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Egyptians vote on extending president’s rule

International | The referendum represents another step toward authoritarianism
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/23/19, 03:42 pm

Egyptian voters on Monday concluded a three-day referendum on constitutional amendments that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030. Al-Sisi is on track to win the vote, which would solidify the government’s shift toward authoritarian rule.

Some 531 lawmakers in Egypt’s 596-member Parliament last week voted in favor of the changes, paving the way for a referendum. Egyptians both inside and outside the country participated in the vote.

The constitutional amendments propose extending the presidential term from four to six years while retaining the two-term limit. But a special “transitional article” would allow al-Sisi to be elected for two more four-year terms after his second term ends in 2022. His first term began in 2014 after his army ousted President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist who also moved to consolidate power in the presidency.

The new amendments would place al-Sisi at the head of a new council to preside over judicial affairs. The president would gain significant control over the judiciary and the power to appoint top judges, including the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest court in Egypt. Other constitutional revisions would grant military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians and name the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state.

Although the amendments will likely pass, the government pressed for a larger turnout to strengthen its legitimacy. At polling stations, lawmakers hired buses to transport people for free to cast their votes. Other voters received food parcels after participating, and pro-government media ran articles supporting al-Sisi’s victory. The final results are expected Saturday.

One voter, identified as Manar, told Voice of America she wasn’t sure what she voted for but still checked yes “because I think Sisi is doing great things.”

The Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of opposition political parties, called the amendments “an assault on democracy” and urged people to vote no. The group said the government banned it from hanging banners in the streets, forcing it to rely on social media instead.

Osama Gaweesh, an Egyptian journalist living in exile, noted al-Sisi is desperate to overstay his tenure, “and there is no one who believes that this would be anything close to free or fair.”

The country already witnessed an increased crackdown on dissent in recent years. In last year’s election, al-Sisi ran mostly unopposed after his major challengers were either jailed or pressured to leave the race. Authorities have detained more than 15,000 civilians who awaiting military trials over the past three years.

Ebrahim Deen, an analyst with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa, said the constitutional amendments will only formalize al-Sisi’s unwillingness to leave office.

“It’s basically a one-man rule because it’s unlikely that after two terms, he’d give up,” Deen said. “The constitution will be amended again.”

Associated Press/Photo by Christophe Ena Associated Press/Photo by Christophe Ena A man attends Mass at Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris on Wednesday.

Heightened church attacks in France

French authorities ruled last week’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral was an accident, but the blaze drew attention to several other deliberate attacks on church properties across the country.

At least 10 attacks at seven churches this year involved cases of fire and vandalism. On March 17, police concluded that a blaze at the historic Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris was “not accidental.” The flames climbed up the doors of the 17th-century church before spreading to stained glass above.

Feces was smeared on the wall of Notre Dame des Enfants Church in Nîmes in southern France, and someone vandalized the organ at the Saint-Denis Basilica outside Paris. Some minor incidents, like teenagers urinating into a holy water font at the church of Villeneuve-de-Berg in Ardèche, go unreported, the Paris newspaper Le Figaro noted.

In 2018, the French Interior Ministry recorded 1,063 anti-Christian acts, with 875 recorded acts of vandalism at churches.

Yves Auvinet, president of the department council in La Roche, warned the attacks impede believers’ rights to freely live their faith. “Those who profane them also undermine the secularism that allows those who believe in heaven and those who do not to live together in respect for freedom of conscience,” he said. —O.O.

Getty Images/Photo by Philip Fong/AFP (file) Getty Images/Photo by Philip Fong/AFP (file) A Christian holds a Bible at a Hong Kong church service.

Chinese priests arrested

Persecution of Chinese Catholics who refuse to join the government-controlled Catholic church has continued in spite of a 2018 agreement with the Vatican, according to International Christian Concern (ICC). Chinese authorities have detained at least three Catholic priests who operate underground in the past month, including Father Peter Zhang Guangjun.

Zhang was beaten and kidnapped following a Palm Sunday service, ICC reported. UCA News noted that Bishop Augustine Cui Tai and Father Zhang Jianlin, from the same diocese, were also taken in late March and are still in custody. Police and other officials moved a fourth priest from Gansu back to his hometown hundreds of miles away.

As the communist government continues persecuting underground churches and Uighur Muslims, a new report warned Chinese technology companies are “enabling and exporting digital authoritarianism.”

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said many companies are “directly complicit” in persecution and human rights abuses by helping aid surveillance and by delivering “sophisticated public security” technology to the Chinese government. —Julia A. Seymour

iStock/HotDuckZ iStock/HotDuckZ A village in Luang Namtha, Laos

American missionaries released from Laos

Laotian authorities last week released three U.S. Christian volunteers detained for their missionary work with the Wyoming-based Vision Beyond Borders, the group said in a statement.

The volunteers, identified only as Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph, were deported to neighboring Thailand. Prior to their arrests on April 8, they evangelized in the northwestern province of Luang Namtha. The group works to support disadvantaged people while sharing the gospel in closed nations around the world.

Local authorities did not release information on the missionaries’ detention. The communist government in Laos strictly regulates the activities of Christians. People who are part of the animist religion, present in many rural areas, are also often hostile to Christian believers.

The U.S. State Department’s 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said “reports continued of [Laotian] authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians.” —O.O.

Islamic State targets Central Africa

Islamic State claimed it established a province in Central Africa after an attack last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a monitoring group. The attack occurred in Beni, near the border with Uganda. The group killed three Congolese soldiers and injured five others. The SITE Intelligence Group said it is the first time the insurgent group, known as the Islamic State Central African Province, claimed an attack in Central Africa.

Several rival armed groups remain active in eastern Congo. President Felix Tshisekedi accused the armed Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) of giving the extremists access to the area.

In November 2018, the Congo Research Group said ADF received funds from a donor linked to Islamic State, possibly connecting the group to other insurgents around the world. —O.O.

Cyclone Idai recovery continues

One month after Cyclone Idai raged through southeastern Africa, responders continue to deal with the aftermath.

The cyclone, the same strength as a Category 3 hurricane, landed in Mozambique on March 14 and continued on to Zimbabwe and Malawi. The death toll has now exceeded 1,000 people, with 602 from Mozambique.

Health responders recorded more than 5,000 cholera cases and 10,000 cases of malaria in Mozambique since the storm. The city of Beira restored running water, which reaches about 60 percent of the city’s 500,000 residents and will help stop the spread of disease. The World Bank estimates recovery efforts will cost up to $2 billion.

Ninja Taprogge, a media liaison with CARE Germany, told DW the needs remain abundant: “It’s important that we provide help now, because some people have not eaten in weeks. But we need to stay for longer than that. People must also have access to seeds to grow new crops.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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