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FILE PHOTO: Egypt's former prime minister Ahmed Shafik poses for a photo at his residence in Abu Dhabi February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh(reuters_tickers)
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's strongest potential challenger in the country's 2018 election plans to return from exile in the coming weeks, his daughter said on Friday.
Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and government minister, said this week he intended to run for president in a surprise announcement from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he is based.
Shafik's daughter May Shafik told Reuters on Friday he was preparing to depart, first for Europe and the United States.
"Then he will head back to Egypt to start his presidential campaign," she said.
Shafik had been prevented from leaving the UAE in previous days but had now received assurances that he could travel freely, she said, without specifying who gave the assurances.
The UAE denied placing any movement restrictions on Shafik, after a video of him aired by Qatari-owned TV channel Al Jazeera said he had been barred from travel.
May Shafik said there had been no intention to release that video, and that it had been leaked to Al Jazeera. The video was filmed as a precaution, she said.
The UAE is an ally of Sisi's government, which has been officially silent on Shafik's candidacy announcement.
Several Egyptian TV pundits, however, came out against Shafik in a sign of opposition he is likely to face from state-linked media.
Shafik is the most serious potential challenger yet to Sisi, who is widely expected to seek a second term, although he has not yet announced he will run.
Sisi as a military commander led the ousting of former president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, before his own landslide election a year later.
Sisi's supporters see him as key to stability following prolonged, violent upheaval that followed the 2011 Egyptian revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak. Sisi's government is fighting an Islamist militant insurgency in the Sinai region and has also enacted painful austerity reforms over the last year that critics say have dented his popularity.
Shafik, a minister under Mubarak, narrowly lost to Mursi in Egypt's 2012 election before fleeing overseas.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail, writing by John Davison, Editing by William Maclean)