Al Sisi’s presidential ambitions conflict with Egypt’s constitution
by Dr. Ashraf Ramelah
By virtue of its own authority every dictatorial power — whether of military, religious or national — creates for the country a vital, intellectual space or atmosphere where propaganda can flourish. This is the means to enact authoritarian projects for the purpose of tightening a grip on society and to justify repressive actions. One such project is Abdel Fatah Al Sisi’s future presidential ambitions.
Past Egyptian regimes (as well as the present one) self-promote through public boasting and seek praise for their achievements by deluding the public. One case in point is Al Sisi’s Suez Canal mega-project. Egyptians are still waiting to see its benefits. For the regime to control the narrative, it will pre-empt the opposition in staged “democratic” debates on TV forums. The actors, host and guests, are well-versed in satisfying the regime’s desired outcomes.
An army of writers, journalists and broadcasters — servants of the regime — are always ready to serve the next authoritarian project when it comes along. Today’s mission of the Egyptian regime is to convince the public that President Al Sisi, who is in the middle of his second and final four-year term, needs more time in office than the current constitution allows. Al Sisi must continue. He has made promises to the people he needs to fulfill.
Al Sisi has said publicly more than once that he needs additional time to accomplish his goals. He must blatantly disregard the constitution to run for a third term — grabbing the potential to rule the country for many years to come. It matters little to him that Egypt’s constitution requires a president to have only two terms in office.
He will simply blame the populace for begging him to run for re-election — a figment of his imagination. Egyptians are still reeling over Al Sisi’s last offense against the constitution when, prior to signing away Egyptian land (two islands in the Red Sea) to Saudi Arabia, he neglected to seek parliamentary approval and a referendum vote from the people.
His faction in parliament is now pressing for an unconstitutionally proposed amendment to Article 140 that will give Egypt’s next president two six-year terms. This is fully intended for Al Sisi and a 20-year presidency by the year 2034. It’s being tailored for his longevity. Let’s not forget that Al Sisi’s challengers and potentially serious contenders for president are now sitting in jail or were threatened out of existence during the second-term primary. It’s therefore likely that Al Sisi will in the near future join the ranks of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak for duration and pretty much all else.
The mechanics of Al Sisi’s latest constitutional breach
According to Egypt’s constitutional Article 226, it takes five members of the Egyptian Parliament to request a change in the form of an amendment to any article of the constitution. However, according to the same Article 226, presidential term limits (described in Article 140) can never be modified. Therefore, requesting to alter presidential term limits is unconstitutional.
Ahmad Helmy, the secretary of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, deceived his listeners on a TV show and answered the host’s question by misapplying Article 226 and misleading his audience stating, “The parliament has the right to present a request to modify the constitution if provided by and submitted by at least five of its members.” Helmy, a loyalist of Al Sisi’s, omitted saying that Article 226 prohibits any changes dealing with presidential elections such as term limits or any other freedom limiting idea.
This February, the state started its propaganda campaign favoring the need for the term-limits changes, while the fake opposition of the regime began countering it. While the state promoted the pro and con arguments on the airwaves, many negative events occurred to clog up the news stream, creating distractions from this critical issue. For example, litigation began between the heads of the two popular soccer clubs of Cairo. At the same time in the first twenty days of February three terror attacks on military and police forces took place, resulting in many losses and injuries.
Finally, at the end of February a passenger train crashed in Cairo station killing fifty people and injuring 150 more per the official statement. Moreover, a sexual scandal began and went viral pertaining to the MP and film director Khaled Youssef, when a video leaked the story. Importantly, Youssef is vocal in his opposition to the term-limits amendment.
No real surprise
By a combination of ignoring the constitution and attempting to illegally change the constitution, it is a forgone conclusion that Egypt will gain another very long-term president and regime whether citizens like it or not. For those paying close attention, the current situation comes as no surprise. Al Sisi has always had an “Islamic military” disdain for the constitution.
Back in March 2015, one year into Al Sisi’s first term, he was questioned during a youth conference about certain percentages of national income going to education, health and research as per Article 18, 19, and 21 of the Egyptian constitution, and the president replied, “This constitution was written in a naïve way, but nation states cannot be built solely in a naïve way.”
Illegally changing the constitution or trying to do so have always ended badly for Egypt’s presidents. Reaching the end of his first term Sadat modified Article 77 of the 1971 constitution on May 22, 1980 so that he could extend his time in office. Although successful in making the change, he was assassinated in his second term.
The revision for unlimited presidential terms brought by Sadat allowed Mubarak to remain for thirty years before he tried to change the constitution to have his son follow in his footsteps. Shortly after, he was ousted from office by the Egyptian uprising. Morsi changed articles of the constitution by using executive orders to protect his own interests. It led directly to the uprising that removed him from office.
Al Sisi may succeed at his attempts to change the constitution, but as history demonstrates there is no guarantee he will ultimately gain his presidential ambitions.
Dr. Ashraf Ramelah is founder and president of Voice of the Copts, a human rights organization, and a board member of Stop Islamization of Nations (SION). For his previous articles, see the Ashraf Ramelah Archives.