“All those are Competing in Next Election in Egypt” – pick and choose …

As Egypt is on its way for the presidential elections scheduled in 2018, candidates either withdrew under threats, including jail. One of the likely candidate is former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik who has announced  that he will not run for president in the upcoming elections.

In a statement on Twitter,Shafik said, “I have decided following my return to my beloved home country to re-assess the general situation regarding what I announced during my stay in the UAE.”

“My absence of more than five years perhaps distanced me from being able to very closely follow what is going on in our nation in terms of developments and achievements despite the difficulty of the conditions,” the statement read.

“I have seen that I will not be the ideal person to lead the state’s affairs during the coming period. Thus, I have decided not to run in the upcoming 2018 presidential elections,” Shafik declared.

The Egyptian former Prime Minister, a former air force commander and government minister was seen as the strongest potential opponent of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is expected to run a second term next year.

Did Shafik Undergo Pressure to Pull Himself Out the Elections?

In November 2016, Shafik announced from the UAE,where he had been in exile since 2012, that he intends to run in the upcoming presidential elections.

Shafik announced his intentions to run for elections as Egypt is suffering at “many problems breaching all aspects of life and which have led to the collapse or deterioration of all public services,”he said. He also campaigned against the frightening growth on national debt.

Despite his eagerness in the beginning for running the elections saying that the country is facing many problems, but Shafik quickly surrendered and withdrew from the elections.

But the question; was this Shafik’s freewill or he underwent pressure to withdraw?

In fact, since Shafik announced that he will run for the elections, Egypt’s state-aligned media set off a firestorm of criticism on Egypt’s former media .

Moreover, Ahmed Shafik appeared on Al Jazeera television and said that he was being barred from leaving UAE. He said that the leaders of the United Arab Emirates were preventing him from leaving their country, seeking to block him from running again against al-Sisi.

“I was surprised to find myself prevented from leaving our sister country,”the former general, Ahmed Shafik, said in a videotaped statement from Dubai, where he has lived in exile with the support of the Emirates since he lost the 2012 Egyptian presidential election.

He added,” I reject interventions into the affairs of my country by preventing me from participating in a constitutional process and a sacred national mission.”

Shafik’s daughter said that her father had been prevented from leaving the UAE in previous days but had then received assurances that he could travel freely. She did not specify who gave the assurances.

Later, in a surprise move, Ahmed Shafik was deported from the United Arab Emirates and arrived in Cairo. He also appeared later in an interview on Dream TV which was his first public appearance since leaving the UAE.

His family said earlier they feared he had been “kidnapped”. Sources said he had been picked up by Egyptian authorities at Cairo airport.

Shafik dismissed reports he had been kidnapped.

Earlier after being deported to Cairo, Shafik’s family said that he had been taken from their home by UAE authorities and flown by private plane back to Cairo.

“We know nothing about him since he left home yesterday,” Shafik’s daughter May said before his reappearance.

She added, “If he was deported he should have been able to go home by now, not just disappear. We consider him kidnapped.”

Directly after being deported to Cairo, Shafik hinted for his desire to exit the upcoming presidential race.

In a statement, Shafik started to change his stance, but he didn’t withdraw completely and said that he stands in full support of national stability. He highlighted the presence of true state intentions for countering terrorism—a mission he said demands nationwide decisive unity.

Until finally he announced this week his withdrawal completely from running the presidential elections in 2018.

The Role of the Intelligence Service in Launching Smear Campaigns Against Shafik

Once many, including Hazem Abdelazim – former member of Sisi’s 2014 election campaign, made the assertion that under Sisi, Egyptian talk show hosts have become employees of the intelligence services.

Abdelazim claims that intelligence officers not only preapprove and set up guest appearances, that they also dictate topics of discussion and have final say over talking points.

In this context, a leaked conversation revealed that an Egyptian secret service agent ordered a prominent TV host to prepare a show reel of footage to discredit former presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafik as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathize.

Audio of conversations between the agent Captain Ashraf al-Kholi and the host Azmi Megahed, broadcast by the Turkish-based Arabic television channel Mekameleen on Monday evening, reveals a plan to “crack” Shafik’s head and smear him if he steps out of line.

The Kholi-Megahed conversations appear to have taken place before Sunday. In a transcript seen by Middle East Eye, Kholi tells Megahed of bargaining behind the scenes with Shafik, and the need for a smear campaign if things go wrong.

“I want you to prepare Shafik’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,” Kholi tells the TV host.

Megahed, a former army brigadier now working for al-Aseema channel, replies, “I am ready, sir.”

The leak comes days after Megahed was reported by the New York Times to have been one of four influential Egyptian media personalities instructed by Kholi to publicly back the decision by the US to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The conversations span two days, where Kholi and Megahed discuss Shafik’s return to Egypt and the state’s plans on dealing with him.

