Egypt parliament approves extending presidential terms

The amendments include a “transitional article” that would allow Sisi to seek an additional two 6-year terms after his current second term ends in 2022.
Thursday 14/02/2019
Egypt's Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal (C) chairs a parliament plenary session to deliberate the proposed constitutional amendments to increase office term durations for the country's president from four to six years, in the capital Cairo on February 14, 2019. (AFP)
Egypt's Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal (C) chairs a parliament plenary session, in the capital Cairo on February 14. (AFP)

LONDON - Egypt’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to advance the process to amend the country’s constitution with changes that could allow Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi remain in office until 2034.

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel A'al said 485 members of Egypt’s 596-seat parliament voted to approve "in principle" amendments that would extend presidential terms to six years.

The amendments include a “transitional article” that would allow Sisi to seek an additional two 6-year terms after his current second term ends in 2022.

The amendments next move to the parliamentary Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee for discussion. The final text of the amendments is to be announced within 60 days.

The finalised amendments would then be referred to a general session of parliament for debate and vote. If approved by two-thirds of parliament, the proposed amendments would be subject to a national referendum, which could happen as soon as April.

Sisi has been largely silent over the initiative, which could dramatically increase his time as president. Pro-government media has been keen to assert parliament’s primacy in the constitutional amendment process.

“These amendments come from within parliament and have nothing whatsoever to do with the president,” Abdel A’al said February 13. “This chamber has the right to amend the constitution, while the presidency also has the right to request amendments but this initiative came from within parliament and will be limited to parliament.”

Sisi supporters used social media to express support for the changes. The hashtag “Kamel al-Mishwar” (“Complete the Journey”) was trending. That has been the motto adopted by those who argue two 4-year terms are not long enough to finish extensive plans set in motion by the Sisi administration.

Opponents of the move warned against repudiating one of the achievements of the 2011 revolution -- enshrining presidential term limits in the constitution. The hashtag “No to constitutional amendments” and “Sisi leave” were trending among Egypt’s opposition.

"Present political conditions are totally unsuitable for introducing amendments to the 2014 constitution," said Mohammed Amin, the deputy head of the centre-right Conservative Party. "Some of the articles of the constitution haven't had enough chance for application."

While most of the focus on the amendments was on presidential term limits, the proposals include allowing the head of judicial bodies to be directly appointed by the president, restoring Egypt’s upper parliamentary body and the appointment of vice-presidents.