Egypt’s parliament is accelerating the process of passing constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in office well beyond the end of his current term in 2022.
MPs will decide Wednesday on whether to send the amendments to the legislative committee, a vote that was initially scheduled for February 17, parliament spokesman Ahmed Saad el-Din said late Sunday.
The legislative committee will have 60 days to discuss the amendments before a final vote. If approved, the amendments would be put to a national referendum.
The move to extend presidential terms to potentially 2034 comes amid concerns that Egypt is slipping back into authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended Hosni Mubarak‘s nearly three-decade rule.
Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of elected president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, and was elected Egypt’s leader the following year.
He has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, and was re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.
The 596-seat parliament gave its preliminary approval to the amendments last week. The motion is virtually guaranteed to be approved by the legislature, which is packed with Sisi’s supporters.
A coalition of nearly a dozen opposition parties has come out against the proposed amendments, but on their own, they would not be able to block them.
The amendments also include the creation of the office of vice president, a revived Senate, and a 25 percent quota for women in parliament. They call for “adequate” representation for workers, farmers, young people and people with special needs in the legislature.
The president would have the power to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law. The amendments also give the military the role of guardian and protector of the state, democracy and the Constitution.
Pro-government figures and media have been lobbying for the amendments for months, saying two four-year terms are not enough for Sisi to fulfil his vision of modernising the country, including overhauling its economy and defeating armed fighters.
Yasser Rizq, chairman of the state-owned al-Akhbar daily and a close confidant of Sisi, said he expects the referendum to take place before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start in early May this year.
Former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa on Saturday called for “a wide national dialogue” on the amendments. Moussa, who also served as Arab League secretary-general, chaired the panel that drafted Egypt’s current constitution in 2014.
He urged that all voices, advocates and opponents should be heard “to enrich the political life in the country and guarantee credibility to the amendments”.