Egypt votes on referendum strengthening el-Sisi's grip on power

PHOTO: TAn Egyptian man casts his vote in a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019. PlayKhaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
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Egyptians are voting on constitutional changes that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to remain in power for more than a decade and solidify his control over the state.

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The three-day referendum, likely to pass due to the haste that surrounded the process, began on Friday for Egyptians abroad and on Saturday in Egypt. More than 61 million people are registered as eligible voters.

In addition to extending the end of el-Sisi's term from 2022 to as late as 2030, the amendments also codify his control over the judiciary and expand the role of the military in political life.

The changes, put forward by Support Egypt, a pro-Sisi majority coalition, were only passed Tuesday, with the voting schedule was announced the very next day.

PHOTO: An Egyptian soldier and a policeman stand guard at a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian soldier and a policeman stand guard at a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019.

However, banners calling for a “yes" vote were already hung everywhere in the country weeks before the amendments were passed by the parliament.

"Yes for security and stability and in support to the military and police who are fighting the most honorable battles against terrorism groups, conspirators and those backing them," Mostafa Bakri, a pro-Sisi member of parliament, wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Over the three days of voting, crowds celebrating to the tunes of nationalistic songs were stationed in front of polling stations, in familiar but often staged scenes in Egyptian elections.

PHOTO: TAn Egyptian man casts his vote in a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
TAn Egyptian man casts his vote in a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019.

Other familiar scenes included buses escorting voters and reports of food packages being distributed to encourage voters to participate.

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Despite the massive crackdown on opposition and the now-limited influence of the latter, calls for a "No" vote were still made.

On Monday, political activist Ahmed Badawi was arrested in New Cairo for holding a sign that said "No to changing the constitution," according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. His whereabouts remain unknown.

PHOTO: Egyptian voters cast their votes at a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian voters cast their votes at a polling station during the third day of a referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, April 22, 2019.

A video is now circulating recorded by Badawy before his arrest, calling on people to join him as he plans to stand with the sign to raise awareness.

"This is how those who advocate for a no vote are treated in Egypt, while those who urge yes can put up banners, be on TV, make songs, dance outside poll stations," Mai El-Sadany a Washington-based human rights lawyer, wrote on Twitter.

According to the National Electoral Committee, results of the referendum will be announced before Saturday.