Egypt parliament to vote on extending Sisi rule

An opponent of Egypt's ousted president Mohammed Morsi waves a national flag as a military helicopter flies over Tahrir Square in Cairo Egypt Friday

But they also include a special article on al-Sisi 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 till 2030.

Sisi won his first presidential term in 2014 and was then re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 per cent of the vote in favour.

His government has been widely criticized by human rights groups for the repression of political opponents.

One MP who campaigned for the constitutional amendments, Mohammed Abu Hamed, told AFP news agency that Mr Sisi was a president who "took important political, economic and security measures" and who had to be allowed to "continue with his reforms" in the wake of the unrest in neighbouring Libya and Sudan.

Keeping Sisi in power, he added, reflected "the will of the people".

The constitutional amendments were introduced initially in February by Sisi's parliamentary supporters and after several rounds of debates, the amendments were updated this week.

"These amendments are not in the interest of the country or the Egyptians", opposition member Haytham Al Hariri said before the voting began.

Under the changes approved by MPs on Tuesday, presidential terms would become six years.

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The referendum to approve the changes will take place April 22-24 and 55 million Egyptians are called to vote, al-Ahram said.

Since Sisi overthrew Morsi, Egypt has drawn heavy global criticism for its sweeping crackdown on dissent.

As Sisi visited Washington for talks with President Donald Trump, it urged Congress, to withhold endorsement of the Egyptian president's bid to extend his rule.

The authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi's supporters as well as liberal and secular activists, including a popular blogger, actors, singers and journalists.

Another critic, Michele Dunne, director and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East Program, said the amendments were meant to remove the possibility of political competition for Sisi.

Since his highly contested election in 2014, Sisi has overseen what independent groups have described as the worst crackdown on human rights in Egypt's modern history, with the detention of at least 60,000 political prisoners and a virtual ban on protests.

"Congress needs to use its levers to pressure the Egyptian president to reverse course, starting with withdrawing these constitutional amendments set to consolidate authoritarian rule", said HRW's Michael Page.

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