An Egyptian secret service agent ordered a prominent TV host to prepare a showreel of footage to discredit former presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafiq as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser, according to a leaked conversation.
Audio of conversations between the agent Captain Ashraf al-Kholi and the host Azmi Megahed, broadcast by the Turkish-based Arabic television channel Mekameleen on Monday evening, reveals a plan to "crack" Shafiq's head and smear him if he steps out of line.
Shafiq, 76, returned to Egypt after being deported from the UAE in December, vowing to contest the Egyptian presidency against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
However, on Sunday he pulled out, saying that five years in exile in the UAE had "distanced me from… what is going on in our nation".
The Kholi-Megahed conversations appear to have taken place before Sunday. In a transcript seen by Middle East Eye, Kholi tells Megahed of bargaining behind the scenes with Shafiq, and the need for a smear campaign if things go wrong.
"I want you to prepare Shafiq's videos when he was talking to the Brotherhood, because now there is bargaining and we want to see where we get with him. If he persists we shall dig out the old stuff," Kholi tells the TV host.
Megahed, a former army brigadier now working for on al-Malaaf (The File) on al-Aseema channel, replies: "I am ready, sir."
The leak comes days after Megahed was reported by the New York Times to have been one of four influential Egyptian media personalities instructed by Kholi to publicly back the decision by the US to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The conversations span two days, where Kholi and Megahed discuss Shafiq's return to Egypt and the state's plans on dealing with him.
"Let me tell you. With regard to Shafiq… we shall not do him harm," says Kholi.
"I shall not touch him at all. I said a few words yesterday. Now, only when things are clear we’ll do [proceed]," replies Megahed.
"You know that if he is willing to go along with us as we wish, he will be treated as one of the former leaders of the armed forces. He will have all respect and appreciation," says Kholi.
"But if he is… with the Brotherhood?"
"We shall crack his father's head," replies Kholi – an Egyptian colloquialism meaning they will go after Shafiq and his family.
The secret agent tells Megahed that there were members of the intelligence services who were supportive of Shafiq.
"You know there are a few whores in the general intelligence who have taken Shafiq’s side. Wherever a stench is smelled, eyes will be set."
In the later conversation, Megahed tells Kholi he acted as ordered on air.
"I said, 'Folks! Shafiq’s issue has proven that Egypt has in it a respectable presidency and a respectable leadership,'" Megahed tells Kholi.
"He was neither imprisoned nor humiliated and nothing happened to him," replies the agent.
"We have a respectable leadership that fears God. It fears God in dealing with the people and in dealing with the country," says Megahed
"It would never humiliate the leaders of the army," Kholi adds in agreement.
Shafiq, an ex-air force commander and former aviation minister, narrowly lost a presidential election to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in 2012 before fleeing for the UAE, where he has lived since.
Egypt on Monday said presidential elections would be held in March.