File Photo: Egyptians living in Bahrain fills their ballot at polling booth at the Egyptian Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, October 17, 2015 (Reuters)
“We can enjoy the right of having a say in our country. I will head to the embassy next Friday to participate in the presidential elections,” said Dina, a teacher who has been living in Kuwait for more than 15 years.
Between 16 and 18 March Egyptian expatriates will be able to cast their ballots at 139 polling stations located in embassies and consulates of 124 countries.
The greatest number of Egyptian expatriates lives in Saudi Arabia, followed by Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.
Dina lives close to the Egyptian Embassy in Kuwait which will make voting for her easy. In countries such as Canada or the US those who want to vote could face long journeys.
“I appreciate that the election is being held from Friday to Sunday which covers the weekend in both Arab and Western states. I am a four-hour drive at least from the nearest polling station and it would be much better for me if postal votes were allowed,” says Rasha, a secretary living in the north of Canada.
Postal votes were allowed in the post-25 January Revolution parliamentary elections and the 2012 presidential poll.
Their cancellation has been attributed to a desire to ensure Egyptians living inside and outside the country enjoy the same rights. People inside Egypt must cast their votes in person after presenting a valid national ID card.
The absence of postal voting is a hurdle for Ali, a doctor who lives in northern England who won’t be able to travel to London to vote at the Egyptian Embassy.
Polling stations abroad will be manned by diplomatic, consular and administrative embassy staff.
The Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the National Electoral Commission (NEC), has held a series of workshops to train staff, and foreign missions have been provided with electronic scanners so voters’ ID cards and passports can be quickly scanned.
The whole expatriate voting process will be monitored from an operations room at the Foreign Ministry.
Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram Ebeid said in a press conference in January that all Egyptian expats — regardless of their legal status — will be allowed to vote in the presidential elections.
“Egyptian expats must bring their national identification card or valid computerised passports in order to vote at embassies and consulates in their host countries,” she said. As in other recent elections there will be no voting for expats in Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen because of security issues.
The poll in Egypt will take place between 26 and 28 March. Any run-off vote will take place between 19 and 21 April for expatriates and on 24 and 26 April in Egypt. The winner will be announced on 2 April.
The expatriate vote is held in advance of the domestic ballot to allow the NEC to exclude any names from voter lists who have already cast their ballots abroad, and to give sufficient time for foreign missions to count the cast votes and forward the results to the NEC.
It was in April 2011 that amendments to the law on political participation were drafted allowing Egyptians living overseas to vote in presidential elections and referendums at embassies and consulates abroad.
In October of the same year an administrative court ruled that expatriates should also be allowed to vote in parliamentary polls.
A month later the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces passed a law regulating expatriate voting in parliamentary and presidential elections and in referendums.
Since then several measures have been taken to make the voting process easier. Pre-registration, viewed as an obstacle in previous elections, has been cancelled and expatriates can use their passports to cast their ballots, allowing those who do not have national IDs to take part in elections.
In 2017 the government estimated the number of Egyptians living abroad at 9.4 million though the figure could reach 10 million if illegal immigrants are counted.
In the 2014 presidential elections 317,109 expats took part. More than 90 per cent of them chose Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
In the 2012 presidential elections 314,000 expats cast votes while 287,000 took part in the last parliamentary elections.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly