Egyptian voters approve referendum extending president’s rule

“Wonderful scene done by Egyptians who took part in the referendum… will be written down in our nation’s historical record,” al-Sissi tweeted.

By Samy Magdy, Associated Press

Voters in Egypt approved constitutional amendments allowing President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to remain in power until 2030, election officials said Tuesday.

Al-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his rule in 2013 and has since presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of Egypt’s National Election Authority, told a news conference the amendments to the 2014 constitution were approved with 88.83% voting in favor, with a turnout of 44.33%. The nationwide referendum took place over three days, from Saturday through Monday to maximize turnout. Egypt has some 61 million eligible voters.

In his first public comments on the amendments, al-Sissi thanked the Egyptian people for voting.

“Wonderful scene done by Egyptians who took part in the referendum… will be written down in our nation’s historical record,” he tweeted minutes after Ibrahim announced the results.

Pro-government media, business people and lawmakers had pushed for a “Yes” vote and a high turnout, with many offering free rides and food handouts to voters, while authorities threatened to fine anyone boycotting the three-day referendum.

Opposition parties had urged a “no” vote, but they have little power in parliament, which is packed with al-Sissi supporters and overwhelmingly approved the amendments earlier this month. The local media is also dominated by pro-government commentators, and the authorities have blocked hundreds of websites, including many operated by independent media and rights groups.

Generally, the amendments extend a president’s term in office from four to six years and allow for a maximum of two terms. But they also include a special article specific to el-Sissi that extends his current second four-year term to six years and allows him to run for another six-year term in 2024 — potentially extending his rule until 2030.

The changes also allow the president to appoint top judges and include language declaring the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.

Al-Sissi was elected president in 2014 and re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.

Parliament overwhelmingly approved the amendments last week, with only 22 no votes and one abstention from 554 lawmakers in attendance. The national electoral commission announced the following day that voting would begin Saturday.