Egypt bucks trend with vote to extend El-Sisi rule

Egyptians pass under banners in Cairo reading in Arabic "Do what is right", and "Participation is your responsibility", urging voters to participate in the upcoming referendum for the constitutional amendments. (AFP / Mohamed el-Shahed)
Updated 19 April 2019
0

Egypt bucks trend with vote to extend El-Sisi rule

  • On April 16, the parliament overwhelmingly approved changes extending presidential terms from four to six years
  • The amendments would prolong El-Sisi’s current term to 2024 and allow him to then run for another six-year term

CAIRO: In a referendum bucking the trend of the region’s mini-Arab Spring, Egyptians are to start voting Saturday on constitutional amendments that extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s rule until at least 2024.
The vote running from April 20-22 was officially announced on Wednesday, a day after parliament overwhelmingly approved the changes extending presidential terms from four to six years.
The amendments — widely expected to pass in the face of minimal opposition — would prolong El-Sisi’s current term to 2024 from 2022 and allow him to then run for another six-year term.
They also include giving the military greater influence in political life, granting El-Sisi wide control over the judiciary and broadening the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.
Egypt has been preparing for the referendum at the same time as parliament debated the amendments since the start of April.
Banners and billboards have gone up across the capital Cairo in the past weeks urging people to take part.
Many carry slogans implicitly urging people to back the amendments by doing “the right thing,” while others sponsored by the pro-government Nation’s Future party call outright for a “Yes” vote.
The referendum comes after two veteran presidents, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar Al-Bashir, were ousted in Algeria and Sudan, respectively, this month following mass street demonstrations.
MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, who pushed for the constitutional amendments to keep El-Sisi in power, is adamant the changes are needed to allow the president to complete political and economic reforms.
El-Sisi “took important political, economic and security measures... (and) must continue with his reforms,” in the face of the unrest gripping neighboring countries, the deputy told AFP.
The Soufan Center, however, said Thursday that the amendments would “solidify El-Sisi’s grip on the Egyptian political regime.”
“There is little observable public opposition to the constitutional changes, likely a result of the oppressive nature of the Egyptian government,” said the think tank.
Under El-Sisi, “Egypt has become even more autocratic than it was under (long-time ruler Hosni) Mubarak,” it said.
As army chief of staff at the time, El-Sisi led the military’s overthrow of elected president Muhammad Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader’s rule.
He won his first term as president in 2014, three years after the uprising that toppled Mubarak, and was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent of the vote, after standing virtually unopposed.
His government has been widely criticized by human rights groups for the repression of political opponents.
But the “recent political upheavals in Algeria and Sudan have little hope of being replicated in Egypt, where the initial murmurings of the Arab Spring have since been silenced,” said the Soufan Center.
Other constitutional amendments include a quota for women’s representation of no less than 25 percent in parliament and forming a second parliamentary chamber.
Activists including Human Rights Watch have blasted the main changes as part of a campaign to cement El-Sisi’s “authoritarian rule.”
Amnesty International said that by approving the amendments, parliamentarians had shown a “complete disregard for human rights.”
The haste with which the referendum has been pushed through prompted Egyptian and international human rights groups to call the electoral process “unfree and unfair.”
“The current national climate in Egypt is devoid of any space in which a... referendum can occur with... guarantees of partiality and fairness,” rights groups said in a joint statement.
Parliament’s small opposition “25-30 Alliance” is urging Egypt’s electorate to reject the amendments.
With the overwhelming majority of the media in the El-Sisi camp, dissenting voices have been largely restricted to social networks.


Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

Updated 23 May 2019
0

Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

  • The commander said they will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for their enemies
  • Tensions between Iran and US escalated after Trump restored sanctions

GENEVA: The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills,” a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.
Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.
He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!“
Trump restored US sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.