Egypt's post-referendum changes

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 3 May 2019

Last week’s approval of constitutional amendments changes the political landscape, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Post-referendum changes

A majority of Egyptians voted in favour of constitutional amendments last week. The results, announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 23 April, showed 27.2 million out of a total 61.3 million eligible voters had participated in the three-day referendum, a turnout of 44.3 per cent.

NEC head Lasheen Ibrahim told a news conference that 23.4 million — or around 88.8 per cent of those who voted — had said yes to the amendments.

“A total of 2.9 million, or 11.1 per cent, said no, and there were 831,172 — three per cent — invalid votes.”

Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the figures announced by the NEC were significant for a number of reasons.

“There was high participation in the referendum despite media campaigns, orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its media channels broadcasting from Qatar and Turkey, to tarnish the image of the amendments,” said Al-Sigini. “Indeed, the high turnout has dealt a deafening blow to the Brotherhood and its affiliated media.”

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie told the Weekly the turnout in last week’s vote compared very favourably to polls held in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

“While the referendum on a new political roadmap in 2011, which came immediately after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak from office, saw a voter turnout of 41.1 per cent, the 2012 vote on the Muslim Brotherhood-drafted constitution resulted in a turnout of just 32.9 per cent,” said Rabie. “The referendum on the constitution in 2014 attracted 38.6 per cent of registered voters.”

“Some argue the rise in voter turnout in last week’s referendum was due to the increase in the number of eligible voters — 61.3 million, compared to 55 million in 2014 — and not due to greater interest in the vote,” said Rabie.

“Yet the results of the poll show that many voters were keen to vote against the amendments. And that 27.1 million bothered to turn out in the face of predictions of widespread apathy clearly displays a level of intense engagement.”

Al-Sigini agrees with those members of the parliamentary majority Support Egypt coalition which submitted the amendments on 3 February who argue the referendum was a vote of confidence in President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

“I agree that many citizens were not able to fully understand the amendments. The only thing they were sure of was that the changes would keep President Al-Sisi in office for some years to come, and they were keen to participate to give their support to the president.”

Support Egypt leader Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi told the media last week that “although the amendment about extending President Al-Sisi’s term in office was just one of several it was the change that prompted many citizens to participate and vote yes.

“Of those who said no to the amendments the majority are probably members of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Al-Qasabi.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, argued in a statement that “the overwhelming approval of the amendments deals a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

“This group and others had banked on a low turnout. When they found out that there was active participation they issued directives to their supporters to vote no,” said Abed. “And while President Al-Sisi had no hand in the amendments, the majority saw the poll as a vote of confidence.”

What changes are likely to follow the referendum?

“First, there will be no presidential election in 2022, and there is a high probability that when the next election comes in 2024 President Al-Sisi will run,” says Al-Sigini.

Abed expects “many citizens will call upon the president to stand should economic conditions begin to have a positive impact on their lives.”

Al-Sigini adds “it will be up to President Al-Sisi to appoint a vice president or not.

“The amendments give him the right to appoint one or two vice presidents, and there is already speculation over names,” he said.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka, head of parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, said in an interview with Al-Ahram that parliament will now be very busy amending laws so that they are in line with the amendments.

“Topping the list in this respect is the law regulating the performance of the House of Representatives. We — parliament and the government’s legislative committees — will need to work on a new law stipulating that the number of MPs does not exceed 450 and that quarter of the total number of MPs are women.”

Laws on the House and the Senate will be drafted to help accommodate other underrepresented groups to enter parliament. “They include Copts, workers and farmers, the young, the physically challenged and expatriates,” said Abu Shokka.

“When the time for holding parliamentary elections comes in October or November 2020 laws reflecting all the constitutional amendments will need to be in place.

“Amendments will also be needed on legislation dealing with judicial authorities,” said Abu Shokka. “Three amended articles require changes to the legislation regulating the performance of the State Council, the Supreme Constitutional Court and the General Prosecution.”

Similarly, new legislation will be needed on the Armed Forces to “allow civilians to be tried by military courts in cases that involve attacks on military installations or personnel, even when the latter are guarding civilian buildings”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Post-referendum changes.

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