04/24/2019, 17.32
EGYPT
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Pro-military constitutional reform worries activists

Constitutional changes are approved by almost 90 per cent of voters who cast their ballots. Turnout stands at 44.33 per cent of eligible voters. The presidential mandate is extended, and the president picks judges and prosecutor. The army is the guarantor above the constitution. Fr Rafic was "hoping for a greater turnout." Christian leader fears a military regime.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Almost 90 per cent of Egyptian voters approved in a referendum President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's constitutional reform, which gives the military a greater grip on power (including the judiciary) and the president the opportunity to remain in office until 2030. 

The final results released by Election Commission yesterday show that 88.83 per cent of voters approved the amendments, with 11.17 per cent voting against. The turnout in the three-day referendum (20-22 April) was 44.33 per cent with some 23.4 million out of about 52.7 million eligible voters in favour of the amendments. Egypt's overall population is 98 million.

The vote comes a week after Parliament approved the changes with 531 votes in favour out of 554. The changes include extending the presidential mandate from four to six years, abolishing the two terms limit, restoring the Upper House abolished five years ago and granting the president new powers, such as the right to appoint judges and the public prosecutor.

Under the reformed Charter, the military is tasked with preserving "the constitution and democracy", an aspect that worries analysts and activists. 

Sisi's second mandate, which was set to end in 2022, will now be extended to 2024, and the president will be able to run for a third term of another six years, until 2030. During this period, he will have the possibility of appointing judges and prosecutors and boost his grip on the country. Such a perspective is likely to endanger Egypt's fragile democracy and institutional and social development.

On Twitter, Sisi expressed his "appreciation and pride" for the result. By contrast, the opposition has expressed fears and concerns as well as laid charges of fraud. 

“Sisi’s machine of oppression has denied the Egyptian people’s right to express their opinions, thus obstructing all possible peaceful ways for the Egyptians to express their rejection,” an opposition group said in a statement, slamming the government for using public money to distribute electoral bribes.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, noted that only 44 per cent of the electorate voted. "Such a result is not great," especially considering how much the changes will influence the life in the country. "I had hoped for a greater turnout."

The clergyman remains troubled by the "separation of powers, guaranteed in all modern constitutions, which could fail. Now the president enjoys greater powers and this could be an element of concern . . . A lot will depend on who the president is. [. . .] We must stay focused and see how the constitution will be enforced because it is clear that there are reasons for concern."

Mina Thabet, an Egyptian Christian activist currently in London, is also worried. A former leader of the Maspero Youth Union, Thabet now heads the Civil Liberties and Minorities programmes at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

"Few people have stressed the huge power the armed forces now enjoy," he explained. "Such power goes beyond the Constitution itself, which the military will be able to interpret" for their own benefit. Not even the Constitutional Court "enjoyed such discretionary powers" in interpreting the constitution.

For the activist, who was a leading figure in the protest movement that led to the fall of former president Mohammed Morsi, "Egypt seems to have turned into a constitutional military regime" with civilians "subject to military courts and military judges with unlimited power.”

Given "the low credibility of the electoral results, especially with respect to turnout, I don't believe in the numbers and integrity of the whole process because there was not enough time to express all the ideas and make people understand the reasons for a vote against" the proposed changes.

"A lot was said about Sisi and the longer mandate, but the real problem is the predominance of the president over the judiciary, the end of the separation of powers, and the huge powers in the hands of the military."

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