A coalition of opposition parties on Wednesday urged Egyptians to vote against constitutional amendments that would potentially allow Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to remain in power until 2034.
Egypt’s Parliament, which is packed with al-Sisi supporters, overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes last month that would further enshrine the military’s role in politics.
The amendments will now face a national referendum, which is expected to be held in the coming weeks.
The Civil Democratic Movement, which includes secular and left-leaning political parties, decried the changes, saying the amendments “will establish dictatorship and autocracy.”
“The amendments will demolish liberties, democracy and the existence of a civil state,” spokesman Magdi Abdel-Hamid said.
The movement said it canceled a planned protest on Thursday in front of Parliament. A court in Cairo refused to give them a required license, saying the protest would pose a threat to security.
Many of the parties objecting to the proposals were born out of the 2011 uprising that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule and raised hopes for democracy in the most populous Arab country.
Al-Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist whose rule inspired mass protests.
Al-Sisi was elected president in 2014, and was re-elected to another four-year term last year after all potentially serious challengers were arrested or pressured to withdraw from the race.
Authorities have waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in recent years, arresting thousands of people — mostly Islamists but also prominent secular activists — and rolling back freedoms won in 2011.
Opposition leaders say they have accepted invitations from Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al to present their arguments on the amendments. But they do not have enough power in the assembly to block them.
Abdel-Hamid said the coalition hopes to “expose the serious dangers and major threats that are likely to arise due to endorsing the proposed amendments.”
The amendments would extend the president’s term of office to six years, and include a special article that would only apply to el-Sissi, allowing him to run twice more after his current term expires in 2022.
The amendments would also allow the president to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation.
The amendments declare the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while also granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians. In the last three years, over 15,000 civilians, including children, have been referred to military prosecution in Egypt, according to Human Rights Watch.
Al-Sisi’s supporters, who dominate the local media, say the amendments are needed to give him more time to develop the economy and defeat an Islamic State-led insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula.
Parties including Wafd, one of Egypt’s oldest, voiced their support for the proposals, especially extending the president’s term of office from four to six years.
Opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate who ran against al-Sisi in the 2014 presidential election, said he is concerned about the independence of the judiciary.
The amendments give the president “absolute control over the judiciary, and blows up the principle of separation of powers,” he said.