A recent news conference organized by Egyptian civil aviation workers to present evidence of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s alleged corruption ended abruptly when Shafiq supporters arrived at the meeting and started physical fights with their anti-Shafiq counterparts.
While the conference Saturday devolved into pro- and anti-Shafiq camps brawling and yelling chants against each other, organizers desperately tried to calm the crowd down in order to present the documents they said proved the corruption of Shafiq, who served as Minister of Civil Aviation from 2002 to 2011. The lights were shut off and the conference hall cleared out, but the scuffle continued in the lobby until the fire alarm was pulled, pushing everyone out of the building.The anti-Shafiq camp raised shoes to posters of Shafiq, set them on fire, and stomped on them. They chanted, “Tahrir says Shafiq is one of the felul (remnants of the old regime)” and “down with the military dogs.”
People were unsure where the Shafiq supporters had come from, but some pinned them as thugs hired by the Shafiq campaign, remarking on their style and use of obscene language.
Amid the chaos in the lobby of the Journalism Syndicate in downtown Cairo, where the conference was held, organizers lodged accusations against Shafiq, who is well known for renovating Egyptian airports during his tenure as minister, including leading the construction of Cairo Airport’s new, modern-looking Terminal 3.
One civil aviation worker said that while minister, Shafiq sold ministry land at reduced prices to businessmen and made corrupt deals with those close to the Mubarak regime, including Magdy Rasikh, the father-in-law of Hosni Mubarak’s oldest son, Alaa. He also said that Shafiq profited immensely from the construction of Terminal 3, but cut corners in the construction process, resulting in many technical defects.
Shafiq denied accusations of graft in a statement on his campaign website.
Another civil aviation worker showed her I.D. to journalists, insisting that she did not care if she was fired for exposing what she called Shafiq’s corruption. She also accused Shafiq of being one of the engineers of the Battle of the Camel, one of the most violent skirmishes of the 2011 uprising in which a group of men, allegedly hired by the government, attacked protestors in Tahrir on horses and camels, leaving 11 dead and hundreds injured.
In the final days of his presidency, Mubarak appointed Shafiq Prime Minister in an attempt to appease protestors calling for his resignation. Just two weeks later, Mubarak stepped down. Soon thereafter, Shafiq stepped aside as well, disappearing from the Egyptian political scene. He did not re-emerge until he announced his candidacy for president last December.
The dissolution of the conference is telling of what is at stake in Wednesday’s historic presidential elections, especially for those revolutionaries worried that over a year after the 2011 uprising, the former regime is still very much intact. Ahmed Shafiq is considered one of the frontrunners, alongside former Arab League head Amr Moussa and ex-Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.
The disrupted news conference represents one of many events attempting to spread awareness about remnants of the old government. Conference attendees included members of the “Catch the Felul” campaign, a youth group dedicated to cleansing state institutions of members of the now defunct National Democratic Party.
The Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) initially disqualified Shafiq from the presidential race after the lower house of parliament passed and the ruling military junta approved a law barring former regime members from holding public office. However, Shafiq won an appeal against the decision, in which he questioned the law’s constitutionality, and was allowed back into the race.
Stephanie Figgins is a freelance writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Her background lies in international affairs and economics, specializing in social change and national security issues in the Middle East and Africa. Recently, she has focused on transitioning economies and political systems in Libya and Egypt.