By the second day of expatriate voting in Egypt’s presidential elections, popular Emirati singer Hussein Al-Jasmi’s song “A Good Omen” had caught like wild-fire among Egyptians abroad who had queued in front of their embassies to vote. Satellite channels relayed images of young men and women in New York waiting to cast their ballot between the two candidates, left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, and former commander of the Egyptian army Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Wrapped in Egyptian flags many of them jubilantly danced and sang to the tune of Al-Jasmi’s song that urged “Egyptians of all denominations” to participate in the 2014 presidential elections. The same festive atmosphere had spread to most polling stations from Milan in Italy, to Doha in Qatar.
In London, at the very heart of Mayfair, trills could be heard from inside the embassy. “The voting experience was a really good one because of the organisation and efficiency at the embassy,” said Amina El-Ghandour, an Egyptian expat living in London. “Everyone is in a jubilant mood, waving flags, posing for seflies, and drawing the red black and white colours of the Egyptian flag on children’s faces”.
Egyptians waiting to cast their vote in front of the embassy in Jordan
As the voting count came in from embassies and polling stations worldwide, it became clear that presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had garnered over 90 per cent of the vote in all the capitals announced so far, including several in Europe and North America, some of which had previously given their vote to Sabahi when he ran in the 2012 presidential elections. These had fielded 13 candidates at the time.
In this week’s expatriate presidential elections, the Presidential Election Committee had undertaken measures to facilitate the current voting procedures by eliminating the condition that required Egyptians living abroad to first register their names in order to be able to participate in the voting process. Now, the only prerequisite for voting is possession of a valid passport or national identity card.
In this week’s five days of voting subsequently, Egyptian ambassadors in various world capitals from Kiev to Washington and from Lagos to Ottawa continued to report ‘unprecedented levels of voter turnout’ compared to the levels recorded in the previous expatriate voting in the referendum on the constitution held in January 2014 . The Egyptian Foreign Ministry reported significant turnout in Australia, Germany, France, the UK and Italy. Voter turnout in Italy was reported to be the highest, since it comprises the largest Egyptian expatriate community, in Rome and Milan.
However, this week’s expat presidential election voter turnout did not only exceed that of the January constitutional referendum (where the dip in participation had been attributed to the boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and the absence of online voting). The number of voters surpassed those who cast the ballot in the 2012 presidential elections, in which former president Mohamed Morsi was a candidate, and in which the Muslim Brotherhood had participated heavily. Online voting at the time had accounted for almost 60 per cent of the vote.
Egyptians in New Zealand after casting their vote
This week’s overall expatriate voter turnout was 320,000, according to the Presidential Election Committee, by this surpassing the 312,000 who had cast their vote in the 2012 presidential elections.
There was no voting in Libya, Syria, Somalia and the Central African Republic due to security reasons.
Turnout was highest in the Gulf states, with the largest number of voters registered in Kuwait followed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.
The shifting pattern of voting in Saudi Arabia specifically, makes for interesting reading. In Saudi Arabia which comprises over 45 per cent of Egyptian expatriates eligible to vote, 93.4 per cent voted in favour of Al-Sisi, according to Egyptian Ambassador to Riyadh, Afifi Abdel-Wahab. This stands in stark contrast to the 2012 presidential elections when Egyptian expatriates in Saudi Arabia overwhelmingly tipped the balance in favour of the then-presidential candidate Morsi. The Egyptian ambassador noted that “there were none of the familiar Muslim Brotherhood faces participating in the current elections”.
The Muslim Brotherhood had announced that they would organise protests against the current elections in several world capitals. But except for a limited showing in Istanbul and in London, the demonstrations were minimal.