(February 14, 2019 / JNS)
In accordance with the Egyptian constitution, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is supposed to conclude his presidency in 2022, after two four-year terms.
There are now increasing rumors, however, together with parliamentary activity aimed at changing this limit and allowing Sisi to remain in office beyond the initial limit. For this to happen, one-fifth of the Egyptian parliament, which includes 595 members, must ask for a constitutional amendment. For the amendment to pass, two-thirds of the parliament need to support it, and then a national referendum must be held.
At first glance, this seems like a long, convoluted process, the outcome of which would be entirely uncertain. But in Egypt, nothing is left to chance.
If a decision is made to amend the constitution to allow El-Sisi to remain president, it will simply happen, as things have in the past. When former president Anwar Sadat wanted to build modern Egypt on legal and democratic foundations, he instituted constitutional limits to the presidency: two four-year terms. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the ensuing peace treaty with Israel, Sadat sought to amend the clause but was killed before he could do so.
In the wake of Sadat’s assassination, there was real concern that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over the country. The Egyptian parliament decided, in a far-reaching move, to cancel the two-term limit, opening the door for Hosni Mubarak to rule the country for three decades. Were it not for the Arab Spring of 2011, Mubarak, now age 90, would still be president.
El-Sisi turned back the clock and capped the presidency at two terms, though the same thing that happened to his predecessors happened to him. He fell in love with power and now wants to extend his tenure beyond the stipulated deadline.
As president, he is both popular at home and embraced by world leaders abroad. He is fighting Islamic terror, and the Egyptian economy is starting to turn around. He is viewed as a vital leader in the Arab world. Why, then, change drivers mid-race?
Those who want to let El-Sisi extend his presidency are employing scare tactics, claiming that Islamists could seize control of the country. This claim is working well; El-Sisi himself is cultivating it, telling everyone around him that the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood is existential.
The options for a constitutional amendment are to cancel the term limitation outright and return to the Mubarak days of an unlimited time in office; keep the situation as is and face the Islamist threat; or add another four-year term, which violates the spirit of the 2011 revolution. But another option appears to be emerging that answers the needs of the hour and has a chance of passing—for Egypt to keep the two-term limit, but extend the length of each term to six years instead of four.
If El-Sisi maintains his current policies, including cooperation with Israel, all-out war against Islamic terror and efforts to improve the daily lives of his people, then an extension of his presidency should be encouraged.
Itzhak Levanon is the former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.