Amendments risk undermining the Judiciary's independence and extending the military's powers.
About 61 million Egyptians began Saturday to vote in a three-day constitutional referendum that would allow President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to stay in power until 2030 and acquire more powers over the national army.
The Egyptians are being asked to vote 'Yes' or 'No' to a package of amendments Saturday, among which would allows Sisi to extend his current mandate until 2024 and then submit to rerun in another six-year term to end in 2030. The current constitution limits presidents to remain in power for two terms.
In the capital of Cairo, state security forces are heavily present among the thousands of people heading to vote on the referendum.
Even before the amendments' text were approved, the 'Yes' campaign was in full swing displaying large posters on Cairo's light poles, bridges and avenues, reports EFE.
Human rights defenders expressed their concerns about the constitutional changes, which were published only two days ago, since the reforms risk undermining judiciary independence and giving more power to the military.
Lina Khatib, head of Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Program, said the amendments "pave the way for a power grab" by Sisi.
"This has serious implications for prospects of democracy in Egypt in the medium term and makes it difficult for alternative political voices to contest power in the long term," she told Reuters.
Opposition politicians also urged voters to reject the proposed changes. However, in contrast to the 'Yes' effort, the 'No' was prohibited from campaigning in public spaces, making social media the only way to express dissent against the government's proposals.
"Unfortunately, the Egyptian government did not learn the lessons from the 2011 revolution or experiences in Algeria and Sudan," an opposition leader Khaled Dawood told The Siasat Daily and added that "our dream and hope to have a president who is elected once every two terms will come to an end" if the reforms pass.
Controlled by President Sisi's supporters, the Egyptian parliament approved the ammendments April 16, with 531 votes in favor and 22 against. Legislators argued that the president needs time to continue his economic and social reforms set up after the two Egyptian revolutions, reports ANSA.
The referendum results, which are expected to be ready by Monday night, will affect the lives of the nearly 100 million people in the African country.