Voters in Egypt have approved constitutional amendments allowing president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to remain in power until 2030, election officials said Tuesday.
It is a move that critics fear will cement his authoritarian rule eight years after a pro-democracy uprising.
Mr El-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his rule in 2013 and has since presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.
Freedoms won in 2011, when mass protests ended president Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule, have been rolled back.
Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of Egypt’s National Election Authority, told a news conference the amendments to the 2014 constitution were approved with 88.83% voting in favour, with a turnout of 44.33%.
The nationwide referendum took place over three days, from Saturday to Monday to maximize turnout. Egypt has some 61 million eligible voters.
In his first public comments on the amendments, Mr el-Sissi thanked the Egyptian people.
“Wonderful scene done by Egyptians who took part in the referendum… will be written down in our nation’s historical record,” he tweeted minutes after Mr Ibrahim announced the results.
Opposition parties had urged a No vote, but they have little power in parliament, which is packed with el-Sissi supporters and overwhelmingly approved the amendments earlier this month.
The local media is also dominated by pro-government commentators, and the authorities have blocked hundreds of websites, including many operated by independent media and rights groups.
Two international advocacy groups, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, had urged the Egyptian government to withdraw the amendments, saying they placed the country on a path to more autocratic rule.
Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, said the results were expected.
“There will be dangerous repercussion from the ruling regime as we will see more repression and restrictive policies,” he said.
Generally, the amendments extend a president’s term in office from four to six years and allow for a maximum of two terms.
But they also include a special article specific to Mr el-Sissi that extends his current second four-year term to six years and allows him to run for another six-year term in 2024 – potentially extending his rule until 2030.
The changes also allow the president to appoint top judges and include language declaring the military the “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.
Mr el-Sissi was elected president in 2014 and re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.