Egypt's constitutional amendments approved: What’s next?

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 24 Apr 2019

Egyptians backed the constitutional amendments in a referendum, paving the way for major changes

 Egyptian voter
An Egyptian voter displays her inked finger after she cast her ballot on constitutional amendments during the second day of three-day voting at polling station in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, April 21, 2019 AP

The final results of Egypt’s three-day referendum showed that the proposed amendments to the country’s 2014 constitution received reasonable support.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced Tuesday that 88.8 per cent of registered voters — 23.4 million — said “yes” to the amendments, while 2.9 million, or 11.1 per cent, said “no”.

Head of the NEC Lasheen Ibrahim told a news conference on Tuesday that around 27.2 million participated in the poll. “This represents a voter turnout of around 44.3 per cent,” Ibrahim said.

Amr Hashem Rabie, an Al-Ahram researcher, told Al-Ahram Weekly that political analysts had predicted that the amendments would get an overwhelming “yes”.

“But analysts differed on the voter turnout levels,” said Rabie, adding that unlike previous votes which were held during times of political upheavals — in 2011, 2012 and 2014 — there were no big national divisions ahead of this week’s referendum “and so we see that the turnout was reasonable, not so high and not so low,” said Rabie, adding that “the fact that around three million said “no” reflects the credibility of the results. This also shows that the referendum was held in a free climate and refutes the claim that citizens were forced to say “yes” under pressure,” Rabie said.

NEC Spokesperson Mahmoud Al-Sherif said that 58 local and 22 foreign NGOs were allowed to monitor the referendum, and as many as 152 international media outlets received permits to cover it.

NEC figures show that the referendum was conducted in 13,919 polling stations, while the number of judges entrusted with supervising the vote comprised approximately 20,000 drawn from various judicial authorities.

The NEC’s Al-Sherif indicated that the number of eligible voters stood at around 61.5 million, up from 54 million five years ago.

According to an international delegation tasked with observing and following up the referendum delegation’s report, there was huge turnout in the various districts of Egypt’s governorates, particularly in Cairo, Port Said, Menoufiya, Fayoum and Kafr Al-Sheikh.

The international delegation, which is a coalition of four international and local NGOs from three continents, had 69 members monitoring the voting process in 14 governorates.

As the “yes” vote has now become a reality, many now wonder what could come next. Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, leader of the parliamentary majority, the Support Egypt coalition, told reporters that the amendments will require that parliament moves in the next stage to issue new laws that should be translated into facts on the ground. “We expect a package of new legislation aimed at regulating the formation and election of the House of Representatives and the Senate,” said Al-Qasabi, adding that “these laws should make sure that 25 per cent of seats in the House be allocated to women, and that other marginally represented sectors, including Copts, youth, the physically challenged, workers and farmers be also adequately represented in line with the new constitutional amendments.”

Al-Qasabi also expects that new laws regulating the selection of the prosecutor-general, president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and the performance of the State Council in line with the amendments, will also be issued. “The same is true about the Armed Forces,” said Al-Qasabi, adding that “as a result I expect that parliament will have a very busy legislative season that will continue until the end of its five-year term in June 2020.”

Parliamentary elections are expected in Egypt at the end of 2020, and will include both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But the major significance of the “yes” vote is that the amendments will extend Egypt’s sitting president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, by two years, from 2022 to 2024.

In accordance with the amendments, Al-Qasabi indicated, President Al-Sisi will also be allowed in 2024 to run for another — and final — six-year presidential term. “It is up to him to decide in 2024 whether he wants to run for an additional six-year term, but those who will also decide to compete in 2024 will have the chance to run two times,” said Al-Qasabi, indicating that “MPs decided to give President Al-Sisi a chance to run for another six-year term beyond 2024 in appreciation of his role in helping the Egyptian people in 2013 get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood regime and restore stability.”

Samir Ghattas, an independent MP and political analyst, told the Weekly that he believes that most of pro-Al-Sisi political parties took the referendum as not just a matter of votes on the amendments but of a renewed vote of confidence in President Al-Sisi. “These parties view President Al-Sisi as a symbol of stability and economic success amid a volatile region, and so they viewed the vote not just as support for their move in parliament, but also as a message to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and particularly its affiliated media channels broadcasting from Qatar and Turkey, that they have no one listening in Egypt.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Amendments approved: What’s next?

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