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Egyptians to vote on constitutional referendum starting on Friday

A final date on controversial changes to the constitution has been set for 19-22 April as Egyptian opposition rallies against the amendments
Egypt's parliament, packed with loyalists of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has voted unanimously in favour of constitutional changes that could keep the former military chief in power until 2030 (AFP)

Egypt’s electoral agency has announced 19-22 April as the final dates for a popular referendum on constitutional amendments that could allow general-turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in power until 2030.

Judge Lashin Ibrahim, the chairman of the National Electoral Agency, announced in a press conference on Wednesday that Egyptian expatriates would vote from 19 to 21 April, while citizens in the country will head to the polls from 20 to 22 April.

He added that results would be announced on 27 April. 

The controversial amendments were approved by parliament on Tuesday with a majority of the votes, as most members are Sisi loyalists.

The amendments include articles that would give Sisi two more years to his current term, extending his term to 2024. He will also be able to run for an additional six-year term, according to Article 241 in the amendments.

Other articles include provisions that would allow Sisi to appoint one or more vice presidents, senior judges, the attorney general and the head of the supreme constitutional court. 

They also include a 25 percent quota for women in parliament.

Wednesday’s announcement comes as the Egyptian government is cracking down on online campaigns that oppose the amendments - in an era where protests are banned and Sisi critics are routinely rounded up and prosecuted.

The government has blocked more than 34,000 websites in an attempt to restrict the "Void" opposition campaign (referring to their view that the government's legitimacy is "void") that has been launched to rally Egyptians against the amendments, which activists and rights groups say would further enshrine military rule in the country.

Both secular and Islamist movements have issued statements on Tuesday rejecting the amendments.

The Muslim Brotherhood described the amendments as “a new coup”, in reference to the military coup led by Sisi against his predecessor Mohammed Morsi who hailed from the Brotherhood. The group also called on Egyptians to boycott the vote.

Meanwhile, an alliance of secular parties called the Civil Democratic Movement called on Egyptians to take part in the referendum by voting “No” as a means of “resistance”.

Sisi supporters say the amendments are necessary to give him more time to implement his platform, including major development projects and economic reforms.

Sisi is a former minister of defence who came to power in 2013 after leading a coup against Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected civilian president. 

Since his highly contested electoral win in 2014, Sisi has overseen what independent groups have described as the worst crackdown on human rights in Egypt's modern history, with the detention of at least 60,000 political prisoners and a zero-tolerance policy towards critics.