Ahmed Shafiq

Yasmine Fathi, Monday 2 Apr 2012

Ahmed Shafik
Ahmed Shafik (Photo: Reuters)

A former commander of the Egyptian Air Force, diplomat and politician, Ahmed Shafiq was a long-time minister in Mubarak's government and was appointed prime minister in the final days of Mubarak’s rule.

Born in 1941 in Cairo, Shafiq graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1961. 

Shafiq holds a master’s degree in military sciences and a PhD in military strategy.

He fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war as a senior fighter pilot under the command of Mubarak, the commander of the air force at the time, and is said to have downed two Israeli warplanes.

Shafiq is married and a father of three daughters.

Before the revolution

After the 1973 war, Mubarak continued to gradually promote Shafiq up the military ranks.

He served as the military attaché in the Egyptian embassy in Rome between 198 and 1986, then as Air Force chief of staff between 1991 and 1996 and as commander of the Egyptian Air Force between 1996 and 2002.

Prior to the revolution, the public had started to become more familiar with Shafiq during his years of tenure as civil aviation minister from 2002 to 2011.

As minister he aimed to transform Egypt Air, the government-owned main airline, into a more competitive, international carrier. He successfully lobbied the World Bank to finance air transport projects in Egypt for the first time, and so gained the funding for a new terminal at Cairo International Airport. He also secured the membership of Egypt Air in the elite Star Alliance international courier constellation in 2008.

Corruption allegations hovered around Shafiq's decisions as minister for years, including reports of him selling land surrounding the airport for much less than its value, at LE1 per metre. He has also been accused of giving airport construction contracts to businessmen affiliated with the Mubarak regime by direct order and not through a bidding process, as mandated by Egyptian law.

Shafiq has repeatedly denied corruption allegations and insisted his administrative record was free of violations.

In the last years of the Mubarak era, Shafiq's name was actually floated as one of Mubarak’s possible successors, alongside Mubarak’s own son, Gamal, and the former head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman.

The revolution and beyond

Four days after protesters began their historic sit-in in Tahrir Square on 25 January, 2011, Mubarak appointed Shafiq prime minister in a last-ditch effort to appease protesters.

Shafiq’s relationship with the protesters quickly soured, however, when he ignored the protesters' demands that Mubarak resign. Patronisingly, he offered on state TV to send sweets to the protesters, suggesting Tahrir Square should simply become a "Hyde Park of self-expression."

Shafiq was also in charge when armed thugs attacked protesters in Tahrir on 2 February. The attackers burst through the crowds of protesters brandishing weapons riding camels and horses, known as the Battle of the Camel.

His half-hearted attempt to console the country in the aftermath of the Battle of the Camel – which many blame on the government itself – left him even less popular with revolutionaries.

Following Mubarak’s ouster on 11 February, Shafiq became the butt of the jokes of revolutionaries who dubbed him "Mubarak’s man" and "the man in the blue sweater," because of his trademark blue jumper.

More seriously, mass protests throughout the month of February increased pressure on the military council, which pushed Mubarak out, to also ditch Shafiq.

Shafiq’s fortunes hit rock bottom after a well-publicised heated debate he took part in with author and activist, Alaa El-Aswani, in a live TV talk show.

While millions watched on TV screens, Aswani grilled the prime minister and questioned his competence and basic knowledge of the day-to-day realities of ordinary Egyptians. Shafiq, looking frazzled and confused, seemed out of touch.

The following day, the ruling military council replaced Shafiq as prime minister with former minister of transportation, Essam Sharaf.

After keeping a low profile for several months, Shafiq re-entered the public arena when he announced in December 2011 his intention to run for president.

Due to his military background, many charged that Shafiq would become the candidate for Egypt's ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Despite denying such accusations, Shafiq regularly insinuates on the campaign trail that the ruling military council endorses his candidacy by reminding his audiences that Field Marshall Tantawi is a long-time close friend.

Winning cards

* His association with the Mubarak regime for decades makes him a favourite among many supporters of the ousted president. His promises to end a perceived state of lawlessness in the country within 30 days from the start of his presidency might appeal to segments in the public that are willing to ignore his years of service under Mubarak.

* His commitment to Mubarak-era neo-liberal economic policies appeals to businessmen who rally to keep the private sector a driving force in the country.

Odds against

* His close ties with Mubarak and his military council, which took power under the name SCAF, make him an unpopular candidate amongst those concerned that his presidency could mean a return of a Mubarak-era regime and a defeat of the revolution.


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