Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi could stay in power for 11 more years after the country’s parliament approved proposed constitutional amendments on Tuesday. The changes extend a president’s term in office from four to six years and allow for a maximum of two terms.
As a result, Sisi who is due to step down in 2022 when his tenure ends would see his current second four-year term extended to six years. Thus he could run for another six-year term in 2024, potentially extending his rule until 2030. Albeit, the country will hold a referendum over the proposed constitutional changes, and the vote is set to run between April 20-22.
The extension of presidential terms is part of amendments initially introduced in February by a parliamentary group supportive of Sisi. Although the earlier draft was different. It proposed to allow Sisi to run for two more six-year terms after his current term expires in 2022, possibly keeping him in office until 2034. It was updated this week after many rounds of debates.
“Today, we are concluding what we started in February. In this great day, we offer to the Egyptian people a draft bill of the constitutional amendments,” Speaker of the Parliament Ali Abdel-Al said at the beginning of the session.
The 596-member parliament, packed with Sisi’s supporters and often criticised by the opposition as being a “rubber stamp” for the president, overwhelmingly approved the amendments.
Sisi’s government laden with the repression of political opponents and critics have denounced the proposals as another step back towards authoritarianism. However, justifying the proposed changes, Speaker of the Parliament, Abdel-Al, claimed it was aimed at achieving “political justice … and the required stability.”
One of the Members of Parliament who pushed for the constitutional amendments, Mohamed Abu Hamed, also told AFP that Sisi “took important political, economic and security measures (and) must continue with his reforms,” considering the unrest currently facing neighbouring countries (Libya and Sudan).
Repression and mass detention
Sisi came into the spotlight after he led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. He would then go on to win his first term as president in 2014 and was re-elected in March 2018 (with more than 97 percent of the vote) contesting practically unopposed as several potential rivals withdrew or were arrested.
Since then, he has overseen what human rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown on dissent that has led to the detention of tens of thousands of people. In the past three years, more than 15,000 civilians, including children, have been referred to military prosecution in Egypt, according to Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, internet monitor firm NetBlocks said that Egyptian authorities had partly or fully blocked 34,000 websites. This was aimed at restricting access to a campaign website that had reportedly collected 250,000 signatures against the amendments.
Other proposed amendments
Complementing the extension of presidential terms, the amendments also grant Sisi greater control over the judiciary. The president is allowed to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation.
Also, the military’s role in politics is further enshrined. The changes declare them the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy, and the constitution while granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.
Lastly, the amendments introduce one or more vice presidents, revive the Senate and enshrine a 25 percent quota for women in parliament’s lower, legislative chamber. They include provisions for what is described as an adequate representation for workers, farmers, youth, and people with special needs.
The sweeping constitutional changes in Egypt where demonstrations have effectively been banned under Sisi come eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s decades-long rule.