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Egypt’s opposition and the constitutional amendments

March 12, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at the House of Representatives in Cairo, Egypt on 2 June 2018 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

The constitutional amendments currently being discussed by the Egyptian parliament represent a major step towards establishing authoritarianism in Egypt. It will pave the way for one person, the current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to remain in power for 20 years (2014-2034). It is also considered a reversal of one of the January 25th 2011 revolution’s few achievements, i.e. limiting the presidency to two terms lasting four years each. The amendments proposed by members of the parliament who are loyal to and allied with Al-Sisi are considered the most recent measures that will allow Al-Sisi to establish his authoritarian rule and dominate all authorities. Moreover, these amendments will make the army the guardian of the state, as the proposed amendment stipulates the re-formulation of Article 200 of the current constitution adopted in 2014 so that the Armed Forces would have a role in protecting “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature.” Apart from the blatant contradiction of this amendment that has no relation to democracy or civil state, it will also make the army a guardian of the Constitution and its texts, for the first time in Egypt’s modern history. If these amendments are passed, as expected, Egypt will turn into a situation similar to that of Turkey throughout the 20th century, of some Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Chile throughout the 1970s, and of Thailand in the early 1990s. This is what delayed the democratic transition in these countries for decades.

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Furthermore, the proposed amendments will grant the head of state, considering him the head of the executive authority, a lot of powers at the expense of the judicial authority. This is evidenced by the proposed amendments to Article 185 of the current constitution which stipulates the formation of a Council of Judicial Bodies, to be headed by the president, who will have the freedom to choose the heads of the judicial bodies and committees; which may affect the integrity of the judiciary.

Hence, the main question now is: Can these constitutional amendments be stopped and how? The simple answer to this question is no. Al-Sisi controls most of the state’s institutions and branches, including the parliament, media, judiciary, and security to a large extent. At a time when some judges quietly expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed amendments, the judicial institutions, such as the State Council and the Judges’ Club, have not taken a public position on these amendments yet. The Egyptian opposition is also suffering from oppression, exclusion, and division, which weakens its ability to stop these amendments. The state has launched a campaign to intimidate and crackdown on anyone who dares to reject the amendments. For example. The security forces arrested members of the Constitution Party, founded by El-Baradei, over the past few weeks for rejecting the proposed constitutional amendments. The state is also campaigning to convince the people to vote yes on the amendments, under the pretext of protecting the state and ensuring stability.

Constitutional proposals could allow Sisi to stay in power till 2034 – Cartoon [Mohammad Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

However, despite these difficulties, there is hope that these constitutional amendments could be stopped through several options. The first is launching a widespread popular campaign to pressure the parliament to reject the amendments before they are put for a referendum in May. Some political groups have already begun this, such as the Civil Democratic Movement, which is composed of liberal and secular left-wing parties and public figures. It is leading a campaign to sign a memorandum rejecting these amendments and calling for the end to tampering with the constitution. The number of signatories reached about 29,000 within two weeks of campaign being launched. At the same time, some influential social networking pages, such as the Facebook page “Almawkef Almasry”, have launched a campaign to post videos of citizens who reject the amendments. This is creating a major state of momentum that has been absent from Egypt over the past six years. Secondly, the Egyptian opposition can use this momentum to create a united political programme to stop this political disaster. This momentum could lead to creating a new environment conducive to helping the opposition overcome its political and ideological divisions. Thirdly, if the amendments are passed in parliament in early April, as expected, the opposition forces could move to Plan B, i.e. mobilising the streets to vote against the proposed amendments during the referendum. While it is highly likely that the constitutional amendments will be passed, either through media mobilisation, state propaganda or by rigging the referendum results. These amendments could be the beginning of organising the ranks of the opposition, which could be built upon in the future, instead of the current discord and conflict that is dominating the discourse and behaviour of the opposition leaders and figures.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 11 March 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.