Since he took power in a 2013 coup, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has implemented a number of new laws, including an anti-protest law (2013), a counter-terrorism law (2015), a law restricting NGOs (2017), and a cybercrime law (2018). These laws have each granted al-Sisi’s regime increasingly more power to silence and control dissent and political opposition in the name of national security and stability.
Out of 596 Members of Parliament (MPs), only 16 voted against the changes. One of them was MP Ahmad Tantawi.
Ahmad Tantawi: Activist/Journalist Turned Politician
Known for his opposition to al-Sisi and his autocratic regime, Egyptian MP Ahmad Tantawi is a member of the 25-30 Alliance. Named for the date of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak (January 25, 2011), and the date of the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president after the Arab Spring (June 30, 2013), the alliance is made up of distinct parties.
A member of the Journalists’ Syndicate, Tantawi has appeared regularly on political segments and television news programs over the years.
Born on July 25, 1979, in the northern Egyptian city of Qaleen, Tantawi’s journey into the world of politics began in political commentary. A member of the Journalists’ Syndicate, Tantawi has appeared regularly on political segments and television news programs over the years.
Tantawi is affiliated with the left-wing Karama-Nasserite movement and became secretary-general of the Al-Karama Party (or the “Dignity Party”) in Qaleen city in 2009. He served as a member of the party’s high committee beginning in 2011, and in 2012, he was elected a member of the party’s political bureau. Two years later, he resigned from the party.
Tantawi has long been openly critical of the government. During the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, he opposed Morsi and actively participated in the protests. Two years later, Tantawi opposed the candidacy of al-Sisi in the presidential elections.
Tantawi has long been openly critical of the government. During the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, he opposed Morsi and actively participated in the protests. Two years later, Tantawi opposed the candidacy of al-Sisi in the presidential elections. Tantawi continues to oppose al-Sisi’s policies in Egypt, particularly the recent constitutional amendments.
To Dictatorship and Beyond
The majority bloc in parliament, the “Support Egypt” Coalition, submitted constitutional amendments that allow al-Sisi not only to stay in office longer than his term, but also to tighten his grip on the opposition. The amendments also give him control over the judiciary system and increase the military’s political influence.
After the parliament’s overwhelming approval of the proposed constitutional amendments on April 16 by a majority of 531 members, a national referendum was held from April 20 to April 22, to vote on the proposed changes.
In a video posted on his official Facebook page, Tantawi called on Egyptians to vote against the proposed constitutional amendments. The MP described the first two days of the national referendum on the approved constitutional changes as “miserable” and “the worst in the history of Egypt.” He added that the first two days of the referendum should be referred to as “voucher and box” in reference to the food boxes and grocery vouchers that were given to voters as bribes to gain their support for the constitutional changes.
Despite this, and the calls from opposition parties for the Egyptian people to reject the changes, 89 percent of them voted in favor of approving the changes.
The approved constitutional changes include extending the presidential term from four to six years with a maximum of two terms and outline a specific extension of al-Sisi’s current second four-year term to six years. As al-Sisi was elected for a second term in March 2018, the new changes will allow him to be in power for another six years, thereby extending his repressive rule.
Human rights organizations have criticized the amendments, describing them as the latest manifestation of al-Sisi’s tight grip on freedom of speech.
Human rights organizations have criticized the amendments, describing them as the latest manifestation of al-Sisi’s tight grip on freedom of speech. According to Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, “These amendments aim to expand military trials for civilians, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and strengthen impunity for human rights violations by members of the security forces.”
Tantawi is among the few opposition MPs who objected to the constitutional changes when they were proposed and who continues to criticize al-Sisi. His position on the amendments has created controversy in Egypt.
Tantawi called the amendments “constitutionally invalid” during a House of Representatives debate, arguing that the House of Representatives does not have the right to create new articles in the constitution and that it is against all legal norms.
Tantawi called the amendments “constitutionally invalid” during a House of Representatives debate, arguing that the House of Representatives does not have the right to create new articles in the constitution and that it is against all legal norms. He added that the proposed changes are “a setback and a return to what is worse than the pre-25 January system ” as they would concentrate power in one man’s hands.
On a more personal note, Tantawi said during a House of Representatives’ session addressing the proposed amendments, “I personally don’t like the president. I don’t trust his performance and I’m not satisfied with it. And this is my right as a citizen before being an MP.”
Al-Sisi’s supporters have since launched a smear campaign against him, accusing the MP of treason and collaboration with external forces. They have also demanded his dismissal from the House of Representatives.
High-profile, pro-government lawyer Samir Sabry filed an urgent complaint on April 20 with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, requesting that disciplinary measures be taken against Tantawi on charges of “communicating with the enemies of the state.”
Lawyer Mohammed Hamid Salem also filed a complaint with the Attorney General against Tantawi on two charges on April 16. The first accused him of “insulting the president of the Republic.” The second claims he is “carrying out the agendas of a terrorist group and using hostile satellite channels.”
In late June, Lawyer Ayman Mahfouz asked the Public Prosecution to lift Tantawi’s parliamentary immunity after his office manager was arrested for allegedly being part of a terrorist cell.
Meanwhile, al-Sisi was granted additional powers in June to nominate heads of the military judiciary and five other judicial bodies. Once again, Tantawi, was a lone objecting voice:
“The amendments open the door wide for interference in the work of the judiciary,” he said. “This impinges on the independence of the judiciary.”
While Tantawi remains an MP, he probably will continue to enjoy legislative immunity. However, what happens when his term ends and he is up for reelection is anyone’s guess.
Tantawi’s open and direct criticism of al-Sisi and his policies in Egypt is dependent on his legislative immunity. It may be just a matter of time, however, before al-Sisi silences Tantawi, as he has silenced tens of thousands of dissenters and critics before him through repressive measures.