CAIRO (WASHINGTON POST) - Egypt's Parliament could vote as early as Wednesday (Feb 13) to ensure President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi remains in office long past constitutional term limits while delivering him sweeping powers that will deepen his authoritarian rule over the Arab's world's most populous nation.
Lawmakers this week announced they planned to speed up the voting on the constitutional amendments despite a flurry of outrage by critics who fear the measures will give unprecedented dictatorial powers to el-Sissi, whose term is supposed to end in 2022.
"These amendments were drafted specifically to enable President (Sissi) to retain power for life and exercise unprecedented unilateral authority," said a letter signed this week by 10 Egyptian human rights groups.
The proposed amendments would extend the presidential term from four to six years while allowing el-Sissi to run for two additional terms. If passed, many pro-democracy activists and critics fear the door would open the way for el-Sissi to remain president for the foreseeable future. Once approved, the constitutional amendments would have to be put to a national referendum.
The vote comes little more than eight years after the Arab Spring revolts ousted president Hosni Mubarak, ending his three decade-long autocratic rule. Since he led the 2013 military overthrow of democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, and was elected the following year, el-Sissi has jailed tens of thousands of opponents and critics and blocked hundreds of websites deemed critical of his regime.
The amendments are targeting Egypt's 2014 Constitution, passed after Mubarak's fall, and would undo many of its checks and balances designed to limit the president's power.
Last year, el-Sissi was re-elected but only after all his opponents were either driven out of the race, jailed or pressured in other ways. His sole opponent entered the race at the 11th hour, and a few days earlier was one of his staunchest supporters.
Originally scheduled for next week, the vote is widely expected to be approved by lawmakers. The 596-seat Parliament is predominantly filled with el-Sissi loyalists. His supporters argue that el-Sissi needs several more terms to achieve his goals of modernising Egypt and its economy and combating terrorism.
The amendments will also enhance el-Sissi's power to appoint senior judges, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and would erode judicial oversight on any legislation as well as the judiciary's financial independence.
"These amendments effectively serve to destroy the constitutional separation of powers, concentrating all authority into the president's hands and solidifying his authoritarian rule," wrote the activists.
At the same time, the amendments also call for a 25 per cent quota for women in Parliament as well as adequate representation for minority Coptic Christians, youth, and the disabled. But the activist groups in their letter described the additional provisions are the Egyptian government's "disingenuous attempts to sugarcoat its authoritarian power-grab".