Last Week in Foreign Affairs (February 18 - February 24)
Egypt Vote Extends Term for President
Last Thursday, 485 of the 596 members of the Egyptian Parliament voted to extend presidential term limits from four to six years. The same bill also provides for increased presidential control over judicial appointments and tasks the military with “safeguarding the constitution and the ideals of democracy, and maintaining a civil state.” A transitional clause will allow current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was re-elected to his second term last year, to run for two additional terms. While his successors must adhere to the two-term limit, this clause may allow el-Sisi to serve a total of four terms in a row, potentially making him President until 2034. Supporters of the bill point to the stability the measure could provide considering Egypt’s tumultuous economy and rampant political strife. Detractors argue that strengthening the office of the presidency could further autocratic ideals under el-Sisi and exacerbate his poor human rights track record. While the measure has yet to pass a final parliamentary vote and referendum, it is widely expected to do so. El-Sisi won both of his elections by at least 97% after his opponents either dropped out or were imprisoned, perhaps an indication that there will be widespread support to increase his power.
Cuban Referendum on Constitution Reflects Waning Support for Revolution
Cubans will head to the polls this Sunday to vote on a change in their constitution, the first since 1976. The proposed amendments include increased protections for private property, foreign investment, small businesses, gender identity, the internet, the right to legal representation upon arrest and habeas corpus. No matter these legislative steps towards lightening some of the more heavy-handed practices in Cuba, however, the country would remain a one-party state. Federal control would still be concentrated within the hands of the Communist Party. While the measure is expected to pass by a wide margin, there is also a significant dissenting minority expected to reject both the referendum and the Communist Party itself. While the previous 1976 Constitution was passed with 97.8 percent of the vote, this new and improved piece of legislation is expected to pass by a relatively smaller majority of 75 to 80 percent.
Violence in Venezuela Continues Over Aid Dispute
In what began as an attempt to obtain international aid along Venezuela’s borders with Brazil and Colombia, four civilians were killed by the Venezuelan military, and hundreds more were left injured. The country has seen political unrest since National Assembly Leader Juan Guaidó unilaterally declared himself President in an effort to discredit his competition, Nicolás Maduro. The acutely contentious election was largely considered a sham. As Guaidó and Maduro have publically battled for the approval of Venezuelans, and particularly the country’s military, the international community has sent aid to bolster its support for Guaidó. Maduro has responded by claiming these actions amount to a United States coup,vowing to destroy or stop any aid from entering Venezuela. Four civilians attempting to get the aid across the border have been killed by the Venezuelan military, along with hundreds who have been injured.
Toxic Moonshine Kills Over 150 in India
At least 154 people are dead with hundreds more in the hospital after drinking toxic alcohol in India. The illicit moonshine was mixed with toxic levels of methanol and sold to hundreds of mostly low-income Indian tea farmers in the rural northeastern part of the country. 34 people have been arrested on charges relating to the incident, and investigators are still searching for more involved in the operation and distribution of the moonshine. India is no stranger to the dangers of bootleg alcohol: 100 people died in 2015 from tainted drinks and 168 people died in 2011. Illegal alcohol is popular in the country due to its low cost, with legal drinks costing almost three times more than their illicit counterparts. India has been grappling with the question of how to reduce the sale of unregulated alcohol for years, but officials are loath to eliminate the current excise taxes, especially on foreign-made products.