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Egypt schedules 3-day referendum on constitutional changes

Published
People walk past a banner supporting proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution with a poster of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Egypt's parliament was holding its last debate Tuesday on proposed amendments to the constitution that could see President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi remain in power until 2030. Arabic reads,

CAIRO (AP) — Authorities on Wednesday scheduled three days of voting in a nationwide referendum starting Saturday on proposed changes to Egypt's constitution that could see President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi remain in power until 2030.

Lasheen Ibrahim, chairman of the National Election Authority, said the vote will take place Saturday through Monday for voters in the country while Egyptian expatriates will vote Friday through Sunday, he said.

The vote was designated for three days apparently to maximize the turnout.

The announcement at a televised news conference in Cairo came less than 24 hours after the parliament, packed with el-Sissi's supporters, overwhelmingly approved the proposed changes that also set to further enshrine the military's role in politics.

Ibrahim called on voters to line up at ballot boxes across the country to give their opinion about the constitutional amendments. 

"Great people of Egypt, the nation is calling upon you to continue to build democracy and give your opinion on the constitutional amendments," said Ibrahim, calling the vote a "national duty." 

Addressing the country's youth, Ibrahim urged them to take part in the vote. "Don't hold your opinion and shut your ears to the calls of boycott," he said.

The changes are seen by critics as another step back toward authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule, and nearly six years after el-Sissi led a popular military overthrow of the country's first freely elected but divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, after protests against his rule.

In general terms, the amendments only extend a president's term in office from four to six years and allow for a maximum of two terms.

But they also include a special article specific to el-Sissi 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 until 2030.

El-Sissi was elected president in 2014, and re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were either jailed or pressured to exit the race.

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.

The vote comes as 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.

People walk past a banner supporting proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution with a poster of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Egypt's parliament was holding its last debate Tuesday on proposed amendments to the constitution that could see President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi remain in power until 2030. Arabic reads,
People walk past a banner supporting proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution with a poster of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Egypt's parliament was holding its last debate Tuesday on proposed amendments to the constitution that could see President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi remain in power until 2030. Arabic reads, "do the right thing, yes to the developments, stability and amendments to the the constitution".(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)