Exclusive: Former Egyptian premier Shafiq says intends to run in 2018 election

CAIRO (Reuters) - Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-air force pilot and former presidential candidate, said on Wednesday he intended to run in the presidential election early next year and would return to Cairo in the “coming days”.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

But Shafiq later told pan-Arab TV channel Al Jazeera that the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Egypt’s where he is currently living, had barred him from traveling.

“I was surprised that I was prevented from leaving the UAE for reasons I do not understand,” Shafiq said, adding that he thanked the UAE for its hospitality but wished to depart.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, denied on his official Twitter account that any obstacles had been placed to his travel, saying the UAE hosted him despite “strong reservations about some of his positions”.

In a video declaration sent earlier to Reuters as well as a telephoned statement, Shafiq said he would run in the election planned for around April, when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is widely expected to seek a second term.

“I’m honored to announce my will to run in the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt as a choice to be president of the country for the next four years,” he said in the statement from the UAE in which he highlighted his time in the air force.

Shafiq would be among a small number of candidates to announce their intentions for 2018. He lost against Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the first presidential election after Egypt’s 2011 uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Sisi, who as a military commander led the army’s ousting of Mursi in 2013 before his own landslide election a year later, has yet to announce whether he will run again. He says he will follow the will of the people.

His supporters regard Sisi as the key to stability following the prolonged, violent upheaval that followed the 2011 revolt. His government is fighting a stubborn Islamist militancy in the North Sinai and has also enacted painful austerity reforms over the last year that critics say have dented his popularity.

After his defeat, Shafiq fled overseas. He formed a political party and led it from abroad but it failed to make significant gains in a 2015 parliamentary election.

Shafiq has faced various corruption charges but was either acquitted or had cases against him dropped in most instances. A year ago, his lawyer said he was removed from airport watchlists, clearing his way to return home.

Reporting by Amina Ismail; writing by Patrick Markey and Noah Browning; editing by William Maclean/Ralph Boulton