There is no legal reason restricting Ahmed Shafik, the former Egyptian prime minister, from contesting the 2018 presidential elections, according to the country’s foreign minister.
Sameh Shoukry made the remarks while participating in a meeting on the Mediterranean in Italy on Friday, just days after Shafik announced his intention to run.
Shafik, a former Egyptian air force commander who currently lives in the United Arab Emirates, announced his intention on Wednesday to run in the upcoming election.
Later in the day, he said in a video message that he had been blocked from leaving the UAE.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a close ally of the UAE, is widely expected to seek a second term but has yet to announce it.
“I see no reason why he should not run. I say that as a layman. I know he’s had some issues with the judiciary. I am not sure whether those have been resolved or not,” Shoukry said in Rome.
“But in principle, he is free to represent himself to the electorate. As in any society, it’s up to the electorate to decide.”
Khaled Ali, a prominent Egyptian rights lawyer, has also voiced his intent to contest the 2018 elections.
Trial in absentia
After losing the closely contested 2012 presidential election to his Islamist rival Mohamed Morsi, Shafik fled to the UAE.
He was placed on trial in absentia in Egypt and found guilty of corruption charges.
He was later acquitted, clearing his path for a potential return to Egypt.
In his video message, Shafik said that UAE officials had placed a travel ban on him, preventing him from embarking on a tour of Egyptian expatriate communities.
“I reject any intervention in Egypt’s affairs by preventing me from participating in a constitutional right and a holy mission to serve my country,” Shafik said.
“I call on the UAE leaders to order the lifting of any restrictions on my ability to travel,” he said.
Anwar Gargash, UAE’s junior foreign minister, subsequently hit back at Shafik’s “lack of gratitude” via Twitter.
“[Shafik] took refuge in the UAE and ran away from Egypt after the results of the 2012 presidential election. We presented him with every facility and generous hospitality despite our severe reservations about some of his positions,” Gargash said.
Samer Shehata, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, USA, said it was unknown if Sisi was behind Shafik’s alleged travel ban.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Norman, Oklahoma, Shehata said Shafik’s inability to leave the UAE was to the advantage of Sisi and also benefits the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are among the staunchest supporters of the current Egyptian president, so they have an interest in Sisi continuing,” Shehata said.
“They are in favour of Sisi staying in power and not in seeing [the appearance of] any potential challengers.”
However, Shehata thinks Shafik has little chance of actually winning the presidential election.
“The reality is that the system is engineered so that Sisi will win. He will win another term next year,” he said.
Morsi was removed in 2013 in a coup led by el-Sisi, then Egypt’s defence minister, but Shafik remained in the UAE.