Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Some expats have their say

Egyptians abroad started voting on the new constitution yesterday. Doaa El-Bey reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

"We will fight tooth and nail to hold the referendum on time. It is in the interest of stability that we have a constitution as soon as possible. The majority of people will vote yes," says Ibrahim, a labourer who has lived in Saudi for more than four years.

"My family and I and almost all the people around me will vote no," says Manal Tolba, a market research professional who has lived in the UAE for 18 years.

Egyptian expatriates who voted on the referendum on 12 December are as polarized as their domestic counterparts. Those who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or are followers of political Islam not only support the new constitution and will vote for it in the referendum but insist those who oppose it are remnants of the old regime.

"I cannot think that anyone would say no to the constitution which will place Egypt on the path to stability and democracy,” says Ibrahim. “I will campaign for a yes vote and ask all my acquaintances to vote for stability.”

People opposed to political Islam are inclined to reject the constitution because, they say, its articles give Islamists the opportunity to stay in power for good.

"I don’t trust the poll but I will vote even if it is rigged,” says Tolba. Though appalled by recent developments - the constitutional declaration followed by bloody confrontations in front of the presidential palace – she says she is not surprised, since she expected such things from the Islamists.

Soon after the Constituent Assembly agreed the final text of the draft constitution in a rushed overnight session the foreign ministry spokesman announced the referendum for Egyptians abroad would l be held from 8 to 11 December 2012, a week ahead of local polls. It was later postponed for 4 days to start on 12 December.

On the first day of the referendum, on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry announced that 128 embassies and 11 consulates were open to voters from the early hours of the morning. On the first day, some 20,000 voters cast their ballot -- a little less than 6,000 voters in Kuwait, 3,881 in Riyadh, 3,335 in Jeddah, 2,500 in Doha, 1,844 in Abu Dhabi and 1,390 in Dubai.

 "We are ready to hold the referendum according to the rules and regulations of the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC)," Ali Al-Esheri, assistant foreign minister for Egyptian expatriate affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Al-Esheri said the rules that governed the parliamentary and presidential elections would be applied to the referendum. The only difference would be that the tallying of the votes will be done in the embassies and consulates -- as was done in past elections -- but the results will not be disclosed there. They will be sent in sealed envelopes to the SEC by next Tuesday at 9am maximum.

However, the haste by which the constitution was passed, virtually overnight, gave rise to much skepticism and distrust. Safwat Ayoub, director of the South-North Forum in Canada, is concerned that if endorsed the constitution will deepen divisions after it was force through by an Islamist dominated assembly in less than a day. Ayoub believes the referendum should have been postponed until a consensus was reached among all political forces.

He says the vast majority of Egyptians, including many who voted for Mohamed Morsi in the presidential election, are against the referendum and regards the resignation of six of the president's aides as a glaring example of that opposition.

Amr Eid, a doctor who lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 15 years, says most of the people around him feel the country is being kidnapped.

"Nobody believed that the referendum would be held this quickly. Nobody is ready for it except the Islamists, of course, who have already started campaigning."

The fast tracking of the referendum left the foreign ministry and overseas missions in a state of confusion. The lack of time to prepare eventually led to the four day delay in the vote.

There has been very little time for voters to register their names on the election website, a necessary condition for their voting, which is likely to restrict turnout.

Al-Esheri said that the ministry would stick to the electoral list used in the presidential elections because according to the law, people cannot register their names on the electoral committee website once the door opens for the vote.

Another challenge that faced the Foreign Ministry was the refusal of 200 diplomats to take part in supervising the poll.

The diplomats, who signed a communiqué announcing their refusal, said they wanted to remain politically neutral and refrain from taking sides.

The communiqué cited the bloody events in front of the presidential palace on 5 December as the reason signatories could not take part in supervising the poll.

The communiqué, issued last Thursday, was signed by Egypt’s ambassadors to Australia, Finland, Spain and Sri Lanka.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr has not issued direct orders for diplomats to take part and the Foreign Ministry anticipates that enough staff are prepared to supervise the poll.

The Foreign Ministry did not comment since the communiqué was issued.

It is not the first time diplomats take a political stand. Some diplomats recently expressed discontent about what they said was a political directive from the government urging them to support President Mohamed Morsi's constitutional declaration, issued on 22 November.

But perhaps the strongest defiance to the rules of the ministry came after the Free Diplomats was formed in the wake of revolution. They campaigned for genuine post-revolution changes in the ministry.

Prompted by the violent confrontation to peaceful protesters during the 25 January revolution, 300 diplomats issued a statement calling for specific measure to be taken to end the clashes, including a halt to all violence by security forces against peaceful protesters.

Referendum regulations are the same as those employed during the parliamentary and presidential elections. The official website provides voters with ballot papers from Wednesday 12 December. They can vote either in person or by mail during the four day polling period.

Out of a total of 8 to 10 million Egyptians living abroad, only 586,000 expatriate Egyptians are registered to vote.  Some 314,000 took part in the presidential election and 287,000 in parliamentary elections.

The right of Egyptian expats to vote was confirmed in April last year when the government announced that expats must be allowed to vote in presidential elections and public referendums at embassies and consulates.

In October an administrative court ruled that Egyptians living abroad had the right to cast ballots in the parliamentary polls. A month later the ruling military council passed a law regulating expat voting in parliamentary and presidential elections and in national referendums.

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