Egyptian expatriates flocked to the Egyptian consulate in New York on Thursday to cast their vote in the country’s presidential elections, in what diplomats said was a record turnout at the location in elections since 2011.
Overseas voting began on Thursday, ahead of the 26-27 May date of the election, when Egyptians will choose between former military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the favourite, and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi.
By 11am, the steps and hallway leading to the entrance of the consulate building was blocked off by hundreds of voters. The pro-Sisi chants of a group of around 20 women could be heard across the other side of the traffic-filled Second Avenue in mid-town Manhattan, New York.
“Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian”, the women shouted, repeating one of the most commonly heard chants during the 25 January Revolution in 2011 that toppled long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. The women, however, were chanting in support of El-Sisi, brandishing the Egyptian flag and posters bearing his image.
At one point, a car decked out with the Rabaa logo – a symbol used by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi – drove up to the building, but aside from some head-turning, there was little reaction from the crowds.
Ambassador Ahmed Farouk told Ahram Online that there was a protest planned by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters but it had not materialised by midday Thursday.
There was little sign of support for Sabahi among the crowd of waiting voters.
Mina, a 24 year-old student who moved to the US four months ago to pursue his degree in pharmaceuticals, told Ahram Online he had voted for Sabahi in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections in which Sabahi had placed third.
“This is not the right moment for Hamdeen, however; he has no real plan and seems to have flip-flopped several times in the past two years,” Mina said.
Another voter, who gave his age as 76 but declined to give his name, said that his political views are closest to Sabahi’s Nasserism, but that he would not be voting for the candidate because “the people he has chosen to align himself with are making him look bad.”
He told Ahram Online that Egypt at the current time needs a “strong and experienced” leader like El-Sisi to push for stability and prosperity.
Samia, a 38 year-old housewife from New Jersey who had spent three hours commuting that morning to cast her vote for El-Sisi, said she was particularly keen to vote being abroad. While she believed that there was no doubt El-Sisi would win, she told Ahram Online that she would “stand by her country” by participating in the vote.
According to Farouk, the number of those voting at the consulate had reached 2,000 by 1pm -- a record high in all elections and referendums since 2011, despite the implementation of a more stringent policy by the Egyptian authorities which mandates that voters must be physically present and are not allowed to cast votes online. Voting continued until 9pm in the evening and for another three days. Greater numbers are expected in evenings and at the weekend.
Farouk added that in the constitutional referendum which took place in January this year, a total of 3,200 voters cast their ballots over four days.