CAIRO: Egyptian opposition parties have formed a coalition against proposed changes to the constitution that would allow President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to stay in office well beyond the end of his current term in 2022, two opposition leaders said on Wednesday.
Egypt’s Parliament has given its preliminary approval to the changes, after two-thirds of the general committee endorsed the proposed amendments on Tuesday.
The 596-seat assembly — which is packed with El-Sisi supporters — will take a final vote on Feb. 17, but the amendments would also need to be put to a national referendum.
Abdel-Aziz El-Husseini, a senior leader in the Karama, or Dignity party, said that 11 parties met the previous day and declared their opposition to the proposed changes.
The group established a “union for the defese of the constitution” that includes secular and left-leaning parties and lawmakers, he added.
Khaled Dawood, another opposition leader and former head of the liberal Dostour, or Constitution party, questioned the legitimacy of the process to amend the 2014 charter, citing a constitutional clause that bars extending the two-term limit.
“We will challenge the proposed amendment before the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court,” he said. Amending the constitution was widely expected. Pro-government lawmakers and media figures have argued for years that the constitution is crippling the president’s efforts to advance the country, including overhauling its economy and defeating militants.
El-Sisi himself said in 2015 that “the constitution was drafted with good intentions.”
A draft of the proposed amendments shows concerted efforts by the pro-government “Supporting Egypt” coalition to consolidate El-Sisi’s power. The 64-year-old leader could be allowed to run for a third and fourth six-year term, potentially extending his rule to 2034.
Talaat Khalil, a lawmaker attending Monday’s meeting, decried the proposed changes, especially a broad clause stating the military’s duty is to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature.”
He told a press conference on Monday that this could allow the armed forces to support one politician at the cost of another. “And this is a great danger,” he said.
Experts say opposition parties are too weak to effectively challenge the amendments amid an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.
In another development, the Istanbul governor’s office on Wednesday said Turkey will investigate the deportation of an Egyptian facing execution in Cairo over a car bomb and has suspended eight policemen involved.
Mohamed Abdelhafiz Ahmed Hussein, whom the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement identifies as a member, was among 28 people sentenced in absentia to death in July 2017 for killing Egypt’s public prosecutor in the attack, according to state media.
He was sent back to Egypt last month from Istanbul’s main Ataturk airport on arrival from Somalia for not having a visa.
The case adds to strained Turkey-Egypt relations since the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi, of the Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule in 2013.
The Istanbul governor’s office said on Tuesday that when Hussein arrived, there was no information he was facing trial anywhere, and he did not request protection, so officials deemed him an “unacceptable passenger” due to lack of a Turkish visa.
In a separate statement on Wednesday, the governor’s office said a commission had been set up to investigate the deportation and eight police officers were suspended from duty over it.
An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said it was wrong to repatriate anyone facing charges in Egypt and the matter needed checking.
“During the leadership of (Egyptian President Abdel Fattah) Sisi, Turkey has not and does not hand over anyone facing the death penalty or any other charges,” Yasin Aktay wrote in the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on Wednesday.