Egypt accelerates efforts to extend Sissi’s rule

Vote on amendments that could keep president in power for years to come to be moved up by nearly a week, with referendum expected before Ramadan

In this file photo from January 10, 2019, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Cairo, Egypt. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP, File)
In this file photo from January 10, 2019, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Cairo, Egypt. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP, File)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s parliament is accelerating the process of passing constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office well beyond the end of his current term in 2022.

Lawmakers will decide Wednesday on whether to send the amendments to the legislative committee, a vote that was initially scheduled for February 17, parliament spokesman Ahmed Saad el-Din said late Sunday.

The legislative committee will have 60 days to discuss the amendments before a final vote. If approved, the amendments would be put to a national referendum.

The move to extend presidential terms comes amid concerns that Egypt is slipping back into authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule.

Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president, and was elected the following year. He has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, and was re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.

The 596-seat parliament gave its preliminary approval to the amendments last week. The motion is virtually guaranteed to be approved by the legislature, which is packed with Sissi’s supporters. A coalition of nearly a dozen opposition parties has come out against the proposed amendments, but on their own they would not be able to block them.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi addresses parliament in Cairo, Egypt, February 13, 2016. (MENA via AP)

The amendments also include the creation of the office of vice president, a revived Senate, and a 25 percent quota for women in parliament. They call for “adequate” representation for workers, farmers, young people and people with special needs in the legislature.

The president would have the power to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law. The amendments also give the military the role of guardian and protector of the state, democracy and the constitution.

In this photo provided by Egypt’s state news agency, MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi salutes as he inspects troops with Defense Minister Sedki Sobh at the Red Sea port city of Suez, Egypt, on October 29, 2017. (MENA via AP)

Pro-government figures and media have been lobbying for the amendments for months, saying two four-year terms are not enough for Sissi to fulfill his vision of modernizing the country, including overhauling its economy and defeating Islamic militants.

Yasser Rizq, chairman of the state-owned al-Akhbar daily and a close confidant of Sissi, said he expects the referendum to take place before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start in early May this year.

Former foreign minister Amr Moussa on Saturday called for “a wide national dialogue” on the amendments. Moussa, who also served as Arab League secretary-general, chaired the panel that drafted Egypt’s current constitution in 2014.

He urged that all voices, advocates and opponents, should be heard “to enrich the political life in the country and guarantee credibility to the amendments.”

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