Yesterday, Egypt started three-day a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that are likely going to allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to extend his stay office until 2030 or seek further re-election. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-Sisi parliament voted in favour of the changes.
The legislative report committee report stated, “This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president.”
Prominent Egyptian newspaper columnist Abdullah Al Sennawy decried the amendments as a threat to the country's stability. He said they would increase the government's grip on power and erode the balance between authorities currently in place.
More than a week before parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.
An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. Cunningly, an outright bar on any president serving more than two terms has been twisted to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms.
This is similar to the Russian constitution which is also silent on the maximum number of terms a President can serve. Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken advantage of the clause by seeking re-election after sitting out the two-term limit. He is currently serving his second presidency.
An additional clause extends al-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018 and allows him to run for a third term in 2024.
The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president.
Furthermore, the proposed amendments also extend the constitutional role of the military, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental make-up of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” Apart from the contradictory nature and irony of this article, the problem lies in its political implications for the future of Egypt. It means, for example, that the army will become a dominant institution that is above the law and constitution, as it dictates the nature of the state and the degree of its civil status.
This is not surprising considering that al-Sisi rose to power through a military coup. Sisi was involved in the military coup that removed Morsi from office on July 3, 2013, in response to June 2013 Egyptian protests, called a revolution by its proponents. He dissolved the Egyptian Constitution of 2012 and proposed, along with leading opposition and religious figures
The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. It grants They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary.
They further create a quota setting women’s representation in parliament at a minimum of 25 percent.
The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal.
Civil rights activists have termed it as a coup on the Constitution which is only five years old. The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations.
Voting for the Egyptian diaspora began on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, giving them less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by parliament.
Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced.
Header Image Credit: teleSUR English