Egypt Brief – May 2019

Egyptians Vote on Constitutional Amendments

By Michel Audi

 

News

Egypt’s voting stations have opened for a referendum on constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been in power since 2014, to extend his presidential mandate and strengthen his authority. About 55 million of Egypt’s total population of 100 million are entitled to vote in the three-day referendum.

Analysis

The results, which will be issued within days, are expected to be in favor of amendments and would allow the extension of the Sisi’s second presidential term from four to six years, until 2024. The head of state could then run for a third term that would allow him to remain in power until 2030. In addition, the constitutional amendments strengthen the power of the executive branch and institutionalize the political role of the military. Sisi’s supporters say the amendments are necessary to give him the ability to complete development projects and major economic reforms. Critics say the amendments concentrate even more power in Sisi’s hands and revert Egypt to a situation of unambiguous authoritarianism.

Although the amendments are expected to be approved, observers say the size of public participation will be observed as a test of Sisi’s popularity, particularly as influenced by a variety of economic austerity measures implemented since 2016.

Theological and Missiological Reflections

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” It does not matter whether Christians are a minority or a numerical majority in a country. It does not matter if they are in positions of power or from among the population. The call to “saltiness” confronts us as Christians with our responsibilities to be peacemakers and opens our eyes to the realization of the role God has assigned us to influence our country and society. We receive power from Christ, who in turn grants us the keys for charting a course to bring our country to safety. There is no peace or justice without Christ.

The idea of one man’s rule may be unpopular for many reasons, and here we do not question the ruler’s intentions or goals. But at the same time, we look at our example, the Lord Jesus, who always wanted to prepare his disciples for leadership and to do things as he did. And, this is what we lack in the Arab world; we see rulers clinging to power and believing that it will grant them immunity and power. This contradicts even the lowest standards of democracy and justice.

In the Old Testament, we observe how Saul refused to give up his rule and even tried to kill David on more than one occasion. But David, whom God said was a man according to his heart, had not rebelled, but had remained faithful to the promise of God that he would become king.

We will not be influential Christians if we do not live according to the teachings of Christ. Having influence in society does not require the Church to make problems or compromise on the truth. God commanded us to pray for those in positions of power that we might live a life of peace and tranquility. Seeking divine guidance in all critical matters is very important. The Church is facing a dangerous transition, and it must reconsider many things and undertake a process of self-reflection with regard to its role in bringing together Christians under its wings in a unified vision. Holding firm to our faith in the light of the social education of the Church and a proper understanding of citizenship, we are to compromise neither rights nor duties that we might possibly witness a ruling class that acts in accordance with the heart of God.

The Church should establish a unified discourse. Just as Christ sent his disciples into the world to have influence, the Church should send its people to help bring about radical change in society, without forcing the Christian involved in public affairs and who might express his or her political opinion outside the cloak of the Church. A Christian committed to his or her church is most able to influence others for positive change. This is the role of the Church, which must increase its national and regional influence – as a servant in imitation of Christ.

Finally, the Church should not become complacent in its marginalization, but operate on the basis of equality and integration, not on blind submission to authorities or formal obedience.