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Is Egypt Relapsing to Authoritarian Rule?

The Egyptian parliament is set to vote today Tuesday 16 April 2019, on an amendment of the constitution that would set the precedent for current President Abdel Fattah el Sisi to stay in power till 2030. It is almost certain that the vote will go through swiftly as the President enjoys majority support in the country’s current legislature.

With an estimated  over two thirds being loyal to him, extension of the Egyptian presidential tenure will succeed in parliament before it goes to expected referendum, which is set for the general public to vote on the same matter.

Questions now arise, however, regarding how the amendment and the vote will affect the politics and democracy in North Africa’s most populous nation, with a widely re-known history of authoritarian rule that only came to an end less than a decade ago.

Mohammed Morsi, Former President of Egypt.

President el-Sisi was elected in 2014 after he overthrew Mohammed Morsi in 2013, after just a year of his presidency following the end of Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian 30 -year- old rule. He might now be in for a third term in office, quite contrary to his word in 2017.

“We will not interfere with (the constitution)… I am with preserving two-four year terms,” he had declared as quoted by the global news agency, Reuters, based in the United Kingdom (U.K.)  

In addition to the constitution amendment, a controversial article, which critics fear might give the military a greater influence on the politics of the country is set to be voted in.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization based in New York, has recently warned that the amendment would increase military’s political role and give President el-Sisi powers to control the judiciary hence will institutionalize authoritarian rule, which is not a new term in the country’s leadership.

To many observers, it is quite scary and of interest that Egyptians might overlook this glaring reality of a possible negative outcome by voting for the amendment.

In addition to that, other amendments include an allocation of at least 25 percent for women representatives in parliament and formation of a second legislative chamber.

Opponents and critics of the President el-Sisi, who has been in power since 2014, now say that the amendment, if voted in, would give him more powers to control the nation despite the fact that he has been accused by several local and international groups of infringing on human rights and freedom.

President El-Sisi has been widely criticized for repression of political opponents and massive crackdowns on dissent.

During his re-election in 2018, all potential strong challengers to el-Sisi’s win were either jailed or pressured to exit the race. While fighting against an ISIS affiliate group known as Wilayah Sayna, the military under current President’s rule has been accused of extra judicial killings.

Furthermore, the president has been seen by many as not quite open or welcoming to several human freedoms. He has been accused of prosecutions, travel bans and freezing of assets against defenders of human rights, secular activists and opponents. His regime is said to have facilitated the passage of new legislations that threaten the independence of civil society.

Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt.

According to Arab News, supporters of president Sisi argue that in 2014 the constitution was re-written under tough exceptional circumstances hence the need for amendments. They say keeping Sisi in power strongly reflects the will of the Egyptian people.

Mohamed Abu-Hamed, one of the Egyptian members of parliament who pushed for constitutional amendments is quoted by the Saudi Arabia-based daily newspaper as hailing El-Sisi as the Egyptian leader has taken “important political, economic and security measures … (and) must continue with his reforms,”  even in the face of serious and crippling unrest in neighboring countries such as Algeria and Sudan following the toppling of veteran presidents Abdel-Aziz Buoteflika and Omar Al-Bashir, respectively, along with the escalation conflict in Libya.

It is ironic and interesting to note, however, that the mentioned situations stem from long-in-power and authoritarian rulers who have been ousted.   Egypt as well has suffered similar consequences due to prolonged leadership by President Mubarak. By adding years to the rule of the current President and giving him more powers, Egypt may risk travelling along the wrong and delicate path.

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