Parliamentarians in Egypt look set to approve a series of constitutional amendments this week that, if passed, would consolidate power in the office of the president, while restoring the military as the ultimate authority in the country.
The changes appear to be the nail in the coffin of what fragile democratic gains have survived since the Tahrir Square revolution of 2011. Transparency International believes the Egyptian government is sending an alarming message for anti-corruption efforts in the country and setting a worrying precedent for the region.
Reversion to authoritarian rule
The proposed amendments would extend presidential terms from four to six years, and allow the current president, Abel Fattah el-Sisi, to stand for another two terms, potentially staying in power until 2034. President Sisi is currently due to step down in 2022. The changes contradict statements the President made in November 2017. “We will not interfere with (the constitution) ... I am with preserving two four-year terms,” Reuters quoted him as saying at the time.
A long presidency is not in itself a recipe for corrupt rule. However, the lack of oversight and checks on presidential power in Egypt, and the absence of free and fair elections, greatly increases the risk of these amendments resulting in state capture and kleptocracy. Last year’s elections in Egypt were marred by government suppression of monitoring efforts, and President Sisi’s time in office has been characterized by a crackdown on dissenting voices.
As we recently highlighted in the Corruption Perceptions Index, the successful control of corruption is closely linked to the health of democracies. Egypt scored just 35 out of 100 on this year’s index, well below the global average of 43. By sliding back towards authoritarianism, Egypt is weakening its ability to control public sector corruption, and corruption undermines virtually all other aspects of political, economic and human development.
The proposed amendments would also undermine the rule of law and oversight over executive authority. The military would become “guardian of the state” according to former interim vice president, Mohamed el-Baradaei. The changes would remove the National Media Authority.
The importance of democratic institutions such as a free media and independent judiciary for fighting corruption is clear. Consolidating power in the presidency will do little to promote stability and development in Egypt, as the proponents of the amendments have claimed.
As well as being one of the largest and most strategically significant countries in its region, Egypt currently chairs the African Union and hosts the Arab League.
Kinda Hattar, Regional Advisor for the Middle East and North Africa at Transparency International said: “As one of the major strategic countries in our region, what happens in Egypt sets an important example. These constitutional amendments could set off a domino effect that would undermine the fight against corruption well beyond Egypt.”
If approved by parliament and a legislative committee, the amendments will be put to a referendum, which unfortunately offers little guarantee of the people’s voice being heard.
To effectively enhance stability and promote development in Egypt, Transparency International urges the parliament to strengthen and protect political rights and commit to democratic governance and rule of law, in line with commitments made under the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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