Egyptians to vote on extending Sisi’s rule until 2030

Parliament set to pass sweeping constitutional changes that will then be put to referendum

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who swept to power in a coup in 2013. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who swept to power in a coup in 2013. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

 

Egypt’s parliament is set to vote on a bill of sweeping constitutional changes this week that would increase president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s power and allow him to rule until 2030.

MPs are expected to overwhelmingly confirm the bill of reforms on Tuesday, triggering a referendum. The proposed reforms steamrolled through parliament, moving swiftly through committee hearings and debates. They would grant Mr Sisi control over the judiciary, increase the military’s political power and extend presidential terms to six years.

The former general, who swept to power in a coup in 2013, was re-elected last year with 97.8 per cent of the vote. His bid to extend his rule comes as autocrats in neighbouring Sudan and Algeria have fallen to popular protests after decades in power.

Posters urging Egyptians to vote yes to the proposed changes began appearing across Cairo more than a week ago. “A bright future, a better tomorrow,” declared one poster. “Yes to the constitutional amendments. Yes to stability and development,” extolled another, showing Mr Sisi’s face and a bright red tick within an ornate printed picture frame.

No banners showing dissent were visible on the streets, while members of the country’s fragile opposition said they were prevented from openly campaigning.

“Right now the country needs stability, and from what I understand these constitutional amendments will bring stability,” said Mohamed Al Sharkawi, a restaurant owner who hung a banner of support for a “yes” vote in his restaurant.

A total of 485 out of 596 MPs voted to advance the bill during a previous hearing in February. What little criticism was permitted in previous debate stages, with one MP branding the changes “medieval” and saying they would aid autocratic rule, has since been all but silenced. A national dialogue on the changes included only those who “appear to have been hand-picked to include no opposition voices”, wrote Egypt’s only independent media outlet, Mada Masr.

Dissent suffocated

Instead, most MPs restricted their criticisms to a package of proposed changes designed to sweeten the vote, such as a 25 per cent quota for women.

“This proves the entire process is a ploy and that the result is known in advance. It’s not just that a date hasn’t been set, but even the final draft of the amendments hasn’t yet been approved by parliament,” said Khaled Dawoud of the opposition Constitution Party.

Efforts to show resistance to the reforms fell flat, after Dawoud and the Civil Democratic Movement coalition, created to oppose the changes, said their attempts to show dissent had been suffocated. Ten Constitution Party members were arrested for opposing the constitutional amendments. “A total of nearly 120 people were arrested from legal opposition parties and other pro-democracy groups,” said Dawoud.

Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel Aal told local outlet Ahram Online that the referendum could begin as soon as April 22nd, just a week after the proposed vote. “In ruling circles the referendum is being seen as a vote of confidence in president al-Sisi and his regime,” he said.

“It’s depressing,” said Tarek Salama, a former member of the pro-government Free Egyptians Party, who took to social media to call on people to vote “no” to the changes. “All of this is completely organised by the security services,” he said. “It’s about giving the impression that everyone will say yes – it’s not about whether it moves people or not.”

Egyptian authorities repeatedly blocked a website that had reportedly garnered over 100,000 signatures showing opposition to the changes, soon after it launched. “If Sisi would allow a free referendum, he would win, but with an image that he’s a democrat. But you have to understand, he wants to prove he’s strong,” said Salama.

One 32-year-old Egyptian, who for his own safety is not bein g named, told the Guardian he would vote for the first time in years, in order to oppose the changes. “I’m going to vote, just so I can vote no,” he said. “I’m not hopeful, but I won’t forgive myself if I don’t go.”

Timothy Kaldas, of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said the referendum presented a rare opportunity to show dissent at the ballot box, despite few expectations the process would be fair. “Unlike opposition candidates in the last election, the government can’t imprison the word no,” he added. – Guardian