Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘As if we were in Egypt’

Though numbers are yet to be released the presidential election turnout among expatriates was high, reports Doaa El-Bey


#‘As if we were in Egypt’ # ‘As if we were in Egypt’
# #

Egyptian expatriates hoisted flags, chanted and carried banners with patriotic slogans as they cast their ballots in polling stations set up in Egypt’s diplomatic and consular missions abroad. Some voters even brought their children to the ballot boxes as they exercised their democratic rights. 

Actors Hussein Fahmi cast his vote in Abu Dhabi and Ashraf Abdel-Baki in Saudi Arabia. They were not the only familiar faces queuing to vote in the celebratory atmosphere.

“We had to wait in a long queue but it was great to share the experience with other Egyptian citizens. It felt as if I was in Egypt,” said Ashraf, a labourer who has lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 10 years.

Ashraf lives in Jeddah, close to a polling station. Some of his friends, however, work on the Gulf kingdom’s west coast and found it impossible to travel to Riyadh or Jeddah to vote.

Hussein Al-Nazer, media adviser to the General Union of Egyptians Abroad, said the elections witnessed a turnout that exceeded expectations despite the boycott calls and negative propaganda. The union is a league for Egyptians living abroad.

He ascribed the high turnout to the timing of the elections. “Elections took place on a Friday, a day off in all Arab countries, and Saturday and Sunday are off in Europe and the US,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Raising awareness and mobilising for participation, he added, is another factor that contributed to increasing the turnout, thanks to the efforts of the embassies abroad and the tours that the Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram did especially in the Gulf.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 9.5 million Egyptians live outside the country. Of these, 6.2 million live in Arab countries — 2.9 million in Saudi Arabia, 1.6 million in Jordan, 765,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 500,000 in Kuwait and 230,000 in Qatar. North and South America is home to 1.6 million Egyptians, 1.2 million live in Europe and 340,000 in Australia.

Italy hosts some 560,000 Egyptian expats. There are 365,000 Egyptians working in France, 77,000 in Germany, 62,000 in England, 45,000 in the Netherlands, 2,000 in Poland, 80 in Azerbaijan and 15 in Uzbekistan.

Said Henry, a journalist who emigrated to Canada in January 2011, voted on the day polls opened, driving five hours from Toronto to Ottawa.

“It is the first time that I feel I am an Egyptian and that my vote counts. I felt this even though I am living with my family and running my business in Canada,” he said. 

He described the voting procedure as “smooth and quick”.

“I had a valid ID and passport. My data was quickly scanned and I cast my vote.”

A group of Henry’s friends hired a bus between them and travelled to Ottawa to vote.

Expatriate voting in the presidential elections ended on Sunday at 9pm. The vote took place at 139 polling stations in 124 countries between 16 and 18 March.

Egyptians living in Yemen, Libya and Syria were unable to take part in the poll owing to ongoing security concerns.

Voters needed to present a national ID card of valid computerised passport to be able to vote. Ballots began to be counted immediately after polling stations closed on Sunday. Embassy staff did the vote tally in the presence of representatives of the candidates and monitors.

The result of the overseas poll was sent to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Monday. It will be announced, as part of the final results, on 2 April.

For expatriates run-off voting, if necessary, is scheduled between 19 and 21 April, and in Egypt between 24 and 26 April. If no run-off is necessary the winner will be announced on 2 April.

The expats vote was held in coordination between the Egyptian embassies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NEC.

Under Egyptian law Egyptians abroad have the right to vote regardless of their residence status — legal, illegal or traveller. The expat vote is held ahead of voting inside Egypt to allow sufficient time for ballots to be processed and forwarded to the NEC, and for the NEC to then ensure the names of voters who have cast a ballot abroad are excluded from domestic voter lists.

Postal votes, which were allowed during the 2012 presidential elections, are now banned. The decision was attributed to the desire to give equal rights to Egyptians living inside and outside of the country. Citizens inside Egypt have to cast their votes in person and are only allowed to use their national ID cards.

Al-Nazer believes that the turnout can be increased noticeably, especially in these countries, if electronic voting is allowed.

“I call on the NEC to apply an electronic voting system that will give every expat the right to participate in any elections. It will also save the country a lot of money, effort and organisation,” he said.

Polling stations abroad were manned by members of the diplomatic and consular corps and administrative personnel from Egypt’s embassies worldwide. Earlier this month the Foreign Ministry — in coordination with the NEC — held a training workshop for staff that would be responsible for supervising polling stations. Foreign missions were also provided with electronic scanners to quickly process IDs and passports.

As in previous parliamentary and presidential elections an operations room was designated in the Foreign Ministry’s Cairo headquarters to monitor the electoral process and follow up on any problems as they arose.

In October 2011, an administrative court ruled that Egyptians living abroad had the right to vote in parliamentary polls. A month later, the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) passed a law regulating expatriate voting in parliamentary and presidential elections and in referendums, allowing expatriates to vote in embassies and consulates in the countries in which they lived.

Since then the process has been streamlined. Pre-registration, seen as an obstacle for many voters in previous elections, has been abandoned. The use of passports as well as ID cards to confirm voter identity has allowed a large number of expats who do not have national IDs to take part in the elections.

In 2017 the government estimated the number of Egyptians who live abroad at 9.4 million. However, the figure may reach 10 million if illegal immigrants are included.

In the 2014 presidential elections 317,109 expats took part. More than 90 per cent of voters chose Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as Egypt’s president. Some 314,000 expats took part in the 2012 presidential elections and 287,000 in the last parliamentary elections.

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