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Egypt's presidential elections: Who will clinch the expat vote?

As Egyptians abroad gear up to vote Friday, many are wondering which of the 13 presidential contenders they will ultimately cast ballots for

Yasmine Fathi , Thursday 10 May 2012
Egyptian expatriates
File photo: A protest in front of Egypt’s embassy in London on November 21, 2011. Egyptian expatriates voted for the first time in the country’s post-revolutionary elections. (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt's first post-revolution presidential poll will technically begin on Friday, as millions of Egyptians living abroad begin casting ballots for Egypt's next head of state.

Egyptians residing overseas, who number between five and six million, will cast votes for one of 13 approved candidates in Egypt's first presidential election since the ouster early last year of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak.

Many analysts say that Egyptian expatriates were not given enough time to study the candidates' various electoral programmes, noting that they would begin voting only 12 days after the official launch of presidential campaigning. Many expats, meanwhile, are finding it difficult to follow candidates' respective campaigns from abroad, or don't possess the national identification cards required to cast ballots.

After 30 years of Mubarak-era autocracy, during which most national elections were rigged, fair and democratic elections are a novelty for Egypt. The idea that their voices will actually count has stirred up strong feelings in many Egyptians, who espouse opinions as diverse as the candidates they are expected to vote for. And, according to various Ahram Online surveys, Egyptians living abroad are no different.

Those expat Egyptians who want the application of Islamic Law in Egypt will vote for Islamist candidates, while those who do not support the Islamist trend – or are unsatisfied with its recent performance in parliament – will likely avoid any candidate of an Islamist background. On the other hand, many Egyptians abroad also view former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa and Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq as "remnants" of the former regime, while others see socialist contenders Hamdeen Sabbahi and Khaled Ali as revolutionary candidates.

All this being said, however, the fact remains that of the five or six million Egyptians living abroad, only some 587,000 are registered to vote.

The Gulf

The majority of Egyptians living in Arab countries appear to support Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh or other Islamist candidates, such as the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Egyptian registered voters, at some 261,000. Ahram Online conducted a poll of Egyptians living in the oil-rich kingdom and found that most planned to cast votes for Islamist candidates. A smaller sub-group, however, is leaning towards Moussa, who they see as a strong, charismatic figure with the administrative experience to restore order in Egypt.

Hassan Lasheen, head of the Egyptian Community Fund in Riyadh, believes that Shafiq and Sabahi will get fewer than a thousand votes each from Saudi's Egyptian expat community, while the rest will go to Abul-Fotouh and Moussa. Head of the Egyptian community in Mecca Mohamed Magouz, for his part, told Ahram Online that most Egyptians resident in the city support the Al-Nahda ('Renaissance') Project of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and its candidate Morsi.

Kuwait, meanwhile, has 640,000 resident Egyptians, some 119,000 of whom are registered to vote. Many of these had reportedly hoped to vote for Mubarak-era intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was ultimately disqualified from the race due to his close association with the former regime.

According to an Ahram Online poll of Egyptian expats in Kuwait, 220 will vote for Moussa, 180 for Abul-Fotouh, 160 for Shafiq, and 100 for Morsi, with 80 votes each for Sabbahi, Mohamed Selim El-Awa and Abul-Ezz El-Harriri.

In Yemen, meanwhile, only 444 Egyptians are registered to vote. Mohamed Reda, head of Yemen's Egyptian community, told Ahram Online that he planned to vote for Morsi, whose Al-Nahda Project he likes for its Islamic values and its promise to guarantee the rights of all segments of Egyptian society. Financial manager and Egyptian expat in Yemen El-Shahat Awad, for his part, contended that Egypt needs a strong leader – such as Shafiq or Moussa – able to lead the country in the current critical period.

In the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, there are roughly 61,000 registered Egyptian voters. According to a Facebook page set up for Egyptian expats based in the UAE, most Egyptian expats say they will vote for either Abul-Fotouh or Sabbahi.

Europe

For many Egyptians residing in European countries, Abul-Fotouh remains the most popular candidate. Many others, however, say they are still struggling to decide which candidate to give their vote to.

There is no official figure for how many Egyptians currently reside in Germany, with estimates ranging from 13,000 to 100,000. Of these, however, only 3,000 are registered to vote. It remains unclear until now who they will choose.

Similarly, due to large-scale illegal immigration to Italy, it is difficult to assess how many Egyptians live in that country, although official figures put the number at roughly 75,000. According to unofficial figures, however, at least half a million Egyptians currently live in Italy.

In the past few years, various Muslim scholars – including prominent preacher Safwat Hegazi – have been visiting Italy to give lectures. A recent poll conducted in the country revealed that many Egyptians resident in Italy want a candidate who will apply Islamic Law.

Both Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi are also popular there, with the former's supporters using Friday prayers to distribute campaign flyers, while Sabbahi supporters have set up a Facebook page specifically directed at Egyptians in Italy. Sabbahi travelled to Italy last October where he managed to meet with some 500 Egyptians living there to discuss his campaign.

Austria, meanwhile, has only about 1,500 Egyptian registered voters. Egyptian Hossam Farag, who is currently studying in Austria, says he doesn't want an Islamist-leaning president and will therefore give his vote to Moussa. His fellow student, Mohie El-Din Waly, however, says that last year's revolution has prompted Egyptians to dream of genuine political reform, stressing that Abul-Fotouh was the best candidate in this regard. Student Mohamed Tarabie echoed these sentiments, saying that he would choose Abul-Fotouh due to the latter's moderate views.

Britain, meanwhile, boasts some 6,225 registered Egyptian voters, most of whom appear to be still undecided. According to Amr Ismail, head of the country's Egyptian Union, most Egyptian expats are still struggling to decide. Ismail, for his part, plans to vote for Sabbahi due to the latter's socialist views.

The US

Even though there are some 700,000 Egyptians living in the US, the number of voters is relatively small, with only 72,000 registered to vote. Some analysts believe the small numbers are attributable to the fact that most candidates failed to reach out to Egyptians living there.

Most Egyptian expats in the US are believed to be leaning towards Moussa or Abul-Fotouh. Egyptian Coptic Christians living in the US, for their part, have asked for a president that respects the values of equal citizenship and who is committed to developing the education and scientific research sectors. Many Copts have announced their intention to vote for Moussa, with Shafiq and Sabbahi coming hot on his heels as runners-up.

As for Egyptian Muslims resident in the US, many are torn between Moussa and Abul-Fotouh, the latter of whom toured the US earlier this year to market his electoral campaign.

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