Iran says it has arrested 17 CIA spies, sentences some to death
Egyptians vote on measure to allow el-Sissi to stay in power until 2030
Egyptians headed to polls Saturday as a three-day voting period begins on a slate of constitutional amendments to allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to hold onto power until 2030 and expand the military's powers.
The amendments would extend a presidential term from four to six years and cap a president at two terms. But they include a provision specifically for Sissi that extends his current second four-year term to six years and allows him to run for another six-year term in 2024. They also allow the president to appoint the nation's top judges and grant military courts wider powers to try civilians.
The referendum comes as Sissi oversees a widespread crackdown on dissent that has led to the detentions of thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and secular advocacy groups.
The president came to power in 2014 with the military's support on a platform or restoring order to a country that had been thrust into chaos after protests overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Critics of the measures say the referendum reflects a return to the kind of autocracy protesters marched against during the uprising against Mubarak's nearly 30-year reign. Supporters say the expanded powers are necessary to ensure stability and safety as the military fights armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula.
Mahmoud el-Sherif, spokesman of the National Elections Authority, said over 61 million people are eligible to vote in the referendum and that results are expected within a week, according to the Associated Press.
Parliament, which has been stacked with supporters of the president, approved with amendments Tuesday by a significant margin, with only 22 lawmakers out of 554 voting against the measures, according to the AP.
"Egypt's autocracy is shifting into overdrive to re-establish the 'President-for-Life' model, beloved by dictators in the region and despised by their citizens," Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "But it's a model that recent experience in Egypt and neighboring countries has demonstrated is not built to last."