Is Egypt's Abdel Fattah el Sisi becoming president for life?

A group of pro-Sisi members in the Egyptian parliament initiated a new constitutional change that sought to set new term-limits for the presidency. Proposed amendments suggest that the current four-year term should be increased to six years.

The most curious aspect of the amendments proposed is the additional clause, which suggests a restart of Sisi’s presidential term, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2034. On February 5, the relevant parliamentary committee approved these amendments.

Given the lack of transparent and democratic electoral processes in the country, the new amendments are designed to allow Sisi to run for the presidency as long as possible. In other words, we are looking at a possible lifetime presidency for Egypt’s strongman.

This is ultimately something that the Egyptians have become accustomed to. In the Hosni Mubarak era, president from 1981 to 2011, there were no term limits for his presidency. The same person could remain president for an unlimited amount of time.

In fact there was no multi-candidate presidential election from 1981-2005. The constitution, approved by former President Anwar Sadat, suggested that the presidential candidate should be put forward by parliament and that a referendum should be held to approve the nomination.

So, Hosni Mubarak was repeatedly elected with referendums after he received nominations from parliament, which consisted of members mainly from his own National Democratic Party.

The referendums were problematic and considered illegitimate by many, as the electoral process was neither free nor democratic. The results of these referendums reveal the picture more clearly. Mubarak received aproval ratings of 98.5 percent in 1981, 97 in 1987, 96 in 1993 and, 94 in the 1999 referendum.

During those years, criticism towards Mubarak's regime increased, and the government had to make a new amendment to the constitution, allowing multi-candidate elections.

In 2005, Hosni Mubarak competed with Ayman Nour in the country’s first ever multi-candidate elections. The result was hardly any different. Mubarak was elected president with 88 percent of the vote. The following years witnessed an increase of criticism against the Mubarak regime for its undemocratic nature.

When it was understood that either Mubarak or his son Gamal would be running in the 2011 presidential elections, the Egyptian public's discontent bubbled over and was one of the catalysts for taking to the streets on January 25, 2011. The large-scale protests eventually resulted in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.

The 2011 revolution was hope for millions in Egypt who aspired for a democratic country. During the post-revolutionary period, Egypt took steps towards democratisation, and the first free and fair parliamentary elections took place in late 2011.

In June 2012, free and fair presidential elections took place, in which Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, obtained 51.7 percent of the vote.

During his term, Morsi’s administration made serious efforts to democratise the political system in Egypt by strengthening its political institutions, the rule of law, and personal freedoms. However, Morsi was prevented from strengthening democracy when he was removed by a military coup that took place on July 3, 2013, which was supported by some regional and global actors.

Following the coup, Morsi was overthrown and Egypt, once again, was dragged into a cycle of instability that led the country to further distance itself from democracy. 

The gradual suspension of democratic institutions and human rights violations become the modus operandi of the Sisi regime. The repressive policies of the military administration, the arbitrary arrests and trials of the judiciary, tens of thousands of civilians have been given long-term prison sentences. Mass death sentences were handed to opposition figures who peacefully opposed military rule.

Experts argue that since 2013, Egypt has been witnessing the most repressive period in its history.

This process has further been institutionalised through constitutional amendments and presidential elections that have taken place since then. Following the coup, Sisi initially announced that he would run for the presidency only for one term.

Following his election to the presidency in a disputed election in 2014, Sisi claimed that the massive wave of demand from different social groups might force him to run for another term.

In March 2018, Sisi won the elections with 97 percent of the vote by running against Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who had previously been a fervent supporter of Sisi. Following the elections, the country witnessed a new wave of arrests against groups that were supportive of Sisi during the 2013 military coup.

Sisi made it clear that he is the strongman in the country and that he will be staying in power as long as possible. To allow this to happen, a parliamentary committee worked on a new constitutional amendment to allow him to stay in power until 2034. This arrangement, adopted by the Egyptian parliament on February 5, ensures that the Sisi regime remains in office for many years to come.

Considering the post-Mubarak era developments since 2011, the political atmosphere in Egypt has become oppressive beyond imagination. With the restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms, the regime's pressure on all segments of political opposition has become unbearable.

Egypt has witnessed a de-democratisation in the sense that any trace of democracy cannot be observed. Once a dominant and powerful actor in the region, Egypt is now being forced to remain as an undemocratic, unstable, and broken country.

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