Egypt’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted to approve draft constitutional changes that could extend President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s time in office by another 12 years.
Mr Sisi (right), is due to stand down in 2022 when his second four-year term ends. But 485 of the country’s 596 lawmakers voted to lengthen presidential terms to six years and let Sisi serve another two. However, the decision has not met with universal approval. Several Egyptian human rights groups have spoken out against the decision.
Article 140 of Egypt’s constitution, approved in a referendum in 2014, currently states that the president serves four-year terms and may only be re-elected once. The proposed new changes, will be drafted into legislation and put to another parliamentary vote in the near future. If approved again, Egypt will then hold a referendum. Under the terms of the proposed changes, 64-year-old Sisi would be allowed to stay in power until 2034. He would also be afforded new powers to appoint judges and the public prosecutor. The changes would also give Egypt’s military broad powers to “safeguard the constitution.” Other amendments included the introduction of a second parliamentary chamber, a 25% quota for women in parliament and “appropriate representation” for minority Coptic Christians, young people and those with disabilities.
President Sisi’s supporters in parliament argue the longer term limits are needed to allow him more time to complete economic reforms and development projects. But his critics fear it is an attempt to further entrench his rule in the country.
Eleven Egyptian human rights groups, said in a joint statement that the provisions were “disingenuous attempts to sugarcoat the government’s authoritarian power-grab”. Signatories include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.
A number of lawmakers have also spoken out against the vote. “We are placing absolute power in the hands of one person… at a time when the people were expecting us to give them ‘bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity’,” Ahmed Tantawi, an opposition MP, said on Wednesday, using the slogan of the 2011 uprising that overthrew then-President Hosni Mubarak.
President Sisi, a former army chief, led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013 following protests against his rule. Since then, he has overseen what human rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, leading to the detention of tens of thousands of people. Mr Sisi recently denied detaining any political prisoners in Egypt’s prisons. He has also led a military campaign against Islamic State militants in the country’s Sinai Peninsula.
He was re-elected last April after winning 97% of the vote, facing no serious competition because serious rivals either dropped out or were arrested.