By Amina Ismail
CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian premier Ahmed Shafik met with his lawyer at a Cairo hotel on Sunday, the lawyer said, after his family said it feared he had been “kidnapped” following his arrival from the UAE after announcing his intention to run for president of Egypt.
“I had a meeting with Shafik an hour ago at one of the hotels in New Cairo and confirmed his health,” lawyer Dina Adly wrote on Facebook.
“He confirmed that his health was good and that he was not subjected to any investigations,” she wrote.
Adly did not say whether Shafik was free to leave the hotel, which she did not identify by name.
Shafik, a former air force chief and government minister, has been seen by critics of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a potential challenger to the former military commander who is widely expected to run for a second term next year.
Details about what happened to Shafik are unclear. He made his surprise announcement on Wednesday about running in the 2018 election from UAE where he has been based with his family.
Shafik’s family said he was taken from their home on Saturday by UAE authorities and flown by private plane back to Cairo. A Reuters witness said Egyptian authorities escorted him in a convoy from Cairo airport.
“We know nothing about him since he left home yesterday,” Shafik’s daughter May told Reuters. “If he was deported he should have been able to go home by now, not just disappear. We consider him kidnapped.”
The family and lawyer said they planned to file complaints with the prosecutor’s office around Shafik’s whereabouts. UAE authorities confirmed he left the Emirates but gave no details.
A source at the interior ministry said: “We do not know anything about Shafik. We did not arrest him and we did not receive any requests from the prosecution to arrest him or bring him back.”
Shafik’s abrupt departure from UAE came weeks after Lebanese officials accused Saudi Arabia of meddling by forcing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign by holding him against his will.
Saudi Arabia denied those charges but the case prompted a crisis and pushed Lebanon back into the center of a regional struggle between Riyadh with its Sunni Gulf allies and Iran.
Sisi is an ally of UAE and Saudi Arabia and his supporters say he is key to Egypt’s stability. Critics say he has eroded freedoms gained after a 2011 uprising that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak and jailed hundreds of dissidents.
Sisi has won backing from Gulf states and has presented himself as a bulwark against Islamist militants since, as army commander, he led the overthrow in 2013 of former president Mohamed Mursi of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Shafik, who narrowly lost a 2012 bid against Mursi, has joined several lower-profile candidates who say they will run, though some believe they have no chance against Sisi.
After four decades in the military, Shafik touted his military experience as one of his strengths in the 2012 vote.
But he fled to the UAE to escape corruption charges in June 2012. He dismissed the charges as politically motivated and was taken off airport watchlists last year.
In UAE, his family said he had round-the-clock security at home and informed authorities about his whereabouts. Soon after his announcement on Wednesday, he claimed he had been blocked. Though his family later said he had been given assurances he could travel.
“Apparently Shafik had to tell the Emiratis about all his moves since he came in 2012 but this time he didn’t for unknown reasons. Maybe he thought they wouldn’t let him leave,” said one diplomat in the region. “That is why he was blocked in the first time.”
But his daughter said he had informed UAE out of courtesy he planned to travel to France.
TARGET AT HOME
Shafik’s second declaration about being unable to travel was made on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel, criticized by UAE and Egypt as a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge it denies.
His daughter said the video had been leaked to Al Jazeera and had only been made as a precaution. But it triggered a wave of Egyptian pro-government media and talk-show criticism.
State-owned newspapers called Shafik “the fleeing air marshal” and said his lawyer had made deals with outlets sympathetic to the banned Muslim Brotherhood to help with Shafik’s campaign. They provided no evidence.
Two private lawyers filed complaints against Shafik with the public prosecutor in Egypt because of the Al Jazeera broadcast.
One Egyptian judicial source said on Saturday Shafik did not face criminal cases in Egypt. He was acquitted, or had charges dropped, in several cases in the past, including for corruption.
Sisi has yet to announce his own intentions for the election, saying he would follow the will of the people after presenting his achievements in the next two months.
His supporters dismiss criticism over rights abuses and say any measures are needed for security in the face of an Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.
But his government is struggling to crush the insurgency in the North Sinai region and has also enacted painful austerity reforms over the last year to revive the economy which critics say have eroded his popularity.
(Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem in Cairo and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)