypt’s negligence.

Egypt’s genuine role in the future will be to work towards reuniting African countries. This is vital for Egypt and the rest of the African countries.

Negotiations, projects and strategic collaboration will be prominent in rebuilding relations between Egypt and the rest of Africa. It was neglected by the regime on purpose.

MK: What country will you be most eager to strengthen diplomatic and economic relations with?

AS: Of all of Egypt’s external relations, I will exercise all efforts to have the strongest and best relations with Gulf countries. Especially since power lies in the unity of Egypt with those countries in particular.

Any threat to Gulf countries is a threat to Egypt, because Egypt’s security is part of the Gulf’s security. There will be a strong start between Egypt and Arab Gulf countries based on economic and political relations.

MK: What country will you visit first if you are elected?

AS: The United States of America.

MK: Why?

AS: I will be working toward Egypt’s economic interests, and related political and military affairs. Egypt’s relationship with the US should be seen through the current and future interests of the Egyptian people. It should be based on Egypt’s regional and international position.

It should be based on equality, participation and dialogue. Its main pillar should be the aim for progress. Thus, Egypt will realise the interest of the Palestinian cause based on the fundamental role of the US in the Middle East, but without forgetting the interests of the Egyptian people.

I will also work to reassess material aid received by Egypt from the US. I will act on reaching fruitful economic relations with the US, which will bolster Egypt’s economy. The relationship will be based on friendship, trade partnership and support to the military establishment through technology and arms.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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