Egypt Approves New Muscle for Its Strongman Chief


CAIRO — The lone protester stood in an prosperous nook of Egypt’s capital on Sunday, almost an hour’s drive from the downtown sq. the place tens of hundreds had massed in 2011 to denounce the nation’s strongman chief within the heady days of the Arab Spring.

Although he had broadcast a plea on Twitter for others to affix him, Ahmed Badawy had solely an indication to accompany him this time, black marker on pink poster. “No to amending the structure,” he had written.

He was rapidly arrested.

Egypt has one other strongman now, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who tightened his dictatorial grip this week when Egyptians permitted a set of constitutional amendments that granted him expansive new powers over the judiciary and Parliament whereas permitting him to stay in workplace till 2030.

Not surprisingly for a vote that Mr. el-Sisi and his allies stage-managed from the start, the authorities mentioned Tuesday, lower than 24 hours after the polls closed, that the ultimate rely confirmed the amendments handed 89 % to 11 %, with a turnout of 44 %.

The end result of the three-day referendum crystallized what analysts say has develop into more and more evident in recent times: Mr. el-Sisi, 64, is constructing a model of authoritarianism that has not solely demolished the democratic positive factors of the 2011 rebellion, however surpasses the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian chief who was pressured from energy in the course of the revolt.

“It’s worse now than Mubarak,” mentioned Elham Eidarous, an activist who belongs to the opposition Bread & Freedom occasion. “Anybody who talks about optimism is both mendacity or naïve, as a result of there’s nothing optimistic about this case.”

Ms. Eidarous mentioned Mr. el-Sisi, like Mr. Mubarak, had justified repression and the silencing of critics by emphasizing the necessity to maintain Egypt steady and protected from terrorists. Mr. el-Sisi has additionally pursued financial austerity measures, squeezing the poor and the center class, which are paying homage to ones Mr. Mubarak progressively launched over his final 10 years in energy.

However whereas Mr. Mubarak allowed some dissenting voices and unbiased media retailers, Mr. el-Sisi has moved to dam any trace of criticism. He has jailed tens of hundreds of opponents, shuttered information media retailers and all however shoved the opposition out of politics. Final 12 months, he received re-election with 97 % of the vote after eliminating all different severe candidates months upfront.

“It’s been true for a number of years now that the positive factors of 2011 have been misplaced,” mentioned Michele Dunne, the director of the Center East program on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace in Washington. “However I feel that this simply makes it increasingly clear to individuals.”

With the result by no means unsure this time round, the federal government and its allies have been desirous to raise turnout, the higher to indicate that Egyptians weren’t merely in favor of the amendments, however enthusiastic.

Voters interviewed in working-class elements of Cairo mentioned they’d acquired free packing containers of pantry fundamentals like sugar and cooking oil. In some circumstances, voters mentioned they have been promised small quantities of money for voting. One lodge, the Sonesta, marketed a raffle in the course of the referendum: Vote, and you may be entered in a raffle to win a free journey to Mecca — a pilgrimage that each one Muslims are alleged to make.

Folks have been required to show solely that they’d voted, not that they’d voted sure, to obtain such advantages. However driving round Cairo over three days of nationwide voting, it was often exhausting to inform that there have been two sides to the poll.

Banners draped over the streets — together with some that the police had coerced shopkeepers into placing up — endorsed Mr. el-Sisi and the constitutional modifications. Patriotic songs by well-known singers urged voters to the polls to “do the proper factor,” and minibuses emblazoned with affirmative inexperienced verify marks drove them there free.

Earlier than and in the course of the vote, the opposition was nowhere to be seen within the Egyptian information media. Opposition web sites have been blocked, and a scheduled protest in opposition to the amendments was canceled by the authorities.

“They don’t have to rig poll packing containers,” Timothy E. Kaldas, an analyst on the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Center East Coverage, tweeted earlier than the vote. “They rigged the complete media panorama.”

The State Data Service issued an announcement on Saturday denouncing “shameful and massive contradictions” in a report in El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, that described obvious makes an attempt to control the vote.

On Tuesday, the company celebrated “the integrity of the referendum procedures” and famous that voters had merely been inspired to vote, to not vote a sure method. Criticism of the amendments within the media, the company mentioned, have been “nugatory false readings.”

However, opposition leaders urged the federal government’s demoralized critics to vote in opposition to somewhat than boycott the referendum, and a few Egyptians posted on social media saying their “no” votes.

However for staunch el-Sisi supporters, of which there appear to be a large quantity throughout Egypt, voting sure didn’t take a lot convincing. They see Mr. el-Sisi as a bulwark in opposition to terrorism, a buddy to Egypt’s Christian minority and an financial reformer.

“When he first turned president, the nation was falling aside, however he’s executed quite a lot of good issues,” mentioned Alaa Abdel Mohsen, a lady who voted within the upscale Cairo suburb of Heliopolis on Sunday night. “He has to remain and end his initiatives.”

The constitutional amendments will additional focus energy in Mr. el-Sisi’s arms, extending his present presidential time period to 6 years from 4 and permitting him to run for one more six-year time period in 2024. If he wins the following election, he might rule for a complete of 17 years, and analysts speculate that he’s setting himself as much as rule for for much longer.

The amendments additionally give him larger affect over the nation’s Parliament and judiciary by conferring the ability to nominate high judicial officers and a major chunk of a brand new home of Parliament, modifications that analysts mentioned threatened Egypt’s separation of powers.

Mr. el-Sisi, a former common, got here to energy in a navy coup in opposition to the nation’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013, amid big protests in opposition to Mr. Morsi’s management. (Mr. Morsi, too, had sought and received a referendum on constitutional amendments that critics mentioned unfairly favored his facet.) Now, below the most recent spherical of modifications, the navy will acquire extra sway in authorities and politics because the appointed “guardian and protector” of the Structure.

The amendments quantity to a reversal of Mr. el-Sisi’s public pledge in 2017 to not search an extension of his time period. His transfer to increase his keep in workplace made Mohammad Noaman, 27, uncomfortable sufficient to vote in opposition to the amendments, although he supported a number of the different modifications.

“I’d desire democratic transitions each 4 years,” mentioned Mr. Noaman, an accountant who was in line at a busy polling station in Nasr Metropolis on Sunday.

Mr. el-Sisi’s supporters began to debate the concept of those constitutional modifications after his re-election final 12 months, and the modifications have been formally launched in early February earlier than being mentioned in nationwide dialogue periods that principally concerned handpicked supporters.

The bundle handed Parliament with solely a handful of opposing votes final week, simply three days earlier than the referendum started.

It’s not clear why the amendments have been pushed via so rapidly. Ms. Dunne mentioned some analysts believed Mr. el-Sisi wished to make modifications earlier than his reputation took an additional hit from the financial hardships many Egyptians are feeling, or that he was capitalizing on favorable indicators from the White Home, the place President Trump not too long ago hosted Mr. el-Sisi for a pleasant go to.

“I don’t know in regards to the effort,” Mr. Trump mentioned in the course of the two presidents’ assembly when requested in regards to the constitutional amendments. “I can simply let you know he’s doing an ideal job.”

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