More than 200,000 Egyptian expatriates in 141 overseas embassies and diplomatic missions in 124 countries had cast their votes in the presidential elections by 5pm on Saturday, said foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty.
Egyptians have been able to vote since Thursday and can do so until Sunday at 9pm (local time). They are choosing between former minister of defence Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahy as their next president.
The regulations affecting Egyptians voting abroad were eased by the foreign ministry last week by removing the necessity to register before voting. It is now possible for Egyptians who are abroad to vote by presenting their national identity card or a valid passport.
During January’s constitutional referendum turnout for expatriates was down by almost 60% from the 2012 presidential elections. The drop was attributed to the absence of a postal voting system, which has not been reinstated, the Muslim Brotherhood’s boycott and voter identification laws that prevented some people from voting.
Abdelatty said that they are expecting voter turnout to rise and pointed out that there are “long columns of people waiting to vote, especially in the Gulf countries.”
In Qatar, an Egyptian construction engineer who requested anonymity welcomed the easing of regulations. He said: “Registering online usually has to be done months before the elections and people sometimes forget and sometimes just don’t bother.”
He said that the atmosphere amongst the voters in Doha was like “a festival on Friday” and said turnout was high due it being the weekend, allowing for more people to be available to vote. He observed: “People closed down corniche and enjoyed waiting in endless lines,” adding that some Egyptian labourers were chanting in support of former military chief Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi as they waited to vote.
Egyptian expatriate turnout in the 2012 presidential elections reached 311,875 in the first round, but was slightly lower, 306,812 (including 5,092 invalid votes), in the run-off between Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi. The latter won the run off but was ousted in July 2013, to be replaced by an interim government and a political roadmap, which culminates in presidential and parliamentary elections this summer.
The foreign ministry reported “significant turnout” in Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Britain and the US and expected turnout to “increase dramatically” over Saturday and Sunday due to it being the weekend in many countries around the world.
While many groups and parties have thrown their support behind Al-Sisi or Sabahy, other groups have called for a boycott of the elections. In London a group called British Egyptians for Democracy are boycotting the election. Fatima Said, a spokeswoman for the group, said she is not voting “because [the elections are] an absolute sham.” She described the vote as “farcical” adding that participation “means accepting a return to military dictatorship and an encroachment on personal rights and freedoms.”
Said noted, “the ‘winner’ is already guaranteed, just like the days of [former President Hosni] Mubarak because all the genuine opposition has been silenced”, in reference to the Al-Sisi, who gained much popularity inside Egypt since he announced the ouster of Morsi last July.
A protest has been organised to take place on Sunday, the final day for the expatriate vote, outside the Egyptian embassy in London. The pro-Morsi protesters intend “to stand against the farcical elections being held in Egypt, rejecting the elections of blood”
In Los Angeles four people were prevented from voting by embassy officials because they were wearing t-shirts bearing an image of one of the candidates, reported state-run MENA. The voters were instructed to change their clothes or cover up the images, as this constituted a violation of electoral procedures.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy cast his vote on Thursday during an official visit to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.
Voting inside Egypt will take place on 26 and 27 May.