Egypt's Sisi looks forward to 15 more years in power

Sisi supporters during the 2014 presidential election. Photo <a href="https://twitter.com/tomgara/status/427174616407498752">via Twitter</a>

Proposed constitutional changes in Egypt, announced at the weekend, could keep President Sisi in power until 2034.

Sisi is currently in the second of two four-year terms and, if the constitution remains unchanged, he must leave office in 2022. Under the proposals submitted to parliament, however, he would be allowed two further terms, each extended to six years rather than four.

Although this would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament and a public referendum, there's not much doubt about the regime's ability to suppress opposition and push the changes through.

Regime supporters claim the changes are necessary if Sisi is to complete the task he began by ousting President Morsi in 2013.

According to Akhbar al-Youm, a state-owned newspaper, “The framers of the constitution had not envisioned that this popular hero would carry on his own two shoulders the responsibility for an Egyptian renaissance and that he would advance along a path that does not look like it will have reached its end by 2022.”

No Egyptian president has ever retired voluntarily or been voted out of office. The historical pattern is that if they are not toppled during the first few months – as happened with Mohamed Naguib in the 1950s and Mohamed Morsi more recently – they are set for a long stay. 

Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled for more than 12 years before dying in office; Anwar Sadat, assassinated in 1981, ruled for 10 years, and Hosni Mubarak ruled for 29 years before the 2011 revolution forced him out.

The proposed constitutional changes would allow Sisi a total of 20 years as president, barring any unforeseen events. By the end of that, in the words of Ayman Abdel Hakim, a lawyer who has been campaigning for the extension, Sisi will have finished his projects and Egyptians can “look for democracy and renewal”.

This is clearly not a healthy situation. Aside from the dictatorial nature of Sisi's regime, extending his presidency by 12 years beyond its current limit seriously diminishes any prospect of moving away from the type of strongman rule that plagues the Arab countries.

A further straw in the wind is that meetings about the constitutional amendments have been taking place at the headquarters of the General Intelligence Service, chaired by a senior intelligence official called Mahmoud el-Sisi – who is the president’s son.

Inevitably, this will raise memories of how Hosni Mubarak groomed his son, Gamal, to succeed him – as did Gadafy in Libya, Saleh in Yemen and Hafez al-Assad in Syria. As they say in France, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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UPDATE: On 14 February 2019 voted overwhelmingly to approve the changes. The BBC reports that the changes will now be drafted into legislation and put to another parliamentary vote. If approved again, Egypt will then hold a referendum.