Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

First milestone on the road

More than 100,000 Egyptian expatriates voted for the country’s new constitution in a referendum that saw a noticeably low turnout, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Some 95 per cent of Egyptian expatriates voted yes for the country’s new constitution in the recent referendum, which represents a first step on the roadmap drawn up on 3 July. 

“I was one of the first citizens to cast their vote early on Wednesday to make sure that I did my duty to my country. I voted yes for the sake of my country and to show support for Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi,” said Manal, a professional in the UAE.

Manal represents a large portion of expatriates who voted yes in the referendum in the hope that the democratic process will now take off and pave the way for establishing a modern, democratic and civil state.

They also believe that a yes vote in the referendum will boost popular calls for Al-Sisi to run in the presidential elections.

Voting in person did not cause a problem for Manal and others who live close to an Egyptian embassy or consulate, but it did for other Egyptian expatriates who had relied on postal voting in previous polls.

“I was glad to receive an e-mail from the elections committee giving instructions about how to vote because I was uncertain when it would be for expatriates. However, I was disappointed to find that I could not mail in my vote as I had done in 2011 and 2012. This meant that I was unable to vote in the referendum because I live hundreds of miles away from a consulate or embassy,” said Nevine Khalil, an Al-Ahram Weekly staff member who lives in the US.

“What will this mean for future elections? Are they trying to limit expatriate voting because they have found that too many of them voted for the Islamists in the past,” Khalil asked, adding that she was concerned that “this trend will continue and expatriates will once again be banished from the political process at home.”

The problem faced many expatriates in large countries like the US, Canada or Saudi Arabia, who were eager to vote but did not because they could not cast their votes in person.

“I cannot afford to travel all the way to the nearest embassy to cast my vote. I wish I could send it in by mail like in the last election,” said Ashraf, a worker in Saudi Arabia, who added that several of his colleagues had faced the same problem and that this could have partially explained the low turnout.

Some 103,000 of the total of 681,346 expatriates who registered to vote cast a yes vote in the constitutional referendum. The referendum was held in 138 polling stations, among them 127 embassies and 11 consulates, in 161 countries from Wednesday 8 January to Sunday 12 January.

Commenting on the referendum, Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti said that the postal vote could have had a negative impact on the turnout. However, “it was cancelled to avoid future contestation about the result of the referendum.”

Postal voting was allowed during the 2012 constitutional referendum. However, the Elections Committee cancelled it for the present referendum in order to avoid group voting or other abuses.

It seems that the lack of postal voting has had a negative impact on the turnout in the current referendum in comparison to previous polling. Some 287,000 expatriates took part in the parliamentary elections in 2011-12, and 314,000 took part in the presidential elections in June 2012. 246,000 participated in the 2012 constitutional referendum.

More than two-thirds of Egyptian expatriates live in the Gulf states. Out of the 681,346 voters registered to vote, 312,000 live in Saudi Arabia, 132,000 in Kuwait, 67,000 in the UAE and 42,000 in Qatar.

There are a further 31,000 registered Egyptian voters in the US, with the rest being scattered elsewhere in the world. Some states have fewer than five Egyptians registered to vote.

Saudi Arabia has the biggest community of Egyptian expatriates, many of them supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. However, 98 per cent of the expatriates in Saudi Arabia voted yes to the new constitution. Out of the 312,000 expatriates living in Saudi Arabia who are registered to vote, 23,651 took part in the referendum, 23,011 voting yes and 447 voting no.

In the UAE, 90 per cent of the expatriates voted yes. In Qatar, also a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, 97 per cent voted yes.

Ninety-five per cent of voters voted yes in the US. The yes vote also exceeded 90 per cent in most of the European states. In France, more than 98 per cent of Egyptian expatriates voted yes, while in England the figure was 97 per cent and in Italy 99 per cent.

In Moscow 93.6 per cent said yes, and in Turkey, another supporter of the Brotherhood, more than 83 per cent consented to the new constitution.

The referendum is the first step in the roadmap drawn up after the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.

The counting process started after the closing of polling stations on Sunday evening in each embassy or consulate. The results were then declared and were later sent to the Foreign Ministry in Egypt, which will now collect the results and send them to the elections committee.

The latter is expected to declare the results of the expatriate vote with the results of the home vote.

The controversy over the right of Egyptian expatriates to vote dates back to April 2011, when the then government announced that Egyptians living overseas should be allowed to vote in presidential elections and referendums at embassies and consulates abroad as part of the amendments to the law on political participation.

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

Although the turnout in the present constitutional referendum was not as high as expected, optimism is high among many Egyptians at home and abroad that the constitution will now pave the way for a democratic state.

“The relief for all of us is that we are confident that the amendments will pass and that the constitution will be approved by a sweeping majority back home, which makes our frustrating situation a little more palatable,” Khalil said.

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