Egypt’s Constitution Changes—Now What?

By Claire Evans

05/09/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In the weeks leading up to Egypt’s constitutional referendum on April 19, life appeared peaceful and harmonious. If there was any dissent against the changes, it was rarely vocalized in the public arena. Instead, state-run media made every effort to show happy uniformity. Parliament hosted a question and answer session on the proposed changes, attempting to show a pluralistic society united in one purpose: extending the presidential term of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2030.

A former military intelligence officer ushered into power five years ago, Sisi was welcomed as an opportunity for change in Egypt, which had just experienced the Arab Spring’s turmoil. All were hungry for the restoration of human rights. But the restoration never came.

Christians suffered under the Arab Spring. Under Sisi, their sufferings became bloodier, but also more complex. For example, the same government that streamlined a process for church legalization also neglected to hold the average Islamic hardliner accountable for violence against Christian communities. But in the days leading up to the referendum, if there was any violence, it was kept closeted. The vote of Christians became a litany, a petition of mercy for continued respite and social improvement.

“What we know is better than a stranger,” said a Christian young adult. “We have past experience that [says] the president is for life. He will would not let go until either he is killed like Sadat, or die a natural death like Nasser, or a revolution happens.”

“I support[ed] the amendments because that will help us continue the successful projects which President Sisi started. Regardless if the rest of the amendments are good or not, the most important thing for me is to continue President Sisi,” added another. “I voted yes… no one knows that if he left, that the next one who will come will be as good.”

Naseim, an elderly driver, further explained, “I did like all the people, marked three times on the yes circle. I did not read the amendments; I cannot read or write! But in the Sisi era, there are many churches being built. I am not sure of that, but it is ok. Although you can notice that in his time, the number of Christian victims is more than those killed in Hosni Mubarak’s time.”

The growth of persecution, despite the presence of legalized churches, was not the only thing Naseim observed. “The amendments would have been passed whether we said yes or no. No one can say no to the boss. The police were forcing people to vote.”

“The amendments would have been passed whether we said yes or no. No one can say no to the boss. The police were forcing people to vote.”

Such a situation did not go unnoticed by other Christians. “Many people were forced to vote on the amendments. If the people were supporting the amendment, they would vote without forcing. But the police and the authority of the state were forcing the people to vote,” added Hany from rural Upper Egypt. “No one of us can face Sisi!”

While some opposition to the constitutional amendments built prior to the referendum, Christians did not have the luxury of being able to join in so openly. The opposition was obviously being squelched. It would be especially risky for Christians to join in, since the broader Islamic society already viewed them as second-class citizens at best. Opinions contrary to Egypt’s strongman were safer if kept private.

“I saw that these [positive social] changes are done or tailored for the sake of extending the president’s period until 2030. All other changes which are presented [are] only to gain more votes from the women, Christians, and youth,” pointed out Samy, who did not support the referendum.  

“We are going back to the old way of having one party, which is the majority which supports the rolling system, and there is no way for opposition to develop,” added a Christian who splits his time between Cairo and Upper Egypt.

Officially, Egypt’s new constitution would pass with 88.83% in support of increasing President Sisi’s power. The strongman has become stronger. But one can only guess as to what this means for the Christians already at the mercy of the Egyptian government. What is known is that the referendum showed a lack of freedom of thought. Christians, already lacking religious freedom, are increasingly vulnerable.

As one says, “When the president is mistaken, how can the people resist this? How can we say no to his decision?”

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