By The Wall Street Journal –
Egyptian president’s backers propose constitutional amendment allowing him to stay in office longer.
Egyptian lawmakers launched an effort Sunday to change the country’s constitution to allow President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to remain in power beyond the current limit of eight years, opening the door for him to rule for decades to come.
A motion signed by more than 100 members of Egypt’s rubber-stamp 596-member parliament marks the beginning of a long-anticipated campaign by Mr. Sisi’s allies to ensure that he stays in office after his current term ends in 2022.
The group is seeking to allow the president to run for at least two more terms beginning in 2022, with the presidential term extended to six years from four, said Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of parliament from the bloc, who added that the specifics had yet to be decided. Egypt’s most recent constitution—approved by referendum in 2014 in the aftermath of the military takeover that brought Mr. Sisi to power—imposes a limit of two four-year terms.
Opponents fear the proposed constitutional amendments would pave the way for the 64-year-old Mr. Sisi to become a de facto president for life, ending any possibility of a democratic transfer of power in the Arab world’s most populous nation in the coming years. They say the proposed amendments are reminiscent of laws that kept former President Hosni Mubarak in power for nearly 30 years before he was ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.
“Sisi is swearing allegiance to himself as president for life,” said Bahey Eldin Hassan, a prominent Egyptian human rights defender, writing on Twitter.
Mr. Sisi is a former military chief who deposed Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist leader elected in the wake of the 2011 uprising. After assuming the presidency in 2014, Mr. Sisi won re-election with more than 97% of the vote in 2018 after his only credible challengers were jailed and otherwise removed from contention.
Proponents of keeping Mr. Sisi in power have said that he needs more time to implement a sweeping overhaul of the economy, and that he is the best guarantor of stability in Egypt following years of unrest in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. “This comes within the framework of preserving the gains of the 2014 Constitution, affirming them through new guarantees of increased freedoms,” said Abdul Hady Al-Kasabi, the head of a pro-Sisi bloc in parliament, in a statement.
Any attempt to stop the constitutional changes would have slim chances of success. Since the 2013 military takeover, Mr. Sisi has presided over an intense crackdown on political opposition in which thousands of activists, protesters, lawyers and political figures have been arrested or exiled.
The Egyptian president’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the possible changes to the constitution.
The pro-Sisi Support Egypt Coalition filed a formal petition on Sunday requesting debate on a raft of constitutional amendments, including one that would create one or more vice presidents. Another proposed amendment would restore Egypt’s upper house of parliament, a largely ineffectual body that was abolished in the most recent Egyptian constitution in 2014. Officials from the pro-Sisi coalition declined to immediately publish the text of the petition or of the proposed amendments.
The proposed constitutional amendments will undergo a debate in parliament, which is dominated by Mr. Sisi’s allies. Any constitutional change is also expected to face a referendum.
By Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at a press conference in January. PHOTO: LUDOVIC MARIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES