Egyptian MPs back plan to extend Sisi’s rule

President could rule until 2030 if reforms backed in upcoming referendum

Egyptian lawmakers debating constitutional reforms on Tuesday. Photograph: Khaled Mashaal/EPA

Egyptian lawmakers debating constitutional reforms on Tuesday. Photograph: Khaled Mashaal/EPA

 

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, moved a step closer to extending his rule after lawmakers approved sweeping constitutional amendments that could enable him to remain in power until 2030.

The proposed changes lengthen presidential terms to six years instead of four, including Mr Sisi’s current mandate. They also increase his control over the judiciary and confirm the military’s role in politics.

The approval triggered a swift national referendum to confirm the amendments, which also include the creation of a vice-presidential role and a 25 per cent quota for female MPs, to take effect from April 22nd.

The amendments have moved quickly through the Egyptian legislature since they were first proposed in early February. Few MPs attempted to speak out against them but those who did found their voices drowned out by a chorus of nationalist fervour.

Some lawmakers in favour of the amendments raised Egyptian flags and played nationalist songs before the vote began on Tuesday. Three different parties voted against some of the changes.

“We believe that a president should not stay in power more than 10 years, because this means that he can stay forever,” said Akmal Qortam of the Conservative party. Another MP, Haitham Al-Hariri, posted a list of the amendments to his Facebook page, describing them as unconstitutional.

Mr Sisi’s supporters claim that extending presidential terms will benefit the country’s stability after he swept to power in a coup in 2013 and won an election with 97 per cent of the vote a year later.

Following his re-election last year with 97.8 per cent of the vote, the next election will be in 2024 if the changes are confirmed. But the constitution could face more revisions after parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel Aal suggested that Egypt rewrite it again within the next 10 years.

Opposition scarce

Campaigns encouraging Egyptians to participate in the upcoming referendum to confirm the changes began long before parliament announced the vote. Posters and banners urging citizens to vote yes cover the streets of Cairo, while Egyptian celebrities have gathered together in a video urging a high turnout.

The country’s religious figures have also joined the effort. Moncef Suleiman, a representative from the Coptic Christian church in Egypt, declared that the church “supports the increase in the length of presidential terms to six years”, while Grand Mufti Shawki Allam released a statement telling citizens that participating in the referendum is “a national and religious duty”.

Public opposition was scarce after the Civil Democratic Movement set up to speak out against the amendments said it had been prevented from campaigning and was denied a permit to demonstrate in front of parliament.

The internet monitoring organisation NetBlocks revealed that the Egyptian government had blocked 34,000 websites, including “technology startups, self-help websites [and] celebrity homepages”, in an attempt to prevent access to a single website created to gather signatures in opposition to the changes. The campaign operating the website claimed to have gathered over 250,000 signatures against the reforms.

Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the former president, head of the Reform and Development party and a member of the Civil Democratic Movement, said the amendments take Egypt back to a time before the 2011 revolution.

“Since the legislative authority and the state institutions do not grasp the dangers of violating the constitution and tailoring specific articles to fit only the president, the Reform and Development party calls all Egyptians to turn out and reject the amendments,” he said. – Guardian