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Egypt: National Referendum on Constitutional Amendments Takes Place

(June 5, 2019) On April 22, 2019, Egyptians completed casting their votes on constitutional amendments to the 2014 Egyptian Constitution. The polling was carried out over a three-day period throughout the country. ( Egypt Polls Close After 3-Day Vote to Extend El-Sissi’s Rule , ASSOCIATED PRESS (Apr. 22, 2019).) The amendments passed with over 88% of voters in favor and 44% of eligible voters participating. ( Egypt’s Constitutional Amendments Passed by 88% with 44% Turnout: Elections Committee , EGYPT TODAY (Apr. 23, 2019).)
2019 Constitutional Amendments
Article 140, paragraph 1 of the 2019 constitutional amendments provides for extending presidential terms from four to six years. Article 241 (duplicate) was added as an intermediate constitutional provision to extend the current presidential term from four to six years, which thus allows President Abdu Al-Fatah Al-Sisi to remain in office until 2024. Al-Sisi would then have the right to serve another six-year term, until 2030. ( Complete Text of Constitutional Amendments , AL YOUM 7 (Apr. 16, 2019).)
Furthermore, article 200, paragraph 1 of the new amendments expands the role of the armed forces to make them the protector of the civilian nature of the state, while article 204, paragraph 2 grants jurisdiction to military courts over civilians who carry out crimes in buildings and facilities protected by the armed forces. ( Id. )
According to article 185 of the new constitutional amendments, the president of the republic has the power to appoint the heads of all judicial bodies and will serve as the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council. Under amended article 189, paragraph 2, the president of the republic has the power to directly appoint the country’s public prosecutor. Article 189 also allows the president to appoint the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Formerly, it was the Supreme Judicial Council that had the authority to appoint the heads of judicial bodies, the public prosecutor, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. ( Complete Text of Constitutional Amendments , supra .)
Article 102, paragraph 1 of the amendments establishes that one-fourth of all seats on the Council of Representatives is to be reserved for women. Article 150 (duplicate) was added to create the position of the vice president, while article 250 was added to create a second chamber of the legislative branch, called the Consultative Council. The Consultative Council consists of 180 members—two-thirds of whom are to be appointed by the president and one-third to be elected—serving for a term of five years. ( Id. )
Opposition to the Amendments
According to news reports, a number of political parties called for Egyptians to reject the constitutional amendments. For example, the Civil Democratic Movement, which includes liberal and left-leaning parties, called the constitutional amendments as an “assault on democracy” and urged people to break the “barrier of silence” and vote “no” in the referendum. ( Egypt Opposition Urges Voters to Reject Constitutional Amendments , AL JAZEERA (Apr. 18, 2019).) Political analyst and Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa stated that the amendments amounted to “legalizing dictatorship in the constitution and that will have dangerous repercussions on the political system when all doors for freedom of expression are sealed. … The adjustment will lead to absolute dictatorship.” ( Id. ; Hassan Nafaa , AL-AHRAM WEEKLY (last visited June 4, 2019).)
Support for the Amendments
Members of the Council of Representatives supporting the new amendments, such as Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal, claim that President Sisi did not ask for the recent constitutional amendments, including the provisions pertaining to the extension of his presidential term. (Amr Mohamed Kandil, Before Vote: Know About Powers Granted to President by Constitutional Amendments , EGYPT TODAY (Apr. 16, 2019).) Speaker Abdel Al has also stated that the amendments aim at achieving political justice and political stability in the country. (Samy Magdy, Egypt Lawmakers Pass Amendments Now Headed to Referendum , ASSOCIATED PRESS (Apr. 16, 2019).)

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