Egyptian expatriates head to the polls with voter turnout at stake
CAIRO - Millions of Egyptians living outside the country headed to the polls to vote in an election that incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seems certain to win.
Egyptians living and working abroad converged on 139 polling stations in Egyptian consulates and embassies across the globe to cast their ballots.
Egyptian expats queued outside their country’s embassies and consulates, some of them raising the Egyptian flag and others clutching photographs of Sisi, who is expected to easily beat rival Moussa Mostafa Moussa, head of the centrist al-Ghad Party.
“This is a very important event for Egyptians living outside their country,” said Hussein al-Nazer, an adviser to the General Union of Egyptians Abroad, a guild of Egyptians living outside the country.
With many Egyptian opposition figures calling for an election boycott and few indications of an upset, officials, fearing a low voter turnout, urged Egyptians to vote.
Two days before voting started on March 16, National Election Authority Chairman Lasheen Ibrahim appealed to Egyptian nationals living outside the country to participate in the elections.
“Participation strengthens the democratic process and makes the electoral process lively,” Ibrahim said.
Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics stated that 9.5 million Egyptians live outside the country, the majority in the Arab Gulf. There are 2.9 million Egyptians in Saudi Arabia, 600,000 in Kuwait and 760,000 in the United Arab Emirates.
In 2017, Egyptians living outside the country sent home $24 billion in remittances, which boosted the national economy and supported foreign currency reserves.
With Egyptians abroad having voted March 16-18, Egyptians at home were to head to the polls on March 26-28.
Political analysts said that turnout among expat voters would affect turnout in Egypt.
“This is why everybody inside Egypt is watching their compatriots casting their ballots outside the country,” said Saeed Sadek, a political sociology professor at the private Ahram Canadian University.
With few policy differences between Sisi and Moussa, voter turnout has become an increasingly important issue inside Egypt, including for the presidential contenders themselves.
Sisi made an explicit call on Egyptians to participate in the vote. “This is very important, regardless of the choices the voters will make,” he said.
Even Egypt’s religious establishment jumped into the voter encouragement frenzy by reminding voters that they have a religious obligation to vote.
About 56 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the election.
Perhaps mindful of those realities, the General Union of Egyptians Abroad undertook huge efforts to convince Egyptian nationals abroad to vote. The union, which has offices in almost all countries where there is a significant Egyptian expat community, met with members of Egyptian communities in dozens of countries to encourage them to vote.
The General Union of Egyptians Abroad arranged free transport to Egyptian embassies and consulates in several countries.
“Voter participation gives the election legitimacy,” Nazer said. “All Egyptians living abroad know this, which is why they are keen on participation.”