Egyptian expats apathetic about presidential election

Dina Ezzat, Friday 27 Apr 2012

Egypt's first post-revolution presidential election has failed to inspire Egyptian expats - of 10 million eligible voters living abroad less than 1 million have registered with election authorities

Egyptian Expats in front of Egyptian embassy in 2011
Egyptian Expats in front of Egyptian embassy in 2011 (Photo:Reuters)

"It doesn’t matter who becomes president because at the end of the day the Muslim Brotherhood have taken control of the country: they have parliament, they will have the government, so what does it matter if they have the presidency or not?" said Sameh, an Egyptian expat in Canada.

Having immigrated with his wife and toddler around a year ago, Sameh, an engineer by profession, is trying to "make a life and settle here forever." Egypt, for Sameh, is a country that "rejects" him for being a Coptic Christian.

The rejection, according Sameh, is not the Muslim Brotherhood's responsibility. "It has been there for years. The government (under ousted president Hosni Mubarak) used to speak of equal citizenship but exercised discrimination in many hidden ways through access to jobs and promotion."

Things, however, are expected to get worse under the Muslim Brotherhood "even if there is a secular president."

For Sameh, the presidential election, which begins for expats on 11 May, is not something worth participating in because "no president can challenge the power of the Muslim Brotherhood."

This disinterest is not unusual. Less than one million Egyptian expats have registered to vote in the presidential election.

Government sources estimate that up to ten million Egyptians could have registered and say they were estimating at three million. 

"The numbers are much less than we expected," said one official.

The lack of interest, explained Hani, an Egyptian expat in Kuwait, is due to confusion over the country's future.

"There are so many unanswered questions. Nobody knows where the country is going," Hani said.

Also an engineer, Hani asked how the military would deal with the future regime – "whether the next president is secular or Islamist."

Moreover, Hani added, "it is unclear what an Islamist president of Egypt would mean to foreign countries, including the Gulf States."

According to Hani, the reluctance of these countries to extend financial aid to Egypt has much to do with their apprehension over the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, "which is known to be close to Qatar – the most unpopular Gulf country."

Hani argues that instead of prompting people to pursue a direct influence on the outcome of the presidential election, this concern has rather prompted apathy on the side of many expats in the Gulf.

Many expats in the Gulf, said Hani, think the Muslim Brotherhood remains very strong – despite its poor performance in Parliament where it has a considerable majority – and ultimately it would decide who becomes president.

In the analysis of Hani and Abeer, a teacher working in Saudi Arabia, this means Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, has a chance of becoming president.

"It is true that Amr Moussa has good name recognition and there is growing support for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh but most of the people I know who favour either Amr Moussa or Abul-Fotouh have not registered to vote," said Abeer.

The influence of Egyptian expats, according to several presidential campaigns, is something to keep an eye on, even if it is not a make-or-break factor.

Egyptian expats were traditionally unable to take part in elections. It was only under the rule of the country's first post-revolution government led by Essam Sharaf that a law was passed to give them the right to vote.

Despite the interest these expats has shown in following the presidential race, especially the debate over the US nationality of disqualified Salafist runner Hazem Abu-Ismail's mother and the short-lived nomination of Mubarak's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, there is little keenness to take part in the election.

"It takes time for people to develop an activate interest. It is one thing to follow the news coming from Egypt but it is another for someone to actively participate," said Essam, an Egyptian expat in the US. "I think with the next presidential elections there should be more interest; people will be more used to the idea."

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