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Expat voices heard
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 04 - 2019

The Egyptian expatriate vote in the referendum began Friday 19 April, a day ahead of the local vote, and ended Sunday after three days of polling. Voting was held in 140 polling stations in 124 countries that have Egyptian missions.
Ahmed Ali, an Egyptian banker who has been living in the UK for nearly two decades, was enthusiastic to participate in the referendum, saying he believed that it was his duty to have a say in whatever is related to his country.
However, the fact that Ali lives near London made his job easy; to Egyptians who live far from the embassy, it is a completely different story. “They have to drive or travel all the way to the embassy,” he said. The distance from embassies was a dilemma in other countries as well.
Said Henry, a journalist living in Canada, could not take part in the referendum. For him it was not just a matter of distance but bad timing as well. The timing of the referendum coincided with the Western Easter holidays and many Egyptians living in the West already had other plans. However, even though Henry did not vote, he hopes that should the constitutional amendments be approved, the political leadership will make the most of the extended presidential period to prepare political cadres capable of running in future elections.
Short queues were seen in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that are highly populated with Egyptian expats while other polling stations in some European and African countries were relatively quiet.
Postal voting, which was allowed in previous expat voting, was not allowed in this week's referendum. That will “without doubt” have an impact on the turnout, according to Amina, a housewife who lives with her family in the US.
“Although the voting was during a weekend, it was not easy for me or my family members to go all the way to Washington to vote. But some of our friends managed to,” she said.
Distance presented a genuine hurdle to expats living in geographically vast countries like the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
Mohamed, a labourer in Saudi Arabia, felt that he was lucky this time. “I initially thought that I would not be able to go all the way to Riyadh, as in previous elections, but one of my colleagues offered to give me a ride. Thus, I was able to take part,” Mohamed said.
Voters abroad needed to present a national ID card or a valid computerised passport to be able to vote.
Ballots began to be counted immediately after polling stations closed on Sunday. Embassy staff did the counting.
The result of the overseas poll was sent to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Monday. It was announced as part of the final results on Tuesday.
The expat vote was held in coordination with the Egyptian embassies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Migration and the NEC. Both ministries set up 24-hour operation rooms to monitor the three-day poll and attend to any inquiry or complaint from expats.
In last year's presidential elections, 157,060 expats took part while in 2014, 317,109 expats participated.
Some 314,000 expats took part in the 2012 presidential elections and 287,000 in the parliamentary elections in the same year.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 9.5 million Egyptians lived outside the country in 2017. 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.
The expatriate vote is usually held earlier than the home vote to allow for the results to be sent to the elections committee.
The new system used for the elections, introduced after the 2011 January Revolution, gives every Egyptian citizen living abroad — whether temporarily or permanently, and who is registered on the electoral roll and has a national ID card, even if expired, or a computerised passport — the right to cast his or her vote at the nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate.
The committee in charge of the procedures has taken measures to make voting easier for expatriates, among them cancelling pre-registration that was seen as an obstacle for many voters in previous elections. The use of passports as IDs has allowed a larger number of expats who do not have national IDs to take part in the elections.
But the cancellation of the postal vote is a drawback. Voting by mail, allowed in the 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections, was helpful for thousands of citizens, especially those living in countries like Saudi Arabia, Canada and the US. Voting in last year's presidential elections and in 2014 was allowed only in person.
Cancelling the postal vote was attributed to the desire to give equal rights to Egyptians living inside and outside the country. People in Egypt have to cast their votes in person and are only allowed to use their national ID card.
The controversy over the right of Egyptian expatriates to vote in elections dates back to April 2011 when the then cabinet announced that Egyptians living overseas should be allowed to vote in the presidential elections and referendums at embassies and consulates abroad as part of amendments to the law on political participation.
In October 2011, 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 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.

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