Egypt said Wednesday it is staging a three-day referendum later this week on sweeping constitutional changes that could let President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi remain in power until 2030.
The announcement came a day after Egypt's parliament overwhelmingly approved the changes, despite critics saying they would 'consolidate authoritarianism' and were 'unconstitutional.' The changes would extend presidential terms from four to six years, while maintaining the two-term limit.
If approved in the referendum, Sissi's current term would be extended from 2022 to 2024 and he then would be allowed to run for another six-year term.
The constitutional changes would also hand the country's military greater influence in political life, declaring it the 'guardian and protector' of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution. It would grant Sissi broad control over the judiciary and widen the jurisdiction of military courts in trying civilians.
The vote is occurring as authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent in recent years, arresting thousands of people - mostly Islamists but also prominent secular activists.
Sissi, then the military chief, led the army's 2013 overthrow of Egypt's elected president, Mohamed Morsi, following mass street protests against the Islamist leader's regime.
Sissi won his first term as president in 2014 and was re-elected a year ago with more than 97 percent of the vote after potential opponents were either jailed or pressured to quit the race.
Human rights groups have widely criticized Sissi's government for the repression of political opponents.
Lasheen Ibrahim, chairman of the National Election Authority, said the referendum will take place Saturday through Monday for voters in the country while Egyptian expatriates will vote Friday through Sunday. He called the vote a 'national duty.'
'Great people of Egypt, the nation is calling upon you to continue to build democracy and give your opinion on the constitutional amendments,'' Ibrahim said. He urged young people to take part in the vote, saying, 'Don't hold your opinion, and shut your ears to the calls of boycott.'