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Egypt court delays decision on extending Sisi presidency

Amid reported plans to change the constitution, a court case tries to force the issue
Egyptian General-turned-president Abdelfattah el-Sisi has hinted he may stay in power until death (Reuters)

A Cairo court has delayed a case on allowing Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi to run for a third term after his constitutionally-mandated time in office ends in 2022, Egyptian state media reported.

After the first hearing on Sunday, a lawsuit demanding parliament convene a session on amending the constitution was postponed by the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters, led by judge Wael Abu Shadi.

Sisi, a former defence minister, came to power in 2013 after a military coup he led against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi and won a second term this April, running virtually unchallenged in presidential elections after all candidates - except one who supported him - were arrested and discredited. 

The proposed amendment to article 140, which limits presidents to two four-year stints, would allow Sisi to extend his time in office if voters approve the amendment in a popular referendum. 

There is no forever. Forever ends with death

- Abdelfattah el-Sisi

A pro-Sisi lawyer, Ahman Abdelhakim, filed the case earlier in December “on behalf of a number of citizens” to demand changes to the article, which he said is “unfair for the great Egyptian people” who are “the source of powers”.

The lawsuit dismissed article 140 as “a heresy created by the constitutional committee to simulate Western countries despite the different circumstances in different countries.”

Efforts to extend Sisi’s presidential term beyond his 2022 limit have previously been widely reported and were not denied by the president.

Last month at a youth conference Sisi was asked what he thought about “presidents who want to stay in power forever”.

He answered: “There is no forever. Forever ends with death… No one will stay in power for 100 or 200 years.”

Sisi’s son coordinating the amendment plan

The petition to amend article 140 comes amid reports that a plan to amend the constitution will be put into motion next spring and that Sisi’s son, Mahmoud, has been tasked with pushing it through.

The plan, according to a report by the Egyptian news site Mada Masr, seeks to change the amendment to extend this period to six years and is scheduled to be drafted by March 2019.

Mahmoud’s new mandate reflects Sisi’s growing reliance on his son and close allies, irrespective of their credentials, as the president’s circle of trusted officials shrinks.

In addition to amending the constitution, Sisi has also been concentrating on purging the General Intelligence Agency to maintain his hold on power, with Mahmoud el-Sisi installed as a senior official in the organisation following the appointment of Ababs Kamel, Sisi’s former office manager as GIA chief last January.

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The GIA is one of Egypt’s main three intelligence agencies in addition to Military Intelligence and the National Security Agency.

On Monday, Sisi appointed Major General Khaled Megawer as new military intelligence chief, replacing Mohamed el-Shahat. He did not specify the reason for the appointment. 

Sisi had served as director of military intelligence until he was appointed minister of defence by Morsi in August 2012.

Since he assumed power, Sisi has ousted nearly 1,500 officers from the GIA. Among them were 150 senior officers, according to Mahmoud Gamal, an Egyptian military affairs expert at the Istanbul-based Egyptian Institute for Studies.

Gamal told MEE that Mahmoud el-Sisi has been tasked with overseeing the plan and has been holding semi-daily meetings with MPs for months to discuss the amendments.

Gamal said the younger Sisi is also holding meetings with members of the committee that drafted the 2014 constitution.

Placing Mahmoud in a position of power may be more about the need for trusted aides rather than attempts to groom him for succession, said Michele Dunne, Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program.

“It seems that Sisi’s efforts are oriented towards keeping himself in power for as long as possible,” she told MEE.