Egypt MP seeks end to constitutional restrictions on presidential terms

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on Sunday shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah E-Sissi (R) meeting with General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Central Command, at the presidential palace in the capital Cairo. (AFP / Egyptian Presidency handout photo)
Updated 26 February 2017

Egypt MP seeks end to constitutional restrictions on presidential terms

CAIRO, Egypt: An Egyptian lawmaker started collecting signatures on Sunday for a motion to extend presidential terms and lift restrictions on re-election — a year before general-turned-president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s first term is due to expire.
As defense minister, Sissi overthrew elected President Mohammed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood official, in mid-2013 following mass protests against his rule and launched a crackdown on Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement.
El-Sissi, now 62, went on to win a presidential vote in 2014. He has not said whether he will seek re-election when his current term ends in 2018, but has made much of his popular mandate and promised to respect the will of Egyptians.
The move by independent lawmaker Ismail Nasreddine to amend article 140 of the constitution would enable Sissi to stay in power longer than the two four-year terms currently permitted.
But the process is still at an early stage. Nasreddine, a low-profile lawmaker, will need the support of 20 percent of MPs to table a discussion on the issue in parliament.
“It will be the right of the president to nominate himself for the office as he wishes... and the right of the people to choose him or reject him,” Nasreddine told reporters, adding that he would begin putting the idea to lawmakers on Sunday.
Even if he is able to push an amendment through parliament by the required two-thirds majority, the constitution also stipulates that any revision be approved by popular referendum.
There was no immediate comment from Sissi’s office.
Sissi has sought to roll back freedoms won during the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, promising to restore stability to Egyptians fed up with years of political tumult.
The right to protest has been restricted while democracy and rights groups say they face growing government pressure and accuse Sissi of clamping down on political expression.
Egypt’s last elections took place in late 2015, ushering in the first lawmakers since an Islamist-dominated parliament elected after the 2011 revolt was dissolved by a court in 2012.
The elections saw an electoral bloc loyal to Sissi sweep to victory. On the eve of those elections, the head of the pro-Sissi bloc, told Reuters loyalist lawmakers would likely seek to amend the constitution to further empower the presidency and scale back powers vested in parliament. (Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah, Nashaat Hamdi and Ahmed Tolba)


Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

Updated 55 min ago

Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

  • Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border
  • The Kurdish fighters were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left

AKCAKALE, Turkey: Russian military police began patrols on part of the Syrian border Wednesday, quickly moving to implement an accord with Turkey that divvies up control of northeastern Syria. The Kremlin told Kurdish fighters to pull back from the entire frontier or else face being “steamrolled” by Turkish forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed those warnings, saying his military would resume its offensive against Kurdish fighters if the new arrangements are not carried out.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of American troops. The Kurdish fighters, who once relied on the US forces as protection from Turkey, were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left.
Iraq, meanwhile, closed the door on the US military’s attempt to keep the troops leaving Syria on its soil. Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari told The Associated Press that those troops were only “transiting” Iraq and would leave within four weeks, heading either to Kuwait, Qatar or the United States.
Al-Shammari spoke after meeting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who earlier this week had said the American forces from Syria would remain in Iraq to fight Daesh. Iraqi’s military quickly said they did not have permission to do so.
The clumsy reversal underscored the blow to US influence on the ground in the wake of President Donald Trump’s order for US troops to leave Syria. Those forces were allied to the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down Daesh in Syria.
Now a significant swath of the territory they captured is being handed over to US rivals, and the Kurds have been stung at being abandoned by their allies to face the Turkish invasion launched on Oct. 9.
The Kremlin pointedly referred to that abandonment as it told the Kurds to abide by the Russian-Turkish accord.
“The United States was the closest ally of the Kurds during the last few years, and in the end the US ditched the Kurds and effectively betrayed them,” leaving them to fight the Turks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian newswires.
“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army,” he said.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. It has demanded they retreat from the entire border region, creating a “safe zone” where Turkey could also settle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil.
Ankara would gain that goal under the new accord with Moscow along with the agreement last week with the US that put a cease-fire in place.
Kurdish forces completed withdrawing on Tuesday from a stretch of territory 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide along the border and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep between the towns of Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. That pullback, allowing Turkish-backed forces to take over, was required under the US-Turkish accord.
The new agreement with Russia allows Turkey to keep sole control over that area. For the rest of the northeastern border, Russian and Syrian government forces will move in to ensure the Kurdish fighters leave. Then after the deadline runs out Tuesday, Turkish and Russian forces will jointly patrol a strip 10-kilometers (6 miles) deep along the border.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a convoy of military police had crossed the Euphrates River and deployed in the Syrian border town of Kobani.
“The military police will help protect the population, maintain order, patrol the designated areas and assist in the withdrawal of Kurdish units and their weapons 30 kilometers away from the border,” it said.
The Turkish military said it would not resume its offensive “at this stage” after the US-brokered cease-fire expired Tuesday night. However, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu said that Turkish forces would “neutralize” any Syrian Kurdish fighters they come across in areas that Turkey now controls.
President Erdogan said the attack would start again if the Kurdish pullback does not take place.
“Whether its our agreement with the United States or with Russia, if the promises given are not carried out, there will be no change concerning the steps we need to take,” he told journalists, according to the newspaper Hurriyet.
Erdogan said he had also asked Putin what would happen if the Syrian Kurdish fighters donned Syrian army uniforms and remained in the border area. Putin responded by saying that he would not let that happen, Erdogan said.
Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the deal with Russia would continue until a lasting political solution for Syria is reached. He also said that Turkey agreed not to conduct joint patrols in the city of Qamishli at the eastern end of the border, because of Russian concerns they could lead to a confrontation between Turkish troops and Syrian government forces in the area.