Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq could not have known that his first television appearance on Arabic satellite channel OTV would be his last as Egypt’s interim prime minister, after the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced its acceptance of his resignation on Thursday. The details regarding when Shafiq decided to hand in his resignation remain vague, and until now nobody is sure whether he offered this immediately following his controversial appearance on OTV, or the next day. However what is more surprising is that Shafiq’s resignation was not announced during a press conference or on state television, rather this was announced via an online post on the official Facebook page of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, making Shafiq the first international leader whose resignation was announced via a social-networking website.
Former prime minister Shafiq was already subject to mounting pressure from an Egyptian public who viewed him as a relic of the old regime, particularly as he had been appointed by Mubarak, however his combative and controversial appearance on a live televised talk show on OTV with Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany and prominent Egyptian businessman and OTV owner, Naguib Sawiris, only quickened his departure.
Sources at OTV told Asharq Al-Awsat that Shafiq was not originally scheduled to appear alongside champions of the protest movement Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani and Egyptian television journalist Hamdi Qandil, and that rather he was only supposed to appear alongside Egyptian professor of constitutional law Ahmed Kamal Abu al-Majd and research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Professor Amr Hamzawy. However much to everybody’s surprise, the former Egyptian prime minister invited al-Aswani and Qandil to appear alongside him during a commercial break.
The source added that “at this point, murmurs broke out across the studio as everybody expected the episode to be an on-air massacre as al-Aswani and Qandil were known for their hostility to the former regime and all of its members. In addition to this, the television program’s host Reem Majid was known for holding similar positions and she herself took part in the revolution and came under severe criticism for her lack of neutrality and criticism of the former regime.”
For his part, Egyptian radio and television personality Hamdi Qandil, who witnessed the events in question first-hand, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I regard Shafiq’s resignation as a natural outcome” in a reference to the mounting public pressure and criticism that Shafiq was facing. Qandil added that there were clear signs that the Egyptian Supreme Military Council was more and more prepared, over the few days leading up to his resignation, to discuss the issue of Shafiq’s removal from power in the face of mounting public pressure. Qandil stressed that “there were signs and indications during the Egyptian Supreme Military Council’s meeting with Amr Musa and Mohammed ElBaradei, but in the end, it was the public pressure that was the true catalyst [that led to his resignation.]”
Qandil stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “his television appearance was the tipping point, and this is something that profoundly affected Ahmed Shafiq personally, and I believe it was this which prompted his decision [to resign].” Qandil added “Shafiq was ruthlessly attacked [during the television show]; people were rather harsh on him.”
Shafiq was heavily criticized by Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani, and the two clashed throughout the episode about issues such as comments made by the former prime minister during the Mubarak era about the protests in Tahrir Square, and the violence suffered by the demonstrators. Al-Aswani also criticized the former prime minister for his association to the Mubarak regime and the National Democratic Party, The clashes between the Egyptian novelist and the soon-to-be former prime minister continued to escalate, with al-Aswani criticizing the Shafiq and interim government for not sufficiently investigating the deaths of the Egyptian demonstrators who died protesting against the former regime. At this point, Shafiq visibly lost his temper telling al-Aswani “You don’t understand anything! Don’t try to play the patriotic act! I’m more of a patriot than you are! I went to war, and fought battles [for Egypt]!” To which al-Aswani replied “I am an Egyptian citizen and I have the right to ask you [such questions]!”
At this point, this verbal clash almost turned physical, with one of the guests having to physically stand up and pacify the former Egyptian prime minister. Shafiq was visibly disturbed throughout the remaining portion of the live television debate, and sources indicate that he quickly left the studio following the broadcast.
For his part, OTV president Albert Shafiq told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I did not expect this outcome” denying that there was any attempt to entrap or embarrass the former Egyptian prime minister on the part of OTV. He said “this is what live television is like…you cannot control the reaction of the guests.” He added “it is not the television station’s role to lay traps, my role, like any free media outlet, is to convey the pulse of the street.”
For her part, OTV host Reem Majid said that she was surprised by how quickly Shafiq handed in his resignation, although she did say that she had the feeling that he was on the verge of announcing this on air several times. Majid denied accusations that she was responsible for the attacks and accusations levelled at Shafiq, saying “Sometimes I am forced to play the role of the devil’s advocate. In other words, I have to convey the viewpoint of the absent party to the present one…and this is exactly what happened. All the questions I asked Shafiq were already on everybody’s mind.”
She added “On a personal level, I sympathize with Shafiq for not being the right man for the job and for his inability to take decisions. He tried to defend his position without reason or logic being on his side.”
Majid had famously actively taken part in the Egyptian protests, and was seen by some as one of Egyptian media’s staunchest supporters of the revolution. She said that “we cannot say that the revolution has succeeded until we have achieved all of our demands” adding that “linking the success of the revolution to the toppling of certain [governmental] figures is not right.” As for Shafiq’s resignation, she acknowledged that “the media has become hugely influential on the course of events.”