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Egypt - Government

An Egyptian parliamentary committee on 05 February 2019 approved proposed constitutional amendments which would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and boost his control of the judiciary. The approval was the first step needed to move forward with the constitutional changes, which were expected to be finally endorsed by parliament and then move to a referendum. The proposed amendments were submitted to the speaker of parliament who heads the committee that approved the changes. Any changes need approval by two-thirds of parliament members, followed by a referendum.

The proposed changes also gave Sisi new powers over appointing judges and the public prosecutor. Critics say Sisi has led Egypt deeper into authoritarianism than former president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in 2011 after ruling for three decades under a state of emergency. They also include amending article 200 of the constitution to add that the military's duty is to protect "the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature." Some critics fear these changes will give the military more influence on political life in Egypt.

Egypt's parliament on 16 April 2019 overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments allowing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2030. The vote would be followed by a referendum set for April 20-22. Deputies also backed other sweeping changes to the constitution including to give the military greater influence in political life as well as granting Sisi more control over the judiciary. The amendments extend the presidential term from four to six years but keep it limited to a maximum of two terms. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. Prior to the amendments, Egypt's 2014 constitution stipulated two four-year presidential terms.

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. Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, 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.

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 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 womens representation in parliament at a minimum of 25 percent.

Egypt's parliament overwhelmingly passed the changes, despite complaints from critics that they are "unconstitutional" and designed to "consolidate authoritarianism". Parliament speaker Ali Abdel Aal said 531 deputies voted for the amendments and 22 against. The 596-seat parliament, which is dominated by Sisi loyalists, was elected in 2015, about a year after Sisi took office.

Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of parliament who pushed for the constitutional amendments to keep Sisi in power, was adamant the changes were needed to allow him to complete political and economic reforms. "The constitution in 2014 was written under tough exceptional circumstances". The deputy hailed Sisi as a president who "took important political, economic and security measures... (and) must continue with his reforms," in the face of the unrest gripping neighbouring countries. Keeping Sisi in power, he added, reflected "the will of the people".

Wall-to-wall banners and billboards flooded Cairo's streets urging people to take part in the referendum. Many feature slogans urging people "do the right thing" by voting in favor of the amendments. Others sponsored by the pro-government Nation's Future party call outright for a "Yes" vote. Such banners enveloped Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, the site of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

As lawmakers debated the proposed changes, prominent dissident actors Khaled Abol Naga and Amr Waked denounced them as a power grab. "These amendments would take us back to a dictatorship fit for the Middle Ages," Waked told a news conference by rights groups in Geneva. His fellow actor criticised Sisi's narrative that his rule brought stability. "Where is there stability in a country that jails children... that treats people badly or that kills?" he asked. Amnesty International said that by approving the amendments, the parliamentarians had shown a "complete disregard for human rights".

"These amendments aim to expand military trials for civilians, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and strengthen impunity for human rights violations by members of the security forces," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch said the amendments would "institutionalise authoritarianism". HRW urged Congress to withhold endorsement of his bid to extend his rule. "Congress needs to use its levers to pressure the Egyptian president to reverse course, starting with withdrawing these constitutional amendments set to consolidate authoritarian rule," said HRW's Michael Page.

Egypt held a three-day national referendum starting 20 April 2019 on proposed changes to the country's constitution that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to remain in power until 2030. The vote was announced after the parliament approved the amendments, which would also strengthen the role of the military.




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