CAIRO - The last prime minister of deposed president Hosni Mubarak is dividing Egyptian voters ahead of next week's presidential election, with some see him as a man of the moment', while others see him a holdover from the old era.
"He was a military man and a prime minister and a minister, Abdoh Mokhtar, 36, who works for an electricity company near Jabal Asfar, on the impoverished outskirts of Cairo, told Reuters
You cannot go wrong with (Ahmed) Shafiq," he said.
"This country needs a statesman, not a rookie in politics."
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Shafiq is among 13 candidates running to succeed Mubarak in next week's presidential election.
Leading among his rivals in the ballot are former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh.
Shafiq was appointed by Mubarak in the final days of his rule in a last a last-ditch attempt to placate protesters. He lasted about three weeks after Mubarak fell.
A former Air Force commander, Shafiq served in wars with Israel and is credited with shooting down an Israeli aircraft in the 1973 war.
When he led the Air Force in the 1990s, Shafiq sought to acquire more advanced weapons and make the force more modern.
But Egyptian officials say Washington, which provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in annual aid in the wake of the peace deal with Israel, opposed some of the plans because of Israel's objections.
As minister of civil aviation, a post he held from 2002 to 2011, Shafiq won a reputation for efficiency as he successfully oversaw the modernization of state airline EgyptAir and improvements to the country's airports.
His picture now beams down from huge billboards on major highways promising "Egypt for everyone".
His critics say Mubarak-era figures, or "feloul" (remnants) as they are derisively called in Arabic, have helped Shafiq snap up some of the most prominent billboards in the capital.
At least two parties, dominated by now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) members, say they back Shafiq.
A member of one, the Egypt Freedom Party, said it was using former NDP branch offices for the campaign.
That former party base plus the so-called "silent majority" of Egyptians who were glad to see the back of Mubarak but who now worry about stability of the state could yet help Shafiq squeeze into an expected run-off vote in June, though sketchy opinion polls suggest he remains a dark horse.
Parliament, now dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists repressed under Mubarak, had sought to eliminate Shafiq from the race with a law banning those who held top posts in Mubarak's administration.
But an election committee let him run pending a review of the law by the constitutional court.
Many Shafiq supporters come not from the political hotbed of Cairo and other cities, but from the countryside, where voter concerns about security and order tend to be strongest.
"We need a military man like Shafiq who knows Egypt well and will be able to work with the military leadership to sail this country to safety," said Ahmed Shehata, 35, a former NDP member at a rally at Jabal Asfar.
But critics say Shafiq is a holdover from Mubarak's era.
"Egypt's next president will be a revolutionary one, Mohamed Fahmy, who backs a leftist candidate, told Reuters.
We did not ignite this revolution so that the 'feloul' would take it back.
Even Shafiq's rallies hint at divisiveness.
At Jabal Asfar, he was mobbed by a devoted crowd next to the podium.
But as the audience thinned further back, some grumbled about his lecturing style and his argument that Egyptians were prone to bad manners with tourists, deterring return visits.
"He didn't talk about all the resources we have in this country, said Hossan Goma al-Suweila, who attended the rally but said he would vote for an Islamist, not for Shafiq.
He only talked about tourism. Is that all this country has?"
This week, Shafiq fended off charges that he was involved in selling land allocated for armed forces personnel to Mubarak's sons.
Shafiq, speaking in general terms, advocated investing in the Suez Canal area, described the failings of the education and health systems and promised to confront thuggery on the streets.
In the audience, Ismail Shawki shrugged off the lack of specifics and pointed to Shafiq's record, which includes modernizing and expanding airports as aviation minister.
"No one has real solutions until they become president and begin to rule, Shawki said.Shafiq proved himself in the past. He doesn't need to offer solutions now. But when he is president he will.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net