“Let me tell you. With regard to Shafik… we shall not do him harm,”says Kholi.

“I shall not touch him at all. I said a few words yesterday. Now, only when things are clear we’ll do [proceed],” replies Megahed.

“You know that if he is willing to go along with us as we wish, he will be treated as one of the former leaders of the armed forces. He will have all respect and appreciation,” says Kholi.

“But if he is… with the Brotherhood?”

“We shall crack his father’s head,” replies Kholi – an Egyptian colloquialism meaning they will go after Shafik and his family.

The secret agent tells Megahed that there were members of the intelligence services who were supportive of Shafik.

“You know there are a few whores in the general intelligence who have taken Shafik’s side. Wherever a stench is smelled, eyes will be set.”

In the later conversation, Megahed tells Kholi he acted as ordered on air.

“I said, ‘Folks! Shafik’s issue has proven that Egypt has in it a respectable presidency and a respectable leadership,” Megahed tells Kholi.

“He was neither imprisoned nor humiliated and nothing happened to him,”replies the agent.

“We have a respectable leadership that fears God. It fears God in dealing with the people and in dealing with the country,” says Megahed

“It would never humiliate the leaders of the army,”Kholi adds in agreement.

Moreover, sources close to the former prime minister have told Middle East Eye that Ahmed Shafik abandoned his Egyptian presidential bid after being told that he would be smeared with allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption,

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 Shafik 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 Shafik camp told MEE that the threats were made to force him to abandon his bid for the presidency.

MEE also reported that a few days before Shafik was due to travel from UAE to Paris on 26 November, al-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 Shafik from leaving the country. After allegedly failing to convince the UAE to allow him to leave, Shafik put out a statement to the Reuters news agency, declaring his intention to run for Egypt’s presidency.

What Is the Fate of the Other Candidates?

Egypt’s former presidential candidate Amr Moussa and the last secretary general of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party Hossam Badrawi withdrew their candidacy from the presidential elections.

On the other hand, an Egyptian military court sentenced a colonel to six years in prison on Tuesday after he announced plans to stand in the 2018 presidential election, his lawyer said.

Ahmed Konsowa was given the jail term for “stating political opinions contrary to the requirements of the military order,” according to his lawyer.

The colonel had announced he would be a candidate for president in video messages and a statement on Facebook on November 29.

He was also accused of “appearing on the social network website Facebook in military uniform, contrary to the requirements of the military order,”Heikal said.

Heikal said that the 42-year-old has been in custody since his arrest on December 2 as military prosecutors investigated the case.

In his videos, and without mentioning Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by name, Konsowa criticized Egypt’s policies in education, health and the economy.

Heikal has said Konsowa followed al-Sisi’s example in announcing his candidacy. Sisi was in uniform when he did so, before later resigning as defense minister.

In the same context, al- 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.

The only remaining candidate to declare intention to run against al-Sisi is Khaled Ali, a figurehead of Egypt’s left.

Meanwhile, Ali is facing harsh criticism from the pro-state media. “I’m seen as a traitor funded from abroad,” he said, shrugging off the criticisms levelled at him by Egyptian media and pro-government figures.”

His campaign has also faced intimidation from the start. Police raided a printing house producing his campaign brochures, then denied the raid ever took place.

“I was asked to attend a dinner in downtown Cairo, and the next day every cafe in that street was closed, as everyone had been hassled by the police,” Ali added. “A lawyer in one district wanted to hold a meeting to discuss supporting me, and then got a call from the police demanding that he cancel it.”

Ali has also become a punching bag for Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-state media. Since announcing his intention to run, he is yet to be invited to speak on any of Egypt’s influential nightly talk shows or give interviews to the local press.

The hyper-nationalist Al Gomhuria newspaper has run coverage denouncing Ali, at one point publishing a provocative full-page op-ed by the editor in chief entitled “Khaled Ali and midget’s play”. The piece described Ali as a show-off secretly funded by the EU, obsessed with authority and “cartoonish struggles”.

Now as all the possible candidates have been removed from al-Sisi’s way, the political arena is completely empty for al-Sisi alone to run for the upcoming elections. It seems that al-Sisi is seeing his regime “too fragile”to face any other candidates in the coming elections.

Accordingly, al-Sisi will be going again in his own landslide election as he did before in June 2014 when he  officially assumed the presidential office.

Al-Sisi, formerly head of the country’s armed forces, who swept to power in a military coup against the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. His first term witnessed increasing economic turbulence and security concerns, accompanied by an unprecedented crackdown on opposition, free speech and civil society. Though he is yet to declare, he is widely expected to run for a second term, and win.