Final day of Egyptian referendum to extend El-Sisi’s rule

Egyptian security forces stand guard outside a polling station in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where locals were voting in a referendum on constitutional amendments on the second day of a three-day poll, on April 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019

Final day of Egyptian referendum to extend El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi is widely expected to win backing for the proposed amendments
  • The sweeping changes would extend his current term until 2024 and would also give him the right to stand for another six-year term

CAIRO: Egyptians voted for a third and final day Monday on constitutional changes that could keep President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in power until 2030, amid reports of people actively being encouraged to go the polls.
El-Sisi, who become president in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 after eliminating all serious political competitors, is widely expected to win backing for the proposed amendments.
The sweeping changes would extend his current term until 2024 and would also give him the right to stand for another six-year term.
Other controversial amendments on the ballot include boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in Egyptian political life.
AFP correspondents saw pro-El-Sisi volunteers handing out boxed meals at several polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots.
The parcels contained staples such as oil, rice, pasta and sugar.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the “grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment” of the vote, where the ‘No’ campaign has been effectively muzzled.
Ahmed Badawy, an engineer and youth activist with two political parties, wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he had been arrested, using the widely used hashtag “Go down, say No.”
He posted a picture of himself earlier holding a red placard in an upmarket suburb of Cairo with the text “No, to the constitutional changes.”
“He didn’t commit any crimes. He was expressing his views in a peaceful manner,” Badawy’s lawyer Mohamed Al-Baqer told AFP.
Badawy is detained in a police station but the family have received no official notification from the authorities, Baqer said.
In Imbaba, a working-class suburb hugging the Nile, an eyewitness on Monday told AFP of seeing street vendors being forcefully loaded onto buses to go vote.
On the first day of the referendum, some voters told AFP their employers had encouraged them to vote “Yes” and transported them to polling stations in company buses.
In their initial report, an international observer team said “there were no hurdles to voting.”
Egypt’s state-affiliated foreign media body on Sunday denounced instances of critical international coverage.
The referendum also proposes other changes to the five-year-old constitution, including creating a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.
The final results will be announced on April 27.

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 42 min 25 sec ago

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.