Military man has Egypt presidency in sights (REUTERS) By Marwa Awad and Edmund Blair CAIRO, EGYPT 06/15/12 4:05am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Ahmed Shafik´s campaign to succeed Hosni Mubarak as
president of Egypt did not include a stopover in Tahrir Square.
Birthplace of the uprising that toppled the autocratic leader and now
the rallying point for an unfinished revolution, Tahrir has seethed
with hostility to a man seen by many as a Mubarak offshoot who would
reverse progress to democracy.
Shafik´s critics say influence wielded by Egypt´s interim army rulers
got him as far as this weekend´s run-off against the Muslim
Brotherhood´s Mohamed Morsy.
Suspicion that powerful forces are lining up behind the former air
force commander deepened on Thursday when Egypt´s highest court
overturned a law that would have barred him from the presidency and
declared a parliamentary vote won by Islamists as void.
But there is real appeal to his law-and-order message for millions of
Egyptians fed up with social and political turmoil since the collapse
of Mubarak´s heavy-handed security apparatus in last year´s popular
There is also the fear, not least among Egypt´s 10 percent Christian
minority, of rising Islamist power that Shafik has portrayed as a
In his last appeals for votes before Friday´s close of official
campaigning, Shafik pledged to "address chaos and return stability",
but also claimed the mantle of the uprising for himself, promising to
bring its dividends to all Egyptians.
Yet Shafik, 70, remains a divisive figure whose repeated expressions
of support for the uprising are met with indignation by the youthful
revolutionaries who led it.
Many recall his offer as prime minister of "sweets and chocolates"
for the protesters in Tahrir, proffered while they were mourning
comrades shot dead by riot police.
After the first round of the presidential election last month, he
tried to reach out again to his staunchest critics, saying: "Your
revolution was stolen... I pledge to return its fruits to your hands."
A state electoral committee said Shafik came second in last month´s
opening round of Egypt´s first free presidential election. Turnout
was 46 percent.
It said Morsy won 24.3 percent of the vote and Shafik 23.3 percent,
knocking more moderate candidates out of the race.
Many Shafik supporters come not from the political hotbed of Cairo
and other cities, but from the countryside, where voter concerns
about security and order tend to be strongest.
Successive attacks on his campaign offices drew defiance from Shafik
that played up to his no-nonsense image.
"Do they think that by burning Shafik´s headquarters, they will burn
Shafik? Forget it," he told reporters early this month before evoking
another campaign refrain - fear of the unknown.
"The Brotherhood represents the darkness and secrets and nobody knows
who they are and what they do... I represent Egypt, all of Egypt," he
Shafik, who favors open-necked shirts, stood alongside relatives of
Mubarak´s two predecessors, including the wife of Anwar Sadat and
daughter of Gamal Abdel Nasser, at an event on Wednesday, hinting at
a continuity of power that a Morsy win would rupture.
He has vowed to uphold Sadat´s 1979 peace treaty with Israel,
saying: "I object to Israel´s current actions, but I am a man who
honors past agreements."
He says he has the military and political experience to lead Egypt
into a new democratic era, yet his links to Mubarak have polarized
voters. He sees himself as slotting into Egypt´s 60-year-old
tradition of drawing presidents from the military.
"You cannot suddenly bring a civilian man with no relation or
knowledge of military life and make him president and supreme
commander of the armed forces," Shafik told Reuters earlier this
year, saying he could ensure a "smooth transition".
The military council that took over from Mubarak has promised to hand
over to a new president by July, but the army is expected to wield
political influence for years to come.
"Civilians may be in a hurry and they think that as soon as the new
president is elected he will act freely of the military. No, this
will not be the case," Shafik declared.
But the idea of Shafik taking power angers many Egyptians who see him
as a tool of the army and the Mubarak old guard who would roll back
all the uprising´s fragile gains.
Protesters threw stones and shoes at him when he voted in Cairo last
month. "The coward is here. The criminal is here!" they
chanted. "Down with military rule!" Shafik was unhurt.
He makes no secret of his "good relations" with army chief Field
Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, saying he consulted him before
deciding whether to run.
Shafik has openly expressed his admiration for Mubarak, making no
apologies for describing the former president as his role model,
after his own father, in a 2010 newspaper interview.
"See what I said? And I will keep telling you this until the last day
in my life, and for a reason: he had great courage," Shafik told al-
Hayat television when queried about the remark.
Mubarak named Shafik prime minister in a last-ditch attempt to
placate protesters. A few days later the president stepped down.
Shafik lasted another three weeks before he too resigned.
In a military career spanning four decades, Shafik served in wars
with Israel and is credited with shooting down an Israeli aircraft in
the 1973 war.
When he led the air force in the 1990s, he sought to modernize it
with more advanced weapons. Some Egyptian officials say Washington,
which gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year in military aid, opposed some
plans because of Israeli objections.
As civil aviation minister from 2002 to 2011, he overhauled state
airline EgyptAir and improved the country´s airports.
(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; Writing by Edmund Blair and
Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy) (© Thomson Reuters 2012.
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