Egypt parliament votes to extend El-Sisi rule

Pedestrians walk in front of a banner of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before the upcoming referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 16 April 2019
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Egypt parliament votes to extend El-Sisi rule

  • The proposed amendments were initially introduced in February by a parliamentary bloc supportive of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
  • The amendments are expected to be put to a public referendum later this month

CAIRO: Egypt's parliament on Tuesday approved constitutional amendments allowing general-turned-president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to stay in power until 2030, state media reported.
Deputies also backed other sweeping changes to the constitution including to give the military greater influence in political life as well as granting El-Sisi more control over the judiciary.
The amendments are expected to be put to a public referendum later this month.
"The president's current term shall expire at the end of six years from the date of his election as president in 2018," reported the official Al-Ahram news website and broadcaster Nile TV.
"He can be re-elected for another (six-year) term."
El-Sisi led the army's overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader's rule.
He won his first term as president in 2014 and was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent of the vote, after standing virtually unopposed.
Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of parliament who pushed for the constitutional amendments to keep El-Sisi in power, was adamant the changes were needed to allow him to complete political and economic reforms.
"The constitution in 2014 was written under tough exceptional circumstances," he told AFP.
The deputy hailed El-Sisi as a president who "took important political, economic and security measures... (and) must continue with his reforms," in the face of the unrest gripping neighbouring countries.
The vote comes after two veteran presidents were ousted in Algeria and Sudan and amid an escalation of the conflict in Libya.
Keeping El-Sisi in power, he added, reflected "the will of the people".
State-run Al-Ahram news website said several MPs carried Egyptian flags as they gathered for the vote inside the parliament while nationalistic songs played in the background.
The amendments were initially introduced in February by a parliamentary bloc supportive of El-Sisi and updated this week after several rounds of debates.
Prior to the amendments, Egypt's 2014 constitution stipulated only two four-year presidential terms.
The 596-seat parliament, which is dominated by El-Sisi loyalists, was elected in 2015, about a year after El-Sisi took office.
Since El-Sisi overthrew Morsi, Egypt has drawn heavy criticism for its sweeping crackdown on dissent. El-Sisi's supporters say tough measures have been necessary as the country battles an extremist insurgency and has suffered bloody militant attacks against both the security forces and civilians, including churches.
As lawmakers debated the proposed changes, prominent dissident actors Khaled Abol Naga and Amr Waked denounced them as a power grab.
If passed, "these amendments would take us back to a dictatorship fit for the Middle Ages," Waked told a news conference by rights groups in Geneva.
Amnesty International has warned the constitutional amendments "would worsen the devastating human rights crisis Egyptians are already facing".
"They would grant President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and security forces free rein to further abuse their powers and suppress peaceful dissent for years to come," said Amnesty's Magdalena Mughrabi.
Other constitutional amendments include a quota for women's representation of no less than 25 percent in parliament and forming a second parliamentary chamber.


Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

Updated 53 min 27 sec ago
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Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

  • More than half of Algeria’s population are under 30
  • Young protesters say they are able to receive diplomas but unable to find jobs

ALGIERS: They’re on the peaceful front line of the protest movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime ruler, facing down water cannons with attitude, memes — and fearless calls for shampoo.
Oil-rich Algeria is one of the most youthful countries in the world with two-thirds of the population under 30.
They are politically engaged, educated, on social media and funny. And they initiated nationwide protests in mid-February that toppled the only leader they’ve ever known — former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999.
“Only Chanel does No. 5,” read the placard of a young Algerian protesting against Bouteflika’s failed bid for a fifth term. “Love the Way You Lie,” read another, referencing Rihanna’s hit song. Yet another, featuring the “Ghostbusters” movie poster, was a humorous rebuke to the infirm 82-year-old who’s rarely been seen since a 2013 stroke. And when police unfurl the water cannons, they start to sing in rhyming Arabic: “Bring me some shampoo and I’ll feel good!“
A quarter of these under-30s are out of work, creating a deep well of frustration against the North African country’s veteran rulers and the policies that have left them behind.
“I came to protest against this power structure because we, the young people, we are the main victims,” said Belkacem Canna, who just turned 30, and works for the local water company on what he described as a miserable salary. “We get diplomas but can’t get jobs.”
For two decades, Algeria has been ruled by Bouteflika and other survivors of the 1954-1962 War of Independence against colonial power France.
“Algeria’s leaders have one foot in the War of Independence and the other foot in the post-colonial period. This is a generational problem. Algeria is a gerontocracy that can’t represent the country’s majority,” said Rachid Tlemcani, political scientist at Algiers University.
Bouteflika had for years used Algeria’s oil and gas wealth to fund affordable homes and handouts. The country escaped the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010. But tensions began simmering after oil prices slumped in 2014, exposing a country blighted by youth unemployment where more than one person in four aged under 30 doesn’t have a job.
Over a decade ago, Bouteflika’s government made a half-baked attempt at helping the country’s youth by creating a funding initiative for young entrepreneurs. However, it only stoked further anger amid perceptions it was a handout scheme, after borrowers who didn’t repay debts faced no consequences.
“Mentalities have to change,” said Imad Touji, a 22-year-old geology student at Bab Ezzouar University. “It’s not just about going out and shouting. We really need to change things in a concrete way.”
In February, it was clear that many Algerians were aghast at their plight.
Many trapped at home with their parents and with seemingly little to lose, took to the streets some ten days after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term. Students and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and magistrates all joined in.
Bouteflika’s replacement, the 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah, is yet another veteran of the War of Independence. It’s an open question if fresh presidential elections announced for July 4, will appease the vociferous movement.
“We are raising awareness, all the youth is,” said Sofiane Smain, a 23-year-old computing student. “We are trying to make all the Algerian people follow us so we can be unified to make a better Algeria, God willing.”
Social media instructions told protesters to come equipped only with “love, faith, Algerian flags and roses,” and to remove trash. In a poignant detail, many of them were observed cleaning up.
“Algeria’s youth are an example to the world of what a smiling and peaceful protest movement can achieve,” Tlemcani said.
Though the protests have been largely judged to have been peaceful, they have claimed their first casualty. On Friday, an unemployed 19-year-old from a town south of Algiers was buried. Police say he died after falling from a truck, while his friends say he was beaten by police with truncheons.