Egyptian Court To Consider Eliminating Presidential Term Limits
Supporters say current constitution reflects an Islamist agenda and is insufficient for Sisi to carry out sweeping reforms
[CAIRO] – Next week a Cairo court will hold preliminary hearings on a petition requiring Egypt’s parliament to amend its 2014 constitution with an act allowing President Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi to seek re-election beyond his current, second four-year term in office.
“We have filed a court case to force parliament to start a debate on amending article 140, the constitutional clause that bars Sisi from running for a third term in 2022,” said Ayman Abdel-Hakim as he left the Court of Urgent Matters last Thursday.
“Sisi has overseen an incredible number of achievements since 2011,” said Abdel-Hakim who filed the petition together with Fouad Soliman and Mohamed Saber Arafat–two other attorneys close to the General Intelligence Service [GIS], which in turn is headed by Abbas Kamel, Sisi’s former office manager.
“Article 140 is unfair to the great Egyptian people and eight years gives a president little time to deal with the economic and security challenges facing the country, “Abdel-Hakim added.
According to the independent news portal Mada Masr, frequent meetings have been held at GIS headquarters between intelligence officials and the president’s office to finalize the amendments and to fix the referendum date.
In parallel to these behind-the-scenes efforts, senior parliamentarians such as parliamentarian Esmail Nasr al-Din and public figures like the Coptic Pope Tawadros II have joined a growing chorus of voices saying that Sisi needs an extended term to restructure Egypt’s economy, society, infrastructure and key institutions, including the state-supported Islamic clergy.
“If we need to make changes, then that is doable, since the constitution is merely a human document,” said Pope Tawadros in a televised interview aired on the TeN channel the same day that the attorneys filed their motion at the Urgent Matters court.
To generate consensus for the anticipated changes, pro-Sisi thought leaders are already characterizing the 2014 constitution as a Muslim Brotherhood document to mobilize support for the referendum.
“Of course, we need to change the constitution because it has an Islamic Salafist streak,” Gehad Auda, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Helwan University, told The Media Line. “This is the Constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood and we want a new civil constitution that gives the armed forces importance in national security considerations affecting the state.”
Mada Masr reports that one amendment “would introduce an interim provision in the constitution to establish a High Council for the Protection of the Constitution with far-reaching powers to “protect the identity” of the state and safeguard national security.
The draft provision would appoint Sisi to head the council for life, whether he is the sitting president or not.
“This constitution hampers progress for the reform plans of Egypt’s 2030 strategy and we cannot make a comprehensive change of state and society except by changing religious discourse to become modern,” said Auda referring to initiatives such as Sisi’s “Two Is Enough” family planning campaign aimed at bringing the nation’s population into alignment with a sustainable food and water security program.
Recent survey data suggests that the vast majority of Egyptians accept this argument and want a “strong leader.”
A September poll by public opinion firm Dalia Research found that 57 percent of Egyptians agreed with the statement: “It would be good to have a strong leader who is not held back by a national parliament and elections.”
But the organizers and participants of the 2011 Revolution and authors of the 2014 Constitution say the changes seek to snuff out the “Arab Spring” vision expressed eight years ago by the masses of demonstrators that filled in Tahrir Square, a political movement that was then validated in the last referendum on Egypt’s constitution.
“Even government media confirmed that the 2014 constitution enshrining term limits was approved by 98% of Egyptians and we understand that this arrangement represents the will of the people,” said Ramy Kamil, the 32-year-old leader of the Christian Maspero Youth Foundation founded after the 2011 massacre of 27 Coptic activists in downtown Cairo.
“Accordingly, any amendment means either that the state was lying or that Sisi is now maneuvering against the will of the people,” Kamil told The Media Line.
Amr Salah, a citizen member of the committee that drafted the 2014 constitution joined Kamil in slamming the proposed amendments, which he says will institute a dictatorship in Egypt.
“Any changes to the president’s term would consolidate an authoritarian regime. And this will seriously harm Egypt’s future and eliminate any chance of a democratic and peaceful transfer of power,” Salah concluded.
Mina Nader contributed to this report.