One of the main purposes of a constitution is providing a structure or framework for governance in a country. Constitutions are meant to be flexible and processes are put in place for amendments to be made. Both the current President of Egypt, Abdelfattah El-Sisi and former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez proposed a set of amendments to their respective country’s constitutions. Both El-Sisi and Chavez fall into the category of ‘the new generation of authoritarians’ as Ozan. O Varol describes them in his article titled Stealth Authoritarianism. They use tactics that make anti-democratic practices ‘hard to detect’ 
These amendments were very similar in nature and had similar goals: to extend executive power and undercut the authority of the legislative branch. Both presidents put their amendments up for a vote in a national referendum, a seemingly democratic process. I want to take a closer look at both of these cases and understand how both sets of amendments were attempts at undermining democracyand what the results of the referendums say about the nature of discourse of democracy in both countries.
Venezuela 2007: Constitutional Amendments
In December of 2007, Hugo Chavez proposed amendments to 69 articles of the constitution; a constitution that he wrote when he came to power in 1999. Former President Chavez has used the constitution as a tool to solidify his power in more ways than one. He wrote the constitution of 1999 and then attempted to amend articles in 2007. The amendments proposed in 2007 included abolishing presidential term limits, lowering voting age, increasing the presidential term from the usual six years to seven years, giving the president the authority to declare unlimited states of emergency, prohibiting large land estates. Some of these amendments were meant to advance Chavez’s socialist agenda. Others are not-so-well veiled attempts at undermining the legislative branch and extending the power of the executive.
Chavez appealed to the lower and middle classes as well as minority groups with his anti-elitist rhetoric that was targeted at not just Venezuelan elites, but also at Western powers. In essence, Hugo Chavez was a populist in Müller’s terms: anti-elitist, anti-pluralist and alarmingly charismatic. 
Under his rule, many Venezuelans were lifted from poverty as he increased the minimum wage. His economic reforms made him extremely popular among many poor Venezuelans. However, despite his popularity, the amendments did not pass the referendum. I believe that this is due to his tactic of alienating the conservative class and framing the elites as the enemy. In particular, I believe that many people had financial stakes in large estate building and therefore voted against Chavez’s amendments to protect their future finances and ventures.
Many people blame current President Nikolas Maduro for Venezuela’s democracy failing, but I believe that Chavez laid the groundwork for democratic erosion. Chavez began this process of democratic backsliding after he was restored to power following a coup in 2002. Similarly to President El-Sisi, Chavez restricted media influence by pressuring the judiciary to restrict the influence of privately owned means of communication. This not only undermines the judiciary, but also limits free press. Robert Dahl lists freedom of expression as one of the most important criteria for democracy, without which, a country cannot be considered democratic. 
El-Sisi’s Constitutional Amendments
In 2011, the Egyptian people took to the streets to demand the fall of the government, and to fight for their right for social justice and freedom. The revolution inspired a greater desire for a democratic form of governance, a freer press and free and fair elections. The first presidential election in 2012 resulted in Mohamed Morsi becoming president. After Morsi and his allies in the Freedom and Justice party threatened the pillars of religious and economic freedom in Egypt, the people took to the streets again on June 30th2013, just one year after Morsi came to power. In what Nancy Bermeo would call a promissory coup, Abdelfattah El Sisi, who was Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces at the time, overthrew Morsi’s government.  El Sisi promised to restore democracy, stability and safety. This brief summary of the past few years shows the Egyptian people’s thirst for democracy and freedom. This thirst however, does not indicate an understanding of democracy and democratic institutions.
Earlier this year, President El-Sisi proposed a set of constitutional amendments. Much like those proposed by Chavez, they were meant to extend executive power and undermine the judiciary. The constitutional amendments were really a mixed bag, with some progressive reforms being proposed and with other amendments threatening to undermine this young democracy. El-Sisi wanted to extend the presidential term to six years as opposed to the traditional length of four years. It also named the military as the protector of the Egyptian people, state and democracy. One of the more progressive amendments was placing a 25% quota in the legislative body of the Egyptian parliament.
Last week, Egyptian voters took to the polls to vote on the amendments proposed by President Sisi. 88.83% of voters voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. This is where things start to not really make sense. How can a people so hungry for democracy and freedom, support constitutional amendments that would undermine those things?
I question I have would by: What factors contributed to Chavez’s defeat in the 2007 Venezualean constitutional referendum, while Sisi’s amendments were met with overwhelming support?
I will propose a tentative answer to this question. I believe that the Venezuelan people were used to democracy and had some background reference that allowed them to realize the patterns of democratic backsliding even if they didn’t attribute that name to it. On the other hand, democracy is a very new concept in Egypt, with most people not fully grasping how democracy and democratic institutions function. It is sometimes believed that countries that were previously colonies have a preference for strongman leaders like President Sisi. This explains the high number of votes in favor of El-Sisi’s amendments.
 Varol, Ozan O., Stealth Authoritarianism (April 24, 2014). 100 Iowa Law Review 1673 (2015); Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-12
 Müller, Jan-Werner. What Is Populism? University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
 Dahl, Robert. Democratization and Public Opposition. Yale University Press, 2000.
 Bermeo, N. (2016). On Democratic Backsliding. Journal of Democracy,27(1), 5-19. doi:10.1353/jod.2016.0012