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Egypt paves the way for a new dictator

International | Constitutional amendments solidify president’s autocratic rule
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/19/19, 04:57 pm

Egyptian lawmakers last week approved constitutional amendments that could see President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stay in power for another 15 years, raising concern about the country’s stability.

The revisions, which 485 of 596 members of Parliament voted for, extend the presidential term from four to six years, but it would still retain the two-term limit. But a special “transitional article” would allow al-Sisi to be elected for two more terms after his second term ends in 2022. His first term began in 2014 after his army led the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

The new amendments also place al-Sisi at the head of a new council that presides over judicial affairs. The president would also gain major control over the judiciary and the power to appoint top judges, including the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Other constitutional revisions grant military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians and name the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state. The Parliament will hold a final vote after 60 days.

In a November 2017 interview with CNBC, al-Sisi said he had no plans to stay in power for another term: “It does not suit me as a president to stay one more day against the will of the Egyptians.” He has not spoken publicly about the issue since then, nor has he commented on the proposed amendments.

Al-Sisi’s government continues to face criticism for abusing its power. In January, Amnesty International accused the government of “an unprecedented attack” on freedom of expression, noting authorities arrested at least 113 people in 2018 for peacefully expressing their views.

In a rare public critique, lawmaker Ahmed Tantawi condemned the revisions. “We are placing absolute powers in the hands of one person … at a time when the people were expecting us to give them ‘bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity,’” he said, using a slogan from the 2011 uprising.

Egyptian rights groups rejected the amendments as an opportunity to provide al-Sisi with unprecedented unilateral authority. “Not only do these individually tailored provisions flout fundamental legal precepts, they also upend the peaceful rotation of power championed by the Egyptian people in 2011 to prevent another decades-long dictatorial rule similar to that of former President Hosni Mubarak, toppled after 30 years in power,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Said Benarbia, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Commission of Jurists, warned the amendments could “undermine constitutional safeguards aimed at protecting the right of the Egyptian people to freely choose their government and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay Nigerian police in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday

Election delays frustrate Nigerians

Nigerian residents tried to return to business as usual on Monday after the country’s electoral commission unexpectedly delayed Saturday’s presidential election for one week.

Hours before the presidential vote was scheduled to take place, the electoral commission announced the delay as some states reported not receiving materials they needed to conduct the vote. Some 84 million Nigerians registered to vote in a tight race between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

On Monday, the electoral commission collected and reprogrammed some 180,000 scanners already deployed to confirm voters’ cards. Nigerians can only vote in the local government areas where they registered, and many people had made the journey back to their hometowns, some from outside the country. Musa Abubakar, who traveled 342 miles from Abuja, the capital city, to the town of Daura in northern town of Katsina to vote, told the BBC that he could not believe what happened. Many boarding schools also had sent students home ahead of the vote.

Musa Yusuf, the general director of the Lagos state Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the economic impact of the postponement “cannot be less than $1.5 billion.”

Several international observer missions already present in the country expressed disappointment in the delay but urged support for the new election timeline. “While we note that this decision has caused disappointment for many, we call on all Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process,” a joint statement said. —O.O.

Getty Images/AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP Getty Images/AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP The deserted Government Girls Technical College in Dapchi, Nigeria, where 110 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in February 2018

A year in captivity

Christians and activists held rallies and prayers on Tuesday to mark one year since insurgents from a Boko Haram offshoot kidnapped 14-year-old Leah Sharibu from the northeastern Nigerian town of Dapchi.

On Feb. 19, 2018, militants from the Islamic State West African Province abducted Sharibu and 109 other girls from a boarding school in Yobe state. The militants released 104 of the girls, and five others died in captivity. But the insurgents held back Sharibu, the only Christian among the group.

Kachalla Bukar, secretary of the school’s parents association, said organized prayers and a rally were held on Monday and Tuesday. “This fasting and prayer will be observed by both Muslims and Christians in the community and will hold prayers at Mr. Nathaniel Sharibu’s house to urge the federal government to negotiate for the immediate release of Leah, who is still in captivity,” he said.

Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide also organized a protest outside the Nigerian High Commission in London. “We continue to call on the government of Nigeria to do everything in its power to expedite the release of this courageous schoolgirl, alongside that of her fellow hostages,” the organization’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Andrea Comas Associated Press/Photo by Andrea Comas Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, on Friday

Spanish government gets an overhaul

Spain’s prime minister last week called for early elections after Parliament rejected his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party minority government’s preliminary budget.

During a televised address on Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said he made the decision to allow Spain to keep moving forward: “I have proposed to dissolve Parliament and call elections for April 28.” Two days earlier, 191 ministers voted against his proposed budget, while 158 others backed it, with one abstention.

The snap vote will be the country’s third election in four years, a sign of its ongoing political turmoil. On Tuesday, the Spanish Supreme Court began the trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders on charges of rebellion for declaring independence for the autonomous region of Catalonia in 2017. The two pro-Catalan independence parties voted against the budget. —O.O.

In and out of jail

Philippine authorities last week released a prominent online news editor critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime after widespread criticism of her arrest.

On Wednesday, four plainclothes police officers picked up Maria Ressa from the headquarters of Rappler, an online news source she founded. She posted bail of $1,900 and officials released her the next day.

Authorities accused Ressa of libel for a 2012 article linking a Filipino businessman to murder, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and connections with a senior court judge.

Rappler criticized Duterte’s policies and some of his statements. Ressa said the government has attempted to arrest her five times before, but she was able to post bail in time to avoid detention. In 2018, Time named her one of its Persons of the Year for her journalism work. “The message that the government is sending is very clear, and someone actually told our reporter this last night: ‘Be silent, or you’re next’,” Ressa said. —O.O.

A princess prime minister? Not so fast

A political party in Thailand could be disqualified from the March general elections after nominating a member of the royal family as its prime ministerial candidate.

In an unprecedented move, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, elder sister of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, on Feb. 8 announced her candidacy under the Thai Raksa Chart party.

Traditionally, Thai royals steer clear of public office. Many royals consider the party unsympathetic to the monarchy.

The party withdrew Uboltrana’s candidacy and she issued an apology after the king released a royal order calling her move “against the ancient royal protocol and national custom and culture.”

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday confirmed it received the recommendation from the country’s electoral commission to dissolve the party, since it is “in conflict with the system of rule of democracy with king as head of state.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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