Egyptians began voting on Saturday in a three-day referendum on constitutional changes that could allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in office until 2030 and bolster the role of the powerful military.
Sisi’s supporters say the changes are necessary to give him more time to complete major development projects and economic reforms. Critics say they concentrate more power in Sisi’s hands and return Egypt to an authoritarian model.
While the changes are expected to pass, observers say the turnout will be a test of Sisi’s popularity, which has been dented by austerity measures since 2016. He was re-elected last year with 97 percent of the votes, on 41 percent turnout.
A double-decker bus blasting patriotic music circled around polling stations close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that ended former President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
In the first hours of voting, people carrying flags and wearing T-shirts that said “do the right thing” – the slogan plastered on thousands of posters across the capital ahead of the vote – thronged round polling stations.
They declined to comment on who had provided their campaign materials.
If approved, the amendments would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for a third six-year term in 2024.
They would also grant the president control over appointing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of candidates. They would task the military with protecting “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature”.
“I believe that everything the president has done was for the good of the country, and I believe that we want the march to continue,” Mona Quarashi, head of a local development NGO, said before she voted in downtown Cairo.