Constitutional amendments drive wedge between 25-30 Alliance, as MP Qaeed defects to support government ‘loyalists’

On Monday morning, a number of MPs were en route to the headquarters of the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party in downtown Cairo to hold a press conference announcing the party’s rejection of proposed constitutional amendments submitted by Abdel Hady al-Qasabi, the head of the Alliance to Support Egypt coalition.

Just 24 hours had passed since Qasabi had made his way to the office of the parliamentary speaker carrying a copy of a proposal to amend a host of constitutional articles, including those amending government presidential term limits. Now, a number of opposition MPs were organizing to publicly announce their rejection of the changes, which would allow President Fattah al-Sisi to potentially stay in power until 2034.

“We are 16 MPs, and we represent a minority,” Dawoud said during the press conference.

However, only 10 MPs attended the press conference, all of whom were members of the 25-30 Alliance, an independent parliamentary bloc founded in 2014: Haitham al-Hariri, Mohamed Abdel Ghany, Ahmed al-Tantawi, Diaa Eddin Dawoud, Mohamed al-Atmany, Talaat Khalil, Ehab Mansour, Abdel Hamid Kamel, Gamal Sherif and Ahmed al-Sharqawi.

That left six MPs who were notably absent from the show of solidarity: Khaled Youssef, Emad Gad, Khaled Abdel Aziz Shabaan, Reda Naseef, Youssef al-Qaeed and Nadia Henry.

Two of these members had already come out and issued public statements about the amendments: Youssef had announced his rejection of them, and Henry published a statement on Tuesday, in which she asserted that it is necessary “to ask questions about the mechanism and nature of the amendments.”

Henry’s statement, however, tried to largely move conversation away from the “controversy” over the amendments to the presidential terms, replacing it with what she sees as a more “urgent” conversation on what else can be amended in the Constitution and how it can be done.

“Before the controversy erupts over the amendment of [presidential] term limits, let’s examine the extent to which the Parliament is entitled to propose an amendment that is not authorized by the current Constitution,” she wrote. “What should be looked at is the contradictory articles in the current Constitution, according to what constitutional experts see. Changing these should be our urgent priority. For example, there must be an explicit amendment to the articles relating to the fact that the state is a civilian one. How, after two revolutions — the major one of which was about religious fascism — does the [Constitution] not explicitly state that we are a modern, civilian state?”

“How can a constitution promulgate freedom of religion, while the country is governed by laws that come out of one religious faith?” she added.

In the 24 hours leading up to the press conference on Tuesday, there was significant debate among oppositional MPs about how to respond to the proposed amendments, two parliamentary sources tell Mada Masr.

However, some members of the 25-30 Alliance did not participate, says one of the sources, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.

The second source confirms these absences. “Most discussions were about rejecting the amendments, but only a few members participated, in contrast to other events, like when they rejected [an agreement to redraw Egypt’s maritime border with Saudi Arabia, known as] the Tiran and Sanafir agreement, in mid-2017.”

While Dawoud spoke of a unified 16 at the press conference, one of the sources says that this number is not true, as “at least two MPs left the opposition bloc and joined the ranks of the loyalists.”

One of the MPs who have crossed over to support the amendments is Youssef al-Qaeed, who had been appointed by Sisi, the source says. 

When contacted, Qaeed told Mada Masr, “I am with Sisi,” announcing his support of the amendments, including the article that would the alter the length of the presidential term from four to six years.

Amid the silence prevailing within the bloc regarding some members’ decisions to join the ranks of those supporting the amendments, one of the bloc’s founders downplayed speculations of a rift within the 25-30 Alliance.

“It is a dispute, without conspiracy or treachery,” one of the founders tells Mada Masr. “This is politics, and everyone makes their own choices.”

“The bloc’s position is unified, and the departure or entry of MPs is normal,” the MP adds. “There are MPs that were not with us when the alliance was formed, who have now become prominent members.”