The Egyptian parliament is debating a proposal to amend the country’s constitution that will extend the presidential term from four years to six.
This means President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi may be able to stay in power beyond 2022, when his second term in office ends.
Parliament’s speaker Ali Abdel-Aal on Tuesday said two-thirds of the 596-seat legislature endorsed the proposed amendment.
The motion was submitted on Sunday after approval by a required fifth of the chamber’s 596 MPs, the vast majority of whom are Sisi supporters.
Abdel-Aal said on the same day that the amendments “are rooted in the interest of both the state and the Egyptian people”.
The motion would give the president the power to appoint top judges and bypass judicial oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law.
Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told Al Jazeera that opposition groups in Egypt have been dealing with the government with the expectation that this amendment was coming.
“It’s one that we’ve expected for quite some time, but it is one formal step that could leave President Sisi in power until 2034,” Kaldas said. “It was really more of a question of when than if.”
Sisi 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.
He has repeatedly said he would not stay in office any longer than Egyptians wanted him to and that he was not in favour of amending the Constitution’s term limits.
“This is more about the longevity of Sisi’s rule than specifically targeting the opposition,” Kaldas said.
“The reality is that unfortunately there are a number of measures in place to repress the opposition in Egypt,” he added.
“A number of leading opposition figures have either been imprisoned or forced into exile or had their assets frozen or have been banned from travel.”
Kaldas added that there already exists “extraordinary pressure” on people publicly critical of the government.
Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science at Long Island University, told Al Jazeera that the proposal will go through a vote in the coming months and would need a two-thirds approval, which has already been secured, according to many parliamentarians.
“This is not a surprise at all,” she said, speaking from New Jersey. “This is a president that came to power in a coup, following one of the bloodiest massacres in Egypt’s history,” she said, referring to the killing of hundreds of activists and supporters of then elected President Mohamed Morsi at Rabaa Square in 2013.
“He has systematically consolidated power around himself, virtually decapitating the judiciary. What we’re seeing now is that the Parliament has become a rubber stamp on his authority.”
A constitutional amendment to extend Sisi’s rule would add to concerns that the country is slipping back into authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended former President Hosni Mubarak‘s nearly three-decade rule.
“What we’re seeing today is not only has Egypt regressed to pre-revolutionary moments, but it has actually consolidated through this constitutional amendment. If it indeed goes through a referendum and is voted upon in the summer, then we are way worse than we were under Mubarak,” Fahmy said.