Egyptians will head to the polls on March 26 in a public referendum on amendments to thirty four articles of the Constitution, approved by the People’s Assembly on March 19. President Hosni Mubarak, who had resisted any constitutional changes until very recently, proposed the amendments in late December 2006, heralding them as an important step toward democratization. The amendments will increase the powers of the elected parliament, which has long been the weakest branch of government. Amendments also expunge much of the socialist language of an earlier era and introduce a new discourse of “citizenship,” which has been championed by President Mubarak’s son Gamal—likely to be the ruling National Democratic Party’s future presidential candidate—and his supporters. But opposition and civil society activists—many of whom have lobbied for constitutional reform for years—say the amendments also infringe dangerously on human rights protections and close off possibilities for peaceful political activity, particularly by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement.

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