Egyptian MP proposes amendment to extend presidential term limit despite Sisi’s disavowal

November 19, 2017
Familiar debate. A poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on display along a street in Cairo, on November 8. (Reuters)

Cairo- Independent MP Ismail Nasred­dine said he would try to pro­pose a constitutional amend­ment to increase the term of the presidency despite Egyp­tian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi disavowing the idea.
“Four years are far from enough for any president to put his presi­dential platform into effect,” Nasreddine said. “If we really want stability and progress for this coun­try, we need to give presidents longer time in office.”
Nasreddine, who represents the Cairo district of Helwan, said he wanted to increase the current lim­it of two terms of four years each.
In an interview with CNBC, Sisi seemingly ended speculation re­garding increasing the presidential term limit.
“There is no president who will sit in the chair without the will of the Egyptian people,” Sisi said. “We will not interfere [with the consti­tution]… I am with preserving two four-year terms.”
Nasreddine said that the presi­dent’s statement had not changed his mind about the need for a con­stitutional amendment to increase the term of the presidency, how­ever.
Despite his enthusiasm, Nasred­dine is facing a tough task to push through a constitutional amend­ment. He would first need to obtain the support of 20% of MPs — 120 members — to table a discussion on the issue in parliament. A two-thirds majority vote would be re­quired to advance an amendment through parliament, before a refer­endum vote.
An independent MP, with no of­ficial ties to any of the established parliamentary blocs, Nasreddine said he is not explicitly seeking to empower Sisi.
“I want to amend the constitu­tion for the sake of the stability of our country, regardless of who is in office,” Nasreddine said.
Many MPs, both pro-Sisi and opposition, voiced opposition to a constitutional amendment in August, forcing Nasreddine at the time to retract his bid.
Amr Moussa, who headed the as­sembly responsible for drafting the constitution, criticised the idea. “Renewed talk about amending the constitution in a presidential elec­tion year raises questions about the maturity of political thought behind it,” Moussa said in a state­ment in August.
Nasreddine said that he now has much stronger support for an amendment, which would seek to increase the presidential term to six years, and that he intended to formally submit his proposal in a few weeks’ time when he has se­cured enough support in the legis­lature.
“There was huge pressure on the constituent assembly to finalise drafting the constitution quickly,” MP Mutaz Mahmud said. “This was why a large number of the arti­cles of the constitution need to be reconsidered for the best interests of our country, including those on the duration of the presidential term.”
Egypt’s constitution was drafted by a panel of 50 public figures, poli­ticians, university professors, reli­gious figures and representatives of judicial agencies and profes­sional unions following the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. A referendum on the constitution in January 2014 saw a yes vote of 98.1%. However, there was a turnout of less than 39%.
Despite Sisi publicly disavowing attempts to lengthen the presiden­tial term, many in Egypt expressed scepticism about his intentions. He has yet to officially state whether he would seek a second term in of­fice, despite vowing not to stand for a third. He is, however, gener­ally expected to run and easily win the presidential elections next year.
Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali is the only person to formally an­nounce his presidential candidacy. He won less than 1% of the vote in the 2012 presidential elections against Sisi and few expect him to pose a serious challenge to Sisi in next year’s election.
A public campaign, “So You Can Build It,” has been gathering signa­tures calling for Sisi to seek re-elec­tion. More than 3.7 million Egyp­tians have signed the petition, with millions more expected to do so.
A popular campaign called “Complete Your Favour” collected more than 15 million signatures in 2013 urging Sisi to run for presi­dent. If a similar campaign were to be launched calling for Sisi to secure a third term in office, the president’s statements would seem to make it unlikely he would agree. “It doesn’t suit me as a president to stay one more day [in office] against the will of the Egyptians,” Sisi said in the CNBC interview.
“[Former Egyptian leader Hos­ni] Mubarak used to say that he was not after power or wealth but ended up ruling for 30 years,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. “In normal conditions, it is parliament that challenges the president’s de­sire to keep staying in power but our parliament is doing just the op­posite.”