Egyptian referendum aims to keep Sisi in power until 2030

Image: Al Jazeera

Egyptians began voting on Saturday in a three-day referendum on constitutional changes that could allow President Sisi to stay in office until 2030 and reinforce the role of the stalwart military.

Sisi’s supporters say the reforms are necessary to give him more time to complete major development projects and economic reformations. Critics say they concentrate more power in Sisi’s hands and return Egypt to an authoritarian model.

While the changes are expected to pass, observers say the turnout will be a test of Sisi’s fame, which has been sunk by austerity measures since 2016. Sisi was re-elected last year with 97 percent of the votes, on 41 percent turnout.

A double-decker bus booming patriotic music circled around polling stations close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that ended former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

In the very first hours of voting, people carrying Egyptian flags and wearing T-shirts saying “do the right thing” – the slogan plastered on thousands of banners across the capital ahead of the poll- thronged round polling stations.

They refused to comment on who had funded their campaign materials.

If approved, the amendments would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to contest again for a third six-year term in 2024.

They would also grant the president authority over appointing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of candidates. They would task the military with protecting “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental structure of the country and its civil nature”.

“I believe that everything the president Sisi has done was for the good of Egypt, and I believe that we want the march to continue,” Mona Quarashi, head of a local development NGO, said before she voted in downtown Cairo.

Opponents say the changes are being rushed through without decent public scrutiny. Officials say Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, and that all views were factored into the concluding proposals.

Khaled Dawoud, a member of the opposition Civil Democratic Movement said, “This is the final deathblow after all the ambitions we had after the 2011 revolution.”

He came to power after spearheading, as the defence minister, the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi as president in 2013. Sis was elected as president a year later and won the second four-year term last year.

Under Sisi, the country has witnessed a crackdown on dissent that rights groups say is unprecedented in its recent history. Media and social media are strictly controlled.

Lina Khatib, head of Chatham House’s the Middle East and North Africa Programme said the amendments “pave the way for a power grab” by the president.

“This has grave implications for forecasts of democracy in Egypt in the medium term and makes it difficult for alternative political voices to contest for the governance in the long term,” she said.

Egypt’s 596-member parliament, dominated by Sisi’s supporters, endorsed the amendments on Tuesday, voting by 531 to 22 in favour.

Some 61 million of Egypt’s nearly 100 million population are eligible to vote. The result is assumed in the days after Monday’s final day of voting.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

Md. Faiz Ansari

Md. Faiz Ansari is an Associate Content Writer at The Kootneeti. Mr Ansari is closely monitoring national elections around the globe. He can be reached at mdfaiz@thekootneeti.in

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