Egypt's parliament has proposed and approved changes to the constitution, including amendments which would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and to expand the military’s powers. After the approval of a required fifth of the chamber’s 596 lawmakers, the majority being al-Sisi supporters, the motion was submitted. This decision sparked controversy, with eleven political parties, a number of political figures and representatives of civil society organizations forming a union to defend the constitution. Among them is the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP).
A report has been prepared by a parliamentary subcommittee on the proposed constitutional amendments. It states that the motion submitted by 155 MP’s reflects a legal need for reforms, comparing it to the June Revolution in 2013. The report pays attention to the suggested changes of Article 226, which states that texts related to the re-election of the President or the principles of freedom and equality in all cases may not be amended unless it brings more guarantees. The amendment of Article 140 is the biggest, stating that the president could stay in office for six years instead of four, maintaining the principle of the president being re-elected only once. Prolonging al-Sisi’s term is necessary for him “rebuilding the country amid unstable regional conditions”, the report claims.
Moreover, the report also expresses the need for a supreme council for joint judicial affairs and the work of the State Council must be restricted to revising draft laws redirected by the parliament. The amendments related to the armed forces aim to rephrase their mandate, designated as protecting the constitution and democracy. This will be put into practice by the armed forces safeguarding establishments and public utilities, where those who cause harm are referred to the military court. What is more, a new parliamentary chamber called “Senate” is proposed as well as the quota of women in the parliament being 25 percent.
The amendments to the constitution add to the fear that the country is falling back into authoritarianism, which was ended eight years ago by a pro-democracy uprising that dethroned Hosni Mubarak. The opposition union, backed by 16 MP’s from the 25-30 parliamentary bloc, plans to represent a framework to protect the constitution, as well as defending a modern civil state with the principle of separation of powers. They oppose the introduction of a Senate, claiming that it will only be manipulated by al-Sisi to control the media. The ESDP joined a coalition of disapproval together with Egypt’s Conservative Party, the leftist Tagammu Party and the Nasserist Party. According to this coalition, the amendments are “clearly tailored to benefit a certain figure”.
The voting of parliament and the discussion in detail will be handed over to the constitutional and legislative affairs committee and consequently a national dialogue will be organised.