Egypt: constitutional amendments to consolidate authoritarian power

Justice and the Rule of Law

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Press Release

Brussels, 4 March 2019

EuroMed Rights is extremely worried about the constitutional amendments currently being examined by the Egyptian Parliament that could allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2034. These amendments contravene the Egyptian Constitution, which prohibits modifications of the provisions on presidential re-election and term limits. They also constitutionalise the lack of independence of the judiciary and further undermine the separation of powers by giving unchecked powers to the military and placing it above all elected authorities.

The revised Constitution will enshrine the broad competence of exceptional military courts over civilians, as was previously set out in a law put forward by President al-Sisi in 2014, which gave the army the competence to protect public buildings, therefore ensuring that anyone accused of “attacking” those would go through a military trial. The constitutional amendments have been harshly criticised by a number of independent Egyptian human rights NGOs.

EuroMed Rights urges the European Union its Member States and the international community to take a strong public stance against these constitutional amendments before they are approved by the Egyptian Parliament, when it will be too late.

This the latest step of consolidation of authoritarian power in a context of generalised crackdown on civil society which has worsened significantly since President al-Sisi has acceded to power. Arbitrary detentions, travel bans, asset freezes, closure and intimidation: there seems to be no limit to the repression. The latest wave included mass arrests and some enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, media workers, lawyers and rights activists. One such example is that of human rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim, who resurfaced on 13 February after having spent five months in incommunicado detention. The concerning situation of human rights defenders has led the European Parliament to adopt an urgency resolution on this topic in December 2018.

Furthermore, repressive laws, an increasingly politicised judiciary and a lack of enforcement of human rights, including those enshrined in the Egyptian constitution, encourage a climate of impunity. Egyptian authorities have recently made ample use of the death penalty: nine young people were executed after a mass trial for the assassination of prosecutor general Hisham Barakat in 2015.

The executed are reported to have been tortured for their confession. Six more persons were executed on 7 and 13 February. These are the latest developments in an extremely concerning pattern of death sentences following unfair trials. The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over this. In February 2018, the European Parliament had already adopted on urgency resolution on executions in Egypt.