Egypt’s parliament approved changes to the national constitution on Thursday that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to remain in office until 2034.
Under the rules implemented shortly before he took power in 2014, Sisi would complete his current term in 2022 and would not be allowed to run again.
The amendment package passed with 485 out of 596 votes. It must still pass review by a legislative committee within 60 days and win a national referendum, but neither of these hurdles is expected to block the changes.
The amended constitution changes presidential terms from four to six years, preserving the two-term limit for everyone except Sisi, who receives special permission to run for two full six-year terms after his current four-year term ends.
Sisi has not declared his intention to run for office again, but he also has not ruled it out. Last year, he said he wanted to keep the existing four-year terms for the presidency, although he indicated he would respect “the will of the Egyptian people” if they voted for a constitutional change.
The amendments also give the presidency more power over the judiciary, including judicial appointments, and limit the power of judges to review legislation unless specifically requested by parliament.
Parliament itself is subjected to several new controls, including a 450-seat cap on the upper chamber and the reinstatement of a lower chamber with 250 members, one-third of them directly appointed by the president.
The upper chamber would be subjected to controls that supposedly ensure “adequate representation” for various groups, one of them being women, who would receive a hard quota of 25 percent of the seats. Critics of the legislation dismissed its protections for women and minority groups, prominently including Egyptian Christians, as cynical pandering to win support for the upcoming referendum.
The New York Times could not have been more downbeat about Egypt’s constitutional amendments on Thursday, saying:
The changes formally confirm what has become evident to many Egyptians for years: The sweeping euphoria of 2011, when protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, has given way to an even harsher brand of strongman rule under a leader who also intends to rule for decades, and perhaps for life.
Washington’s unquestioning embrace of Mr. el-Sisi, whom President Trump has called a “great guy,” emboldened the Egyptian leader to act with little fear of American pushback.
“Project to amend #Egypt constitution unfolding & in full throttle,” the exiled opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei, who resigned as vice president after Mr. el-Sisi’s security forces massacred more than 800 protesters in 2013, wrote on Twitter last week. “Arab Spring in reverse!”
But many other Egyptians could only muster a weary shrug. “I don’t really care,” said Daniel, 31, a Cairo shopkeeper who declined to give a second name for fear of reprisals. “Sisi’s going to stay in power anyway, amendments or not.”
NPR quoted a statement from 11 Egyptian human rights groups that said the amendments “effectively serve to destroy the constitutional separation of powers, concentrating all authority into the president’s hands and solidifying his authoritarian rule.”
Sisi supporters pointed to the best economic growth in a decade, structural reforms to produce a more austere government, and the need for continued political stability as reasons to let the president run for re-election, giving him time to finish implementing difficult but much-needed reforms.
Supporters also pointed to the popular referendum and its likely passage as evidence the Egyptian people want Sisi to stay in office until his reforms are complete, while critics charged opposition has been “muted” and “cautions,” as the National put it, because opposition media have been terrorized into silence. Foreign Policy found a sizable number of Egyptians, purportedly “ordinary people rather than high-profile activists,” posting videos of themselves online protesting the constitutional amendments.
Sisi won re-election in 2018 with 97 percent of the vote, although he was effectively running unopposed. Egypt’s opposition parties formed a coalition to oppose the constitutional changes, although there are signs the coalition is already fracturing, as several members of parliament were absent from a major press conference held to announce unified opposition to changing the constitution.