Egyptians vote in referendum to extend Sisi’s rule


CAIRO, April 20, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Egyptians voted Saturday in a referendum
that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former
coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow
Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over
the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa’s mini-Arab
Spring, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran
presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his
ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. In Shubra, a working-class
neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their
children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior
ministry denied to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a jihaidst insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula
that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring
security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of
veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, his supporters waved flags bearing their campaign
motto: “Do the Right,” as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote ‘Yes’.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile,
Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support
of the changes.

“I don’t care about the presidential terms,” he said.

“Sisi could stay forever as long as he’s doing his job… and he has
already done a lot”.

Sisi won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army
in overthowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass
protests against his single turbulent in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of
all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were
accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent — both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi’s
rule, saying the “constitutional amendments” would “entrench repression”.

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the
“grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment” of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt’s streets have been awash with banners and
billboards urging citizens to “Do the right thing” and vote “Yes”, while
popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

A DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under
Sisi’s leadership, including a new song called “I adore Egypt” by iconic
Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram.

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a mid-thirties voter at another polling station in
the capital told AFP: “We are all staff in the same company and we were
instructed by management to go vote.

“I want to say ‘No’… on extending the presidential terms and the
amendments related to the judiciary,” he said declinining to give his name
for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

“Even if I say ‘No’, they (the authorities) are still going to do what they
want in the end,” he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional
changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber
and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think-tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would
be to “solidify Sisi’s grip on the Egyptian political regime” in a country
that “has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak”.