From Voice Of America
“Do the right thing, vote yes!'” read signs and banners draped on buildings across Cairo. There is no noticeable public opposition.
The pro-government advertising is calling for constitutional changes that could allow Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office until 2030.
Egyptians outside of the country will begin casting ballots Friday, and voting will begin nationally Saturday — less than a week after parliament approved the measure.
If passed, the amendments also would deepen presidential powers and military presence within communities. The presidential term would be increased from four to six years and Sissi would be allowed to run for a third term in 2024.
Supporters of the referendum have hailed the vote as a national duty. At his barber shop in downtown Cairo, Mahmoud el-Batal says he is proud to support the president with his vote. “If Egypt needs me, I will step up,” he explains.
But some analysts say the vote is simply a power-grab in a country where political diversity has dissolved almost completely.
“It is a volatile situation, an angry nation and a disappointed nation,” says Hisham Kassem, a veteran Egyptian publisher and analyst. But organized opposition is almost non-existent, with many leading public figures, businesses and media houses firmly in league with the current government.
“There is no real political leadership across the country,” he adds. “There is no Mandela.”
Critics of the amendments say that vote will be another step back toward the days of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade long authoritarian rule.
Overthrown by the military after a nationwide uprising in 2011, Mubarak’s rule was followed by Mohammed Morsi, who was democratically elected but polarized the nation. Sissi led a military takeover, ousting Morsi before being elected president in 2014.
Sissi won the presidency again in 2018, but no legitimate opposition participated, according to Kassem. “He’s basically staying in power by arresting everyone who criticizes him,” he adds.
As he weaves through Cairo traffic Wednesday, Ahmed Faraag, a 50-year-old taxi driver, says he doesn’t plan on voting. Like many Egyptians, corruption and years of economic crises have disillusioned him. “There is no point in participating in this referendum or any elections,” he complains. “The results are known before it happens.”
Officials have promised to announce the results by April 27 and say they will implement the constitutional reforms swiftly if the measure passes. “We will be employing these changes the day after the results are known if the majority approves it,” explains Lasheen Ibrahim, chairman of the National Election Authority at a press conference in Cairo.
And while the amendments are lengthy, most of the items will not affect public life, according to Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo.
“There are absolutely no significant changes except for one factor, which is the presidential term,” he says. Akl says he expects low voter turnout, even though public discourse has focused mainly on encouraging people to vote.
“There has been mass campaigning over the past couple of weeks to get Egyptians to mobilize and participate in the constitutional amendments,” Akl explains, “without actually mentioning what the constitutional amendments are about.”
Many of the amendments pertain to the government’s structure, creating new positions and increasing the number of presidential appointees. The Egyptian military, which already wields tremendous economic and political power in Egypt, also will increase its role in criminal justice, if the referendum passes.
Egyptian officials have called on the public to reject calls for a boycott, but Faraag, the taxi driver, says he won’t give up his shift to wait at the polls for what he sees as a vote with only one possible outcome.
“The government is just wasting time and money,” he insists.