A proposal to amend a host of constitutional articles — including presidential term limits — has been submitted to Parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, the legislature’s speaker, announced on Sunday during a general assembly meeting.
The proposal was submitted by head of the state-allied Alliance to Support Egypt coalition MP Abdel Hady al-Qasabi and signed by one fifth of members of the House of Representatives.
In discussing the proposal ahead of Sunday’s session, Qasabi told parliamentary journalists that the amendments would extend the presidential term from four to six years, and, if passed, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would be able to run for two further terms under the new term limits.
Other sources from the Alliance to Support Egypt coalition, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, confirm Qasabi’s account of the proposed amendments, telling Mada Masr that Sisi will be able to run for elections after his second term concludes in 2022, which could keep him in office until 2034.
The year 2022 should mark the end of Sisi’s second and final term in office, according to the current Constitution, which also prohibits, per article 226, any amendments to “texts pertaining to the reelection of President of the Republic or the principles of freedom or equality … unless the amendment brings more guarantees.”
However, there has been a concerted effort to circumvent constitutional limits on presidential power in recent months.
In a report published in December, Mada Masr spoke to sources in the president’s office, the General Intelligence Service (GIS) and Parliament who documented coordination to extend Sisi’s stay in office. According to the report, meetings had been held on a nearly daily basis at the GIS headquarters between intelligence officials and the president’s office in order to finalize the amendments and the date of the referendum through which they will be passed. The same sources told Mada Masr that Mahmoud al-Sisi, the president’s son — who currently holds a senior position within the GIS — is the person heading these meetings, under the supervision of GIS head Abbas Kamel, who took part in several of the meetings.
The proposed amendments also included the establishment of a “High Council for the Protection of the Constitution,” a body that would have far-reaching powers to “protect the identity” of the state and safeguard national security in case a new political leadership was to take power, the source told Mada Masr.
Security sources had conveyed to a senior political party leader, who spoke to Mada Masr at the time, that the security apparatus would not tolerate dissent on any scale regarding the amendments.
The focus on “national stability” was echoed on Sunday by Qasabi. “The amendments are necessary in order to maintain stability and continue development plans,” the MP told parliamentary journalists. Qasabi also suggested that the political will to amend the constitution extends beyond the Alliance to Support Egypt and encompasses prominent political voices and forces, all of whom are in agreement in “preserving the achievements” of the 2014 Constitution. Through the proposed changes, Qasabi stressed, the Constitution will afford more liberties and guarantees.
Abdel Aal also stressed the benefits of the proposed amendments in his address to the legislature on Sunday. “I assure citizens that these amendments, if presented before the house, will be in their favor,” Abdel Aal asserted. “This nation is precious to us all, and we will consider all constitutional and governing principles in the case of any constitutional amendments. I say this to reassure everyone: We are not restricting any of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and we are not touching the principle of equality between Egyptians in regards to rights and obligations.”
“These amendments serve the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state ,” he concluded.
According to the sources in the Alliance to Support Egypt, the amendments will tackle several other issues beyond the presidential term limits, including allowing the president to appoint at least one vice president; reintroducing two state bodies effectively dissolved by the 2014 Constitution: an upper house of Parliament — formerly called the Shura Council but now to be called the Senate — and the Ministry of Information, which will replace the national authorities for press and broadcasting; and stipulating a 25 percent representation quota for women in parliamentary elections, with “adequate” representation for youth and Coptic Christians. This is in addition to adding an article that will make the Armed Forces “responsible for protecting the civil state,” the sources add.
After the submission of the proposal, the next logistical step will see the suggested amendments referred to Parliament’s General Committee — which is overseen by Abdel Aal — within seven days, as per Article 141 of the parliamentary bylaws. The committee will be tasked with reviewing the proposal’s adherence to specific terms and conditions, as outlined in Article 226 of the Constitution and Article 133 of the parliamentary bylaws, and preparing a report to be handed back to the legislative body.
On Sunday, Abdel Aal called on the General Committee to convene following Sunday’s general assembly, saying that the committee meeting — which will take place on Monday, according to sources — “will only include the heads of the committees and the parliamentary authorities, as well as the five MPs assigned to the committee, with no government presence.”
“During the [next] general assembly debate, I will allow everyone [in Parliament] to express their opinion. The Legislative Committee [will then be able to discuss the matter with everyone] from inside or outside the house, including all political parties and forces,” the speaker added.
Qasabi’s submission on Sunday was preceded by a meeting held by the Alliance to Support Egypt coalition on Saturday to finalize the proposed amendments, where senior coalition officials collected signatures from MPs representing political affiliations inside and outside the coalition.
Several rights organizations have denounced recent calls from Sisi’s backers to amend the Egyptian Constitution to allow him to stay in power.
Over 1,000 citizens, politicians and public figures also signed a statement rejecting the calls. They 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 issue was also raised during a meeting between a number of human rights representatives and French President Emmanuel Macron in Cairo last week. Following the meeting, Mohamed Zaree, the director of the Egypt office of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies who attended the meeting, told Mada Masr that he hoped the meeting would result in an international response to discourage the proposed constitutional amendments.
One day after the meeting, a lawyer filed a complaint against the heads of four rights organizations that met with Macron — including Zaree — for “threatening national security.”