Over 1,000 citizens, politicians and public figures have signed onto a statement rejecting recent calls to amend Egypt’s Constitution in order to extend President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s time in office.
The signatories expressed “shock and anger” at the “repeated media requests demanding the amendment of certain articles of the Constitution … for the sole purpose of extending the current presidential term, and keeping the current president in power.”
“The signatories believe that this absurdity will deepen the current regime’s crisis of legitimacy, a result of its neglect and continuous violation of many articles of the Constitution,” the statement goes on to say.
In an exclusive report, Mada Masr previously revealed government plans to amend the Constitution, including changes that would extended Sisi’s term in office beyond 2022, which should mark the end of his second and final presidential term. According to several sources, meetings have been held on a nearly daily basis at the headquarters of the General Intelligence Services (GIS) between GIS officials and the president’s office in order to finalize the amendments and keep Sisi in power until at least 2026.
Sisi’s backers have been increasingly vocal in recent weeks about their support for constitutional changes to keep the president in power. The head of the state-run daily Al-Akhbar, Yasser Rizk, who has close ties to the government, published an editorial on December 30 expressing hope that 2019 would see “the start of a belated political reform” to secure Sisi’s future in power and that the changes could be approved by late summer 2019. “In 2022, if President Sisi leaves office, as the current Constitution stipulates, Egypt could face an uncertain future,” Rizk warned.
Meanwhile, a Cairo court is considering a case filed by a number of lawyers asking that Parliament amend the Constitution to allow the president to assume office for an “unlimited period of time.”
Yehia Abdel Hady, the former director of the Leadership and Management Development Center, told Mada Masr that journalist Ahmed Taha, along with two others whom he refused to name, came up with the idea of drafting a statement and collecting signatures of people who objected to calls to amend the Constitution.
“We have not yet counted all of the participants. We’ve created an electronic petition in order to ease the process of signing it,” he said, adding that the number of signatories is continuing to grow.
“The lack of freedom given to current media platforms might suggest that the majority of Egyptians agree on the amendment proposals, so the petition acts as an important means to communicate opinions of those who reject these amendments, ” he explained.
For his part, Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, vice president of the National Council for Human Rights and one of the signatories, described the statement as a strong indicator of public opinion against the amendment of the Constitution.
The signatories also include constitutional expert Mohamed Nour Farahat, former Cairo University President Gaber Nasser, journalist Khaled al-Balshi and former Journalist Syndicate committee member and political science professor Hazem Ahmed Hosni.
“Amending the Constitution will have negative repercussions, including the legitimization of long-term authoritarian rule in Egypt and the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual,” Hosni told Mada Masr.
Hosni believes that the proposed constitutional amendments are not mere suggestions that have been voiced, but a plan formulated and overseen by the presidency under Sisi’s supervision.
“What [Sisi] wants to do is similar to what [former presidents Anwar] Sadat and [Hosni] Mubarak did,” he said. “We saw the importance of recording our position in history by rejecting the amendments so as not to be blamed by future generations.”
The statement calls on the signatories to use “all peaceful means necessary to reject any further tampering with the Constitution and with the ongoing interference in implementing it since its ratification [in 2014],” Shokr said. He explained that this includes organizing conferences and raising awareness, though there has been no discussion around holding any kind of public protests as of yet.
“The regime has been aiming to make adjustments for some time, but has been disrupted by recent events such as [Jamal] Khashoggi’s death, the international media’s focus on the Middle East, the protests in France and Sudan and the [Egyptian government’s] fear of their transition to Egypt,” Balshi told Mada Masr.
Meanwhile, various groups have brushed off accusations of involvement in plans to amend the Constitution.
The Dignity Party has denied taking part in any negotiations with any government authority regarding amendments of the Constitution, stressing that it rejects any attempt to do so. Additionally, MP Khaled Youssef denied on his Facebook page what he described as “cheap rumors” regarding his role in allegedly mediating a deal between the government and state opposition in order to pressure critics into accepting the amendments.