CAIRO – Humans Rights Watch said on Tuesday proposed amendments to the constitution in Egypt, including a motion that would allow the most-populous Arab country’s president to stay longer in office, would cement an authoritarian government.
Under the current constitution, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi can stay in power for only two consecutive four-year terms but one of the amendments submitted earlier this month by lawmakers to the parliament speaker demanded the presidential term be extended to six years.
“These amendments reinforce efforts of President al-Sisi’s military-backed government to stifle people’s ability to challenge those in power,” said Michael Page, HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director, in a statement.
“If the amendments are passed, there is a clear risk that they will formally give the armed forces unchecked authority,” he added.
The current constitution was adopted in 2014, the same year al-Sisi, a former military chief, came to power after he led the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Sisi is scheduled to step down in 2022 but if the reforms go through, he could run for office again and potentially remain in power until 2034.
Page also expressed his concern that these amendments would make the military “responsible for protecting the constitution and democracy – and the civil state.”
Among the potential amendments, which are to be submitted to a popular referendum once they are approved by the legislative body, was a quota giving women at least 25 percent of parliament seats.
On Feb. 4, an opposition coalition in the Egyptian parliament warned the constitutional amendments could be abused by the country’s president to hang on to power for life.
The 16 MPs belonging to the so-called “25-30” opposition coalition expressed their reluctance to amend the constitution, saying it would pave the way for the incumbent head of state to stay in office longer than initially expected.
“It would allow the president to stay (in office) until 2034, that is, when he would be 80 years old,” opposition lawmaker Talaat Khalil said at a press conference.
The coalition was named after both the Jan. 25, 2011 popular uprising that marked the beginning of the end of the autocratic rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, and the June 30, 2013 demonstrations that heralded the ouster of Morsi from the presidency.
The request to push for a constitutional reform was undersigned on Feb. 3 by a group of 120 pro-government MPs out of the 596-seat parliament.
In March 2018, al-Sisi ran for a second term after potentially serious opponents dropped out of the race and was elected with 97 percent of the vote.
The Egyptian president was widely expected to win, since his rival, little-known politician Mousa Mostafa Mousa, had previously offered his support to al-Sisi and barely campaigned in the run-up to the election.