A man walks in front of a banner reading, "Yes to the constitutional amendments, for a better future", with a photo of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before the approaching referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, Egypt April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday (16 April) approved amendments to the constitution that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030, though they still have to be endorsed in a referendum to take effect.

The changes would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and then allow him to run again for a third term, which would last six years. The amendments would also bolster the role of the military in political life and increase the president’s power over the judiciary, critics of the changes say.

The 596-member parliament, which is dominated by Sisi supporters, voted 531 to 22 in favour of the amendments.

A date for the referendum has not yet been confirmed, but Cairo is full of banners encouraging Egyptians to participate.

Sisi’s supporters say the changes are necessary to give him more time to complete major development projects and economic reforms. His critics say they concentrate more powers in the hands of a leader accused by rights groups of presiding over a relentless crackdown on freedoms.

“This will result in the most centralized system for rule that Egypt has seen in almost half a century,” said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University.

Another critic, Michele Dunne, director and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program, said the amendments were intended to remove the possibility of political competition for Sisi.

“These amendments are not needed for the good of Egypt; rather they constitute a personalization of power for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,” she said. “They will also become a strong public grievance against him and might sow the seeds of his ultimate undoing.”

The changes include creating a second parliamentary chamber to be known as the Senate, composed of at least 180 members, a third of whom would be appointed by the president. They would also give the president new powers over the appointment of judges and the public prosecutor.

The Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of Egyptian opposition parties, called on Monday for parliament to reject the changes and for Egyptians to vote against the amendments in the planned referendum.