Egypt’s parliament has put a rush on voting on proposed constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to stay in office well beyond his current term, which ends in 2022.
The vote was initially scheduled for next week, but is now being held as early as Wednesday, lawmaker Nadia Henry said Monday.
The development comes despite concerns that Egypt is slipping back into authoritarianism, eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule.
El-Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and was elected the following year.
Once approved by lawmakers, the constitutional amendments would have to be put to a national referendum, Parliament spokesman Ahmed Saad el-Din said Sunday.
The 596-seat assembly had given its preliminary approval to the changes last week. The motion is near-certain to be approved by the legislature, packed with el-Sisi’s supporters.
The amendments also include novelties: the office of vice president, a revived Senate, and a 25 percent quota for women in Parliament. It also calls for “adequate” representation for workers, farmers, young people and people with special needs in the legislature.
The president would have the power to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law.
The amendments are no surprise; pro-government figures and media have been lobbying for months that two terms are not enough for el-Sisi to fulfil his vision of modernizing the country, including overhauling its economy and defeating extremist militants.
Yasser Rizq, chairman of the state-owned al-Akhbar daily and a close confidant of el-Sisi, argued that the amendments were necessary to prevent extremist from gaining power. He said he expects the referendum to take place before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. This year, Ramdan is expected to start in early May.
Former foreign minister Amr Moussa on Saturday called for “a wide national dialogue” on the amendments. Moussa, who also served as Arab League secretary-general, had chaired the panel that drafted Egypt’s current constitution in 2014.
He urged that all voices, advocates and opponents, should be heard “to enrich the political life in the country and guarantee credibility to the amendments.”