Egypt parliament overwhelmingly approves extension of president's term limits

The Egyptian parliament on Thursday approved in principle proposed constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to stay in power until 2034. (File/ AFP)
Updated 14 February 2019
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Egypt parliament overwhelmingly approves extension of president's term limits

  • Once passed, amendments must be finalized by a special legislative committee for a final decision within two months, followed by a nationwide referendum, likely before early May
  • The amendments, if passed, will allow El-Sisi 12 more years after his second term expires in 2022

CAIRO: Egyptian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to extend term limits for President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi until 2034, part of a package of constitutional amendments also set to further enshrine the military's role in politics that will now face a national referendum.
Of the 596-seat Parliament, 485 lawmakers backed the amendments, which could see the former general ruling for the length of four US presidential terms, in addition to the nearly five years he's already spent in office.
Critics of the move argue that Egypt is slipping back into authoritarianism, eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule, and nearly six years after El-Sissi led a popular military overthrow of the country's first freely elected but divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, after protests against his rule.
With Parliament and state institutions packed with fervent El-Sissi supporters, the amendments focusing on him are almost certain to survive any scrutiny, allowing the general-turned president 12 more years of potential rule after his second term expires in 2022.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al said the motion would now be discussed by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for 60 days before returning to Parliament for a final vote followed by the referendum, likely to take place before early May, the start of Ramadan.
Thursday's vote followed three rounds of discussions among representative lawmakers that started the previous day. Very few opposed openly the amendments focusing on El-Sissi or the military. Abdel-Al's statement mentioned neither specifically.
Since taking office, El-Sissi has led an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, opposition and civil liberties, justifying his unique leadership as necessary to bring stability and economic growth.
El-Sissi was elected president in 2014, and re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were either jailed or pressured to exit the race.
The amendments also include clauses allowing the president to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law. They declare the country's military "guardian and protector" of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while also granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.


Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

The Wafd party supports Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (AFP/File)
Updated 13 min 27 sec ago
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Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

  • The Wafd party was set up in the early 20th century
  • Critics say the party lost its liberal orientation under president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

CAIRO: A century after Egypt’s March 1919 revolution, the prominent Wafd party credited with leading popular demands to end the British occupation, has now been largely sidelined on the country’s political scene, analysts say.
A one-time liberal opposition force with a mass following, Wafd is considered Egypt’s oldest surviving party, having started its political life under the then monarchy during the early 20th century.
But in recent times critics say the party’s role has descended into irrelevance under the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“The party has completely lost its lustre and no longer attracts liberals,” said political science professor at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa.
“Wafd still lives on the credit of its historic track record.”
Since its founding in the wake of the 1919 revolution, the party quickly rose through Egypt’s political echelons leading several governments which were largely at odds with the king.
It remained for years the face of Egyptian politics before being dismantled along with others amid the rise of the military rule in Egypt in 1952.
It was not until more than 20 years later that Wafd rose again from the ashes rebranding itself as the “New Wafd” under late president Anwar Al-Sadat.
But Wafd MP Fouad Badrawi maintains his party still has “impact” on the ground despite the political blows it has received over the years. “It has been through multiple ups and down over the years, but it is still surviving,” he said.
The “New Wafd” claims to embrace the principles of the old party with civil rights and freedoms at its core.
Critics however argue that Wafd has lost its liberal essence by supporting El-Sisi.
“It is not possible for any party in connection with the current regime ... to claim to be liberal,” Nafaa said.
Under El-Sisi, Egyptian authorities have curtailed freedoms and launched a crackdown on dissent. Tens of thousands of political opponents have been arrested and charged.
In January, Amnesty International said Egypt’s stepped up crackdown on dissent has made the country “more dangerous” than ever for peaceful critics.
Badrawi, who is also a senior Wafd member, however maintains that the party adheres to its liberal policies, dismissing rights group’s accusations as “baseless.”
“We (as the Wafd party) don’t object for the sake of objection. We only raise objections when the people or the nation are in danger,” Badrawi said.
Another core value of the old Wafd was its support for secular governance.
To this day, the party’s motto is still “religion is for God and the nation is for all.” Its emblem remains the cross interlinked with the crescent moon, symbolic of national unity.
This secular spirit was blurred after the party forged alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood group on several occasions since its resurrection.
“Its alliance with the Brotherhood damaged its image and reduced its popularity,” said Nafaa.
Wafd has also backed general-turned-president El-Sisi since his rise to power after the military ouster of former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
In the 2018 elections, the party threw its support behind El-Sisi who ran virtually uncontested winning 97 percent of the vote.
Wafd currently holds 43 seats in the 596-seat parliament which convened in 2016, two years after El-Sisi took office.
As an established party, it counts prominent businessmen among its ranks and is considered to be well financed compared to others.
“Wafd has some 220 branches and more than 500,000 members nationwide,” said Wafd spokesman Yasser Al-Hodeibi. Although it is not clear whether all the party’s members are active.
It also possesses the only partisan newspaper, according to Hodeibi.
Despite its ample financial capabilities, the party failed to field a candidate in the 2018 elections.
But it has nonetheless promised to run a candidate in the upcoming elections in 2022.
In recent weeks, the overwhelming majority in parliament including Wafd MPs approved in principle possible constitutional amendments that would extend El-Sisi’s rule beyond 2022.
“We are preparing three prominent figures so that one of them could potentially run the race,” said Hodeibi.
Nafaa believes a Wafd candidate will stand little to no chance if they are running against El-Sisi.
“It will be a candidate to justify the elections,” Nafaa said. “This will be another blow to the party’s image.”