A draft of constitutional amendments proposed by Egyptian lawmakers shows the changes would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in power for up to 12 years beyond his current term.
Sisi came to power in June 2014, one year after he led the military to oust the first democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi in a coup.
In recent months, speculation has been building that Sisi’s supporters would seek to amend the constitution so that he can stay in power once his second term ends in 2022.
The proposed amendments were submitted on Sunday to the speaker of parliament, which is overwhelmingly supportive of Sisi. Any changes require approval by two-thirds of parliament members, followed by a referendum.
The changes include an extension of the presidential term from four years to six years in Article 40, and a “transitional” clause that would potentially allow Sisi to stay in power until 2034.
“After the expiry of his current term, the President of the Republic may run again in accordance to the amended Article 140,” the draft clause says.
Sisi’s supporters argue that an extension of his rule is necessary to allow him more time to complete economic development plans and ensure Egypt’s stability.
“He is doing a lot of projects and people are fighting him from all sides,” said Ayman Abdel Hakim, a lawyer who filed a court case along with 300 Sisi supporters in December.
They have forced the parliament to debate amending Article 140 of the Constitution that bars Sisi from running for a third term in 2022.
A 16-member leftist bloc in parliament held a press conference on Monday to condemn the proposed changes, saying they abolished the principal gain of the January 25, 2011 uprising, the changeover of civilian power.
One leftist lawmaker, Haitham al-Hariri, slammed the proposals as a “coup against the Egyptian constitution.”
“We were naive to think that they would only extend the presidential term limits,” he said, referring to the plan to give the president new powers.
The proposed amendments also give the president new powers over appointing judges and the public prosecutor.
They also include adding a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators, in which the president would appoint one-third of the 250 members.
Some Egyptians have been angered by the draft amendments. They have taken to social media to slam the proposals.
The hashtag “No to changing the constitution” was the top trending topic on Twitter late on Sunday, with more than 26,000 tweets.
“The proposed amendments don’t come as a surprise, they are a continuation of what we have seen ever since Sisi came to power, or a continued expansion of his powers as well as consolidation of that power,” Timothy Kaldas of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy said.
Human rights groups have regularly criticized Sisi’s government for cracking down on opposition activists and supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has been banned in the country.
Last month, Amnesty International warned that Egyptians were facing an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression under Sisi’s administration, saying the North African state had turned into an “open-air prison” for dissidents.