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Egypt presidential hopeful returns home, whereabouts unclear

By HAMZA HENDAWI
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) - There has been no official word yet as of Sunday evening on the whereabouts of an Egyptian presidential hopeful who flew home from the United Arab Emirates a day earlier.

Ahmed Shafiq, a career air force officer who served as the last prime minister under ousted ruler Hosni Mubarak, flew to Cairo from the Emirates Saturday night, ending more than five years of exile in the Gulf Arab nation.

UAE authorities arrested and deported him to Cairo Saturday after he claimed that authorities there banned him from returning to Egypt to contest next year's presidential election. The UAE denied this and accused him of ingratitude after it had given him a home since 2012.

Last week, Shafiq announced from the UAE that he would return to Egypt to run for president. He ran in Egypt's first free elections in 2012 and lost by a narrow margin to the Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood before fleeing the country to escape a litany of criminal charges that could have landed him in prison. He has since been found innocent of all corruption allegations, clearing the way for his return home.

Airport officials said he was escorted out of Cairo airport by unidentified security personnel. Family members and supporters who had been waiting to greet him upon arrival did not see him, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

There was no official word on Shafiq's whereabouts by Sunday evening, prompting speculation on whether he has been detained by security or intelligence agencies or was being kept at a suburban Cairo hotel. Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact his lawyers failed.

Mai Ahmed Shafiq told the AP in a text message that she had yet to hear from her father.

"I don't know anything about my father," she wrote.

Egypt's presidential elections are due to be held around March or April next year. The incumbent, general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is virtually certain to run, but has yet to make an official announcement.

Predictably, the pro-el-Sissi media has already begun to demonize Shafiq, claiming he has forged a secret alliance with the Brotherhood, which has since Morsi's ouster been outlawed and designated a terrorist group. He has also been accused of "destabilizing" Egypt. There has been at least one complaint against him lodged with the chief prosecutor, accusing him of inciting against the government and sowing divisions between Egypt and the UAE, Cairo's close ally and economic backer.

It is the chief prosecutor's prerogative to investigate the complaint and, depending on his decision, refer Shafiq to trial. The only other prominent figure to so far declare their intention to run for president is rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who's appealing a conviction in a public indecency case. Ali, who pleads innocence, will not be eligible to run if the conviction his upheld on appeal.

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