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Egyptian opposition movement launched to reject constitutional amendments

A group of 11 parties unite to fight against MPs' proposal to keep Sisi in power until 2034
Hamdeen Sabbahi, far left, George Ishaq, centre, and other Egyptians opposing Sisi (AFP/file photo)

An Egyptian opposition movement was launched on Tuesday to unite voices rejecting the proposed constitutional amendments that could allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to be president until 2034.

The movement includes 11 secular and left-wing parties, along with a number of academics, MPs and civil society activists.

According to a statement published by former presidential candidate and Sisi critic Hamdeen Sabbahi, the movement is called the Union for Defending the Constitution (UDC) and its aim is to lead efforts to “protect the constitution and defend it through all peaceful democratic means”.

The launch of the UDC followed the parliament’s approval of a string of proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution that are set to be voted on in a popular referendum in the next few months.

The proposed amendments, submitted by 155 lawmakers on Sunday and approved by two-thirds of MPs on Tuesday, would allow Sisi to run for two more presidential terms of six years instead of the four years stipulated by the current constitution.

Sisi is serving his second and last presidential term, ending in 2022 in accordance with the current constitution.

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The UDC decried the amendments as “a crime of tampering with the constitution”, which it said would destabilise the country and derail democracy.

The parties that joined the new movement include, among others, the Tayyar Karama, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Social Democratic Party and the Dostour party. Several left-wing and liberal public figures joined the movement, including Hamdeen Sabbahi, George Ishaq, Abelgalil Mostafa and Mohammed Anwar al-Sadat.

Many of the UDC's members and other opponents of new presidential terms have taken to social media, using the Arabic hashtag “No to constitutional amendments” to highlight their concerns

Egypt's government has yet to react to the new opposition group.

Sisi has waged a relentless crackdown against both Islamist and secular pro-democracy activists and politicians since the 2013 coup he led against his predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed in Egypt.

Many of those who joined the new opposition movement, such as Ishaq and Sabbahi, had welcomed Sisi’s coup against Morsi but later condemned his government’s human rights abuses and systematic silencing of critical voices from across the political spectrum.

Last summer, Egyptian security forces detained former ambassador and Sabbahi aide Massoum Marzouk for calling for a snap referendum on Sisi and for the release of the country's nearly 60,000 political prisoners.

Last month, Egyptian authorities cracked down on activists who pushed back against potential constitutional amendments, arresting at least seven prominent leaders of the Civil Democratic Movement, an alliance of parties that has dismissed the proposed amendments as "a coup against the constitution" and a setback for the democratic gains of the 25 January 2011 revolution. 

It is unclear whether the UDC will call for Egyptians to boycott the upcoming referendum or vote against the amendments.