CAIRO — Egypt’s parliament could vote as early as Thursday to ensure that President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi remains in office long past a constitutional term limit while giving him sweeping powers that will tighten his authoritarian rule over the Arab’s world’s most populous nation.
Lawmakers this week announced they planned to speed up voting on the constitutional amendments despite outrage by critics who fear that the measures will give unprecedented dictatorial powers to 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,” according to 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 Sissi to run for two additional terms. If they are passed, many pro-democracy activists and critics fear that Sissi would be able to remain president almost indefinitely. 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 here ousted President Hosni Mubarak, ending his three decades of autocratic rule. Since Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and was elected the following year, the former armed forces commander has jailed tens of thousands of opponents and blocked hundreds of websites deemed critical of his regime.
The amendments target Egypt’s 2014 constitution, passed after Mubarak’s fall, and would undo many checks and balances designed to limit the president’s power.
Last year, Sissi was reelected but only after all his opponents were either driven out of the race, jailed or pressured in other ways. His sole nominal opponent entered the race at the 11th hour, and a few days earlier had been one of his staunchest supporters.
The amendments are widely expected to be approved by lawmakers. The 596-seat parliament is predominantly filled with Sissi loyalists. His supporters argue that Sissi needs several more terms to achieve his goals of modernizing Egypt and its economy and combating terrorism.
The amendments will also enhance 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.
The amendments also call for a 25 percent quota for women in parliament as well as adequate representation for minority Coptic Christians, youth and people with disabilities. But activist groups in their letter described the additional provisions as the government’s “disingenuous attempts to sugarcoat its authoritarian power-grab.”