BY LEEN RHAZI ’22
The appearance of Egyptian democracy changed on Feb. 14 when Egypt’s parliament overwhelmingly voted to approve constitutional changes that could possibly extend President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s time in office by another 12 years.
According to the BBC, Article 140 of Egypt’s constitution currently states that each president must serve four-year terms and may only be re-elected once. Sisi’s second four-year term will conclude in 2022. However, the proposed amendments will extend presidential terms to six years and allow Sisi to run for another two terms, effectively allowing him to remain in power until 2034.
Under the new amendments, Sisi would also attain new powers to appoint judges and legal prosecutors. The changes would also give the Egyptian military the authority to “protect” and “defend” Egypt’s constitution based on their own interpretation without going through legislators.
The vote has sparked outrage among both international and Egyptian human rights groups who claim that extending Sisi’s powers would harm the state of Egypt’s democracy.
In a rare criticism of the Egyptian government in The East African, a Kenyan newspaper, Egyptian lawmaker Ahmed Tantawi used the slogan of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. “We are placing absolute powers 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’,” he said.
Eleven non-governmental human rights groups, such as the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights and the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms have also publicly disapproved of the amendments. In a joint statement, the groups spoke out against both the amendment that would extend Sisi’s presidency and the amendment that would grant the army the power to “defend” Egypt’s constitution. “These amendments [...] exercise unprecedented unilateral authority; while granting custodianship over Egypt’s constitution and democracy to the military establishment, despite the military’s utter disrespect for both since Sisi’s ascension to power,” the statement read.
Mount Holyoke College’s Arab Student Association, comprised of a group of students from the Middle East and North Africa, were collectively worried that the extension of Sisi’s power would send Egypt closer to authoritarianism and farther from democracy. They cited Sisi’s past human rights violations and repression of dissidents as cause for concern. They worry that an extension of his tenure as president will result in further abuse of power.
Now that the initial vote has passed, the newly constructed amendments will be submitted to the Egyptian parliament’s legislative commission. The commission must draft the changes into legislation and send them back to parliament for another vote. If the vote passes by a majority of two thirds, Egypt will hold a referendum for this amendment.