Voters abroad get an extra day to cast their ballot after “unprecedented” turnout
by Dominika Maslikowski
Egyptian expats will be granted an extra day to cast their ballots in the country’s presidential elections after high turnouts were reported that were nearly double that of January’s constitutional referendum, officials announced late Saturday.
The decision to extend the voting time to 9pm on Monday came amid an “unprecedented” turnout of voters, explained the Presidential Elections Committee. Some 210,000 Egyptian expats had cast their ballots already, according to a preliminary count on Saturday evening. That number was nearly double that of the January constitutional referendum, which saw some 107,000 Egyptian expats head to the polls.
Former Military Chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is widely expected to win against Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, his sole opponent, after a campaign that has emphasized the country’s need for security and stability. For many Egyptians, who see Sisi’s victory as certain, the ballot box was an opportunity to show their gratitude to the Armed Forces and to the former defense minister for stepping in to remove Mohamed Morsi.
The high voter turnout beat expectations and was praised by Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy as a show of Egyptians’ willingness to establish democracy.
It also caused problems as polling stations struggled to accommodate the crowds. The Presidential Elections Commission asked voters in Kuwait to limit their cell phone usage while waiting to vote to take pressure off the embassy’s mobile tower.
In Saudi Arabia, home to the world’s biggest Egyptian expat community, the large numbers led the embassy in Jeddah to add two polling stations and stay open past the 9pm closing time. Maher Al-Masri, a representative at the embassy in Jeddah, described the atmosphere as calmer because Morsi supporters were expected to boycott the elections, reported the Saudi newspaper Arab News.
The Muslim Brotherhood, along with some Salafis, the April 6 Movement and some leftists have said they would be boycotting the elections, describing them as “farcical.” On Friday, Morsi supporters staged protests in four European countries, raising pictures of Morsi and Rabaa signs. In a photo that has gone viral on Facebook, however, members of the Salafist Nour Party, formerly allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, held up pro-Sisi posters.
On Thursday, the first voting day for Egyptian expats, representatives of Sabahi had reported violations including opaque ballot boxes and voters chanting for Sisi outside of polling stations and insulting the Nasserist candidate. The violations were reported to the Presidential Electoral Committee along with a demand for an investigation, Mona Amer, head of the expats committee, said in a statement.
The reportedly high turnout drew mixed reactions from local observers. “The fact that they had to extend the voting period is a great indication that people are happy with the options given for president. Both of the candidates are qualified enough to handle Egypt, but perhaps this run-off will show who is more deserving,” said Mahmoud Hathoot, a political science professor at Cairo University to Egypt Today.
Amr Medhat Anwer, a leading member in Strong Egypt Party, which is boycotting the upcoming elections, is more skeptical. “Perhaps that is one of the many stunts that the government has been pulling recently. Perhaps they want to show the people, with the help of the media, that people are really welcoming the elections and they have no troubles with it whatsoever. In my opinion, the majority of the people will boycott the elections to stand with the ruling of the previous democratic elections held in 2012,” Anwer said to Egypt Today.
In international news, the European Union’s decision on Saturday to downscale its observer mission made headlines. The EU said it won’t be able to monitor the presidential elections outside Cairo, after not being given permission for it to bring essential security and safety equipment, EU officials announced over the weekend. The Carter Center, established by former US President Jimmy Carter, likewise said it won’t send observers. Egypt’s political transition “has stalled and stands on the precipice of total reversal,” the center said Friday in a statement, calling on the country’s next president “to ensure that the full spectrum of Egyptian society can participate meaningfully in politics.”
International media largely portrayed Sisi as a strongman who was sure to win the presidency, while Sabahi was depicted as the more revolutionary-friendly underdog. The two candidates have “very different visions. Mr Sisi backs a law introduced last year that makes protesting illegal without police permission; Mr Sabbahy promises to repeal it and release the “unjustly imprisoned,” including leading lights of Egypt’s revolutionary youth movement,” wrote British
newspaper The Independent on Sunday.
The results of the presidential elections will be announced on June 5.
Expats did not need to pre-register as they did for the 2012 elections. They were required to vote in person at the embassy or consulate and present an Egyptian national ID card or passport for identification. Previously, Egyptians abroad could vote by mail or email. Voting for Egyptians living in the Central African Republic, Libya, Somalia and Syria was cancelled for security reasons.
This story was updated on May 19 to include comments from local observers.